Fasting, and Other Duties
Our Lord’s discourse is not designed to amuse his disciples with curious disquisitions, but to direct them as to their daily walk, partly in their approaches to God, and partly in their conversation with the world.
Ver. 16. “Moreover, when ye fast,” &c. Fasting is supposed to be the ordinary practice of the godly. Christ does not make light of it, but merely cautions them against its abuses. There has doubtless been much formality and hypocrisy in some who have attended to it; but it does not follow that the thing itself should be neglected. It is an appendage to prayer, and designed to aid its importunity. It is humbling, and in a manner chastising, ourselves before God. The spirit of it is expressed in the following passages—“So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or aught else, till the sun be down.” “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eye-lids, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.” No mention is made of the time, or how often the duty should be attended to. It seems to be proper on various occasions, especially when, as the Scripture phrase is, we “set ourselves to seek the Lord.” It is only a means, however; if rested in as an end, it will be an abomination in the sight of God. In the direction of our Lord concerning it, respect is had to the principle of things rather than to the things themselves. A sad countenance, if it be expressive of a sad heart, and in our secret approaches to God, has nothing in it improper. The evil consists in counterfeit sadness and ostentatious grief. Whatever be your concern of mind, make no show of it before men, but rather appear, when in company, as at other times. Let all be between thyself and thy Father, who seeth in secret.
Ver. 19, 20. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures,” &c. The Lord here proceeds to a variety of counsels, and all upon things in common life. The inhabitants of this busy world are taken up in accumulating something which may be called their own, and in setting their hearts upon it rather than upon God. So common is this practice, that, provided they do not injure one another, it insures commendation rather than reproach. “Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.” Hence we are in greater danger of this sin than of most others. In opposition to this, we are directed to “lay up treasures in heaven.” Not that the heavenly inheritance is the reward of our doings; but, believing in Christ, and setting our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, every thing we do in his name, whether it be to the poor, or any others, for his sake, turns to our account. Heavenly enjoyment accumulates, as we in this way make much of it. It is thus that, in “giving alms, we provide ourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens which faileth not.” Men commonly choose a safe place to lay up their treasure. It is said that many millions, during the late depradations on the continent, have been placed in the English funds; and no wonder. But still there is nothing secure in this world. If we would place our treasure in a bank where no marauder cometh, it must be “hid with Christ in God.”
From this passage, some have seriously concluded that it is forbidden us in any case to add to our property. To be consistent, however, they should not stop here, but go on to “sell what they have and give it to the poor;” for the one is no less expressly required than the other. But this were to overturn all distinctions of rich and poor, and all possession of property, which is contrary to the whole current of Scripture. To lay up “treasures upon earth” is to trust in them, or make them our chief good, instead of using them as a means of glorifying God and doing good in our generation. This is evident from the reason given against it, that “where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” The Lord prospered David; yet David’s treasures were not in this world. On the contrary, he was distinguished from “men of this world, who had their portion in this life;” declaring, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness.” If, however, our treasure be in heaven, we shall not be eager to lay up worldly wealth; but rather to lay out that which God intrusts in our hands for promoting the good of his cause, and the well-being of mankind.
Ver. 22–24. “The light of the body is the eye,” &c. Our Lord here seems to illustrate and enforce the principle on which he had all along proceeded; namely, the importance of pure design or right motive in every thing we do. This, to the soul, is that which a clear sight of the eye is to the body. A single eye has but one object, and this is God.* It is opposed to an evil eye. The one is expressive of that spirituality of mind, which, as the apostle says, “approves the excellent,” Phil. 1:10. The other is a mind blinded by the love of the world, or other corrupt affections, by which the judgment, which should be the guide of the soul, becomes dark, and leads it into evil. Thus the gospel is rejected, and some false doctrine received instead of it; and thus religion, by which men hope to find their way out of their labyrinths, serves only to bewilder them more and more, till at length they plunge into perdition. To show the importance of a single eye, it is added, “No man can serve two masters,” &c. He that has his eye partly on God and partly on mammon, wishing to grasp both worlds, will deceive his soul. He may lose both; or if not, he will certainly lose the kingdom of God. Our minds must be supremely set on him, and the world must be sought only in subserviency to him. Two masters we cannot serve.
Ver. 25. “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life,” &c. This affectionate dissuasive from worldly anxiety is supposed to be the natural consequence of what had been spoken. It is as though he had said, Seeing you cannot serve two masters, serve the Lord; and as you must not look two ways, let your eye be single; keeping one great end in view, and treating every thing else as a secondary or subordinate object. The command, “Take no thought,” may seem to be inconsistent with that diligence in business which the Scriptures commend, and which is necessary to the providing of things honest in the sight of God and man. Certain it is that this cannot be done without thought; but the word here used is expressive of anxious solicitude. It does not mean every care, but the care which groweth of distrust. It becomes us, after using all lawful means, to be anxiously careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known unto God.
Ver. 26–34. To enforce the most entire confidence in our heavenly Father, we are reminded that, having done the greater, he will do the less (he has given us our lives and our bodies; and the life is more than meat, and the body more than raiment)—that he provides for the fowls of the air, which, without anxiety, receive their food at his hand—and that all our fretfulness is unavailing; for, however we may think to raise ourselves by it, we can accomplish nothing beyond the will of God, any more than we can add to our stature. And as to dress, God clothes the lilies, without any solicitude on their part, so as to cause them to surpass us all in finery. To be anxious concerning what we shall eat, what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed, is heathenism, and more suited to men who live without God in the world than to the children of the Most High. All such anxiety and distrust must proceed on the principle that God either does not know our wants, or that he careth not for us. Let it suffice us, therefore, to be told that “our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of all these things.” Seek those things first which axe of the first importance. Take care of God’s interest, and God will take care of yours. The ills of the time present are sufficient for us, without calling in those of futurity. God has promised strength for the day, but no more: the evils which we bring in from the morrow, we must bear ourselves.
Excerpt from: “Sermon on the Mount,” in Illustrations of Scripture.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 583–585). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.