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Friday, October 14, 2011

John Owen On The Spirit In The Life Of Christ

by Sinclair B. Ferguson

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[For two decades now the Trust has been committed to republishing and keeping in print the works of John Owen. All over the English-speaking world there exists testimony to the incalculable value of his biblical teaching in many vital areas of Christian doctrine and experience. For some time now, our associate editor Sinclair B. Ferguson has been working on a book on Owen's theology, under the unifying theme of the Christian life. Last month the Trust published his extensive exposition of Owen's teaching, John Owen on the Christian Life.
While this is the first book-length study of Owen's theology ever to be published, Sinclair Ferguson's main aim has been to make Owen more accessible. As well as providing an exposition of many areas of Owen's teaching, John Owen on the Christian Life also serves as a 'reader's guide' to Owen's writings. In both these ways it will serve pastors, teachers and all serious Christians in their study in those areas in which John Owen has proved to be a true doctor of the church.
The article which follows, the substance of an address given at the Leicester Ministers' Conference, 1986, while not an extract from John Owen on the Christian Life, yet serves to illustrate the rich veins of teaching to be found almost everywhere in Owen's writings.]
[Reprinted from the Banner of Truth Magazine, Issues 293-294, Feb.-March 1988]

It is said, sometimes with embarrassing frequency, that until recent decades the Holy Spirit was 'the forgotten Person in the Godhead'. It is assumed in such a statement that only in the second half of the twentieth century has there been a recovery of biblical teaching. Only now has the Holy Spirit been given the central place he merits in evangelical thinking.
The word 'embarrassing' is not used here carelessly. For such statements suffer from a characteristic modernism—a false assumption that our discovery of something must be epochal in its significance. But the truth of the matter is that this century is yet to produce an evangelical work on the Holy Spirit which merits comparison with the great and biblically creative studies of the past. It is doubtful if we moderns begin to approximate to the experimental and intellectual wrestlings of our forefathers (whether Father, Reformers or Puritans) in their desire to know the 'communion of the Holy Spirit' [2 Cor. 13:14].
In this context, it is worth reminding ourselves that probably no writer has produced a treatise on the Holy Spirit which begins to rival the detailed exposition of John Owen's great study in his Pneumatologia. Much attention has been rightly focused on Owen's quasi Ph.D. dissertation, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, and on his great studies on the nature, power and conquest of indwelling sin, Works. But Owen himself seems to have regarded the material now contained in volumes III and IV of Goold's edition of his Works as his special contribution to the theology of the Christian Church. What follows is not intended as a major redress of that balance, so much as an hors d'oeuvre, designed to give a taste of the riches of Owen's Pneumatology. At the same time it will point to an area of our thinking about the Holy Spirit which too frequently continues to be overlooked in our thoughts of him, and in our teaching about him.
There were three reasons for Owen's self-conscious focus on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
1. Historical. Born in 1616, Owen died in 1683. He was 58 when his multi-volumed Pneumatologia began to appear. Able to look back over the 150 years since the Reformation, he could assess the planting, budding, and flowering of reformed theology, and its application to the life of society in seventeenth-century Puritanism. He realised that central to the Reformation's rediscovery of the gospel had been the place, person and power of the Spirit. He saw (as Warfield later did) that Calvin was the theologian of the Holy Spirit. This was what made reformed Christianity different. In this point at least he might well have agreed with the view of Edmund Campion (the famous sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary in England) that the greatest difference between Rome and Geneva lay in the doctrine of the person and work of the Spirit.
Why should this be the case? Because the Reformation's emphasis on the ministry of the Spirit took salvation out of the hands of the Church and put it back where it belonged, in the hands of God!
Yet Owen recognised that no comprehensive treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit had appeared in print:
I know not any who ever went before me in this design of representing the whole economy of the Holy Spirit, with all his adjuncts, operations and effects. [Works, III, 7]
Thus, now twice the age he had been when he authored The Death of Death, Owen began to do for the doctrine of the Spirit what he had done in his late twenties for the doctrine of the extent of the atonement.
But there was a second reason for his writing:
2. Polemical. In Owen's day, as in ours, there existed a special need to expound, accurately and biblically, the ministry of the Spirit. Indeed, part of the value of his work for us today lies in the way he had to fight on two fronts:
(i) He faced an unbiblical rationalism, which gave little or no place to the Spirit. It was nurtured on the illusion of man's autonomy, and blindly suggested that natural Christianity was an adequate substitute for supernatural grace.
(ii) He also faced an unbiblical Spirit-ism, which stressed the immediacy of the Spirit's work and of individual divine revelation. It down-played the significance of the Scriptures, exalting the so-called 'Christ within' above the Christ of Scripture, and the 'inner light' above the light of the Word. Owen recognised that this displacement of Scripture would eventually lead to its abandonment: 'He that would utterly separate the Spirit from the word had as good burn his Bible' [Works, III, 192].
But there was a third reason for Owen's exposition:
3. Personal. Owen was brought up in a home of settled Puritan convictions. In a rare personal comment he tells us that his father was 'a Non-conformist all his days, and a painful labourer [i.e. one who 'took pains' in his work] in the vineyard of the Lord' [Works, XIII, 224]. As Calvin said of Timothy, he had drunk in godliness with his mother's milk. But his own experience taught him what he later called the difference between the knowledge of the truth, and the knowledge of the power of the truth. Only the latter was of real spiritual significance. Spiritual things can be known only by the power of the Spirit. Owen's earliest biographer suggests he struggled for a lengthy period without enjoying personal assurance of God's grace. His own experience of receiving it was, for him, a paradigm of how the Spirit works: sovereignly, Christ-centredly and biblically [Works, VI, 324]. So, it was not merely as a widely-read theologian, nor only as a polemicist, but as a believer, that Owen penned his treatise on the Holy Spirit.
Owen's teaching on the Spirit's ministry is spread throughout many of his writings, but is particularly concentrated in volumes III and IV in his Pneumatologia. Here he draws attention, in seminal fashion, to a theme of great theological importance, and one that is determinative for our personal knowledge of communion with the Holy Spirit: The Ministry of the Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Christ.
Owen refers with some frequency to the description of the Messiah in the Royal Wedding Psalm:
You love righteousness and hate wickedness
Therefore, God your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy [Ps. 45:6-7]
Two questions arise here: (i) Who is the person addressed? Owen finds the biblical answer in Hebrews 1:9. These words are spoken 'about the Son'. (ii) What is the anointing referred to? Owen answers that it is the anointing of Jesus with the Spirit. Jesus is the one to whom the Spirit is given without measure [Jn. 3:34].
What Owen focuses our attention on is that Jesus Christ, whom we often think of as the Bestower or Baptiser with the Spirit, is first of all the Recipient or Bearer of the Spirit. As Jesus' obedience to the Father grew in harmony with his developing capacities as a man and the demands of his ministry as the Messiah, so he received the power of the Spirit's anointing for each step of his way.
It is an axiom, then, for Owen: The Spirit works on the Head of the New Creation, Jesus Christ, and thus creates the source, cause, and pattern of his working throughout the new creation, in believers.
But how did this teaching work itself out? Owen points us essentially to the four central divisions of Jesus' life: (1) Incarnation; (2) Ministry; (3) Passion; and (4) Exaltation.

1. The Ministry Of The Spirit In The Incarnation Of Christ
Owen recognised the value of the old Latin axiom: Opera ad extra trinitatis indivisa sunt [the external works of the Trinity are not divisible, they are all works of the entire Trinity]. Nowhere is its truth more evident than in the incarnation. There, Father and Son were both active. The Father prepared a body for His Son [Heb. 10:5]; the Son took hold of the seed of Abraham [Heb. 2:14]. But, Owen adds, neither of these actions took place apart from the ministry of the Spirit. In the incarnation, he worked in two ways:
(i) Jesus was conceived by the power of the Spirit. The conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary has all the hallmarks of the Spirit's operations. Just as the Spirit overshadowed the waters in creation and later overshadowed the church at Pentecost, so he came to Mary—sovereignly and secretly—and took her already existing substance in order to form it into a humanity that was altogether holy [Lk. 1:35]. The humanity which was assumed by the Son of God really was that of Mary. Jesus was conceived by Mary in her womb by the overshadowing of the Spirit. From the first moment of his conception he experienced human development and every stage of human existence [Heb. 2:17-18].
But that immediately leads to the second aspect of the Spirit's work:
(ii) Jesus was sanctified by the power of the Spirit. There are two questions in Christology which Owen believed can be answered only when we take account of the ministry of the Spirit in the Incarnation. How did Jesus become fully one with us? And, how did Jesus become fully one with us, yet remain free from sin?
Owen's answer was that the Son of God really shared our humanity [Heb. 2:14]. He rejected all forms of Docetism. The holy humanity of Jesus was real humanity. It was earthly, not heavenly. The virgin Mary was truly 'the mother of my Lord' [Lk. 1:43], not merely the channel through which the humanity of Jesus entered this fallen world. [This view had been held at the time of the Reformation by (among others) Melchior Hoffman (d. 1543) and was taught by Menno Simons (1496-1561), founder of the Mennonites. The latter's view was related, at least in part, to his deficient understanding of human biology. It should be noted that his view did not become part of Mennonite theology.] By the Spirit, Jesus came from among us. But, having given this affirmation of the reality of Christ's humanity, Owen was careful to avoid the pseudo-logical deduction sometimes drawn from it-that the Son of God must therefore have assumed sinful humanity. No, says Owen, Scripture teaches us that through the overshadowing of the Spirit, that which was born was holy [Lk. 1:35], the Son of God. At the very moment of conception and assumption, the Holy Spirit sanctified the human nature of Jesus equipping him as Son of God to be the Saviour of men. Consequently Jesus was not only (in a negative sense) separate from sinners, he was positively endowed with all appropriate grace, and was holy and harmless, as well as undefiled [Heb. 7:26].
What is so significant about this for Owen? This: the consequence of the Spirit's ministry in the Head of the new creation is that he is truly man and truly holy. In Jesus, holiness and humanity become one and the same thing, perfectly, for the first time since Adam.
Why should this be so relevant to the continuing ministry of the Spirit? Because our Lord Jesus Christ is the cause, source, and pattern of the Spirit's ministry in the believer. What he did in Jesus he seeks to do in us! In a word, Owen is saying: true humanity is true godliness; true holiness is true manliness or true womanliness! Whatever is dehumanising them, cannot be the fruit of the Spirit's ministry in us. Whatever makes you less human must be carnal, not spiritual.
That fundamental principle is of tremendous significance in Owen's theology, even although it is not one he expounds at great length. Indeed, in one sense his chief exposition of it is not to be found in his published works, but in his own life. Shortly after Owen's death, these words were written about him: there was in him:
Much of heaven and love to Christ and saints and all men; which came from him so seriously and spontaneously as if grace and nature were in him reconciled and but one thing.'
The purpose of the Spirit's ministry is to conform us to the image of the Incarnate Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers [Rom. 8:29]. John Owen apparently expounded this principle chiefly by his own personal example.

