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Hope of the Gospel: 11 - The Right Hand and the Left

By George MacDonald

      Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your father which is in heaven.... But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; that thine alms may be in secret; and thy father which seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee.--Matthew vi. I,3.

      Let your light out freely, that men may see it, but not that men may see you. If I do anything, not because it has to be done, not because God would have it so, not that I may do right, not because it is honest, not that I love the thing, not that I may be true to my Lord, not that the truth may be recognized as truth and as his, but that I may be seen as the doer, that I may be praised of men, that I may gain repute or fame; be the thing itself ever so good, I may look to men for my reward, for there is none for me with the Father. If, that light being my pleasure, I do it that the light may shine, and that men may know the Light, the father of lights, I do well; but if I do it that I may be seen shining, that the light may be noted as emanating from me and not from another, then am I of those that seek glory of men, and worship Satan; the light that through me may possibly illuminate others, will, in me and for me, be darkness.

      But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

      How, then, am I to let my light shine, if I take pains to hide what I do?

      The injunction is not to hide what you do from others, but to hide it from yourself. The Master would have you not plume yourself upon it, not cherish the thought that you have done it, or confer with yourself in satisfaction over it. You must not count it to your praise. A man must not desire to be satisfied with himself. His right hand must not seek the praise of his left hand. His doing must not invite his after-thinking. The right hand must let the thing done go, as a thing done-with. We must meditate nothing either as a fine thing for us to do, or a fine thing for us to have done. We must not imagine any merit in us: it would be to love a lie, for we can have none; there is no such thing possible. Is there anything to be proud of in refusing to worship the devil? Is it a grand thing, is it a meritorious thing, not to be vile? When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants. Our very best is but decent. What more could it be? Why then think of it as anything more? What things could we or any one do, worthy of being brooded over as possessions. Good to do, they were; bad to pride ourselves upon, they are. Why should a man meditate with satisfaction on having denied himself some selfish indulgence, any more than on having washed his hands? May we roll the rejection of a villainy as a sweet morsel under our tongues? They were the worst villains of all who could be proud of not having committed a villainy; and their pride would but render them the more capable of the villainy, when next the temptation to it came. Even if our supposed merit were of the positive order, and we did every duty perfectly, the moment we began to pride ourselves upon the fact, we should drop into a hell of worthlessness. What are we for but to do our duty? We must do it, and think nothing of ourselves for that, neither care what men think of us for anything. With the praise or blame of men we have nought to do. Their blame may be a good thing, their praise cannot be. But the worst sort of the praise of men is the praise we give ourselves. We must do nothing to be seen of ourselves. We must seek no approbation even, but that of God, else we shut the door of the kingdom from the outside. His approbation will but quicken our sense of unworthiness. What! seek the praise of men for being fair to our own brothers and sisters? What! seek the praise of God for laying our hearts at the feet of him to whom we utterly belong? There is no pride so mean--and all pride is absolutely, essentially mean--as the pride of being holier than our fellow, except the pride of being holy. Such imagined holiness is foulness. Religion itself in the hearts of the unreal, is a dead thing; what seems life in it, is the vermiculate life of a corpse.

      There is one word in the context, as we have it in the authorized version, that used to trouble me, seeming to make its publicity a portion of the reward for doing certain right things in secret: I mean the word openly, at the ends of the fourth, the sixth, and the eighteenth verses, making the Lord seem to say, 'Avoid the praise of men, and thou shalt at length have the praise of men.'--'Thy father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.' Thy reward shall be seen of men! and thou seen as the receiver of the reward! In what other way could the word, then or now, be fairly understood? It must be the interpolation of some Jew scribe, who, even after learning a little of the Christ, continued unable to conceive as reward anything that did not draw part at least of its sweetness from the gazing eyes of the multitude. Glad was I to find that the word is not in the best manuscripts; and God be thanked that it is left out in the revised version. What shall we think of the daring that could interpolate it! But of like sort is the daring of much exposition of the Master's words. What men have not faith enough to receive, they will still dilute to the standard of their own faculty of reception. If any one say, 'Why did the Lord let the word remain there so long, if he never said it?' I answer: Perhaps that the minds of his disciples might be troubled at its presence, arise against it, and do him right by casting it out--and so Wisdom be justified of her children.

