The Gospel of Matthew
"E. Schuyler English: The Gospel According to Matthew"
The Book of MATTHEW
While it is true that some of the people heard "The Sermon on the Mount" (Matt. 7:28), we know that it was spoken directly to the disciples of our Lord (Matt. 5:1, 2). Now the disciples were believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, believers in Him as King and as the promised Messiah. But we must remember that the disciples were Jewish believers, that they were living under Law (See Appendix B.), not under Grace (See Appendix C.). The Lord Jesus had not yet died on the Cross; God was still to be approached through the high priest and through sacrifice. And we must also bear in mind that the King was still presenting the Kingdom.
The King was here before the disciples, and the Kingdom was "at hand." Therefore, the King was proclaiming the constitution of His Kingdom to the heirs of the Kingdom, to those who believed in the King. He had come to fulfil the law; indeed, under the manifesto which He was proclaiming, the law of Moses was to be exceeded in righteousness by the law of the Kingdom, which should be a law of love. The standard for the Kingdom, which was rejected but which will yet be established, is the perfection of God, the character which is the perfect result of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for us, and in us. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father Who is in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
The key verse of Matthew six is found in the thirty-third verse: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." This message which our Lord gave to the Jewish believer who was an heir to the Kingdom then being presented is the message which the Holy Spirit has given in the Epistles to the Church since then established: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-3).
Because "The Sermon on the Mount" is of the old covenant, do not miss its blessing to you. It is for the heirs of the Kingdom of the heavens, and we who are born again are heirs of God, "heirs of the Kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him" (James 2:5).
Our Lord had, as recorded in Matthew five, taught the disciples of the righteousness which the heirs of the Kingdom should practice. Christians possess this in Christ; but in the Epistles as heirs we are urged to practice it also. The Lord Jesus then made known the motive which should underlie the practice, the desire to be well-pleasing to God.
There are three divisions in the first eighteen verses: (1) Righteousness, or man's relationship to man; (2) prayer, or man's relationship to God; (3) fasting, or man's relationship to self.
Righteousness. The word alms in verse one is better translated righteousness. The Lord had just said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." "Take heed" -- the Lord Jesus said that if we are to be perfect, we are not to try to be men-pleasers. "God looketh on the heart." In our righteous acts, we are not to call the attention of men to our deeds. If that is what we do, we already have our reward. Men have given it to us. But we are to give alms in secret: "and thy Father Who seeth in secret Himself shall reward you openly."
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father Who art in Heaven ..." There follows, Matthew 6:9-13, that which is called "The Lord's Prayer." Volumes have been written on this subject which we must discuss in a few words. This is not the Lord's Prayer; He never offered this prayer. He could not, for He had no sins to be forgiven. The true Lord's Prayer is recorded in John seventeen. This prayer was given to the disciples as a model. Our Lord had just said, "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions ... your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him. After this manner pray ye" (Matt. 6:7-9). "After this manner," not "in these words." The disciples were believers, therefore they could say "Our Father." But we must remember that this was a prayer, in the Age of Law, for the disciples, at a time when the Kingdom of the heavens was at hand. It is not a prayer for this age. We may pray, "Thy Kingdom come," but rather should we pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus;" for we know that before the Kingdom we shall be "caught up ... in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so, shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17), and "we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him: for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). Christians can never pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." What, then, of grace? Our sins are forgiven because the Lord Jesus died on the Cross for us; He "washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5). Christians are not forgiven as they forgive others, but they forgive others because God for Christ's sake hath forgiven them (Eph. 4:32). However, let no Christian ask to be forgiven when he has in his own heart anything against any man. In such a way the Christian may ask forgiveness, on the ground of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ of course, as he forgives his debtors. Christians are to approach the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ; when our Lord was about to go to the Cross, the Kingdom having been rejected, He said, "Ask, in My Name" (John 14:13, 14; John 16:24). There is no thanksgiving in this prayer, Christians are told, "Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). Yet we must not misunderstand; the so-called Lord's Prayer, the disciples' prayer, is a model which it is well for us to follow: "it teaches that right prayer begins with worship; puts the interest of the Kingdom before merely personal interest; accepts beforehand the Father's will, whether to grant or withhold; and petitions for present need, leaving the future to the Father's care and love" (C.I. Scofield). But let us remember to approach our heavenly Father on Church ground, through the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Name, claiming for ourselves His finished work, recognizing our standing in Him; such is prayer in the Holy Spirit. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He Who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26, 27).
Fasting. Here again, what is the motive? If to please men, then be of sad countenance, let men know what you are doing. "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." If the motive of fasting is to please God, then "anoint thine head, and wash thy face; ... and thy Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
Is the counsel of "The Sermon on the Mount" to be taken literally by the Christian in the Age of Grace? Perhaps we can best find our answer by looking at two events in the life of our Lord. In Matthew 10 is recorded the sending forth of the twelve to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, and they are told: "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat" (Matt. 10:9, 10). In Luke 22 we find the record of our Lord's last instructions to His disciples before His death on the Cross: "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said He unto them, But now, he that hath purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one" (Luke 22:35, 36). "The reason that the Lord Jesus gave for His reversal of orders ... was that He was about to die. It was this death which fixed the boundary between the test of law to which our Lord had put His people and the test of grace under which we are yet living" (Donald Grey Barnhouse).
Perhaps therefore we cannot apply "The Sermon on the Mount" in its entirety to the Christian, yet there are certain words of counsel which are just as applicable to the born-again believer who is a stranger in this earthly pilgrimage as to the Jewish believers who were expecting the Kingdom which was being offered. This view is confirmed by the Scripture of similar portent found in the Epistles. There is not space to make a verse by verse application of this section of Matthew 6, so let us consider the two most important statements of our Lord.
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth. ... But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven" (Matt. 6:19, 20). The natural man cares for and lives for the earthly things, for treasure, possession, position; the believer, the new man, belongs not to earth but to Heaven; he dwells in the heavenlies. He looks "not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but those that are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). In the Epistles the believer is also told, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth. ... But ... in Heaven." "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil: ... But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim. 6:8, 10, 11).
"Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on" (Matt. 6:25). Using the marginal translation, we find the meaning "Have no anxiety," instead of "Take no thought." This message is not for the unsaved; it is for the heirs of the Kingdom. God will provide for His own in the Kingdom age as well as in this age. The Christian has such a message: "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6), and "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
We have a Father in Heaven Who careth for us. He asks us to trust in Him. How often we look in our anxiety to earthly help, not committing our way to the Lord. He knows our every need, and rejoices in accomplishing His loving purposes in our lives. Yes, these messages are for the Kingdom age, when our Lord shall establish His millennial reign on the earth, but they are messages of love and comfort for Christians also, and we should take them to our hearts. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." The promise is ours today.