2.The Ministry Of The Spirit In The Ministry Of Jesus Christ
For John Owen, it was axiomatic that Jesus Christ 'acted grace as a man'. He did this (as men must) through the energy of the Spirit. That was evident in two ways:
(i) In his personal progress in grace. The work of the Spirit in the Messiah was prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-3 and also in 63:lff. Owen saw great significance in the prophecy that it was by the Spirit that the Messiah would be filled with wisdom, and that this characteristic was singled out for reference in Luke's account of Jesus' growth [Lk. 2:52]. In this sense, the coming of the Spirit on Jesus involved a continuous presence. In keeping with the development of his natural faculties as man, and his unique responsibilities as Messiah, he was sustained by the Spirit. The Spirit enabled Jesus to do natural things perfectly and spiritually, not to do them unnaturally. He was taught the wisdom of God from the Word of God by the Spirit of God! This is precisely the picture we are given in the third Servant Song:
The Sovereign Lord has given me the instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back [Isa. 50:4-9].
Each step of his way, it was through the word of the Father in Scripture, illuminated by his constant companion, the Spirit, that Jesus grew in the knowledge of the Lord. So, writes Owen:
In the representation then, of things anew to the human nature of Christ, the wisdom and knowledge of [his human nature] was objectively increased and in new trials and temptations he experimentally learned the new exercise of grace. And this was the constant work of the Holy Spirit on the human nature of Christ. He dwelt in him in fulness, for he received not him by measure. And continually, upon all occasions he gave out of his unsearchable treasures grace for exercise in all duties and instances of it. From hence was he habitually holy, and from hence did he exercise holiness entirely and universally in all things. [Works, III, pp. 170-171]
But besides this personal progress, there is another aspect of Christ's life in which the presence of the Spirit is manifested:
(ii) In Jesus' exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. In the hidden years of his life, Jesus 'grew... strong' in the power of the Spirit [Lk. 2:40]. What was distinctive for Owen about his later baptism was that there, in the fulness of his years, he received the fulness of the Spirit's anointing for public Messianic ministry.
Owen, however, notes that the significance of Jesus' baptism and anointing with the Spirit cannot be separated from his experience of temptation or from the 'driving' of the Spirit, by which he was thrust into the wilderness [Mk. 1:12]. The same expression [ekballein] is used of both the Saviour being driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, and the disciples being driven out into the harvest by the Lord of the Harvest [Lk. 10:2]. In both cases the function of the Spirit's ministry is the advance of the kingdom of God and the defeat of the powers of darkness. The sword of the Spirit is a weapon tested and tried by our Lord so that his disciples may use it with confidence; the armour the disciple is to take is the armour which the Spirit forged for Christ in his ministry. The controlling thought here, for Owen, is that the ministry of the Spirit in the ministry of Christ is the paradigm for the ministry of the Spirit in the ministry of his disciples.
Owen further underlines a point he has already made: when Jesus returned in triumph from his testing and preached in the synagogue in Luke 4, he did not speak as a retired military colonel, barking out orders to subordinates (if the analogy may be used). What shone through the Spirit's presence in our Lord's exercise of spiritual gifts, as Luke notes, was his gracious humanity, and especially his gracious words [Lk. 4:22] . Here, again, Owen sees Scripture emphasising that the chief evidence of the power of the Spirit in ministry is true and holy humanity.
This brings us to the third aspect which Owen underlines:

3. The Ministry Of The Spirit In The Atonement Of Christ
Here the key text is Hebrews 9:13-14. Christ, by contrast with the Old Testament ritual sacrifices of dumb beasts, offered himself as a sacrifice to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. This he did 'through the eternal Spirit'.
Owen saw two possible ways of understanding these words: (a) the reference might be to the personal spirit of Jesus; (b) alternatively, it could refer to the Holy Spirit. In that case, the text expresses two things:
(i) An implicit contrast between the sacrifice of Christ and those of the Old Testament. The sacrifice of Christ was made not on the altar of the temple, but on the altar of the Spirit. Whereas an earthly altar could bear the weight of animal sacrifices, only an eternal altar could support the weight of Christ's sacrifice. Again, while fire consumed the whole burnt offering in the Old Testament, it was zeal for the glory of God, kindled by the Spirit, which consumed Christ [cf. Jn. 2:17].
(ii) But secondly, these words imply the nature of the Spirit's ministry in the sacrifice of Christ.
(a) The Spirit supported him in his decision to give himself without reserve to the Father's will. Our Lord thus devoted himself to his Father throughout the whole course of his life, in order to offer himself consummately on the Cross. He did this by his constant dependence on the Spirit.
(b) The Spirit supported Jesus as he came to the door of the temple, in the Garden of Gethsemane and there caught a glimpse of the bloody altar that awaited him.
(c) The Spirit also sustained him in the breaking of his heart and the engulfing of his soul with sorrow as he contemplated his coming sense of dereliction at Calvary, and then experienced what he had contemplated.
But Owen adds a final, moving touch. On the Cross, Jesus committed his spirit into the hands of his God and Father [Lk. 23:46]. But, what of his body? Externally, it was guarded by the angels who mounted watch over the tomb. Internally, it was preserved from corruption by the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:27]. And so, from first to last, the Spirit is the companion of Jesus' life and the support of his ministry. By his agency, the Holy One was conceived in the darkness of the Virgin's womb. By his presence, the Holy One was preserved in the darkness of Joseph's tomb.
From womb to tomb, the devotion of the eternal Spirit to the eternal Son in the flesh was abundantly evident.
This brings us to the fourth element:

4. The Ministry Of The Spirit In The Exaltation Of Christ
Here again, the principle of the unity of the work of Father, Son and Spirit is illustrated. The Father raised the Son [Gal. 1:1]; the Son took up his life again, having laid it down [Jn. 2:19; 10:38]. But Owen notes that there is also a strand of teaching in the New Testament which underlines the role of the Spirit in the resurrection: Christ was declared Son of God in power by the resurrection through the Spirit of holiness [Rom. 1:4]; he was justified by the Spirit in the resurrection [1 Tim. 3:16]. Nor was this merely a work of resuscitation. Christ's resurrection by the Spirit was his transformation. Indeed, it is his glorification [ 1 Cor. 15:43a; 45-9]. Thus, says Owen, 'he who first made his nature holy, now made it glorious' [Works III, p. 183]. The Spirit's ministry in the life of Jesus, therefore, was not merely from womb to tomb: it was from womb to throne.
There is something both profoundly moving and exhilarating about these emphases in Owen's teaching on the Spirit. But what is the practical and experimental value of his biblical insight?
It should be immediately evident that Owen's teaching on the Spirit corresponds to the basic law of the Spirit's ministry given in John 16:13-14. The Spirit can be known only in connection with Christ. He glorifies Christ, not himself. In Reformed exposition of the ministry of the Spirit we are accustomed to this emphasis. But Owen's teaching challenges us to take this with the seriousness it deserves. For notice what his study of the Spirit in the life of Christ implies:
1. The source of the Spirit's ministry to us is Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ became the Bearer of the Spirit, in order to be the Bestower of the Spirit (cf. Jn. 14:17: 'He [the Spirit] dwells with you [i.e. by his presence in Christ who is with them] and will be in you [i.e. when he was sent at Pentecost to indwell them as the Spirit of the ascended Lord]). That is why, in the New Testament, Pentecost is not seen as a separate event from Calvary and the Resurrection. Rather, it is the public manifestation of their significance: Jesus has received and borne the Spirit for his people. Now, the last monumental act takes place—overwhelming and epoch-making in its significance (as the first disciples realised): Jesus gives his own Spirit to his own people (cf. Jn. 14:18)!
2. The pattern of the Spirit's ministry in us is Jesus Christ. Perhaps the simplest way to expand Owen's insight is to say: the Spirit was in Christ in order to create the master copy of the life-style he would reproduce in all those who belong to Christ. Nothing is more central to the Reformed understanding of the ministry of the Spirit than this union to Christ which produces conformity to him. It is by the Spirit that we are being changed from one degree of glory to another [2 Cor. 3:18].
3. The means of (one might even say the equipment for) the Spirit's ministry in us is the work of Christ. He was the life-long companion of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, he now takes what is Christ's and brings it to us [Jn. 16:14]. He is truly 'another Counsellor' [i.e. another of the same kind as Jesus himself had been to the disciples] [Jn. 14:16]. What he brings to us is nothing less than all that Jesus himself is to us. Owen clearly understood the significance of Jesus' words that it was to the advantage of the disciples that he should leave them [Jn. 16:7]. The only conceivable logic which can sustain such a statement is this: the Spirit who was in and on our Lord now lives in and on our lives, bringing to us all that Christ was and is for us.
4. The goal of the Spirit's ministry in us is faith in Christ and glorifying of him. One of the impressive consequences of reading Owen's study of the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus is that we inevitably begin to rejoice in knowing the Spirit. Yet, even in this, the Spirit does not transgress the principles which he equipped Christ to utter and the apostles to record in Scripture. For our new joy in the Spirit goes hand in hand with a new admiration of the Son, and a new desire to glorify him through the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ's witness. We likewise are to bear witness to Christ through the Spirit [Jn. 15:26-7]. His desire is that we should love and admire the Incarnate and Ascended Lord, just as he himself does—eternally. This 'Christ-full' character of Owen's teaching on the Spirit seals it with the marks of biblical authenticity.

Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

By Sinclair Ferguson

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one.  His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.

