(1) From the protest against the casuistry which tampered with and distorted the great primary commandments, the Sermon on the Mount passes to the defects of character and action which vitiated the religion of Pharisaism even where it was at its best. Its excellence had been that it laid stress, as the religion of Islam did afterwards, on the three great duties of the religious life, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, rather than on sacrifices and offerings. Verbally, Pharisaism accepted on this point the widest and most spiritual teaching of the prophets, and so its home was in the Synagogue rather than the Temple, and it gained a hold on the minds of the people which the priests never gained. But a subtle evil found its way even here. Love of praise and power, rather than spontaneous love, and self-denial, and adoration, was the mainspring of their action, and so that which is the essence of all religion was absent even from the acts in which the purest and highest form of religion naturally shows itself.
Your alms.—The better MSS. give righteousness, and obviously with a far truer meaning, as the wider word which branches off afterwards into the three heads of alms, fasting, prayer. In Rabbinic language the whole was often used for the part, and “righteousness” was identified with “mercifulness,” and that with giving money. The Greek version of the LXX. often renders the Hebrew word for righteousness by “alms.” In the New Testament, however, there is no such narrowing of its meaning, and here the full significance of the word is fixed by its use in Matthew 5:20. The reading “alms” probably arose from a misconception of the real meaning of the passage, and the consequent assumption that it simply introduced the rule given in Matthew 6:2-3.
To be seen of them.—It is the motive, and not the fact of publicity, that vitiates the action. The high ideal of the disciple of Christ is to let his light shine “before men” (the self-same words are used in Matthew 5:16 as here), and yet to be indifferent to their praise or even their opinion. In most religious men there is probably a mingling of the two motives, and we dare not say at what precise stage the presence of the lower overpowers the higher. It is enough to remember that it is the little speck which may taint the whole character till it loses all its life.
Of your Father which is in heaven.—More accurately, with your Father, as meaning, “in His estimate.” The act is not done to and for Him, and therefore (speaking after the manner of men) He looks on it as having no claim to payment.
Do not sound a trumpet before thee.—Two conjectural interpretations have been given of the words:—It has been supposed (1) that the wealthy Pharisees had a trumpet literally blown before them, to give notice to the poor of the neighbourhood that they were distributing their alms; (2) that the words refer to the clang of the money as it fell into the metal trumpet-shaped alms-boxes which were found in the synagogue, a clang which came as sweet music to the ears of the purse-proud giver. But as regards (1), the best scholars have found no trace of any such practice in Jewish literature, and it is hardly credible that such a thing could have been done in the synagogues; and (2) seems hardly adequate to the active meaning of the verb. There is no reason, however, for taking the words so literally. The figure of speech which describes a vain man as being “his own trumpeter,” or making a “flourish of trumpets” about his own acts, has been, or might be. common in every country where trumpets have been used. What is meant is that, whether in the “offertories” of the synagogue or the alms given to beggars in the streets, there was a parade of benevolence which practically summoned men to gaze and admire.
As the hypocrites do.—Here again the word has a history of its own. Derived from a Greek verb which signifies answering, taking part in a dialogue, acting a part in a play, the noun in classical Greek was used simply for an actor, a man who plays a part. In one passage only in the LXX. version of the Old Testament (Job 36:13) it appears in the figurative sense of one who feigns a virtue which he has not. It thus lay ready for the wider use which the Evangelists have given it (it is not used by any writer of the New Testament except St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke), and passed with this new meaning, hardly altered in form, first into Latin and then into most of the languages of modern Europe.
The streets.—More strictly, the lanes or alleys of a city, as distinguished from the wider streets, properly so called, of Matthew 6:5; Matthew 12:19, and elsewhere.
They have their reward.—The Greek is more expressive: They have to the full, and so exhaust. There is nothing more for them to look for. They bargained for that praise of men, and they get it; but they sought not the honour that cometh of God only, and therefore He gives them none.
Thy Father which seeth in secret.—The attribute which we call the Omniscience of God is commonly dwelt on as calculated to inspire a just fear of the All-seeing One. He sees, we say, the evil deeds that are done in secret. Here it is brought before us as an encouragement and ground of hope. Do we feel isolated, not understood, not appreciated? He sees in secret and will reward.
