1. Beware lest ye do your alms before men, that you may be seen by them: otherwise you have not a reward with your Father who is in heaven.2. Therefore, when thou doest alms, let there not be a sound of trumpets before thee, as hypocrites do in synagogues and in streets, that they may be glorified by men. Verily I say to you, They have their reward.3. But when thou shalt do alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4. That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will reward thee openly.
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. 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 eleemosunen, alms, read dikaiosunen, 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. 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 hupokritai, 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. 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. 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.