24. No man can serve two masters. Christ returns to the former
doctrine, the object of which was to withdraw his disciples from covetousness.
He had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its
treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted
to riches are alienated from the Lord. For the greater part of men are
wont to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine,
that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts.
Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the
same time, to obey his own flesh. This was, no doubt, a proverb in common
use: No man can serve two masters. He takes for granted a truth which had
been universally admitted, and applies it to his present subject: where
riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True,
it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever
gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God:
for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
I have inserted here what is related on a different occasion by Luke:
for, as the Evangelists frequently introduce, as opportunity offers, passages
of our Lord’s discourses out of their proper order, we ought to entertain
no scruple as to the arrangement of them. What is here said with a special
reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description
of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity,
and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2,) all are deceived,
who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart. All,
indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there
is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt
to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man,
“to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after
honors.” The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the
cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it
were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly
carrying on war against him. It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves
are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn
from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this
wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing
more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not
said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved
by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage
reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices,
as if they could reconcile light and darkness.
MATTHEW 6:25-30; LUKE 12:22-28
Throughout the whole of this discourse, Christ reproves that excessive
anxiety, with which men torment themselves, about food and clothing, and,
at the same time, applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids
them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended
to take away from his people all care. We know that men are born on the
condition of having some care; and, indeed, this is not the least portion
of the miseries, which the Lord has laid upon us as a punishment, in order
to humble us. But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons: either
because in so doing men tease and vex themselves to no purpose, by carrying
their anxiety farther than is proper or than their calling demands; or
because they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and
place such a reliance on their own industry, that they neglect to call
upon God. We ought to remember this promise: though unbelievers shall “rise
up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows,” yet believers
will obtain, through the kindness of God, rest and sleep, (Psalm 127:2.)
Though the children of God are not free from toil and anxiety, yet, properly
speaking, we do not say that they are anxious about life: because, through
their reliance on the providence of God, they enjoy calm repose.
Hence it is easy to learn, how far we ought to be anxious about food.
Each of us ought to labor, as far as his calling requires and the Lord
commands; and each of us ought to be led by his own wants to call upon
God. Such anxiety holds an intermediate place between indolent carelessness
and the unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. But
if we give proper attention to the words of Christ, we shall find, that
he does not forbid every kind of care, but only what arises from distrust.
Be not anxious, says he, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink. That
belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger, as if they
were to be in want of food every moment.
Matthew 6:25. Is not the life of more value than food? He argues
from the greater to the less. He had forbidden them to be excessively anxious
about the way in which life might be supported; and he now assigns the
reason. The Lord, who has given life itself, will not suffer us to want
what is necessary for its support. And certainly we do no small dishonor
to God, when we fail to trust that he will give us necessary food or clothing;
as if he had thrown us on the earth at random. He who is fully convinced,
that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition,
will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our wants.
Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety about food, let us remember,
that God will take care of the life which he gave us.
26. Look at the fowls of the air. This is the remedy I spoke
of, for teaching us to rely on the providence of God: for of all cares,
which go beyond bounds, unbelief is the mother. The only cure for covetousness
is to embrace the promises of God, by which he assures us that he will
take care of us. In the same manner, the Apostle, wishing to withdraw believers
from covetousness, confirms that doctrine: for he hath said, I will never
leave thee, nor forsake thee, (Hebrews 13:5.) The substance of the exhortation
is, that we ought to trust in God, by whom none of his own people, however
mean their condition may be, are disregarded.
Your heavenly Father feedeth them. This deserves careful attention:
for, though we are unable to explain the manner in which their life is
supported, which of us is in the habit of considering that their life depends
on the providence of God, which he is pleased to extend even to them? But
if it is thoroughly fixed in our minds, that the fowls are supplied with
food by the hand of God, there will be no difficulty in expecting it for
ourselves, who are formed after his image, and reckoned among his children.
They neither sow nor reap. By these words it is far from being our Lord’s
intention to encourage us to indolence and sluggishness. All that he means
is, that, though other means fail, the providence of God is alone sufficient
for us, for it supplies the animals abundantly with every thing that they
Instead of fowls, (ta< peteina<,) Luke uses the word ravens, (tou<v
ko>rakav,) alluding perhaps to that passage in the Psalms, who giveth food
to the young ravens that call upon him, (Psalm 67: 9.) Some think that
David expressly mentioned the ravens, because they are immediately deserted
by their parents, and therefore must have their food brought to them by
God. Hence it is evident, that Christ intended nothing more than to teach
his people to throw all their cares on God.
27. Which of you by anxious care, etc.? Here our Lord condemns
another fault, which is almost always connected with immoderate anxiety
about food: and that is, when a mortal man, claiming more than he has a
right to do, does not hesitate, in sacrilegious hardihood, to go beyond
“O Lord, I know (says Jeremiah) that the way of man is not in himself
it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,”
You scarcely meet with one person in a hundred, who does not venture
to make any promises that he thinks fit on his own industry and power.
