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IN this part of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus gives us instruction on two subjects: one is that of giving alms; the other is that of prayer. Both were subjects to which Jews attached great importance: both in themselves deserve the serious attention of all professing Christians.
Let us observe that our Lord takes it for granted that all who call themselves His disciples will give alms.
He assumes as a matter of course that they will think it a solemn duty to give, according to their means, to relieve the wants of others; the only point He handles is the manner in which the duty should be done. This is a weighty lesson: it condemns the selfish stinginess of many in the matter of giving money. How many are "rich towards themselves," but poor towards God! How many never give a farthing to do good to the bodies and souls of men! And have such persons any right to be called Christians in their present state of mind? It may well be doubted. A giving Saviour should have giving disciples.
Let us observe again, that the Lord takes it for granted that all who call themselves His disciples will pray.
He assumes this also as a matter of course: He only gives directions as to the best way of praying. This is another lesson which deserves to be continually remembered: it teaches plainly that prayerless people are not genuine Christians. It is not enough to join in the prayers of the congregation on Sundays, or attend the prayers of a family on week days: there must be private prayer also. Without this we may be outward members of Christ's Church, but we are not living members of Christ.
But what are the rules laid down for our guidance about almsgiving and praying? They are few and simple; but they contain much matter for thought.
In giving, everything like ostentation is to be abhorred and avoided.
"When thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee." We are not to give as if we wished everybody to see how liberal and charitable we are, and desire the praise of our fellow-men. We are to shun everything like display: we are to give quietly, and make little noise as possible about our charities; we are to aim at the spirit of the proverbial saying, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."
In praying, the principal object to be sought is to be alone with God.
"When thou prayest, enter into thy closet." We should endeavour to find some place where no mortal eye sees us, and where we can pour out our hearts with the feeling that no one is looking at us but God.--This is a rule which many find it very difficult to follow; the poor man and the servant often find it almost impossible to be really alone; but it is a rule which we must make great efforts to obey. Necessity, in such cases, is often the mother of invention. When a person has a real will to find some place where he can be in secret with his God, he generally find a way.
In all our duties, whether giving or praying, the great thing to keep in mind is, that we have to do with a heart-searching and all-knowing God.
"Our Father seeth in secret." Eveything like formality, affectation, or mere bodily service, is abominable and worthless in God's sight. He takes no account of quantity of money we give, or the quantity of the words we use: the one thing at which His all-seeing eye looks is the nature of our motives and the state of our hearts.
May we all remember these things. Here lies a rock on which many are continually making spiritual shipwreck. They flatter themselves that all must be right with their souls, if they only perform a certain amount of "religious duties:" they forget that God does not regard the quantity, but the quality of our service. His favor is not to be bought, as many seem to suppose, by the formal repitition of a number of words, or by the self-righteous payment of a sum of money to a charitable institution. Where are our hearts?--Are we doing all, whether we give or pray, "as to the Lord, and not to men?"--Do we realize the eye of God?--Do we simply and solely desire to please Him, who "seeth in secret," and by whom "actions are weighed"? (1 Sam. 2:3)--Are we sincere?--These are the sort of questions with which we should often ply our souls.