True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.
Sinclair Ferguson is an Alliance Council Member and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Boldy and Expectantly Leaning on the Promises

By Sinclair Ferguson

One of the very first “Christian” possessions I ever had, apart from a Bible, was a “Promise Box”—a box containing hundreds of biblical promises printed on small cards, one for each day of the year. I cannot now remember whether it was a gift or a personal purchase. Perhaps my forgetfulness is a personal convenience. It might be something of an embarrassment today to admit it to my friends if I still used a promise box. After all, we do not wrest Scripture texts out of their context; nor do we use the Bible as the ancients used the famous sortes virgiliance—randomly finding a line from Virgil to guide them on their daily path. To live in this way smacks of the Chinese fortune cookie approach to the Christian life. My promise box went the way of all flesh. God’s promises are not fortune cookies. We do not use them in order to get a spiritual “fix” for the day. Serious progress in the Christian life requires the thoughtful understanding of the biblical message as a whole, understood in this context and applied appropriately to our own context. We are, after all, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—about himself, about the world, about others, about ourselves. God’s Word is not our comfort blanket. It is the sword of the Spirit; indeed it is sharper than any two- edged sword.
All this is true. But the other day, when I remembered my long-lost promise box, I found myself asking the question: Did I throw out the baby with the bath water? Do I still have a firm grasp on the promises the Lord has given me, and am I living on that basis day by day? What promises have I seen him fulfilling for me recently? What promises am I expecting him to keep in my life?
There are two places in the New Testament where right living is seen as the direct consequence of trusting God’s promises. Writes Paul to the Corinthians: “Since we have these promises . . . let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit . . .” (2 Cor. 7:10). The “promises” to which he refers are God’s covenant with his people that he will 1) be with them, 2) receive those who “touch no unclean thing,” and 3) be a Father to them (2 Cor. 6:16-18). Paul’s reasoning is: If this is what God promises to be to his holy people, let us make every effort to be such holy people. If these are the riches that await me, let me walk on that path of holiness that leads to them. Here holiness is a direct result of living in the light of the divine promises.
Peter writes in a similar vein: “[God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). Here, the promises of God in general are in view. What is their fruit? Once again it is holiness, or right living.
The question this raises is: What promises of God have been etched upon my heart? What am I expectantly waiting for the Father of lights who does not change like shifting shadows, to give to me (James 1:16)? Am I really living as his covenant child, with the words, “Father, you promised” forming on my lips, as I live in expectation of him keeping his Word?
How am I to live my life in the light of God’s promises?
First of all, I must know what God’s promises are. The old daily Bible study question was not far off the mark when it asked: “Is there a promise here for me today?” We have outgrown the “promise box mentally,” but we can never outgrow the promises themselves. Scripture is full of them. Is there one in the passage of Scripture I read today? (Did I even remember to read a passage of Scripture today?)
Second, I must feed my mind on the promises of God. As a child I was often amazed by the ability of my grandparents’ generation to suck a single peppermint for half an hour, while mine was crunched to pieces within minutes!
We need to learn to do the same with God’s promises, metaphorically placing them “under our tongue,” allowing them to release their pleasurable blessings over the whole day. We need to meditate on them if we are to find them redirecting our thinking and filling us with an expectation that the Lord will keep his Word. Only then will we be able to say “How sweet are your promises to my taste” (Ps. 119:103).
Thirdly, I must let God’s promises govern my life-style. Has he promised never to leave me? Then I will commune with him regularly, as an expression of my faith that he is near. I will allow the knowledge of his presence to give me poise in times of crisis and pressure. I will live in such a way that I will not be ashamed that he is near.
It is not surprising that Peter speaks about “great and precious promises.” He himself had clung fiercely to Christ’s promise when everything within him and around him seemed to be caving in. Jesus has said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back . . .” (Lk. 22:32). His hope in Christ’s implicit promise of his restoration was the “very reason” he had held on.
May God’s promises similarly renew your life.

[A Spiritual Appetite]

Sinclair Ferguson

The Book of Psalms has been described as ‘an anatomy of all the parts of the soul’. It is an excellent description. For what we find in the Psalms is a description and analysis of the spiritual life. Nothing is hidden from us. ‘Highs’ and ‘lows’ are alike recorded. That is why, when we read the Psalms, we are often amazed by the way they present a mirror-image of our own experiences and condition.
In the Psalms we see a description of our own experience. But sometimes we also recognise a description of new experiences. These provide insights and guidelines for us, to teach us what to anticipate. Some psalms are really saying to us: ‘This is how God may work. Be prepared to recognise his hand in your life in similar experiences’. Such is the case with Psalms 42 and 43. They are unusually appropriate at this juncture of our thinking about spiritual growth.
These two psalms belong together. Psalm 43 is one of only two psalms in the second book of the Psalter (Ps. 42-72) which has no title. The reason probably is that at one time it was joined with Psalm 42. The theme of both psalms is the same. Indeed you will probably have noticed that there is a chorus or refrain running through both of them. (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5):
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
  for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
No wonder the message of these psalms has often been taken to be ‘counsel’ for the spiritually depressed’. They certainly provide such counsel. But that is probably not meant to be the main lesson. For it is characteristic of the Psalms to introduce the chief theme, not in the chorus, but in the opening words. Psalm begins with this statement:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
  so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
  When can I go and meet with God?
Here is someone who is longing to know God! That is an essential part of all true spiritual growth. Of course growing as a Christian involves gaining more knowledge of God’s word; it implies a life of prayer and witness. But these are all the results of something more basic. Being a Christian means knowing God. Growing as a Christian means increasing in our desire to know God. This is the sum of the Christian life. Jesus himself said: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God’ (Jn. 17:3). The true men and women of faith are ‘the people who know their God’ (Dan. 11:32). That is why, in the Old Testament, one of the anticipated blessings of the new age which the Messiah would inaugurate was that then men and women would ‘know the Lord’ (Jer. 3 1:34).
This is the heart of the Christian life. It is fundamental to all spiritual growth. If we are not growing in the knowledge of God, we are not growing at all.
Does it sound churlish to suggest that our greatest weakness today as Christians (young and old) lies here? That was the complaint of Hosea about his church. God’s people were destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). Similarly we tend to be a generation of Christians who major on minor matters but do not seem to possess the true measure of the gospel in the knowledge of God. We do not really know God. At best we know about him.
The man who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 may once have been content with a similar level of spiritual experience. But then God began to order his circumstances in such a way that a new desire to grow spiritually filled his horizon. He began to long to know God. He describes his experience in three stages.
What is it like to have a desire to know God? These Psalms indicate that it can be an exceedingly painful and disturbing thing. This man felt he was cast down. He realised that he did not know God as he needed to:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Perhaps in his earlier days he had known the presence of God in powerful ways. But now his spirit felt barren and dry. It was parched, and he was crying out for the dew of God’s presence to come to revive and restore him.
It is a great temptation, looking at this man’s condition, to say that he was simply a defeated and disobedient child of God — a backslider. Yet he makes no mention of repentance, or of any specific sin which is barring him from the presence of God. This is not a penitential psalm. Indeed, in some ways the reverse is true. For here is a man who can address God as ‘my Rock’ (v. 9). He is thinking of God as his shelter and protection — as a Crag in which he can hide to find shelter and protection from his enemies. ‘At night’, he confesses, ‘his song is with me’ (v. 8). Hardly the words of a backslider!
God had begun to break up the fallow ground in his spirit (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10:12). He plans to bring him on to a new stage of spiritual experience. As in ordinary life, so in spiritual life, we experience not only the traumas of birth, but the struggles of growing out of one stage into another stage of life.
But what were the means God employed in his life to bring about this new state of affairs? And, correspondingly, what pattern of experiences may we anticipate he will employ in our lives to bring us into a growing knowledge of him and his ways with us?
There are three things which God began to use:
(i) Memories of the past. As he called to God in his perplexity, he said: ‘These things I remember as I pour out my soul’. What did he remember?
In his mind’s eye he was back in Jerusalem. He saw the crowds of pilgrims at one of the great festival services: ‘I used to go with the multitude’. He remembered the atmosphere: ‘shouts of joy and thanksgiving’. He himself was at the head of the procession (v. 4). It all comes flooding back to him — he even uses a rare word in the original to describe the picture of the short, careful steps it is always necessary to take in a vast crowd to avoid everyone stepping on each other. Yes, those were wonderful days!
Sometimes looking back like that can be a symptom of spiritual decay. If all our hopes, all our finest experiences lie in the past and all we do is to complain that things are no longer what they once were, it usually is a sign of personal spiritual decay. But that was not the case with this man. He was remembering the grace and power of God’s presence with his people for a specific reason: to stir up his soul to long for and anticipate it again. That is one of the things a memory is for!
When Paul was concerned about the spiritual growth of his young friend Timothy, he encouraged him to use his memory. Remember the day we laid our hands on you, Paul said. Think of that occasion when the Holy Spirit set you apart through us. Do you not recall how God sealed your calling and wonderfully blessed you? Do you not remember how you gave yourself to the Lord out of a sense of his goodness to you? Remember that hour, Timothy, and let its memory stir you up to seek and to serve God now (see 2 Tim. 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 4:14).
Many of us have similar memories of times and places of unusual blessing in our lives. George Whitefield the great 18th century evangelist used to say that when he returned to Oxford University (where he had studied) he always wanted to go to the spot where he had been converted and kiss the ground. The memory of what God had done for him had proved to be such a great source of continuing blessing that this was the only way he felt he could express his gratitude!
I remember meeting a very elderly Christian in the far north of Scotland. For many years there had been little faithful preaching of Christ in the area where he had his croft. I wondered how he had managed to keep his spiritual fervour (Rom. 12:11). He told me of an event in his teens which had made such an impression on him that he had found enormous encouragement for many years simply by remembering it. At that time the Lord’s supper was celebrated only twice each year. The congregation gathered for several days of special services. On the Sunday afternoon, he had gone out to the back of his father’s croft, and was astonished to discover the ground covered in black. Scarcely a blade of grass was to be seen. ‘It was’, he explained, ‘because the men all wore black suits, and they were kneeling and bowing together in prayer outside the house, calling on God for “the divine unction”. There had been such a sense of the Lord’s presence that he had never forgotten the occasion. Since then he had continued to long to know the Lord more and more.
Do you have a memory of meeting with God like this? Is it as clear in your mind as the memories which the psalmist was recalling? Then let your memory accomplish what God means it to: let it create in you a thirst, a longing, a fresh desire to know God and to sense his presence with you the way you did then.
(ii) Isolation in the present. Why was it that all these things were just memories? He tells us: ‘I will remember you from the land of Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar’. The reason he has only recollections is that he is now far away from the scenes of his former blessing. He is miles from Jerusalem, isolated in the highlands. He is cut off from the thriving fellowship of God’s people he once knew; he no longer is able to benefit from the various ministries he had formerly enjoyed. There were few resources here to encourage his spiritual growth; few friends with whom to share fellowship with God.
The problem was magnified by another factor. There, in Jerusalem, he had been more than simply one among many. He had been a leader, perhaps the leader: ‘These things I remember . . . how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God (Ps. 42:4).
He was not the last to go through such an acute sense of isolation. How many missionaries experience this! At home they played key roles in their own Christian fellowships. They were leaders. But, removed across the face of the earth, far from being leaders they cannot even speak the language of the people. For many months they may feel they are less than members, never mind leaders. When they return home they may experience exactly the same in reverse. While they have been labouring overseas their contemporaries have moved on in life another four years or more. Returning missionaries do not ‘fit in’ quite so easily as before. Even their own church is at a different stage of development, of which they may no longer feel an integral part.
But we do not need to go overseas to experience isolation. Any major readjustment in our life-style can have this effect of making us feel distanced, disorientated, no longer fulfilling a strategic, purposeful role in our Christian lives. A change of job, of house, of neighbourhood can do this. Bereavement, children leaving home, retirement can all do the same.
What did God want to teach the psalmist? What does he want to teach us in similar situations? God wants to teach us lessons in isolation which he does not teach us, or which we cannot learn, in fellowship. In our loneliness and separation from God’s people we may learn to look to God, trust in God, desire God’s presence. We discover that in the past we have relied too much on the encouragement of others and insufficiently on the Lord himself. While before we knew God (quite legitimately) through the help of our fellow Christians, now we must learn to know him in isolation from them.
This is why the psalm is called a Maskil, that is a song of instruction. The writer is saying to us: this is what God taught me through my experience; it is what he may want to teach you too.
(iii) Hostility in the environment. He is like a deer roving over the crags and rocks in the height of summer looking for water with which to slake his thirst. But he feels more than thirsty; he feels pursued:
As pants the hart for cooling streams,
  When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for thee
  And thy refreshing grace.
There are several indications of this in what he says. People say to him: ‘Where is your God?’ (v. 3). He goes about mourning, ‘oppressed by the enemy’ (v. 9). He prays to be rescued ‘from deceitful and wicked men’ (Ps. 43:1). No wonder he felt that God had cast him off (Ps. 43:2). He must have felt as though God were digging his spiritual grave. He could not stand the pressure much longer. ‘Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause’, he cried (Ps. 43:1).
What was happening to him? There are several strands to be untangled in his experience. God was showing him how much he needed to depend on him for protection. Perhaps at an earlier stage in his experience he felt that he could hold his own with anyone who opposed his faith. Now he was discovering how vulnerable he was. Perhaps too he had taken an altogether too confident view of his own ability to stand firm against the forces of darkness. Now he was beginning to realise that belonging to the kingdom of God meant being a target for the attacks of the Devil. He goes around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He had sent his emissaries to attack this man. He needed help!
Yet none of this lay outside the control of God himself. While the psalmist felt that God was digging his grave he was only partly right. In a sense he was. God was wanting him to come to an end of himself and his self-confidence. That is always the place where the true knowledge of God begins. But it was not really a grave God was digging at all. It was a well! For out of the depths of this experience would flow a river of spiritual blessing for him, and through him to others. Through it all he was coming to know God. No price was too great to pay for that.
Sometimes we sing:
I thirst, I sigh, I faint to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.
What we tend to learn all too slowly is that sometimes we do have to thirst, sigh and faint if we are to prove it.
This writer did prove it. So he shares with us one final thing:
His testimony is this. He prayed for spiritual satisfaction. In particular he focused his prayers on the twin means by which God would bring this into his life:
Send forth your light and your truth,
  let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
  to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
  to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
  O God, my God.
(Ps. 43:3-4)
What were the means he expected God to use in order to bring him to a deeper knowledge of him?
(i) The word of God. He prays for God’s light and truth. God’s word serves as a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105). So a later psalm confesses:
The entrance of your words gives light;
  it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
  longing for your commands.
(Ps. 119:130-1)
What does he mean? Of course he is missing the opportunity to read God’s word with others. He has no access to the exposition of God’s word in public. But he is wanting much more than the restoration of these lost opportunities. He is asking for God to send forth his light and truth. He is looking for ‘the entrance of your words’.
When we become Christians we are brought out of darkness into God’s marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:9). God, who at creation said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shined in our hearts to bring us to know him through Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Formerly we were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8). One of the things which accompanies this is the penetration of God’s truth into our minds, consciences and hearts. We see our lives in his light for the first time. We are brought to see the kingdom of God for the first time (Jn. 3:3), and we are given a radically new interpretation of our own lives. Illumination, enlightenment takes place (cf. Heb. 6:4).
It is common for young Christians to experience this effect of God’s word regularly. There is so much that is new to learn. I have never forgotten the first occasion on which I heard someone preach on the idea that every Christian is a ‘saint’ according to the New Testament; nor the first time that I appreciated that I was ‘in Christ’. These new truths about our lives as Christians often come to us with unforgettable force.
Accompanying this illumination of the mind there is a deliverance and cleansing in our lives. Chains which formerly bound us, habits which we could not break seem to be overwhelmed and defeated by God’s power. We are not yet perfect (far from it); but we have begun to taste the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:5). We are new creatures:
At times with sudden glory,
  He speaks, and all is done;
Without one stroke of battle
  The victory is won,
While we, with joy beholding,
  Can scarce believe it true
That even our kingly Jesus
  Can form such hearts anew

