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Matthew 6:1

Matthew 6:1

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men
Some copies read, "take heed that ye do not your righteousness" which is a very good reading: but then, by "righteousness", is not meant righteousness, as comprehending all other righteous acts, as particularly alms, prayer, and fasting, hereafter mentioned; but alms only; nothing being more common with the Jews than to call alms (hqdu) , "righteousness": and whatever word Matthew made use of, there is no doubt to be made of it, but this was the word Christ used. Now alms was so called, because it is a righteous action, which ought to be performed; and to withhold from the poor what is meet, is to deal unrighteously: hence we read of the "mammon of unrighteousness"; by which is meant, not money unrighteously got, but that which is unrighteously kept from the poor: also it might be so called, because the Jews very much placed their justifying righteousness before God in the performance of it: let us first see how, according to them, it was to be done, and then what confidence they placed in it, and how much they made use of it. The account Maimonides F6 gives is as follows, who observes: that

``we are bound to take heed to the commandment of alms more than all the affirmative commands; because alms is a sign of a "righteous" man, the seed of Abraham our father; as it is said, in ( Genesis 18:19 ) . Nor is the throne of Israel established, nor can the law of truth stand, but by alms; as it is said, ( Proverbs 16:19 ) . Nor shall Israel be redeemed, but by alms, according to ( Isaiah 1:27 ) . There are (says he) eight degrees in giving alms, the one above another; the highest, than which there is none higher, is this; when one relieves an Israelite, and gives him a gift, or lends to him, or takes him into partnership, or finds him work, so that he strengthens his hands before he stands in need of asking; and of this it is said, and "thou shalt relieve him, a stranger and a sojourner, that he may live with thee": which is as much as to say, relieve him before he falls, and is brought to necessity. The next to this is, when a man gives alms to the poor, and he knows not to whom he gives; nor does the poor man know of whom he receives; for, behold, this is doing it for the sake of it; as the chamber of secrets, which was in the sanctuary, into which righteous men privately put, and the poor children of good men were privately supported: and the next to this is, when a man puts into the alms chest: and a man does not put into the alms chest except he knows that the governor is faithful and wise, and knows how to manage as should be; such an one as R. Chananiah ben Tradion. The next to this is, when the giver knows to whom he gives, but the poor man does not know from whom he receives; as the great ones of the wise men, who used to go secretly, and cast their money at the doors of the poor; and this is right to do, and a good method it is when the governors of alms do not dispose aright. The next to this is, when the poor man knows of whom he takes, but does not know the giver; as the great men among the wise men, who used to bind up their money in linen cloths, and put them behind them, and the poor came and took them, that they might not be ashamed. The next to this is, when a man puts it into his hands before he asks. The next to this is, when he gives to him after he has asked. The next to this is, when he gives to him less than is proper, with a pleasant countenance. The next to this is, when he gives with grief.''

Now this work, or duty, they magnify at a very great rate: not content to say F7, that

``he that does alms, does that which is more excellent than all offerings;''

they further affirm F8, that

``giving of alms and beneficence (hlwk hrwth dgnk) , "are equal to the whole law";''

or, it is all one as if a man performed the whole law. Moreover, they give F9 out,

``that whoever takes of his goods, and does alms with them, he shall be delivered from the "damnation of hell".''

Yea, they reckon that this gives a right and title to eternal life {k}.

``He that says, let this "sela", or "shekel", be for alms, that his children may live, and that he may be worthy of the life of the world to come, lo! this is (rwmg qydu) , "a perfect righteous man".''

Or, as elsewhere F12 expressed,

``let this sela be for alms, that my son may live, and that he may be a son of the world to come; lo! this is a perfect righteous man.''

Thus, you see, they looked upon it as their righteousness; and what made them heirs of heaven, and gave them a title to eternal glory. Now our Lord advises them to take heed, as what would be of bad consequence, and very detrimental to them, that they did not their alms before men,

to be seen of them;
not but alms may be lawfully done before, or in the sight of men, and a good end may be answered by it; namely, to stir up others to acts of liberality; but then this must not be done with this view, to be seen of men, in order to gain their applause, and a good name among them,

otherwise, ye have no reward of your Father, which is in heaven.
You expect a reward, and a very great one, for your alms; but if you do them only to raise your credit, and gain esteem among men, you have your reward already with men: nor must you expect any from God, since you seek not his glory, but your own. When a man's self, and not the glory of God, is the chief end of any action, that cannot be called a good work, nor will it have any reward; whereas a good work, which springs from a principle of grace, and is directed to the glory of God, will have a reward, not of debt, but of grace, from whence it arises.


FOOTNOTES:

F6 Hilch. Mattanot Anayim, c. 10. sect. 1. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
F7 T. Bab. Succa, fol. 49. 2.
F8 T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 15. 2, 3.
F9 T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 7. 1, 2.
F11 T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 4. 1. Bava Bathra, fol. 10. 2.
F12 T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 8. 1, 2.
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