From Glory to Glory
The Motives of Life (Matthew Chapter Six)
Our Lord now deals with the devotional life of His people and the things that affect it. “Be sure that you do not your acts of piety or righteousness before men” (V. 1, Revised). There is only one motive behind acts of righteousness that makes them precious in heaven, and that is a life lived before the eye of God alone (V. 1). Our Lord is speaking of the righteousness which exceeds that of the hypocrite (Chap. 5:20), and contrasts it with the outward show of the Pharisee, enacted for the applause of men. In receiving that applause, he has his reward. The Saviour warns His own, “Take heed” that your lives are not lived in bondage to the opinions and the plaudits of men. Dare any of us say that we are free from this blight? Are we not governed, at times, more by the fear of men than by the fear of God? Do we not forget too often that at the Judgment Seat of Christ we shall be turned inside out and the very motives that impelled our acts of piety will be revealed (1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10 R.V.)?
From verse 2 to 18 our Lord speaks of three acts of righteousness which flow from hearts that love Him. But there is a danger that these acts may be robbed of their preciousness by the intrusion of self. The first deals with the sacrificial life, and affects my relationship to others (Vv. 2-4); the second deals with the devotional life and affects my relationship to God (Vv. 5; 15); the third deals with the disciplined life and affects my relationship to self (Vv. 16-18). There, undoubtedly, is a connection here with the three active virtues of chapter 5:7-9. Almsgiving is the activity of the merciful, communion is the blessed portion of the pure in heart, and fasting is that inward discipline of natural appetites in preparation for communion with God and service to men as Christ’s ambassadors of peace. These are reversed in the order of our experience: fasting prepares for communion, and almsgiving flows from a life lived in fellowship with God (Acts 9:36).
Fasting is the practice of self-denial, the denial of everything that would hinder the soul’s progress in communion with God. It is not only the abstinence from natural food at times, although that is included, but the denial of everything that would feed the Adamic nature. Abraham made no progress with God until the death of the old man (Gen. 11:32; 12:4), nor will we, until we learn to put the knife of self-judgment to our flesh. “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Fasting and prayer are usually linked because in seasons of spiritual crisis and deep exercise before God the soul will not want to be disturbed in the presence of God. Moreover, spiritual sluggishness may be avoided by the denial of natural appetite.
In the second act of piety, our Lord insists upon three things: sincerity of heart, secrecy of place, and simplicity of language (Vv. 5-7). This is the first of several progressive lessons on prayer that our Lord taught. It is devotion under the eye of God alone. Our Lord did not mean this beautiful pattern prayer to be repeated in unison by whole congregations because it is intensely individual, and because it is to be made in the secrecy of the closet. It is given, rather, to teach us the elements of prayer and to reveal the principles which are to guide us in our devotional lives.
The prayer has seven petitions. The first three are related to the interests of the Father, the last four to the interests of the individual. This shows that true prayer is based upon relationship with God, and is maintained by holiness of life. “Hallowed be Thy name,” that is, in the lives of His own people. Moreover, it teaches the four great purposes of prayer: first, to cultivate a spirit of unselfishness by putting God’s interests first; second, to practise separation from the world as this is learned in the sanctuary. That which the soul is taught in the presence of God is a discontent with an age whose enjoyment arises from its expulsion of God. Third, to bring us into the current of the will of God. Fourth, to teach us our insufficiency and dependence upon God.
Let us look more closely at the prayer: “Our Father Who art in the heavens” (J. N. D.). Here we learn two things about God: first, His personality, He is our Father. Another had said, “Whose love wants the best for His children, Whose wisdom knows the best for His children, and Whose power does the best for His children” (G. King). Second, His omnipresence, “Who art in the heavens,” our Father is ever near us, His arm to support, His voice to cheer, His love to draw, and His never-failing mercy to strengthen in weakness and failure. Oh, how near He is to each! How accessible!
“No human voice may cheer thee no earthly listener hear thee,
But, oh, this Friend is near thee, the kindest and the best;
Whose smile can banish sadness, Whose presence fills with gladness
The solitary breast.”
In the first part of the prayer, we have what should be the interests of the children: the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom, and the Father’s will. Their passion is that His name may be sanctified, His kingdom come and His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Our Lord said, “I have declared unto them Thy name” (John 17). Now with holy jealousy the children pray that nothing may mar the existing intimacy, and they yearn for the day when that name will be hallowed in all the earth. The name of the Father is sanctified in the lives of His children when, the image of His own dear Son is reflected in them.