Shall reward thee openly.—A curious instance of an early attempt to improve on our Lord’s teaching. The adverb “openly” is not found in the best MSS., and is now omitted by most editors. It would seem either as if a false rhetorical taste desired a more complete antithesis, or that the craving for public acknowledgment in the presence of men and angels asserted itself even here, and led men to add to the words of the divine Teacher. It need hardly be said that the addition weakens and lowers the force of the truth asserted. It is not necessarily in this way, “openly,” that God rewards His servants, nor do the words point only to the reward of the last great day. The reward is at once immediate, and, it may be, secret—the hidden manna, the joy with which a stranger doth not intermeddle, and which no man taketh from us.
In the corners of the streets.—Not the same word as in Matthew 6:3, but the broad, open places of the city. There, too, the Pharisees might be seen, reciting their appointed prayers—probably the well-known eighteen acts of devotion which were appointed for the use of devout Israelites—and with the tallith or veil of prayer over their head.
Openly.—Probably, as before, in Matthew 6:4, an interpolation.
As the heathen do.—We know too little of the details of the ritual of classical heathenism to be able to say how far the charge of vain repetition applied at this time to them. The cries of the worshippers of Baal “from morning even until noon” (1 Kings 18:26), the shouts of those of Artemis at Ephesus “for the space of two hours” (Acts 19:34), may be taken as representative instances.
Their much speaking.—This thought was the root-evil of the worship of the heathen or the Pharisee. It gave to prayer a quantitative mechanical force, increased in proportion to the number of prayers offered. If fifty failed, a hundred might succeed. But this assumed that the object of prayer was to change the will of God, or to inform Him of what He did not know before, and our Lord teaches us—as, indeed, all masters of the higher life have taught—that that assumption vitiates prayer at once.
Our Father.—It is clear that the very word “Abba” (father) uttered by our Lord here, as in Mark 14:36, so impressed itself on the minds of men that, like “Amen” and “Hallelujah” and “Hosanna,” it was used in the prayers even of converts from heathenism and Hellenistic Judaism. From its special association with the work of the Spirit in Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6, it would seem to have belonged to the class of utterances commonly described as the “tongues,” in which apparently words from two or more languages were mingled together according as each best expressed the devout enthusiasm of the worshipper.
The thought of the Fatherhood of God was not altogether new. He had claimed “Israel as His son, even His firstborn” (Exodus 4:22), had loved him as His child (Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1). The thought of an outraged Fatherhood underlies the reproaches of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:2) and Malachi (Malachi 1:6). “Thou, O Lord, art our Father” (Isaiah 64:8) was the refuge of Israel from despair. It had become common in Jewish liturgies and forms of private prayer. As the disciples heard it, it would not at first convey to their minds thoughts beyond those with which they were thus familiar. But it was a word pregnant with a future. Time and the teaching of the Spirit were to develop what was now in germ. That it had its ground in the union with the Eternal Son, which makes us also sons of God; that it was a name that might be used, not by Israelites only, but by every child of man; that of all the names of God that express His being and character, it was the fullest and the truest—this was to be learnt as men were guided into all the truth. Like all such names, it had its inner and its outer circles of application. It was true of all men, true of all members of the Church of Christ, true of those who were led by the Spirit, in different degrees; but all true theology rests on the assumption that the ever-widening circles have the same centre, and that that centre is the Love of the Father.
The words “Our Father” are not a form excluding the use of the more personal “My Father” in solitary prayer, but they are a perpetual witness that even then we should remember that our right to use that name is no peculiar privilege of ours, but is shared by every member of the great family of God.