      But there are some who, if the notion of reward is not naturally a trouble to them, yet have come to feel it such, because of the words of certain objectors who think to take a higher stand than the Christian, saying the idea of reward for doing right is a low, an unworthy idea. Now, verily, it would be a low thing for any child to do his father's will in the hope that his father would reward him for it; but it is quite another thing for a father whose child endeavours to please him, to let him know that he recognizes his childness toward him, and will be fatherly good to him. What kind of a father were the man who, because there could be no merit or desert in doing well, would not give his child a smile or a pleased word when he saw him trying his best? Would not such acknowledgment from the father be the natural correlate of the child's behaviour? and what would the father's smile be but the perfect reward of the child? Suppose the father to love the child so that he wants to give him everything, but dares not until his character is developed: must he not be glad, and show his gladness, at every shade of a progress that will at length set him free to throne his son over all that he has? 'I am an unprofitable servant,' says the man who has done his duty; but his lord, coming unexpectedly, and finding him at his post, girds himself, and makes him sit down to meat, and comes forth and serves him. How could the divine order of things, founded for growth and gradual betterment, hold and proceed without the notion of return for a thing done? Must there be only current and no tide? How can we be workers with God at his work, and he never say 'Thank you, my child'? Will he take joy in his success and give none? Is he the husbandman to take all the profit, and muzzle the mouth of his ox? When a man does work for another, he has his wages for it, and society exists by the dependence of man upon man through work and wages. The devil is not the inventor of this society; he has invented the notion of a certain degradation in work, a still greater in wages; and following this up, has constituted a Society after his own likeness, which despises work, leaves it undone, and so can claim its wages without disgrace.

      If you say, 'No one ought to do right for the sake of reward,' I go farther and say, 'No man can do right for the sake of reward. A man may do a thing indifferent, he may do a thing wrong, for the sake of reward; but a thing in itself right, done for reward, would, in the very doing, cease to be right.' At the same time, if a man does right, he cannot escape being rewarded for it; and to refuse the reward, would be to refuse life, and foil the creative love. The whole question is of the kind of reward expected. What first reward for doing well, may I look for? To grow purer in heart, and stronger in the hope of at length seeing God. If a man be not after this fashion rewarded, he must perish. As to happiness or any lower rewards that naturally follow the first--is God to destroy the law of his universe, the divine sequence of cause and effect in order to say: 'You must do well, but you shall gain no good by it; you must lead a dull joyless existence to all eternity, that lack of delight may show you pure'? Could Love create with such end in view? Righteousness does not demand creation; it is Love, not Righteousness, that cannot live alone. The creature must already be, ere Righteousness can put in a claim. But, hearts and souls there, Love itself, which created for love and joy, presses the demand of Righteousness first.

      A righteousness that created misery in order to up-hold itself, would be a righteousness that was unrighteous. God will die for righteousness, but never create for a joyless righteousness. To call into being the necessarily and hopelessly incomplete, would be to wrong creation in its very essence. To create for the knowledge of himself, and then not give himself, would be injustice even to cruelty; and if God give himself, what other reward--there can be no further--is not included, seeing he is Life and all her children--the All in all? It will take the utmost joy God can give, to let men know him; and what man, knowing him, would mind losing every other joy? Only what other joy could keep from entering, where the God of joy already dwelt? The law of the universe holds, and will hold, the name of the Father be praised:--'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' 'They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.' 'He that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.' 'Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.'

      To object to Christianity as selfish, is utter foolishness; Christianity alone gives any hope of deliverance from selfishness. Is it selfish to desire to love? Is it selfish to hope for purity and the sight of God? What better can we do for our neighbour than to become altogether righteous toward him? Will he not be the nearer sharing in the exceeding great reward of a return to the divine idea?

      Where is the evil toward God, where the wrong to my neighbour, if I think sometimes of the joys to follow in the train of perfect loving? Is not the atmosphere of God, love itself, the very breath of the Father, wherein can float no thinnest pollution of selfishness, the only material wherewithal to build the airy castles of heaven? 'Creator,' the childlike heart might cry, 'give me all the wages, all the reward thy perfect father-heart can give thy unmeriting child. My fit wages may be pain, sorrow, humiliation of soul: I stretch out my hands to receive them. Thy reward will be to lift me out of the mire of self-love, and bring me nearer to thyself and thy children: welcome, divinest of good things! Thy highest reward is thy purest gift; thou didst make me for it from the first; thou, the eternal life, hast been labouring still to fit me for receiving it--the vision, the knowledge, the possession of thyself. I can seek but what thou waitest and watchest to give: I would be such into whom thy love can flow.'