The consequence is, that those who take credit to themselves for their
prosperity, do not hesitate to lose sight of God, when they enter into
any undertaking. To restrain this mad rashness, Christ tells us, that whatever
contributes to the support of our life depends wholly on the blessing of
God. The meaning is: “It is foolish in men to weary themselves, because
all our labors are unnecessary and fruitless, and all our anxieties are
to no purpose, unless so far as God blesses them.” This is more clearly
expressed by Luke, If you cannot do even that which is least, why are you
anxious about the rest? These words show plainly, that Christ reproves
not only distrust, but pride, because men ascribe much more than they ought
to their own skill.
29. Not even Solomon in all his glory. This means, that the kindness
of God, which is gloriously displayed in herbs and flowers, exceeds all
that men can accomplish by their wealth or power, or in any other way.
Believers ought to be convinced that, though all means fail, they will
want nothing that is necessary for their full satisfaction, provided they
continue to enjoy the blessing of God alone. O you of little faith. In
this respect Christ justly accuses us of deficiency or weakness of faith:
for the more powerfully we are affected, according to our own grovelling
views, by anxiety about the present life, the more do we show our unbelief,
if every thing does not happen to our wish. Many persons, accordingly,
who in great prosperity appear to possess faith or at least to have a tolerable
share of it, tremble when any danger of poverty presents itself.
MATTHEW 6:31-34; LUKE 12:29-32
This has the same object with the former doctrine. Believers ought to
rely on God’s fatherly care, to expect that he will bestow upon them whatever
they feel to be necessary, and not to torment themselves by unnecessary
He forbids them to be anxious, or, as Luke has it, to seek, that is,
to seek in the manner of those who look around them in every direction,
without looking at God, on whom alone their eye ought to be fixed; who
are never at ease, but when they have before their eyes an abundance of
provisions; and who, not admitting that the protection of the world belongs
to God, fret and tease themselves with perpetual uneasiness.
Matthew 6:32. For all those things the Gentiles seek. This is
a reproof of the gross ignorance, in which all such anxieties originate.
For how comes it, that unbelievers never remain in a state of tranquillity,
but because they imagine that God is unemployed, or asleep, in heaven,
or, at least, that he does not take charge of the affairs of men, or feed,
as members of his family, those whom he has admitted to his friendship.
By this comparison he intimates, that they have made little proficiency,
and have not yet learned the first lessons of godliness, who do not behold,
with the eyes of faith, the hand of God filled with a hidden abundance
of all good things, so as to expect their food with quietness and composure.
Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of those things: that is,
“All those persons who are so anxious about food, give no more honor, than
unbelievers do, to the fatherly goodness and secret providence of God.”
Luke 12:29. And be not lifted on high. This clause corresponds
to the last sentence in the passage taken from Matthew, Be not anxious
about tomorrow. Our Lord now charges them with another fault. When men
wish to make arrangements in their own favor, they would willingly embrace
five centuries. The verb metewri>zesqai, which Luke employs, properly signifies
to survey from a lofty situation, or, as we commonly say, to make long
discourses: for the intemperate desires of the flesh are never satisfied
without making a hundred revolutions of heaven and earth. The consequence
is, that they leave no room for the providence of God. This is a reproof
of excessive curiosity; for it leads us to bring upon ourselves uneasiness
to no purpose, and voluntarily to make ourselves miserable before the time,
(Matthew 8:29.) The expression used by Matthew, its own affliction is sufficient
for the day, directs believers to moderate their cares, and not to attempt
to carry their foresight beyond the limits of their calling: For, as we
have said, it does not condemn every kind of care, but only that which
wanders, by indirect and endless circuits, beyond limits.
Matthew 6:33. But rather seek first the kingdom of God. This
is another argument for restraining excessive anxiety about food. It argues
a gross and indolent neglect of the soul, and of the heavenly life. Christ
reminds us that there is the greatest inconsistency in men, who are born
to a better life, being wholly employed about earthly objects. He who assigns
the first rank to the kingdom of God, will not carry beyond moderation
his anxiety about food. Nothing is better adapted to restrain the wantonness
of the flesh from breaking out in the course of the present life, than
meditation on the life of the heavens. The word righteousness may be either
understood as applying to God, or to the kingdom: for we know that the
kingdom of God consists in righteousness, (Romans 14:17,) that is, in the
newness of spiritual life. All other things shall be added. This means,
that those things which relate to the present life are but favorable appendages,
and ought to be reckoned greatly inferior to the kingdom of God.
Luke 12:32. Fear not, little flock. By this declaration munement,
Faire de longs discours, ou estre en suspens, comme aussi nous l’avons
traduit.” — ”To look from on high, and to extend one’s view very far: as
we commonly say, To make long discourses, or to be in suspense, as we have
also translated it.” our Lord strengthens the confidence to which he had
exhorted his people: for how would God refuse worthless and perishing food
to those whom he has adopted as heirs of his kingdom? And he expressly
calls his own people a little flock, to hinder them from thinking that
they are of less value in the sight of God, because, on account of their
small numbers, they are held in little estimation before the world. The
verb eujdokei~n conveys the idea, that eternal life flows to us from the
fountain of undeserved mercy. For the same purpose the word give is added.
When Christ plainly declares, that God hath given us the kingdom, and for
no other reason, but because it so pleased him, it is perfectly manifest,
that it is not obtained by any merits of works. At whatever time the Lord
raises our minds to the expectation of eternal life, let us remember, that
we have no cause for fear as to daily food.