Which art in heaven.—The phrase, familiar as it is, has a history of special interest. (1.) In the earlier books of the Old Testament the words “Jehovah is God in heaven above and in earth beneath” (Deuteronomy 4:39; Joshua 2:11), express His universal presence; and this was embodied also in the name of “the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth,” of the earliest patriarchal faith (Genesis 14:22). Later on, men began to be more conscious of the infinite distance between themselves and God, and represented the contrast by the thought that He was in heaven and they on earth (Ecclesiastes 5:2); and this thought became a liturgical formula in the great dedication prayer of Solomon, “Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place” (l Kings 8:42, 43, et cet.; 2 Chronicles 6:21, etc.). And so, emancipated from over-close identification with the visible firmament, the phrase became current as symbolising the world visible and invisible, which is alike the dwelling-place of God, uttering in the language of poetry that which we vainly attempt to express in the language of metaphysics by such terms as the Infinite, the Absolute, the Unconditioned. (2.) We ought not to forget that the words supply at once (as in the phrase, “God of heaven,” in Ezra 1:2; Daniel 2:18-19) a link and a contrast between the heathen and the Jew, the Aryan and Semitic races. Each alike found in the visible heaven the symbol of the invisible forces of the universe of an unseen world; but the one first identified his heaven (the Varuna of the Vedic hymns, the Ouranos of the Greeks) with that world, and then personified each several force in it, the Pantheism of the thinker becoming the Polytheism of the worshipper; whilst to the other heaven was never more than the dwelling-place of God in His undivided unity.
Hallowed be thy name.—The first expression of thought in the pattern prayer is not the utterance of our wants and wishes, but that the Name of God—that which sums up all our thoughts of God—should be “hallowed,” be to us and all men as a consecrated name, not lightly used in trivial speech, or rash assertion, or bitterness of debate, but the object of awe and love and adoration. The words “Jehovah, hallowed be His name,” were familiar enough to all Israelites, and are found in many of their prayers, but here the position of the petition gives a new meaning to it, and makes it the key to all that follows. Still more striking is the fact, that this supplies a link between the teaching of the first three Gospels and that of the fourth. Thus the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray—thus, in John 12:28, He prayed Himself, “Father, glorify Thy name.”
Thy will be done.—The prayer has often been, even in the lips of Christians, hardly more than the “acceptance of the inevitable.” Like the Stoic, we have submitted to a destiny; like the Moslem, we have been resigned to a decree. But as it came from the lips of the Son of Man, it was surely far more than this. We pray that the will of God may be done because we believe it to be perfectly loving and righteous. It is the will that desires our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), that does not will that any should perish. The real difficulty in the prayer is, that it lands us, as before. in a mystery which we cannot solve. It assumes that even the will of God is in part dependent on our wills, that it will not be done unless we so pray. The question, “Who hath resisted this will? Does it not ever fulfil itself?” forces itself on our thoughts. And the answer is found, as before, in accepting the seeming paradox of prayer. In one sense the will of God, which is also the eternal law, must fulfil itself; but it is one thing for that law to work in subduing all things to itself, another for it to bring all created wills into harmony with itself. And in really praying for this we, as before, in part fulfil the prayer.
As it is in heaven.—The thought is true of the order of the visible heaven, where law reigns supreme, with no “variableness or shadow of turning.” But seeing that the obedience contemplated is that of the will, it is better, perhaps, to think of the words as pointing to the unseen hosts of heaven, the ministering angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. That all wills on earth should be brought into the same entire conformity with the divine will as theirs, is what we are taught to pray for.
II.—THE WORD “DAILY,” IN Matthew 6:11.
The word ἐπιούσιος has been derived (1) from ή ἐπιοῡσα (sc. ἡμέρα)=the day that is coming on; and this meaning is favoured by the fact that Jerome says that the Hebrew Gospel current in his time gave the word mahar (= crastinus) to-morrow’s bread, and by the very early rendering, quotidianum, in the Latin versions. On the other hand, this meaning introduces a strange tautology into St. Luke’s version of the prayer, “Give us day by day—i.e., daily—our daily bread.” (2) The other derivation connects it with οὐσία in some one or other of its many senses, and with ἐπὶ as signifying either “for” or “over”—the former force of the preposition suggesting the thought “for our existence or subsistence;” the latter, the supersubstantialis of Jerome, that is, “over or above our material substance.” It is said, and with truth, that in classical Greek the form would have been not ἐπιούσιος, but ἐπούσιος; but it is clear that that difficulty did not prevent a scholar like Jerome from accepting the derivation, and it was not likely that the Hellenistic Jew who first translated our Lord’s discourses should be more accurate than Jerome in coining a word which seemed to him wanted to express our Lord’s meaning. The derivation being then admissible, it remains to ask which of the two meanings of οὐσία and of ἐπὶ gives most force to the clause in which the word occurs, and for the reasons given above I am led to decide in favour of the latter. New words would hardly have been wanted for the meanings “daily” or “sufficient.” When a word is coined, it may fairly be assumed that it was wanted to express a new thought, and the new thought here was that which our Lord afterwards developed in John 6, that the spirit of a man needs sustenance not less than his body, and that that sustenance is found in the “bread of God which cometh down from heaven” (John 6:33). The student should, however, consult Dr. Lightfoot’s admirable excursus on the word in his Hints on a Revised Version of the New Testament.
