on Matthew 6 :1
That ye do not your alms - Δικαιοσυνην υμων μη ποιειν, perform not your acts of righteousness - such as alms-giving, fasting, and prayer, mentioned immediately after. Instead of δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, or acts of righteousness, the reading in the text, that which has been commonly received is ελεημοσυνην, alms. But the first reading has been inserted in several editions, and is supported by the Codd. Vatican and Bezae, some others, and several versions, all the Itala except one, and the Vulgate. The Latin fathers have justitiam, a word of the same meaning. Mr. Gregory has amply proved, צדקה tsidekeh, righteousness, was a common word for alms among the Jews. Works, 4th. p. 58, 1671. R. D. Kimchi says that צדקה tsidekeh, Isaiah 59:14, means alms-giving; and the phrase נתן צדקה natan tsidekah, is used by the Jews to signify the giving of alms. The following passages from Dr. Lightfoot show that it was thus commonly used among the Jewish writers: -
"It is questioned," says he, "whether Matthew wrote Ελεημοσυνην, alms, or Δικαιοσυνην, righteousness. I:answer: -
"I. That, our Savior certainly said צדקה tsidekah, righteousness, (or, in Syriac זדקתא zidkatha), I make no doubt at all; but, that that word could not be otherwise understood by the common people than of alms, there is as little doubt to be made. For although the word צדקה tsidekah, according to the idiom of the Old Testament, signifies nothing else than righteousness; yet now, when our Savior spoke these words, it signified nothing so much as alms.
"II. Christ used also the same word זדקתא zidkatha, righteousness, in time three verses next following, and Matthew used the word ελεημοσυνην, alms; but by what right, I beseech you, should he call it δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, in the first verse, and ελεημοσυνην, alms, in the following; when Christ every where used one and the same word? Matthew might not change in Greek, where our Savior had not changed in Syriac: therefore we must say that the Lord Jesus used the word צדקה tsidekeh or זדקתא zidkatha, in these four first verses; but that, speaking in the dialect of common people, he was understood by the common people to speak of alms. Now they called alms by the name of righteousness, for the fathers of the traditions taught, and the common people believed, that alms contributed very much to justification. Hear the Jewish chair in this matter -
For one farthing given to a poor man in alms, a man is made partaker of the beatific vision: where it renders these words, Psalm 17:15, I shall behold thy face in righteousness, after this manner, I shall behold thy face, Because Of Alms. Bava. Bathra.
"This money goeth for alms, that my sons may live, and that I may obtain the world to come. Bab. Rosh. Hashshanah.
"A man's table now expiates by alms, as heretofore the altar did by sacrifice. Beracoth.
"If you afford alms out of your purse, God will keep you from all damage and harm. Hieros. Peah.
"Monobazes the king bestowed his goods liberally upon the poor, and had these words spoken to him by his kinsmen and friends -
'Your ancestors increased both their own riches, and those that were left them by their fathers; but you waste both your own and those of your ancestors.'
To whom he answered -
'My fathers laid up their wealth on earth: I lay up mine in heaven. As it is written, Truth shall flourish out of the earth, but Righteousness shall look down from heaven. My fathers laid up treasures that bear no fruit; but I lay up such as bear fruit. As it is said, It shall be well with the just, for they shall eat the fruit of their own works. My fathers treasured up, when power was in their hands; but I where it is not.
As it is said, Justice and judgment is the habitation of his throne. My fathers heaped up for others; I for myself. As it is said, And this shall be to thee for righteousness. They scraped together for this world. I for the world to come. As it is said, Righteousness shall deliver from death.' Ibid.
These things are also recited in the Babylonian Talmud.
on Matthew 6 :1
Take heed that ye do not your alms - The word "alms" here denotes liberality to the poor and needy. In the margin, as in the best editions of the Greek it is "righteousness;" either referring to almsgiving as eminently a righteous act, or more probably including all that is specified in this and the following verses - almsgiving, prayer, fasting, Matthew 6:2-18. Our Saviour here does not positively command his disciples to aid the poor, but supposes that they would do it of course, and gives them directions how to do it. It is the nature of religion to help those who are really needy; and a real Christian does not wait to be "commanded" to do it, but only asks for the opportunity. See Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; Luke 19:8.
Before men ... - Our Lord does not require us never to give alms before people, but only forbids our doing it "to be seen of them," for the purposes of ostentation and to seek their praise. To a person who is disposed to do good from a right motive, it matters little whether it be in public or in private. The only thing that renders it even desirable that our good deeds should be seen is that God may be glorified. See Matthew 5:16.
Otherwise - If your only motive for doing it is to be seen by people, God will not reward you. Take heed, therefore, that you do not do it to be seen, "otherwise" God will not reward you.
on Matthew 6 :1
6:1 In the foregoing chapter our Lord particularly described the nature of inward holiness. In this he describes that purity of intention without which none of our outward actions are holy. This chapter contains four parts, The right intention and manner of giving alms, ver.1 -
4. The right intention, manner, form, and prerequisites of prayer, ver.5 - 15. The right intention, and manner of fasting, ver.16 - 18. The necessity of a pure intention in all things, unmixed either with the desire of riches, or worldly care, and fear of want, ver.19 - 34. This verse is a general caution against vain glory, in any of our good works: All these are here summed up together, in the comprehensive word righteousness. This general caution our Lord applies in the sequel to the three principal branches of it, relating to our neighbour, ver.2 - 4: to God, ver.5, 6: and to ourselves, ver.16 - 18. To be seen - Barely the being seen, while we are doing any of these things, is a circumstance purely indifferent. But the doing them with this view, to be seen and admired, this is what our Lord condemns.