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1. The subject of mercy, with the treatment of which the first book came to a close, is followed by that of the cleansing of the heart, with which the present one begins.242242 Jesus passes from the precepts of the genuine righteousness to the actual practice of the same (Meyer, Weiss), from moral to religious duties (Lange), from actions to motives; having spoken to the heart before by inference, he now speaks directly (Alford). The cleansing of the heart, then, is as it were the cleansing of the eye by which God is seen; and in keeping that single, there ought to be as great care as the dignity of the object demands, which can be beheld by such an eye. But even when this eye is in great part cleansed, it is difficult to prevent certain defilements from creeping insensibly over it, from those things which are wont to accompany even our good actions,—as, for instance, the praise of men. If, indeed, not to live uprightly is hurtful; yet to live uprightly, and not to wish to be praised, what else is this than to be an enemy to the affairs of men, which are certainly so much the more miserable, the less an upright life on the part of men gives pleasure? If, therefore, those among whom you live shall not praise you when living uprightly, they are in error: but if they shall praise you, you are in danger; unless you have a heart so single and pure, that in those things in which you act uprightly you do not so act because of the praises of men; and that you rather congratulate those who praise what is right, as having pleasure in what is good, than yourself; because you would live uprightly even if no one were to praise you: and that you understand this very praise of you to be useful to those who praise you, only when it is not yourself whom they honour in your good life, but God, whose most holy temple every man is who lives well; so that what David says finds its fulfilment, “In the Lord shall my soul be praised; the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.”243243 Ps. xxxiv. 2. It belongs therefore to the pure eye not to look at the praises of men in acting rightly, nor to have reference to these while you are acting rightly, i.e. to do anything rightly with the very design of pleasing men. For thus you will be disposed also to counterfeit what is good, if nothing is kept in view except the praise of man; who, inasmuch as he cannot see the heart, may also praise things that are false. And they who do this, i.e. who counterfeit goodness, are of a double heart. No one therefore has a single, i.e. a pure heart, except the man who rises above the praises of men; and when he lives well, looks at Him only, and strives to please Him who is the only Searcher of the conscience. And whatever proceeds from the purity of that conscience is so much the more praiseworthy, the less it desires the praises of men.
2. “Take heed,244244 Cavete facere; Vulgate, attendite ne faciatis. therefore,” says He, “that ye do not your righteousness245245 In agreement with the best Greek text. (See Revised Version.) This verse is a general proposition. The three leading manifestations of righteousness and practical piety among the Jews follow,—alms-giving, prayer, fasting. before men, to be seen of them:” i.e., take heed that ye do not live righteously with this intent, and that ye do not place your happiness in this, that men may see you. “Otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven:” not if ye should be seen by men; but if ye should live righteously with the intent of being seen by men. For, [were it the former], what would become of the statement made in the beginning of this sermon, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works”? But He did not set up this as the end; for He has added, “and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”246246 Matt. v. 14–16. But here, because he is finding fault with this, if the end of our right actions is there, i.e. if we act rightly with this design, only of being seen of men; after He has said, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men,” He has added nothing. And hereby it is evident that He has said this, not to prevent us from acting rightly before men, but lest perchance we should act rightly before men for the purpose of being seen by them, i.e. should fix our eye on this, and make it the end of what we have set before us.
3. For the apostle also says, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ;”247247 Gal. i. 10. while he says in another place, “Please all men in all things, even as I also please all men in all things.”248248 1 Cor. x. 32, 33. And they who do not understand this think it a contradiction; while the explanation is, that he has said he does not please men, because he was accustomed to act rightly, not with the express design of pleasing men, but of pleasing God, to the love of whom he wished to turn men’s hearts by that very thing in which he was pleasing men. Therefore he was both right in saying that he did not please men, because in that very thing he aimed at pleasing God: and right in authoritatively teaching that we ought to please men, not in order that this should be sought for as the reward of our good deeds; but because the man who would not offer himself for imitation to those whom he wished to be saved, could not please God; but no man possibly can imitate one who has not pleased him. As, therefore, that man would not speak absurdly who should say, In this work of seeking a ship, it is not a ship, but my native country, that I seek: so the apostle also might fitly say, In this work of pleasing men, it is not men, but God, that I please; because I do not aim at pleasing men, but have it as my object, that those whom I wish to be saved may imitate me. Just as he says of an offering that is made for the saints, “Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit;”249249 Phil. iv. 17. i.e., In seeking your gift, I seek not it, but your fruit. For by this proof it could appear how far they had advanced Godward, when they offered that willingly which was sought from them not for the sake of his own joy over their gifts, but for the sake of the fellowship of love.
4. Although when He also goes on to say, “Otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven,”250250 Acts otherwise noble and praiseworthy become sin when done to make an appearance before men, and get honour from them. Bad intentions vitiate pious observances. He points out nothing else but that we ought to be on our guard against seeking man’s praise as the reward of our deeds, i.e. against thinking we thereby attain to blessedness.
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