 — Charitie Lees de Chenez
But it is not only in the lives of recent converts that God is able to do this. He can speak with unusual power whenever he pleases. He can bring fresh illumination, delivering grace, strong assurance. The psalmist was praying for this. There are times in our experience when ordinary means of growth need to be accompanied by special illumination from God if we are ever to make any significant progress. It was such a time in this man’s life. It may also be in our lives too.
(ii) The worship of God. Having prayed for God to come to him, he vows that in response he will come to God. He will climb God’s ‘holy mountain’ (v. 3); he will go to the altar of God; he will find God as ‘my joy and my delight’ (v. 4).
He has now discovered, as we shall discover, that all the experiences of life are ordered by the Lord for one great purpose. Trials and difficulties especially have this purpose in view. It is that we should be brought into the presence of God, so that we worship him with all our hearts. That is an authentic sign of spiritual growth.
There is a special significance in the order of these words: he climbs the hill; he goes to the altar; he discovers God as his great joy. He is thinking of coming to Jerusalem, where God has promised to reveal himself in his temple. He is thinking of drawing near to God at the place where sacrifice is made. He believes that at the altar, because of the sacrifice, he will meet with God in grace and in power.
The order of spiritual experience has not changed since the psalmist’s day. We too need to go to the place where God has promised to meet with us. That is no longer in Jerusalem. It is in Christ. No longer in a place, but now in a person (cf. Jn. 4:21ff). We too need to climb the hill to God — the hill of Calvary, in order to come to Christ in whom alone God makes his presence known to us.
What do we find there? We too find an altar, a place of sacrifice — the cross. We find a victim — our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to present our bodies on the altar as thank-offerings for his sacrifice for us. This is our spiritual worship (see Rom. 12:1, 2). Only then shall we discover God as our chief joy.
God has made us to ‘glorify and enjoy him forever’. Are we afraid of the cost of glorifying him? Have we never experienced the bliss of enjoying him here and now? We need a new willingness to sacrifice our lives to him and for him, in order that we may know him fully.
We came upon the writer of Psalms 42 and 43 picturing himself as a thirsty seeker. He longed to know God. We leave him as one who has begun to discover the blessings of a promise which he never heard, but which is so familiar to us.
Jesus said: If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. (Jn. 7:37)
He said: Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (Jn. 4:14)
Since we have ‘better promises’ (Heb. 8:6), let us follow on to know the Lord (Heb. 6:1-3).
The first step forward in knowing God better is the awareness that you do not yet know him fully. It is ‘thirsting’ for God. It is discovering that he has water which can satisfy our deepest longings. It is saying to him: ‘Lord, give me this water’ (Jn. 4:15).
Do you know God? Do you realise how little you know him? Do you want to grow? Are you willing for all that is involved? We shall see in the next chapter just exactly what is involved in knowing God better.

 At the time this article was written, Sinclair Ferguson was a member of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of many books, including: Children of the Living God, Discovering God's Will, A heart for God, John Owen on the Christian Life and The Sermon on the Mount, all published by The Banner of Truth Trust. This particular article was taken from Grow in Grace, chapter 4.

