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a joyful festival; a day to which we ought always to look forward with delight, and enjoy with a thankful and a grateful heart. But let it be remembered at the same time, that it is a day which God claims as his own; that he has stamped upon it a peculiar mark of sanctity; and that it ought to be distin. guished from every other day, in the first place, by resting from our usual occupations, and giving rest to our servants and our cattle; in the next, by attendance on the public worship of God; and in the remaining intervals, by relaxations and enjoyments peculiarly its own; not by quotidian tumult, noise, and dissipation ; but by the calm and silent pleasures of retirement, of recollection, of devout meditation, of secret prayer, yet mingled discreetly with select society, with friendly converse, with sober recreation, and with decent cheerfulness throughout the whole.
It was to draw off our attention from the common follies and vanities of the week, and to give the soul a little pause, a little respite, a little breathing from the incessant importunities of business and of pleasure, that this holy festival was instituted. And if we cannot give up these things for a single day, if we cannot make this small sacrifice to Him from whom we derive our very existence, it is high time for us to look to our hearts, and to consider very seriously whether such a disposition and temper of mind as this will ever qualify us for the kingdom of heaven.
“ Could ye not watch with me one bour ? Said our divine Master to his slumbering companions.* Can ye not give me one day out of seven? May he now say to his thoughtless disciples. Let none of us then ever subject ourselves to this bitter reproach. Let us resolve from this moment to make the Christian sabbath a day of holy joy and consolation ; a day of heavenly rest and refreshment; and above all, a day for the attentive perusal of those sacred pages which have been the subject of these Lectures, and of your most serious attention. It is to be hoped, indeed, that we shall not confine our religion and our devotion to that day only ; but even that day properly employed, will in some degree sanctify all the rest. It will disengage us (as it was meant to do) gradually and gently from that world, which we must soon (perhaps sooner than we imagine) quit for ever ; it will raise our thoughts above the low and trivial pursuits of the present scene, and fix them on nobler and worthier objects; it will refine and purify, exalt and spi
* Mark xiv. 37.
ritualize our affections; will bring us nearer and nearer to God, and to the world of spirits ; and thus lead us on to that celestial sabbath, that everlasting rest, for which the Christian sabbath was meant to prepare and harmonize our souls.
LECTURE VI I.
MATTH. CHAP. vi. AND vii.
In these two chapters our Lord continues and concludes his admirable discourse from the Mount.
The first thing to be noticed here is a strong and repeated caution to avoid
all show and ostentation in the performance of our religious duties.
The three instances specified are the acts of giving alms, of praying, and of fasting.
The direction with regard to the first is, “ Take heed tha you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thy alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men; verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."*
In the same manner with regard to prayer ; the rule is, “ When thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men ; verily I say unto you they have their reward.—But thou, when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is ir. secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”+
Lastly, a similar precaution applies also to the act of fasting ; 6 When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast ; verily I say unto you they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that 'thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
In all these passages the point to be noticed is a strong and marked disapprobation of every thing that looks like ostenta
* Matth. vi. 1-4.
+ Ibid. 5-6. | Matth. vi. 16—18.
tion, parade, vain-glory, insincerity, or hypocrisy, in the discharge of our Christian duties. They show in the clearest light the spirit and temper of the Christian religion, which is modest, silent, retired, quiet, unobtrusive, shunning the ob servation and the applause of men, and looking only to the approbation of him who seeth every thought of our hearts, and every secret motive of our actions.
They establish this as the grand principle of action for every disciple of Christ, that in every part of his moral and religious conduct he is to have no other object in view but the favour of God. This is the motive from which all his virtues are to flow. If he is actuated by any other; if he courts the applause of the world, or is ambitious to acquire, by a show of piety, a character of sanctity among men, he may perhaps gain bis point; but it is all he will gain. He will have his reward here ; he must expect none hereafter.
Having made this general observation upon the whole; I shall now proceed to remark on the particular instances adduced, in order to establish the leading principle.
And first, we are directed to give our alms so privately, that (as our Lord most emphatically and elegantly expresses it)
our left hand shall not know what our right hand doeth.” This evidently implies the utmost secrecy in the distribution of our charity ; and this is undoubtedly the rule we are in general to observe. But it is by no means to be inferred from hence that we are never, on any occasion, to give our alms in public. In some cases, publicity is so far from being culpable, that it is necessary, useful, and laudable. In contributing, for instance, to any public charity, or to the relief of some great calamity, private or public, we cannot well conceal our beneficence, or if we could we ought not. Our example may induce many others to exert a similar generosity; and besides this, there are persons in certain situations who are expected to be charitable, and who should give proofs to the world that they
And accordingly in these and in such like cases we are required to make our “ light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven."'*
As far therefore as the reason of this command goes, it is not only allowable, but our duty, to let our generous deeds be sometimes known to the world. But then we ought to take especial care at the same time that we bestow a much larger proportion of our alms in secrecy and in silence ; that we suffer no one to witness our beneficence but Him who must
* Matth. v. 16.
see every thing we do, and that we have no other object whatever in view but his approbation, and his immortal rewards.
The next instance adduced to confirm the general principle of seeking the approbation not of men, but of God, is that of prayer.
“When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are,for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men ; verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” This passage
has been made use of by some writers as an argument against all public prayer, which they say is here plainly prohibited. But for this there is not the smallest foundation. It is of private prayer only that our Lord is here speaking; and the hypocrites whom he condemns were those ostentatious Jews, who performed those devotions which ought to have been confined to the closet, in the synagogues, and even in the public streets, that they might be noticed and applauded for their extraordinary piety and sanctity. But this reproof could not possibly mean to extend to public devotions in places of worship. This is evident from the corners of streets being mentioned; for those are places in which public devotions are never performed. But besides this, we find in Scripture that public worship is enjoined as a duty of the highest importance. It made a considerable part of the Jewish eligion, and the Mosaic law is filled with precepts and directions concerning it. God declares, by the prophet Isaiah, 6 that his house should be called a house of prayer for all people."* Our Saviour quotes these very words when he cast out those that polluted the temple ; and was himself a constant frequenter of divine worship, both in the temple and in the synagogues. He taught his disciples (as we shall soon see) a form of prayer, which, though very proper to be used by any single person in private, yet is throughout expressed in the plural number, and adapted to the use of several persons praying at the same time. “ If two of you,” says he to his disciples on another occasion, “shall agree on earth touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven ; for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”+ By St. Paul we are commanded “not to forsake the assembling
* Isaiah, lvi. 7.
† Matth. xviii. 19-20.