« PreviousContinue »
of unsullied holiness which the world could produce. Their prayers were long; their attendance on the service of the synagogue was constant, and apparently devout; and their almsgivings had all the show of liberality and profusion. Our Lord has described, most circumstantially, their character and their professions in this parable-“ Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."* Thus they considered themselves, and thus the multitude considered them, the most perfect models of piety, and the fairest portion of the human family in things pertaining to God and man.
But after all this splendid appearance of sanctity, rectitude, self-denial, and heavenly-mindedness, what was their real character? I will not slander them. The Scriptures of truth shall answer the question. They professed humility, but they were full of pride of heart; for the lips of infallible wisdom have charged them with "trusting in themselves that they were righteous, and despising others."+ They professed to be holy; but they were the very reverse. "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." They professed the profoundest veneration for the divine law; but they could set it wholly aside if they found its subversion profitable. Thus, when they came with an accusation against the disciples for "transgressing the tradition of the elders, because they did eat with
* Luke xviii. 10–12.
↑ Luke xvii. 9.
Matt. xxiii. 27, 28.
unwashen hands," our Lord turns round upon them, in exculpation of his brethren, and expressly chargeth them with "teaching, for doctrines, the commandments of men," as if they were of divine legation and authority, and thus making "the commandment of God of none effect by their traditions."* They also professed to be deeply moved with pity and compassion towards the widow and fatherless; but their professions were consummate hypocrisy. "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees! for ye devour widow's houses;" probably grasping at the scanty pittance on which they were obliged to subsist,- -" and for a pretence make long prayer:" covering over their covetous and cruel designs, by a lengthened supplication in behalf of the victim of their rapacity, "therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. They professed an impartial regard for the moral precepts; but they overlooked them and only observed the smaller parts of the law of offerings. "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith." But where shall I stop in the delineation of their defective righteousness? It was, as we have seen, insincere, partial, wholly outward, full of selfish and sordid feeling, and I may add, it was altogether destitute of right principle. It neither proceeded from a reverence of the revealed will of God, a desire to please Him, or any wish to promote the good of their fellowcreatures, by upholding and promoting the interests of virtue and religion. No: it originated in an overweening and undue regard for the praise of men, and the smile of the world. This is not defamation,-it is the word of truth; for we have it on the authority of our Lord himself, that when they gave alms, they sounded a trumpet to
announce the fact! How unlike the spirit of Christian charity, that is wont "to do good by stealth, and blush to have it known!" And the same of their devotions: "They loved to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they might be seen of men." Indeed, it appears that all their works were intended for this end; and, therefore, pride, presumption, and ostentation, ruined all.
Such, then, was the worthless righteousness of these men, whose religion was supposed to be immaculate, till this Divine Preacher stripped it of all disguise, and exhibited it in its disgusting and true colours. And the surpassing of such a superficial course of rectitude and holiness is made, in the language of the text, the indispensable condition of eternal life: "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The expression, "kingdom of heaven," although it means the dispensation of grace under the Messiah, more commonly, perhaps, than any other thing; yet, here, beyond all question, it must be referred to the celestial state. For it is not true that men less righteous than these individuals of whom we have spoken never enter the visible church. Without the violation of that "charity which thinketh no evil," it might be now said, as it was by the prophet of ancient Israel, "among my people are found wicked men."* No religious society can be at any time certain of the integrity and piety of its members. The apostle Jude speaks of some who "creep in unawares; ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."+ But this we know, for the rule admits of no exception, that although they may,
either through the artfulness of their professions, or the laxity of the discipline of the church by whom they have been received, pass through the gate of the kingdom on earth, there remaineth yet one more through which they shall not pass: "they shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." This is the plain, and solemn, and decisive, declaration of our Lord himself.
Do you, then, my brethren, ask me, how far our Christianity must exceed the moral and religious character of these men? I reply, it must be superior in sincerity. It is not sufficient that we are of clean hands, we must be "pure in heart, or we shall not see God." A true Christian is "an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." He has no sinister ends to answer by his profession of piety; his eye is single to the divine glory and the welfare of the soul. It is his daily prayer, that he may be approved at last, and accepted of Christ," not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish."* He labours to be better within than he is without: and nothing grieves him more than the "body of sin" which he constantly feels. Thus he therefore prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."+ Ah, how important is such an examination! How essential is "truth in the inward part" before an Holy Being! My brethren, suffer the word of affectionate exhortation on this head: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Beware of affecting a religious experience which you never had. Guard against professing attainments in piety which you have never made. Remember, the Lord "searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of the children of men." Remember that hypocrisy in religion is a deliberate insult
Eph. v. 27. † Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24.
to his omniscience, and fidelity, and righteousness; remember too, that it is as worthless as it is wicked. “The hypocrite's hope shall perish: whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider's web."*"Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious."†
Again, your righteousness must exceed their's in spirituality. Whatever we may be in our appearance, if the fervour and life of the soul be wanting, all is vain. "God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." One principal error of the Pharisees lay in the formal nature of their devotions. They wanted heart, and therefore wanted every thing. The blessed God will not be satisfied with the service of the lips, if the affections of the soul are not engaged. This was one of the solemn charges brought against his people of old by the prophet Isaiah, and which the Almighty resented as an affront to his honour and majesty. "Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."§ But the religion of the individual who is truly "taught of God," is different from this. It has respect to the spiritual nature and import of the divine law, and to that holiness of heart and life which is at once his duty and his bliss. In a word, it regards the whole
* Job. viii. 13, 14. ↑ 1 Pet. ii. 1-3. ‡ John iv. 24. § Isaiah xxix. 13, 14.