Monday, October 10, 2011

St Matt 6

1. Beware In this passage, Christ exhorts his people to devote themselves sincerely to good works; that is, to endeavor, with simplicity, to do what is right before God, and not to make a parade before men.424424     “Sans chercher la louange des hommes;” —”without seeking the praise of men?” A very necessary admonition; for in all virtues the entrance of ambition is to be dreaded, and there is no work so laudable, as not to be in many instances corrupted and polluted by it. Under one class he lays down, by a synecdoche, a general doctrine: for he speaks of alms only, as he speaks shortly afterwards about prayers: though some copies, instead of ἐλεημοσύνην, alms, read δικαιοσύνην, righteousness, which is also the rendering of the old translator. But the difference is of little moment: for in either way there is no room to doubt, that the design is, to correct the disease of ambition, when, in doing what is right, we seek glory from men.
2. When thou doest alms He expressly reproves a long established custom, in which the desire of fame might not only be perceived by the eye, but felt by the hands. In places where streets or roads met, and in public situations, where large assemblies were wont to be held, they distributed alms to the poor. There was evident ostentation in that practice: for they sought crowded places, that they might be seen by multitudes, and, not satisfied with this, added even the sound of trumpets.425425     There is no necessity for giving a literal acceptation to the sounding of trumpets, particularly as no trace of such a practice, so far as we are aware, is to be found in history. Similar phrases are used, in many languages, to denote, that ostentation has been carried far beyond the bounds of ordinary propriety. — Ed. They pretended, no doubt, that it was to call the poor, as apologies are never wanting: but it was perfectly obvious, that they were hunting for applause and commendation. Now, when our service is rendered to the eyes of men, we do not submit our life to the judgment and approbation of God. Justly, therefore, does Christ say, that those persons, who exhibit themselves in this manner, have their reward: for they whose eyes are held by such vanity cannot look upon God.
For the same reason, all who are desirous of vain-glory are called hypocrites. Profane authors gave the name of ὑποκριταὶ, hypocrites, to those who personated assumed characters in plays and on the stage; and Scripture has applied this term to men who are double in heart and insincere.426426     This is the true etymology of the word, and rests, not on conjecture, but on historical facts. ̔Ψποκρίνεσθαι was used in the same sense as the more modern term ἀποκρίνεσθαι,, to reply. An actor was called ὁ ὑποκρινόμενος τῶ χορῶ, one who replies to the chorus, alluding to the form of the ancient dramas. The circuitous phrase was altered to ̔Ψποκριτὴς, which was, for some time, used occasionally in a good sense, to denote “one who assumed, for a temporary purpose, a character different from his own;” but came afterwards to be uniformly used in a bad sense, as denoting “one who assumed a character which did not belong to him.” It is a curious instance of the facility with which a word passes, by a few changes, into a meaning altogether different from what it originally bore; and may serve to show, how rashly some philologists have maintained, that in all the successive meanings of a word the generic idea may be traced. The second will resemble the first, and the third either the first or the second, and every new meaning will have an analogy to a former one, from which it has been derived: but it may happen that, ere long, all traces of the original meaning have disappeared. To reply and to be insincere are ideas which have no resemblance. — Ed. There are various kinds of hypocrites. Some, though conscious of being very wicked, impudently give themselves out for good men before the world, and endeavor to conceal their vices, of which they have an inward conviction. Others allow themselves to proceed to such a pitch of audacity, that they venture to claim even perfect righteousness before God. Others do good, not from a desire to do what is right, nor on account of the glory of God, but only to obtain for themselves fame and a reputation for holiness. This last mentioned class Christ now describes, and he properly calls them hypocrites: for, having no proper object in view in the performance of good works, they assume a different character, that they may appear to be holy and sincere worshippers of God.
3. Let not thy left hand know By this expression he means, that we ought to be satisfied with having God for our only witness, and to be so earnestly desirous to obey him, that we shall not be carried away by any vanity. It frequently happens, that men sacrifice to themselves rather than to God. Christ therefore wishes, that we should not be distracted by indirect thoughts, but go straight to this object, that we may serve God with a pure conscience.
4. That thy alms may be in secret This statement appears to be opposed to many passages of Scripture, in which we are commanded to edify the brethren by good examples. But if we attend to the design of Christ, we must not give a more extensive meaning to the words.427427     “Verba longius trahere non oportet.” In some of the best Latin editions we find, “verba longius trahere nos oportet,” which entirely alters the meaning. But the discrepancy of the reading is set aside by the French version: “il ne faut point estendre les paroles plus avant;” — “we must not extend the words farther.” — Ed. He commands his disciples to devote themselves to good works purely, and without any ambition. In order to do this, he bids them turn away their eyes from the sight of men, and to reckon it enough that their duties are approved by God alone. Such simplicity of views does not at all interfere with anxiety and zeal to promote edification: and, indeed, a little before, he did not expressly forbid them to do good before men, but condemned ostentation.
Thy Father, who seeth in secret He silently glances at a kind of folly, which prevails everywhere among men, that they think they have lost their pains, if there have not been many spectators of their virtues. He tells them, that God does not need a strong light to perceive good actions: for those things, which appear to be buried in darkness, are open to his view. We have no reason, therefore, to suppose that what escapes the notice, and receives not the testimony of men, is lost: for “the Lord dwells in the thick darkness,” (2 Chronicles 6:1.) A most appropriate remedy is thus applied for curing the disease of ambition, when he reminds us to fix our eye on God: for this banishes from our minds, and will utterly destroy, all vain-glory. — In the second clause, which immediately follows, Christ reminds us that, in looking for the reward of good works, we must wait patiently till the last day, the day of resurrection. Thy Father, says he, shall reward thee openly But when? It will be, when the dawn of the last day shall arise, by which all that is now hidden in darkness shall be revealed.
5. When thou shalt pray He now gives the same instruction as to prayer, which he had formerly given as to alms. It is a gross and shameful profanation of the name of God, when hypocritcs, in order to obtain glory from men, pray in public, or at least make a pretense of praying. But, as hypocrisy is always ambitious, we need not wonder that it is also blind. Christ, therefore, commands his disciples, if they wish to pray in a right manner, to enter into their closet Some expositors, thinking that this has the appearance of absurdity, give it an allegorical turn, as referring to the inward recesses of the heart: but there is no necessity for such trifling. We are commanded, in many passages, to pray to God or to praise him, in the public assembly, amidst a crowd of men, and before all the people: and that for the purpose, not only of testifying our faith or gratitude, but also of exciting others, by our example, to do the like. Christ does not withdraw us from such an exercise, but only admonishes us to have God always before our eyes when we engage in prayer.
We must not literally interpret the words, enter into thy closet: as if he ordered us to avoid the presence of men, or declared that we do not pray aright, except when there are no witnesses. He speaks comparatively, and means, that we ought rather to seek retirement than desire a crowd of men to see us praying.428428     “Il parle ici par une forme de comparaison des deux extremitez opposites, signifiant que plustost il faut chercher d'estre seuls, que de desirer grande compagnie qui nous voye prier.” — “He speaks here by way of comparison of the two opposite extremes, meaning that we must rather seek to be alone, than desire a large company to see us pray,” It is advantageous, indeed, to believers, and contributes to their pouring out, with greater freedom, their prayers and groans before God, to withdraw from the gaze of men. Retirement is also useful for another reason, that our minds may be more free and disengaged from all distracting thoughts: and accordingly Christ himself frequently chose the concealment of some retired spot for the sake of prayer. But this is not the present subject, which is only to correct the desire of vain-glory. To express it in a few words, whether a man prays alone, or in the presence of others, he ought to have the same feelings, as if he were shut up in his closet, and had no other witness but God. When Christ says, thy Father shall reward thee, he declares plainly that all the reward, which is promised to us in any part of Scripture, is not paid as a debt, but is a free gift.
7. Use not vain repetitions He reproves another fault in prayer, a multiplicity of words. There are two words used, but in the same sense: for βαττολογία is “a superfluous and affected repetition,” and πολυλογία is “unmeaning talk.” Christ reproves the folly of those who, with the view of persuading and entreating God, pour out a superfluity of words. This doctrine is not inconsistent with the praises everywhere bestowed in Scripture on earnestness in prayer: for, when prayer is offered with earnest feeling, the tongue does not go before the heart. Besides, the grace of God is not obtained by an unmeaning flow of words; but, on the contrary, a devout heart throws out its affections, like arrows, to pierce heaven. At the same time, this condemns the superstition of those who entertain the belief, that they will secure the favor of God by long murmurings. We find Popery to be so deeply imbued with this error, that it believes the efficacy of prayer to lie chiefly in talkativeness. The greater number of words that a man mutters, the more diligently he is supposed to have prayed. Long and tedious chanting also, as if it were to soothe the ears of God, continually resounds in their cathedrals.
8. For your Father knoweth This single remedy is sufficient for removing and destroying the superstition which is here condemned. For whence comes this folly of thinking that great advantage is gained, when men weary God by a multiplicity of words, but because they imagine that he is like a mortal man, who needs to be informed and solicited? Whoever is convinced, that God not only cares for us, but knows all our wants, and anticipates our wishes and anxieties before we have stated them, will leave out vain repetitions, and will reckon it enough to prolong his prayers, as far as shall be necessary for exercising his faith; but will reckon it absurd and ridiculous to approach God with rhetorical embellishments, in the expectation that he will be moved by an abundance of words.
But if God knows what things we have need of, before we ask him, where lies the advantage of prayer? If he is ready, of his own free will, to assist us, what purpose does it serve to employ our prayers, which interrupt the spontaneous course of his providence? The very design of prayer furnishes an easy answer. Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. God himself, on the other hand, has purposed freely, and without being asked, to bestow blessings upon us; but he promises that he will grant them to our prayers. We must, therefore, maintain both of these truths, that He freely anticipates our wishes, and yet that we obtain by prayer what we ask. As to the reason why he sometimes delays long to answer us, and sometimes even does not grant our wishes, an opportunity of considering it will afterwards occur.
Matthew 6:9 Do ye therefore pray thus Instead of this Luke says, when ye pray, say: though Christ does not enjoin his people to pray in a prepared form of words,431431     “Combien Christ ne commande pas aux siens en priant de s'attacher scrupuleusement a certains mots;” — “though Christ does not command his people to adhere scrupulously to certain words. but only points out what ought to be the object of all our wishes and prayers. He embraces, therefore, in six petitions what we are at liberty to ask from God. Nothing is more advantageous to us than such instruction. Though this is the most important exercise of piety, yet in forming our prayers, and regulating our wishes, all our senses fail us. No man will pray aright, unless his lips and heart shall be directed by the Heavenly Master. For that purpose he has laid down this rule, by which we must frame our prayers, if we desire to have them accounted lawful and approved by God. It was not the intention of the Son of God, (as we have already said), to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.
This form of prayer consists, as I have said, of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. As the law of God is divided into two tables, of which the former contains the duties of piety, and the latter the duties of charity,432432     “Comme la Loy de Dieu est divisee en deux Tables, desquelles la premiere contient les choses dont nous sommes redevables a Dieu pour honorer sa majeste: la seconde ce que nous devons a nostre prochain selon charite.” — “As the Law of God is divided into two Tables, of which the first contains the things which we owe to God to honor his majesty: the second, what we owe to our neighbor according to charity.” so in prayer Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. Let us therefore know, that we shall be in a state of mind for praying in a right manner, if we not only are in earnest about ourselves and our own advantage, but assign the first place to the glory of God: for it would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.
Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that of Himself he is disposed to aid us. Father is the appellation given to him; and under this title Christ supplies us with sufficiently copious materials for confidence. But as it is only the half of our reliance that is founded on the goodness of God, in the next clause, who art in heaven, he gives us a lofty idea of the power of God. When the Scripture says, that God is in heaven, the meaning is, that all things are subject to his dominions, — that the world, and everything in it, is held by his hand, — that his power is everywhere diffused, — that all things are arranged by his providence. David says, “He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh at them,” (Psalm 2:4); and again, “Our God is in heaven: he hath done whatever he hath pleased,” (Psalm 115:3).