On the assumption that the Lord’s Prayer included and spiritualised the highest thoughts that had previously been expressed separably by devout Israelites, we may note, as against the meaning of “bread for the morrow,” the saying of Rabbi Elieser, that “He who has a crumb left in his scrip, and asks, ‘What shall I eat to-morrow?’ belongs to those of little faith.”
There is, it must be admitted, a difficulty in conjecturing what Aramaic word could have answered to this meaning of ἐπιούσιος, and the fact that a word giving the other meaning is, as it were, ready to hand, and was actually found in the Hebrew Gospel in the fourth century, has some weight on the other side. That word may, however, itself have been not a translation of the original, but a re-translation of the Latin quotidianus; and the fact that Jerome, knowing of this, chose another rendering here, while he retained quotidianus in St. Luke 11:3, shows that he was not satisfied with it, and at last, it may be, halted between two opinions.
In striking contrast with that clause is the claim of merit which insinuates itself so readily into the hearts of those who worship without the consciousness that they need forgiveness, and which uttered itself in the daring prayer attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”
As we forgive our debtors.—The better reading gives, We have forgiven, as a completed act before we begin to pray. In the very act of prayer we are taught to remind ourselves of the conditions of forgiveness. Even here, in the region of the free grace of God, there is a law of retribution. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is ipso facto a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. We forget the ten thousand talents as we exact the hundred pence, and in the act of exacting we bring back that burden of the greater debt upon ourselves.
Up to this point, in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, we may think of the Man Christ Jesus as having not only taught the Prayer, but Himself used it. During the years of youth and manhood it may well have been thus far the embodiment of the outpourings of His soul in communion with His Father. Even the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” whether we take it in its higher or its lower meaning, would be the fit utterance of His sense of dependence as the Son of Man. Can we think the same of the prayer, “Forgive us our debts?” It is, of course, opposed to the whole teaching of Scripture to believe that there dwelt on His human spirit the memory of a single transgression. In the fullest sense of the word He was without sin, the Just One, needing no repentance. And yet the analogy of those of His saints and servants who have followed most closely in the footsteps of His holiness may lead us to think it possible that even these words also may have had a meaning in which He could use them. In proportion as men attain holiness and cease to transgress, they gain a clearer perception of the infinite holiness of God, and seek to be made partakers of it. They would fain pray and praise and work for Him evermore, but though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. They are weary and faint, and they become more intensely conscious of the limits of their human powers as contrasted with the limitless range of their desires. In this sense, therefore, and strictly in reference to the limitations of the true, yet absolutely sinless, humanity which He vouchsafed to assume, it is just conceivable that He too Himself may have used this prayer. And we must remember also that He prayed as the Brother of mankind, as the representative of the race. The intensity of His sympathy with sinners, which was the condition of His atoning work (Hebrews 4:15), would make Him, though He knew no sin, to identify Himself with sinners. He would feel as if their transgressions were His transgressions, their debts His debts.
Deliver us from evil.—The Greek may grammatically be either neuter or masculine, “evil” in the abstract, or the “evil one” as equivalent to the “devil.” The whole weight of the usage of New Testament language is in favour of the latter meaning. In our Lord’s own teaching we have the “evil one” in Matthew 13:19; Matthew 13:38; John 17:15 (probably); in St. Paul’s (Ephesians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), in St. John’s (1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19) this is obviously the only possible interpretation. Romans 12:9, and possibly John 17:15, are the only instances of the other. Added to this, there is the thought just adverted to, which leads us to connect our Lord’s words with His own experience. The prayer against temptation would not have been complete without reference to the Tempter whose presence was felt in it. We may lawfully pray to be spared the trial. If it comes, there is yet room for the prayer, “Deliver us from the power of him who is our enemy and Thine.”