      It seems to me that the only merit that could live before God, is the merit of Jesus--who of himself, at once, untaught, unimplored, laid himself aside, and turned to the Father, refusing his life save in the Father. Like God, of himself he chose righteousness, and so merited to sit on the throne of God. In the same spirit he gave himself afterward to his father's children, and merited the power to transfuse the life-redeeming energy of his spirit into theirs: made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. But it is a word of little daring, that Jesus had no thought of merit in what he did--that he saw only what he had to be, what he must do.--I speak after the poor fashion of a man lost in what is too great for him, yet is his very life.--Where can be a man's merit in refusing to go down to an abyss of loss--loss of the right to be, loss of his father, loss of himself? Would Satan, with all the instincts and impulses of his origin in him, have merited eternal life by refusing to be a devil? Not the less would he have had eternal life; not the less would he have been wrapt in the love and confidence of the Father. He would have had his reward. I cannot imagine thing created meriting aught save by divine courtesy.

      I suspect the notion of merit belongs to a low development, and the higher a man rises, the less will he find it worth a thought. Perhaps we shall come to see that it owes what being it has, to man, that it is a thing thinkable only by man. I suspect it is not a thought of the eternal mind, and has in itself no existence, being to God merely a thing thought by man.

                     For merit lives from man to man,
            And not from man, O Lord, to thee.

      The man, then, who does right, and seeks no praise from men, while he merits nothing, shall be rewarded by his Father, and his reward will be right precious to him.

      We must let our light shine, make our faith, our hope, our love, manifest--that men may praise, not us for shining, but the Father for creating the light. No man with faith, hope, love, alive in his soul, could make the divine possessions a show to gain for himself the admiration of men: not the less must they appear in our words, in our looks, in our carriage--above all, in honourable, unselfish, hospitable, helpful deeds. Our light must shine in cheerfulness, in joy, yea, where a man has the gift, in merriment; in freedom from care save for one another, in interest in the things of others, in fearlessness and tenderness, in courtesy and graciousness. In our anger and indignation, specially, must our light shine. But we must give no quarter to the most shadowy thought of how this or that will look. From the faintest thought of the praise of men, we must turn away. No man can be the disciple of Christ and desire fame. To desire fame is ignoble; it is a beggarly greed. In the noble mind, it is the more of an infirmity. There is no aspiration in it--nothing but ambition. It is simply selfishness that would be proud if it could. Fame is the applause of the many, and the judgment of the many is foolish; therefore the greater the fame, the more is the foolishness that swells it, and the worse is the foolishness that longs after it. Aspiration is the sole escape from ambition. He who aspires--that is, does his endeavour to rise above himself--neither lusts to be higher than his neighbour, nor seeks to mount in his opinion. What light there is in him shines the more that he does nothing to be seen of men. He stands in the mist between the gulf and the glory, and looks upward. He loves not his own soul, but longs to be clean.

            Out of the gulf into the glory,
               Father, my soul cries out to be lifted.
            Dark is the woof of my dismal story,
               Thorough thy sun-warp stormily drifted!--
            Out of the gulf into the glory,
            Lift me, and save my story.

            I have done many things merely shameful;
               I am a man ashamed, my father!
            My life is ashamed and broken and blameful--
               The broken and blameful, oh, cleanse and gather!
            Heartily shame me, Lord, of the shameful!
            To my judge I flee with my blameful.

            Saviour, at peace in thy perfect purity,
               Think what it is, not to be pure!
            Strong in thy love's essential security,
               Think upon those who are never secure.
            Full fill my soul with the light of thy purity;
            Fold me in love's security.

            O Father, O Brother, my heart is sore aching
               Help it to ache as much as is needful;
            Is it you cleansing me, mending, remaking,
               Dear potter-hands, so tender and heedful?
            Sick of my past, of my own self aching--
            Hurt on, dear hands, with your making.

            Proud of the form thou hadst given thy vessel,
               Proud of myself, I forgot my donor;
            Down in the dust I began to nestle,
               Poured thee no wine, and drank deep of dishonour!
            Lord, thou hast broken, thou mendest thy vessel!
            In the dust of thy glory I nestle.

      O Lord, the earnest expectation of thy creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

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See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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