When God is said to be in heaven, we must not suppose that he dwells only there; but, on the contrary, must hold what is said in another passage, that “the heavens of heavens do not contain him,” (2 Chronicles 2:6). This mode of expression separates him from the rank of creatures, and reminds us that, when we think of him, we ought not to form any low or earthly conceptions: for he is higher than the whole world. We have now ascertained the design of Christ. In the commencement of the prayer, he desired his own people to rest their confidence on the goodness and power of God; because, unless our prayers are founded on faith, they will be of no advantage. Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.
May thy name be sanctified This makes still more manifest what I have said, that in the first three petitions we ought to lose sight of ourselves, and seek the glory of God: not that it is separated from our salvation, but that the majesty of God ought to be greatly preferred by us to every other object of solicitude. It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness. There is a close connection and resemblance between those three petitions. The sanctification of the name of God is always connected with his kingdom; and the most important part of his kingdom lies in his will being done. Whoever considers how cold and negligent we are in desiring the greatest of those blessings for which we are here commanded to pray, will acknowledge that nothing here is superfluous, but that it is proper that the three petitions should be thus distinguished.
To sanctify the name of God means nothing else, than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel. Now, the glory, by which it is sanctified, flows and results from the acknowledgments made by men as to the wisdom, goodness, righteousness, power, and all the other attributes of God. For holiness always dwells, and permanently remains, in God: but men obscure it by their malice and depravity, or dishonor and pollute it by sacrilegious contempt. The substance of this petition is, that the glory of God may shine in the world, and may be duly acknowledged by men. But religion is in its highest purity and rigour, when men believe, that whatever proceeds from God is right and proper, full of righteousness and wisdom: for the consequence is, that they embrace his word with the obedience of faith, and approve of all his ordinances and works. That faith which we yield to the word of God is, so to speak, our subscription,433433     “Comme si nous signions de nostre propre main, declarans que Dieu est veritable;” — “as if we signed with our own hand, declaring that God is true.” by which we set to our seal that God is faithful,” (John 3:33;) as the highest dishonor that can be done to him is unbelief and contempt of his word.
We now see, what wickedness is displayed by most men in judging of the works of God, and how freely they allow themselves to indulge in censure. If any of us are chastised, they grumble, and murmur, and complain, and some break out into open blasphemies: if he does not grant our wishes, we think that he is not sufficiently kind to us.434434     “Il nous semble qu'il nous fait tort;” — “we think that he wrongs us.” Many turn into matter of idle talk and jesting his incomprehensible providence and secret judgments. Even his holy and sacred name is often treated with the grossest mockery. In short, a part of the world profane his holiness to the utmost of their power. We need not then wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to it may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.
10. May thy kingdom come Though the Greek verb (ἐλθέτω) is simple, yet if, instead of May thy kingdom come, we read, as it was rendered in the old translation, May thy kingdom arrive,435435     “Adveniat regnum tuum;” the only difference being, that the compound verb adveniat, may arrive, has been exchanged for the simple verb veniat, may come, a change which has been adopted, so far as I have observed, in the modern European versions. — Ed. the meaning will remain unchanged. We must first attend to the definition of the kingdom of God. He is said to reign among men, when they voluntarily devote and submit themselves to be governed by him, placing their flesh under the yoke, and renouncing their desires. Such is the corruption of the nature, that all our affections are so many soldiers of Satan, who oppose the justice of God, and consequently obstruct or disturb his reign. By this prayer we ask, that he may remove all hindrances, and may bring all men under his dominion, and may lead them to meditate on the heavenly life.
This is done partly by the preaching of the word, and partly by the secret power of the Spirit. It is his will to govern men by his word: but as the bare voice, if the inward power of the Spirit be not added, does not pierce the hearts of men, both must be joined together, in order that the kingdom of God may be established. We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. The kingdom of God is opposed to all disorder (ἀταξία) and confusion for good order is nowhere found in the world, except when he regulates by his hand the schemes and dispositions of men. Hence we conclude, that the commencement of the reign of God in us is the destruction of the old man, and the denial of ourselves, that we may be renewed to another life.
There is still another way in which God reigns; and that is, when he overthrows his enemies, and compels them, with Satan their head, to yield a reluctant subjection to his authority, “till they all be made his footstools” (Hebrews 10:13.) The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world. Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.
May thy will be done Although the will of God, viewed in itself, is one and simple, it is presented to us in Scripture under a twofold aspect.436436     “Elle nous est proposee en deux sortes es Escritures.” — “It is presented to us in two ways in the Scriptures.” It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance. This appears more clearly from the comparison, as in heaven For, as He has the angels constantly ready to execute his commands, (and hence they are said to do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word, Psalm 103:20,) so we desire that all men may have their will formed to such harmony with the righteousness of God, that they may freely bend in whatever direction he shall appoint. It is, no doubt, a holy desire, when we bow to the will of God, and acquiesce in his appointments. But this prayer implies something more. It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire any thing but what pleases him, and meets his approbation.
But it may be objected: Ought we to ask from God what, he declares, will never exist to the end of the world? I reply: When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.
11. Give us today our daily bread Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as I have said, the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction.437437     “Je l’ay ainsi divisee par ci devant pour enseigner plus familierement.” The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law, and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second. Again, in this prayer, — “I have formerly divided it thus, in order to instruct more familiarly.” our Lord first instructs us to seek the glory of God, and then points out, in the second part, what we ought to ask for ourselves. But it must be observed, that the prayers which we offer for our salvation, or for our own advantage, ought to have this for their ultimate object: for we must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.
There is this difference, however, between the two kinds of petitions which we have mentioned. When we pray for the kingdom of God and the sanctification of his name, our eyes ought to be directed upwards, so as to lose sight of ourselves, and to be fixed on God alone. We then come down to ourselves, and connect with those former petitions, which look to God alone, solicitude about our own salvation. Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food,438438     “Combien que la remission des pechez est bien a preferer a la nourriteurde cette vie.” — “though the forgiveness of sins is greatly to be preferred to the nourishment of this life.” as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. We do not ask that our daily bread may be given to us before we ask that we may be reconciled to God, as if the perishing food of the belly were to be considered more valuable than the eternal salvation of the soul: but we do so that we may ascend, as it were by steps, from earth to heaven. Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.
Some are of opinion, that τὸν ἄζτον ἡμῶν ἐπιούσιον means our supersubstantial bread This is exceedingly absurd. The reason assigned by Erasmus is not only frivolous, but inconsistent with piety. He reckons it improbable that, when we come into the presence of God, Christ should enjoin us to make mention of food. As if this manner of instruction were not to be found in every part of Scripture, to lead us to the expectation of heavenly blessings, by giving us a taste of temporal blessings. It is indeed the true proof of our faith, when we ask nothing but from God, and not only acknowledge him to be the only fountain of all blessings, but feel that his fatherly kindness extends to the smallest matters, so that he does not disdain to take care even of our flesh.
That Christ speaks here of bodily food may easily be inferred: first, because otherwise the prayer would be defective and incomplete. We are enjoined, in many passages, to throw all our cares into the bosom of God, and he graciously promises, that he will withhold from us no good thing,” (Psalm 84:11.) In a perfect rule of prayer, therefore, some direction must be laid down as to the innumerable wants of the present life. Besides, the word σήμερον, today, means that we are to ask from God no more than is necessary for the day:439439     “Sinon au pris que le jour vient l’un apres l’autre;” — “only as far as one day comes after another.” for there is no doubt, that he intended to restrain and guide our desire of earthly food, to which we are all immoderately addicted. Again, a very frequent Synecdoche occurs in the word bread, under which the Hebrews include every description of food. But here it has a still more extensive meaning: for we ask not only that the hand of God may supply us with food, but that we may receive all that is necessary for the present life.
The meaning is now obvious. We are first commanded to pray, that God would protect and cherish the life which he has given to us in the world, and, as we need many supports, that he would supply us with every thing that he knows to be needful. Now, as the kindness of God flows in uninterrupted succession to feed us, the bread which he bestows is called ἐπιούσιος, that is, continual:440440     “Superveniens;” — “survenant, ou venant par chacun jour;”— “succeeding, or coming by each day.” We subjoin an extract from the Dissertations of Witsius on the Lord‘s Prayer. After mentioning several views of Commentators on this petition, he says: This great variety of expositions has been principally occasioned by the Greek word ἐπιούσιος. That word occurs nowhere else in Scripture, and the most learned men have been unable to discover it in any profane writings. As it is not known to what Hebrew word employed by our Lord it corresponds, it is not surprising that different persons should have assigned to it different acceptations. — I shall not now enter into a critical examination of the very numerous expositions of that word which have been given by learned men. An exposition more copious and learned than any that had previously appeared, has been given by a very celebrated and learned man, JOHN MARCK, formerly my much esteemed colleague in the University of Friesland. It forms a part of his Juvenile Dissertations, as he is pleased to style them, but which contain much profound wisdom. The simplest and most probable of the various etymologies, I have always thought, is that which supposes ἐπιόσιος to be compounded of ἐπὶ and οὐσία, as περιούσιος is compounded of περὶ and οὐσία The analogy of composition of such words presents no difficulty: for it does not require that the ι in the word ἐπὶ shall be dropped before a vowel. This is proved by the words ἐπιεικὴς, ἐπιόγδοος, ἐπιόρκος, ἐπιόπτομαι, ἐπιοῦρος, and many of the same form. This derivation being granted, which has nothing unusual or anomalous, considerable progress has been made in the investigation of the subject. For as τὸ περιούσιον signifies what is more than enough, and beyond what the preservation of existence requires, so τὸ ἐπιούσιον signifies what is enough. Such is the meaning assigned to it by the ancient Greek writers, who were deeply skilled in their own language. “ ́̓Αρτου ἐπιούσιον, (says Chrysostom, Hom. 30, Ton. 5.) τουτέστιν ἐπὶ τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ σώματος διαζαίνοντα, καὶ συγκρατὢσαι ταύτην δυνάμενον, — “that is, what passes to the substance of the body, and is able to support it.” Ζητεῖν προσετάχθημεν , (says Gregory Nyssen,) τὸ πρὸν τὴν συντήρησιν ἐξαρκοῦν τὢν σωματικὢν οὐσίαν “We have been commanded to seek what is sufficient for the support of the bodily existence.” Basil explains it to be τὸν πρὸς τὴν ἐφήμερον ζωὴν τὢ οὐσία ἡμῶν χρησιμεύοντα, “what is useful to our existence for daily life.” (After referring to Suiceri Thesaurus, and quoting from Cyril of Alexandria and from Theodoret, he concludes ἄρτον ἐπιούσιον to be equivalent to the phrase used by the Apostle James, (2: 15,) τὴν ἐφήμερον τροφὴν, (daily food )Biblica1 Cabinet, vol. 24, pp. 266, 272-274. — Ed. for so it may be rendered. This word suggests to us such a petition as the following: “O Lord, since our life needs every day new supplies, may it please thee to grant them to us without interruption.” The adverb today, as I said a little ago, is added to restrain our excessive desire, and to teach us, that we depend every moment on the kindness of God, and ought to be content with that portion which he gives us, to use a common expression, “from day to day.”
But here an objection may be urged. It is certain, that Christ has given a rule for prayer, which belongs equally to all the godly. Now, some of their number are rich men, who have their yearly produce laid up in store. Why does he command them to ask what they have at home, and to ask every day those things of which they have an abundant supply for a year? The reply is easy. These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and every thing else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty. There is therefore no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.
Does any one inquire, why we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. The fields must, no doubt, be cultivated, labor must be bestowed on gathering the fruits of the earth, and every man must submit to the toil of his calling, in order to procure food. But all this does not hinder us from being fed by the undeserved kindness of God, without which men might waste their strength to no purpose. We are thus taught, that what we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift. We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.
12. And forgive us our debts Here it may be proper that we should be reminded of what I said a little before, that Christ, in arranging the prayers of his people, did not consider which was first or second in order. It is written, that our prayers are as it were a wall which hinders our approach to God, (Isaiah 59:2,) or a cloud which prevents him from beholding us, (Isaiah 44:22,) and that
