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Formalism

Formalism

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Published by glennpease

GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D.


" Woe unto you, scribes I "

S. MATT, xxiii. 25.

GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D.


" Woe unto you, scribes I "

S. MATT, xxiii. 25.

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Published by: glennpease on Mar 09, 2013
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03/02/2014

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FORMALISM
GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D." Woe unto you, scribes I "S. MATT, xxiii. 25.THE chapter from which the text is taken is fullof very startling words startling when weremember by Whom they were spoken still morestartling when we remember to whom they wereaddressed.They were uttered by One Who never broke thebruised reed or quenched the smoking flax, Whosetenderness no human words can ever express, Whoseboundless love was proved by the death-agony of Gethsemane and the blood-shedding of Calvary.They were addressed to the leaders of the so-calledreligious world the Pharisees who sat in Moses seat :the great authorities upon every question which concerned the worship of Jehovah.In all outward observance their punctuality wasremarked and admired. None more scrupulous thanthey in the attendance at public worship. None moreexact than they in paying every tax by which theexpenses of the sanctuary were to be defrayed, or itsministers supported. Their almsgiving was proverbial ;their liberality unquestioned. The uppermost rooms atfeasts and greetings in the public thoroughfares wereonly a part of the homage which was paid by all totheir high character and undoubted respectability.FORMALISM 63Imagine, then, the dismay of a member of this classwhen he approached the meek and lowly Saviour,prepared to accept from Him the honour to which hehad been for so many years accustomed. Imagine hisdismay as, in the presence of the crowd on whose flatteryhis very existence depended, he was suddenly addressedin words of withering scorn as a serpent, a viper, ahypocrite " Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,hypocrites ! " " Ye fools and blind, ye serpents, yegeneration of vipers, how can ye escape the damnationof hell ? " What is the explanation, then, of this unwonted severity of our Blessed LORD ?Why was the whole tone of His ordinary addressesso entirely altered ? The answer is given in the wordsof the text. In that solemn sentence the verdict of GOD Almighty is recorded upon the whole race of 
 
Pharisees "Ye make clean the outside of the cupand of the platter." Oh, awful sarcasm : the outsideand nothing else. The heart of these professors wasnot right with GOD. They responded to the calls of public charity, but no true love for GOD and menreigned in their souls. With reverent mien they saidtheir prayers and then went home to indulge somesecret sin, to ruin a troublesome rival, or crush a helpless servant, or quietly to rob an orphan child of itsinheritance. They unfurled to every breeze the bannerof Jehovah that the crowd might admire their loyalty,but in the hidden chambers of their inmost being wereDconcealed the whole of Satan s outlawed band selfishness, and coveteousness, and worldliness, and impurity.From this hypocrisy our LORD revolted with theunited strength of His human and divine nature.He loathed, as any noble-spirited man would haveloathed, such miserable unreality, and yet pitied thosewretched creatures tottering on the very brink of eternal64 THE MESSAGE OF PEACEperdition. He made one last effort to save them fromthemselves, to reveal the truth to their blinded hearts,to snatch them back from the abyss which was alreadyopening to receive them. And if this failed if theoutstretched arm availed not to rescue, at least Hewould hinder others from following in their steps atleast He would unfold to His own people the truecharacter of their self-elected leaders lest they, too,should be involved in the like destruction. So, speakingas One that had authority and casting aside for a timethe gentleness of the Redeemer, He uttered His awfuldenunciation : " Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,hypocrites ! Ye blind guides ! Ye fools, ye hypocrites !Ye make clean the outside of the cup and of theplatter, but within they are full of extortion and excess."Now there arises a further inquiry. How was it thatthese Pharisees could descend to such depths of iniquity ?Surely it was right to make clean the exterior, surelythey were bound to live the decorous, moral life in whichthey gloried ? How, then, did it come to pass that thevery anxiety to make clean the outside of the cup andof the platter was turned by the great enemy of soulsto their destruction, and that which should have beenfor their health became unto them an occasion of falling ?I will endeavour to answer this inquiry, and itis to this division that I would request your specialattention, because upon it will be based the concludingand more practical remarks.
 
There was, no doubt, a time in the lives of thesePharisees when they were conscious of heavenlyaspirations a blessed spring-tide of the soul whenrefreshing showers descended from on high to quickenthe good seed which had been sown in their hearts.In those days they were able to appreciate the beautyFORMALISM 65of holiness. In those early years they would haveechoed the cry of the ancient seer, " May I die thedeath of the righteous, and may my last end be likehis." They shrank, however, from the sacrifices bywhich real holiness could be attained. They held back from the free surrender of their heart to GOD. Theywere afraid of the answer which might be returned if they inquired of their FATHER in heaven, " LORD,what wilt Thou have me to do ? " So Satan took advantage of their indecision, and suggested an easiermethod by which the favour of heaven could beattained.Under the guidance of this master-teacher of deceitthey renounced the rugged pathway of inward self-denial, and turned into the smoother road of externalobedience.Instead of uttering the prayer of the Psalmist whomthey professed to admire, " Create in me a clean heart,O GOD, and renew a right spirit within me," theyconcentrated all their attention upon the outward actswhich were required by the standard of the age inwhich they lived. From that point their downfall wasrapid. Their conscience, thus tampered with, soon beganto utter deceitful whispers. That which was given tobe the light of their souls became darkness, and, verily,the darkness was a darkness which could be felt. Inproportion as they received the praise of men fortheir outward goodness they relaxed their efforts afterinward purity.Where the publican would have been startled by thescoff of the world whose feelings he had outraged, thebreast of the Pharisee was only stirred by self-complacentpride as he listened to the flatterers by whom he wassurrounded. Then came the end the end of utterunmitigated hypocrisy.66 THE MESSAGE OF PEACEThe old phrases were still on their lips. The oldforms were still observed. But the spirit which givethlife was gone. They had a name to live, but in the sight

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