TAKE HEED NOT TO DO YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE MEN
By ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.
Matt. 6:1. Take heed not to do your righteousness before men, with a view to be seen by them : otherwise ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
Critics are in general persuaded that we should read righteousness, instead of alms in this verse. The weight of evidence is greatly in its favour.
Thus read, these words are a general principle, applying to the three cases of ALMS, PRAYER, and FASTING.
The righteousness here spoken of is not the imputed righteousness which is received by faith. It is a righteousness which is to be done by the person possessed of imputed righteousness. It answers, therefore, nearly to good works. Thus Jesus says Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works (5: 16). And again Suffer it be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness (3: 15). He dispersed abroad, he gave to the poor, his righteousness remaineth for ever (2 Cor. 9: 7-9). Our Lord appears to be now referring to His previous sentiment Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
He had given hints of the need of a better righteousness than that of human obedience, in the blessing on the poor of spirit; and in the previous call of all Israel to repentance, followed by the baptism into a greater than Moses. But the discovery of the imputation of Messiahs righteousness to the believer, was a truth left for the Holy Ghost to testify, after Jesus ascent.
The good works which the Saviour proceeds to specify, are not to be done before men. But had He not commanded us to let our light shine before men? Is not this inconsistent? No! There are two opposite tendencies in human nature, to one of which one class of men and one period of time are prone, and another class and men of another period to the opposite. The Spirit of God gives directions against both these deviations. Some men are swayed by fear, and would keep secret their faith. Against these Jesus requires the profession of faith, and the manifest doing of good works. But another class is prone to vainglory, and to pride. Against this danger our Lord is now arming us. He forbids not the doing a good work in the presence of others; but it is not to be performed from the motive of desiring their applause. Do not your righteousness before men, wjth a view to be seen by them.* Our good deeds are to flow from us, as light from a lamp. The lamp shines not only when men are present, but when the room is empty. The witnessing eye of men is not the regulating principle of its shining or not.
[* Here is the same phrase which our Lord used in his warning against heart-adultery, taken in the same sense designating the motive of the agent.]
The reason of this caution is added Otherwise ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
You have no reward with your Father. That is, none is being treasured up by Him for you. And as this reward is to be given at the kingdom, the Saviour uses the future tense in Luke 6: 35, Your reward shall be great. It is a phrase of similar meaning to that Your reward is great in heaven. Save, of course, that here the negative is used, it is nearly equivalent to that other expression of our Lord, Ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
In this passage, as in many others, our Lord appeals to a sense of our own interests. The glory of God is the highest motive possible. But the desire to act prudently for ourselves, is a motive authorised and enforced by our Lord.
We are directed to seek reward in the kingdom. Seek first
But is not the being moved by the hope of reward a mercenary affair? Is not the love of God to prompt us?
We have not to mend our Lords words, but to receive and obey them. The Saviour was urged to His wondrous work of self-devotion by a prospect of the prize before Him (Heb. 12: 2). It is not the only motive in the matter. There is no antagonism between the hope of reward, and the love of God as our Father. The Saviour, wherever in this Sermon He is speaking of reward, connects it with the Fatherhood of God; so little did He regard it as mean or mercenary. Could not a human father say to his children?‑ My dears, I am very desirous that you should know the Scripture well. I wish you therefore each one to learn me as many verses or chapters as you can, and say them to me every morning. And observe, at the end of a year I intend to give rewards in proportion to the number of chapters learned by each of you.
Would there be anything mercenary or mean in the childrens anxiety at once to please their parent, to know the Scripture, and to win the reward? Would there be any opposition or collision between the motives? Would not all conspire harmoniously to produce the desired effect?
The principle which our Lord lays down in this passage is one of great moment. He more than once offers it to our notice, and in varied forms. Reward is an alternative, or choice between two things. (1) You may either have it now, and from men. (2) Or you may have it hereafter, and from God. But you cannot have both. Sense and passion say, Let me have my reward now! Faith says, Let me wait to receive it from God in His kingdom!
But Jesus here affirms, that if we seek our reward from men now, we have here below all the reward we shall obtain. Take heed then, that you act not, so as to lose the future recompense!
Herein then lies the answer to Mr. Binneys scheme
of making the best of both worlds. The
thing cannot be done! Have your
reward here in wealth, mirth, affluence and reputation, and you cannot have it
in the age of reward to come. Blessed are ye poor says Jesus to his disciples, for yours is