“he hath covered himself with a cloud, that our
prayer should not pass through,” (Lamentations 3:44.)
We ought always, therefore, to begin with the forgiveness of sins: for the first hope of being heard by God beams upon us, when we obtain his favor; and there is no way in which he is pacified toward us,” (Ezekiel 16:63,) but by freely pardoning our sins. Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.
In Matthew, sins are called debts, because they expose us to condemnation at the tribunal of God, and make us debtors; nay more, they alienate us entirely from God, so that there is no hope of obtaining peace and favor except by pardon. And so is fulfilled what Paul tells us, that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23,)
that every mouth may be stopped, and all the
world may become guilty before God,” (Romans 3:19.)
For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. None will be found so pure as not to need the mercy of God, and if we wish to partake of it, we must feel our wretchedness. Those who dream of attaining such perfection in this world, as to be free from every spot and blemish, not only renounce their sins, but renounce Christ himself, from whose Church they banish themselves. For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, every one, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.
Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more,—but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor The ordinary distinction between crime and punishment has no place here: for debts unquestionably mean liability to punishment. If they are freely forgiven us, all compensations must disappear. And there is no other meaning than this in the passage of Luke, though he calls them sins: for in no other way does God grant the pardon of them, than by removing the condemnation which they deserve.
As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. Nor is any thing inconsistent with this in the phrase used by Luke, καὶ γὰρ, for we also Christ did not intend to point out the cause, but only to remind us of the feelings which we ought to cherish towards brethren, when we desire to be reconciled to God. And certainly, if the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished. The Spirit is the witness of our adoption, (Romans 8:16,) and therefore this is put down simply as a mark, to distinguish the children of God from strangers. The name debtors is here given, not to those who owe us money, or any other service, but to those who are indebted to us on account of offenses which they have committed.
13. And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition. The connection of the words also shows it: for the word but, which is placed between, connects the two clauses together, as Augustine judiciously explains. The sentence ought to be resolved thus, That we may not be led into temptation, deliver us from evil The meaning is: “We are conscious Of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.441441     “Afin qu'i! ne trebusche pas a chacun coup;” — “that he may not reel at every blow.”
The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. In this sense God is said to have tempted Abraham, (Genesis 22:1,) when he tried his faith. We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust. It would be foolish to ask, that God would keep us free from every thing which makes trial of our faith. All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation Though it is not impossible that we may feel such pricks in our minds, (for, during the whole course of our life, we have a constant warfare with the flesh,) yet we ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations
In order to express this truth more clearly, that we are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand, Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκὟς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Samuel 16:14:) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret442442     “Combien que la raison nous en soit incognue;” — “though the reason of them may be unknown to us.” judgments.
Deliver us from evil The word evil (πονηροῦ) may either be taken in the neuter gender, as signifying the evil thing, or in the masculine gender, as signifying the evil one Chrysostom refers it to the Devil, who is the contriver of every thing evil, and, as the deadly enemy of our salvation, is continually fighting against us.443443     Chrysostom's words are: — Πονηρὸν ἐνταῦθα τὸν διάζολον καλεῖ Κατ ᾿ ἐξοχὴν δὲ οἱτος ἐκεῖνος καλεῖται διὰ τὴν ὑπερζολὴν τὢς κακίας, καὶ ἐπειδὰν μηδὲν παρ ᾿ ἡμῶν ἀδικηθεὶς ἄσπονδον πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἔχει τὸυ πόλεμον. “He calls the Devil, in this place, THE EVIL ONE. He is, by way of eminence, so called, on account of his superlative wickedness, and because, though he has received no injury from us, he carries on against us an implacable war.” — Ed. But it may, with equal propriety, be explained as referring to sin There is no necessity for raising a debate on this point: for the meaning remains nearly the same, that we are in danger from the devil and from sin, if the Lord does not protect and deliver us.
For thine is the kingdom It is surprising that this clause, which agrees so well with the rest of the prayer, has been left out by the Latins:444444     That part of the Lord's Prayer, which we commonly call the conclusion, is not found in the Gospel by Luke, and its genuineness has been questioned. None of the Latin copies (as Calvin mentions) have it: but even those who have most zealously maintained that it is spurious, admit that it exists in the greater number of the Greek manuscripts. Erasmus, Grotius, Witsius, Griesbach, Matthaei, and Scholz, may be consulted by those who wish to examine the question for themselves, and to hear all that has been said on both sides. Any thing like the summing up of the argument here would exceed the limits of a note. — Ed. for it was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.
Here Christ only explains the reason why that condition was added, Forgive us, as we forgive The reason is, that God will not be ready to hear us, unless we also show ourselves ready to grant forgiveness to those who have offended us. If we are not harder than iron, this exhortation ought to soften us, and render us disposed to forgive offenses.445445     “Pour nous rendre faciles a oublier les injures qu'on nous a faites.” — “To make us ready to forget the injuries which have been done to us.” Unless God pardon us every day many sins, we know that we are ruined in innumerable ways: and on no other condition does he admit us to pardon, but that we pardon our brethren whatever offenses they have committed against us. Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them, devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them.446446     “Et de propos delibere veulent que Dieu procede contre eux en toute rigueur;” — “and deliberately resolve that God may proceed against them to the utmost rigor.”
He again returns to the former doctrine: for, having begun to rebuke vain ostentation in alms and prayer, he laid down, before proceeding farther, the rule for praying in a right manner. The same injunction is now given to his disciples about fasting, which he had formerly given about prayers and alms, not to be too solicitous to obtain the applause of spectators, but to have God as the witness of their actions. When he bids them anoint their head, and wash their face, his language is hyperbolical:448448     “C'est une facon de parler hyperbolique, c'est a dire, excessive.” — “It is a hyperbolical, that is, an exaggerated way of speaking.” for Christ does not withdraw us from one kind of hypocrisy, to lead us into another.449449     “Pour nous faire retomber en 1’autre;” — “to make us fall into the other.” He does not enjoin us to counterfeit splendor, or exhort us to temperance in food in such a manner, as to encourage the luxuries of ointments and of dress: but merely exhorts us to preserve moderation, without any thing new or affected;—in short, that the fastings, in which we engage, should make no change in our accustomed way of living.
Thy Father will reward thee When he promises a reward from God to fastings, this mode of expression, as we said a little before with respect to prayer, is not strictly accurate. There is a wide difference, indeed, between prayer and fastings Prayer holds the first rank among the antics of piety: but fasting is a doubtful operation, and does not, like alms, belong to the class of those actions which God requires and approves. It is pleasing to God, only so far as it is directed to another object: and that is, to train us to abstinence, to subdue the lust of the flesh, to excite us to earnestness in prayer, and to testify our repentance, when we are affected by the view of the tribunal of God. The meaning of Christ’s words is: “God will one day show that he was pleased with those good works, which appeared to be lost, because they were concealed from the eyes of men.”
Matthew 6:19. Lay not up. This deadly plague reigns everywhere throughout the world. Men are grown mad with an insatiable desire of gain. Christ charges them with folly, in collecting wealth with great care, and then giving up their happiness to moths and to rust, or exposing it as a prey to thieves. What is more unreasonable than to place their property, where it may perish of itself, or be carried off by men?450450     “Ou bien perir d'eux-mesmes, encores que personne n'y touche;” — “or even perish of themselves, though nobody touch them.” Covetous men, indeed, take no thought of this. They lock up their riches in well-secured chests, but cannot prevent them from being exposed to thieves or to moths They are blind and destitute of sound judgment, who give themselves so much toil and uneasiness in amassing wealth, which is liable to putrefaction, or robbery, or a thousand other accidents: particularly, when God allows us a place in heaven for laying up a treasure, and kindly invites us to enjoy riches which never perish.
20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven They are said to do so, who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life. In Luke’s narrative, no mention is made of the contrast between laying up treasures on the earth and laying up treasures in heaven; and he refers to a different occasion for the command of Christ to prepare bags, which do not grow old: for he had previously said, Sell what you possess, and give alms It is a harsh and unpleasant thing for men to strip themselves of their own wealth; and with the view of alleviating their uneasiness, he holds out a large and magnificent hope of remuneration. Those who assist their poor brethren on the earth lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, according to the saying of Solomon,
“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again,”
(Proverbs 19:17.)
The command to sell possessions must not be literally interpreted, as if a Christian were not at liberty to retain any thing for himself. He only intended to show, that we must not be satisfied with bestowing on the poor what we can easily spare, but that we must not refuse to part with our estates, if their revenue does not supply the wants of the poor. His meaning is, “Let your liberality go so far as to lessen your patrimony, and dispose of your lands.”
21. Where your treasure shall be By this statement Christ proves that they are unhappy men who have their treasures laid up on the earth: because their happiness is uncertain and of short duration. Covetous men cannot be prevented from breathing in their hearts a wish for heaven: but Christ lays down an opposite principle, that, wherever men imagine the greatest happiness to be, there they are surrounded and confined. Hence it follows, that they who desire to be happy in the world451451     “Ceux qui demandent d'estre riches et a leur aise en ce monde;”— those who are eager to be rich and at their ease in this world.” renounce heaven. We know how carefully the philosophers conducted their inquiries respecting the supreme good.452452     “Nous savons comment les Philosophes se sont amusez a traiter subtilemerit du souverain bien des hommes.” — “We know to what trouble the Philosophers submitted in ingenious discussions about the supreme good of men.” — “The allusion is chiefly to the Greeks: for the philosophy of the Romans was at second hand, though nothing can be more ingenious or beautiful than the reasonings of Cicero in his Dissertations De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum.” He inquires into the τέλος, or end, of good and evil actions. In examining the principles of Epicurus, he professes to feel very much at ease, but approaches the Stoics with greater respect, and acknowledges the ability with which they had conducted their argument. The perusal of the whole treatise will gratify a reader prepared to accompany powerful minds in their most intricate researches, or to hail abstruse disquisition clothed in the choicest language by one who, as Robert Hall said of Pascal, “can invest the severest logic with the charms of the most beautiful composition, and render the most profound argumentation as entertaining as a romance.” But those studies have a far higher value. When we see the greatest minds tasked to their utmost strength, and yet utterly failing to discover, by unassisted reason, the path which leads to happiness, we appreciate more highly Leland's argument “On the advantage and necessity of Divine Revelation,” and bless the name of the Great Prophet, who hath brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel, (2 Timothy 1:10.) — Ed. It was the chief point on which they bestowed their labor, and justly: for it is the principle on which the regulation of our life entirely depends, and the object to which all our senses are directed. If honor is reckoned the supreme good, the minds of men must be wholly occupied with ambition: if money, covetousness will immediately predominate: if pleasure, it will be impossible to prevent men from sinking into brutal indulgence. We have all a natural desire to pursue happiness;453453     “Car naturellement nous tendons tous a desirer ce qui nous semble estre le souverain bien.” — “For we have all a natural tendency to desire what appears to us to be the supreme good.” and the consequence is, that false imaginations carry us away in every direction. But if we were honestly and firmly convinced that our happiness is in heaven, it would be easy for us to trample upon the world, to despise earthly blessings, (by the deceitful attractions of which the greater part of men are fascinated,) and to rise towards heaven. For this reason Paul, with the view of exciting believers to look upwards, and of exhorting them to meditate on the heavenly life, (Colossians 3:1,) presents to them Christ, in whom alone they ought to seek perfect happiness; thus declaring, that to allow their souls to grovel on the earth would be inconsistent and unworthy of those whose treasure is in heaven
Matthew 6:22. The light of the body is the eye We must bear in mind, as I have already hinted, that what we find here are detached sentences, and not a continued discourse. The substance of the present statement is, that men go wrong through carelessness, because they do not keep their eye fixed, as they ought to do, on the proper object. For whence comes it, that they so shamefully wander, or dash themselves, or stumble, but because, having corrupted their judgment by choosing rather to follow their own lusts than the righteousness of God, they not only extinguish the light of reason, which ought to have regulated their life, but change it altogether into darkness.