For thine is the kingdom. . . .—The whole clause is wanting in the best MSS. and in the earlier versions, and is left unnoticed by the early Fathers, who comment on the rest of the Prayer. Most recent editors have accordingly omitted it, as probably an addition made at first (after the pattern of most Jewish prayers) for the liturgical use of the Prayer, and then interpolated by transcribers to make the text of the discourse harmonise with the liturgies.
Of a sad countenance.—Strictly, of sullen look, the moroseness of affected austerity rather than of real sorrow.
They disfigure their faces.—The verb is the same as that translated “corrupt” in Matthew 6:19. Here it points to the unwashed face and the untrimmed hair. possibly to the ashes sprinkled on both, that men might know and admire the rigorous asceticism.
Openly.—Here again the artificial antithesis is to be rejected as an interpolation.
Where moth and rust doth corrupt.—The first word points to one form of Eastern wealth, the costly garments of rich material, often embroidered with gold and silver. (Comp. “Your garments are moth-eaten” in James 5:2.) The second word is not so much the specific “rust” of metals, as the decay which eats into and corrodes all the perishable goods of earth.
Mammon.—The word means in Syriac “money” or “riches,” and is used in this sense in Luke 16:9. It occurs frequently in the Chaldee Targum, but no word resembling it is found in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. In the fourth century Jerome found it in use in Syria, and Augustine in the Punic dialect of his native country. There is no ground for believing that it ever became the name of any deity, who, like the Plutus of the Greeks, was worshipped as the god of wealth. Here, there is obviously an approach to a personification for the sake of contrasting the service or worship of money with that which is due to God. Milton’s description of Mammon among the fallen angels is a development of the same thought (Par. Lost, I. 678).
For your life.—The Greek word is the same as that commonly rendered “soul,” and the passage is interesting as an example of its use in the wider sense which includes the lower as well as the higher life. (Comp. Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 3:4, et at.) We note in the form of the precept the homeliness of the cases selected as illustration. We hear the language of One who speaks to peasants with their simple yet pressing wants, not to the wider cares of the covetous or ambitious of a higher grade.
Is not the life more than meat, . . .?—The reasoning is à fortiori. God has given you the greater, can you not trust Him to give you also the less? In some way or other there will come food to sustain life, and clothing for the body, and men should not so seek for more as to be troubled about them.
Are ye not much better than they?—Here again the reasoning is à fortiori. Assuming a personal will, the will of a Father, as that which governs the order of the universe, we may trust to its wisdom and love to order all things well for the highest as for the meanest of its creatures. For those who receive whatever comes in the spirit of contented thankfulness, i.e., for those who “love God,” all things work together for good.
Consider the lilies of the field.—Here again we may think of the lesson as drawn immediately from the surrounding objects. The hill-sides of Galilee are clothed in spring with the crown imperial, and the golden amaryllis, and crimson tulips, and anemones of all shades from scarlet to white, to say nothing of the commoner buttercups and dandelions and daisies; and all these are probably classed roughly together under the generic name of “lilies.” And these, with what we may reverently speak of as a love of Nature, the Lord tells His disciples to “consider,” i.e., not merely to look at with a passing glance, but to study—to learn, as it were, by heart—till they have realised every beauty of structure and form and hue.
O ye of little faith.—The word is found only in our Lord’s teaching, and the passages in which it occurs are all singularly suggestive. The disciples were not faithless or unbelieving, but their trust was weak. They lacked in moments of anxiety the courage which leads men to rely implicitly on the love and wisdom of their Father. So in the stormy night on the lake, or when Peter began to sink in the waves, or when the disciples had forgotten to take bread, the same word recurs (Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8).
For your heavenly Father knoweth . . .—The bearing of this teaching on the meaning of the “daily bread” of the Lord’s Prayer has already been noticed (comp. Note on Matthew 6:11). The outer life of man, and its accidents, may well be left to the wisdom of the All-knowing. It lies below the region of true prayer, or occupies an altogether subordinate place within it.
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils,”
because they had a Father in heaven who cared for each one of them with a personal and individualising love.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.—The word rendered “evil” occurs in the Gospels only in this passage, and in the Epistles has commonly the sense of “wickedness.” That meaning would be too strong here; but it reminds us that our Lord is speaking not of what we call the simple accidents or misfortunes of life, but of the troubling element which each day brings with it, and against which we have to contend, lest it should lead us into sin. That conflict is more than enough for the day, without anticipating a further mischief.