“Thy kingdom come.” For the larger fulfilment of this petition we must look even beyond the Millennium to the sabbath of God’s eternal rest. The kingdom for which He taught them to pray will come when all evil is subdued, and Christ delivers up His kingdom to the Father. The sabbath of God’s eternal rest will then begin (1 Cor. 15:24-28). In this present dispensation grace reigns through righteousness; in the kingdom of our Lord, righteousness will dwell forever. When the children of God are received into the Father’s house there will be an enjoyment of the Father’s kingdom even before it takes on its universal form (Matt. 13:43).
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Doing the will of God is as food for our spirits (John 4:34), enlightenment for our minds (John 7:17), and rest for our souls (Matt. 11:29). Paul prayed that we might be complete in all the will of God. In the obedience of saints the angels behold a little of Heaven on Earth. In anticipation of coming perfection our prayer should be that even now the Lord God may be sanctified in our wills (1 Peter 3:15); that He may be acknowledged in our hearts, and that His will may be accomplished in our lives, as in the life of our Lord (Psa. 40:8).
The last part of the prayer deals with the Father’s interest in the needs of His children, Their needs are threefold: the need of the body, “Give us this day our daily bread;” the need of the spirit, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;” the need of the soul, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The body needs sustenance hence the children are taught their dependence on the Father for food and raiment. His own loving hands meet this daily need, and in His unfailing care, He teaches them how precious they are to His own heart (V. 24).
The spirit needs communion. Since each of us possesses a fallen sinful nature which mars communion, how is this communion to be maintained? This results from forgiveness through the abiding efficacy of the Saviour’s work of atonement, and through His present ministry as priest upon the throne. This is not a question of the soul’s eternal happiness, but of daily fellowship with God. Parental forgiveness, however, is dependent on two things: first, confession when we are conscious of doing wrong, “Forgive us our debts” (See 1 John 1:9); second, the possession of a forgiving spirit toward others, “As we forgive our debtors” (Vv. 12, 14, 15). Except these two conditions are met, our fellowship with God will be marred and broken, and our souls will become lean. Oh, that we may chasten our spirits and cultivate the holy joy of communion with the Father! “The pure in heart shall see God.”
The soul needs succour. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This means not merely the evil one, although victory over the devil is included. The noun is neuter, and means every form of evil into which we may be led. Does this mean that we are to ask God that we may live our lives free from all temptation and testing? Such a thing is far from the mind of the Father in His plans for His children. He has permitted temptation and testing to develop character and to train us for Heaven (Heb. 12:5-13). What, then, does it mean, “Lead us not into temptation”? It is a petition not to be overwhelmed by the temptation, but to be delivered from the evil to which it might lead. The soul in the midst of temptation feels its own weakness, and in the need of
“We look backward to the sufferings, and forward to the glory. The first advent of our Lord was to endure the sufferings; the second advent will be to bring the glory. The Church occupies the interval. Most blessed place wherein to rest, and wait, and watch until Jesus comes!” —Trotter.
divine help casts itself upon the faithfulness of God, thus experiencing the truth of 1 Cor. 10:13: “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
“I need Thee every hour, stay Thou near by,
Temptations loose their power when Thou art nigh.”
Almsgiving is the activity of the merciful. The Christian life is one of giving. In the midst of suffering the mercy of the Lord is reflected in the sacrificial lives of His people. The soul that has learned Christ is dedicated to giving his substance to the poor, sympathy to the fallen, comfort to the sorrowing, cheer to the sad, strength to the weak, and the gospel to all the world.
“Then ask thy God to give thee skill in comfort’s art,
That thou mayest consecrated be, and set apart
Unto a life of sympathy, for heavy is the weight of ill in every breast,
And comforters are needed most of childlike touch.”
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What are we inwardly ?
We may be technical. We may like to see the order of divine service pursued in a certain way. We may be strong upon these points. We may be rigid in ecclesiasticism. But, what if we can go home and do a sneaking action? We may be critical. We may say the preacher’s grammar was not very exact; his teaching at a low level. Up to that point we are noble men. But, what if we oppress the hireling and lay a heavy hand on the weak? We are fond of traditions. We like to talk about those “dear old days of years ago”; and that “nice old Christian friend” that used to do so many beautiful things. We have a great reverence for those men and their ways of doing things. But, what if tomorrow morning we speak a savage word to a lonely creature, and drive into despair some soul that would be thankful for one ray of light?
Let us beware lest we “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”