When Christ calls the eye the light of the body,456456     “Appelant l'ceil le flambeau ou la lampe de tout le corps;” — “calling the eye the torch or the lamp of the whole body.” he employs a comparison which means, that neither the hands, nor the feet, nor the belly, serves to direct men in walking, but that the eye alone is a sufficient guide to the rest of the members. If the hands and feet are foolishly and improperly directed, the blame of the mistake ought to be charged on the eyes, which do not perform their duty. We must now apply this comparison to the mind. The affections may be regarded individually as its members: but as they are blind in themselves, they need direction. Now, God has given reason to guide them, and to act the part of a lantern in showing them the way. But what is the usual result? All the soundness of judgment which had been given to men is corrupted and perverted by themselves, so that not even one spark of light continues to dwell in them.
A simple eye means an eye that has no speck, or diseased humor, or any other defect. An evil eye (πονηρὸν)457457     This Greek word has two meanings, which depend on accentuation. The proparoxytone πονηρὸς means laborious, troublesome: but the oxytone πονηρὸς means wicked Here, when applied to the eye, it cannot denote moral blame, but easily takes the transferred sense of faulty, defective. — Ed means a diseased eye. A luminous body means one that is enlightened, so as to have all its actions properly regulated. A dark body is one which is led into numerous mistakes by a confused movement. We see, then, as I have already said, that these words reprove the indolence of men, who neglect to open their eyes for the guidance of their affections.
The inference which the Papists draw from this passage, that men possess as much reason and wisdom, as to be free to choose either good or evil, is mere trifling. For Christ does not here inform us what ability we possess, but how we ought to walk, by having our eye fixed on a certain object; and at the same time shows, that the whole course of human life is dark, because no man proposes for himself a proper object, but all permit themselves to pursue eagerly what is evil. I confess, indeed, that men naturally possess reason, to distinguish between vices and virtues; but I say that it is so corrupted by sin, that it fails at every step. Meanwhile, it does not follow, that men do not voluntarily bring darkness on themselves, as if they shut their eyes to avoid the light which was offered to them, because they are knowingly and willingly carried after their own lusts.
23. If the light which is in thee be darkness Light signifies that small portion of reason, which continues to exist in men since the fall of Adam: and darkness signifies gross and brutal affections. The meaning is, we ought not to wonder, if men wallow so disgracefully, like beasts, in the filth of vices, for they have no reason which might restrain the blind and dark lusts of the flesh. The light is said to be turned into darkness, not only when men permit the wicked lusts of the flesh to overwhelm the judgment of their reason, but also when they give up their minds to wicked thoughts, and thus degenerate into beasts. For we see how wickedly men change into craft any measure of wisdom which had been given them, how they “dig deep (as the prophet says) to hide their counsel from the Lords” (Isaiah 29:15,) how they trust to their own resources, and openly dishonor God; in a word, how desirous they are to show their ingenuity, in innumerable ways, for their own destruction. Christ has good grounds for declaring, that thick and appalling darkness must of necessity reign in the life of men, when they choose to be blind.
This is also the meaning of the words which are found in the Gospel of Luke, with this difference, that Christ there connects the present statement with one which was formerly explained, that men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel, (Matthew 5:15) and again, instead of this clause, if the light which is in thee be darkness, gives the exhortation, see that the light which is in thee be not darkness The meaning is, “See that thy mind, which ought to have shone, like a candle, to guide all thy actions, do not darken and mislead thy whole life.” He afterwards adds, that, when the body is enlightened by the eye, the greatest regularity is found in all its members, as the light of a candle spreads and penetrates into every part of the room.
24. No man can serve two masters Christ returns to the former doctrine, the object of which was to withdraw his disciples from covetousness. He had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord. For the greater part of men are wont to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh. This was, no doubt, a proverb in common use: No man can serve two masters He takes for granted a truth which had been universally admitted, and applies it to his present subject: where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
I have inserted here what is related on a different occasion by Luke: for, as the Evangelists frequently introduce, as opportunity offers, passages of our Lord’s discourses out of their proper order, we ought to entertain no scruple as to the arrangement of them. What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2,) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart. All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.” The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him. It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.
Throughout the whole of this discourse, Christ reproves that excessive anxiety, with which men torment themselves, about food and clothing, and, at the same time, applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended to take away from his people all care. We know that men are born on the condition of having some care; and, indeed, this is not the least portion of the miseries, which the Lord has laid upon us as a punishment, in order to humble us. But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons: either because in so doing men tease and vex themselves to no purpose, by carrying their anxiety farther than is proper or than their calling demands; or because they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and place such a reliance on their own industry, that they neglect to call upon God. We ought to remember this promise: though unbelievers shall “rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows,” yet believers will obtain, through the kindness of God, rest and sleep, (Psalm 127:2.) Though the children of God are not free from toil and anxiety, yet, properly speaking, we do not say that they are anxious about life: because, through their reliance on the providence of God, they enjoy calm repose.
Hence it is easy to learn, how far we ought to be anxious about food Each of us ought to labor, as far as his calling requires and the Lord commands; and each of us ought to be led by his own wants to call upon God. Such anxiety holds an intermediate place between indolent carelessness and the unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. But if we give proper attention to the words of Christ, we shall find, that he does not forbid every kind of care, but only what arises from distrust. Be not anxious, says he, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink That belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger, as if they were to be in want of food every moment.
Matthew 6:25. Is not the life of more value than food? He argues from the greater to the less. He had forbidden them to be excessively anxious about the way in which life might be supported; and he now assigns the reason. The Lord, who has given life itself, will not suffer us to want what is necessary for its support. And certainly we do no small dishonor to God, when we fail to trust that he will give us necessary food or clothing; as if he had thrown us on the earth at random. He who is fully convinced, that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition, will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our wants. Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety about food, let us remember, that God will take care of the life which he gave us.
26. Look at the fowls of the air This is the remedy I spoke of, for teaching us to rely on the providence of God: for of all cares, which go beyond bounds, unbelief is the mother. The only cure for covetousness is to embrace the promises of God, by which he assures us that he will take care of us. In the same manner, the Apostle, wishing to withdraw believers from covetousness, confirms that doctrine: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, (Hebrews 13:5.) The substance of the exhortation is, that we ought to trust in God, by whom none of his own people, however mean their condition may be, are disregarded.
Your heavenly Father feedeth them This deserves careful attention: for, though we are unable to explain the manner in which their life is supported, which of us is in the habit of considering that their life depends on the providence of God, which he is pleased to extend even to them? But if it is thoroughly fixed in our minds, that the fowls are supplied with food by the hand of God, there will be no difficulty in expecting it for ourselves, who are formed after his image, and reckoned among his children. They neither sow nor reap By these words it is far from being our Lord’s intention to encourage us to indolence and sluggishness. All that he means is, that, though other means fail, the providence of God is alone sufficient for us, for it supplies the animals abundantly with every thing that they need.
Instead of fowls, (τὰ πετεινὰ,) Luke uses the word ravens, (τοὺς κόρακας,) alluding perhaps to that passage in the Psalms, who giveth food to the young ravens that call upon him, (Psalm 67: 9.) Some think that David expressly mentioned the ravens, because they are immediately deserted by their parents,459459     “Pource que le pere et 1a mere les abandonnent incontinent qu'ils sont nais;” — “because their parents forsake them as soon as they are born.” and therefore must have their food brought to them by God. Hence it is evident, that Christ intended nothing more than to teach his people to throw all their cares on God.
27. Which of you by anxious care, etc ? Here our Lord condemns another fault, which is almost always connected with immoderate anxiety about food: and that is, when a mortal man, claiming more than he has a right to do, does not hesitate, in sacrilegious hardihood, to go beyond his limits.
“O Lord, I know (says Jeremiah) that the way of man is not in himself it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,”
(Jeremiah 10:23.)
You scarcely meet with one person in a hundred, who does not venture to make any promises that he thinks fit on his own industry and power. The consequence is, that those who take credit to themselves for their prosperity, do not hesitate to lose sight of God, when they enter into any undertaking. To restrain this mad rashness, Christ tells us, that whatever contributes to the support of our life depends wholly on the blessing of God. The meaning is: “It is foolish in men to weary themselves, because all our labors are unnecessary and fruitless, and all our anxieties are to no purpose, unless so far as God blesses them.” This is more clearly expressed by Luke, If you cannot do even that which is least, why are you anxious about the rest? These words show plainly, that Christ reproves not only distrust, but pride, because men ascribe much more than they ought to their own skill.
29. Not even Solomon in all his glory This means, that the kindness of God, which is gloriously displayed in herbs and flowers, exceeds all that men can accomplish by their wealth or power, or in any other way. Believers ought to be convinced that, though all means fail, they will want nothing that is necessary for their full satisfaction, provided they continue to enjoy the blessing of God alone. O you of little faith In this respect Christ justly accuses us of deficiency or weakness of faith: for the more powerfully we are affected, according to our own grovelling views, by anxiety about the present life, the more do we show our unbelief, if every thing does not happen to our wish. Many persons, accordingly, who in great prosperity appear to possess faith or at least to have a tolerable share of it, tremble when any danger of poverty presents itself.
This has the same object with the former doctrine. Believers ought to rely on God’s fatherly care, to expect that he will bestow upon them whatever they feel to be necessary, and not to torment themselves by unnecessary anxiety.
He forbids them to be anxious, or, as Luke has it, to seek, that is, to seek in the manner of those who look around them in every direction, without looking at God, on whom alone their eye ought to be fixed; who are never at ease, but when they have before their eyes an abundance of provisions; and who, not admitting that the protection of the world belongs to God, fret and tease themselves with perpetual uneasiness.
Matthew 6:32. For all those things the Gentiles seek This is a reproof of the gross ignorance, in which all such anxieties originate. For how comes it, that unbelievers never remain in a state of tranquillity, but because they imagine that God is unemployed, or asleep, in heaven, or, at least, that he does not take charge of the affairs of men, or feed, as members of his family, those whom he has admitted to his friendship. By this comparison he intimates, that they have made little proficiency, and have not yet learned the first lessons of godliness, who do not behold, with the eyes of faith, the hand of God filled with a hidden abundance of all good things, so as to expect their food with quietness and composure. Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of those things: that is, “All those persons who are so anxious about food, give no more honor, than unbelievers do, to the fatherly goodness and secret providence of God.”
Matthew 6:33. But rather seek first the kingdom of God This is another argument for restraining excessive anxiety about food. It argues a gross and indolent neglect of the soul, and of the heavenly life. Christ reminds us that there is the greatest inconsistency in men, who are born to a better life, being wholly employed about earthly objects. He who assigns the first rank to the kingdom of God, will not carry beyond moderation his anxiety about food. Nothing is better adapted to restrain the wantonness of the flesh from breaking out in the course of the present life, than meditation on the life of the heavens. The word righteousness may be either understood as applying to God, or to the kingdom:463463     On the latter supposition, we would naturally have expected that, instead of τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, we would have had τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτὢς, when αὐτὢς would have stood for τὢς βασιλείας. — Ed. for we know that the kingdom of God consists in righteousness, (Romans 14:17,) that is, in the newness of spiritual life. All other things shall be added This means, that those things which relate to the present life are but favorable appendages, and ought to be reckoned greatly inferior to the kingdom of God

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