PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. BY REV.
MATTHEW v. 20. Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. These words occur in what is called our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. In that discourse, he explains the true meaning of various precepts contained in the divine law, and vindicates these precepts from the corrupt glosses and false constructions of the Scribes and Pharisees. In this connexion, the text comes in as a solemn caution against the corrupt principles of those Jewish teachers. In the writings of the Evangelists, no words are of more frequent occurrence, than Scribes and Pharisees. They are thus generally mentioned together, probably on account of their close affinity and agreement with each other. In our Saviour's time, those among the Jews who were devoted to the study of the law, its authorized transcribers and public ex-
PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. Ill pounders, had the title of Scribes and Doctors of the Law. They were its regular public teachers, the preaching clergy who instructed the people, while the priests attended the sacrifices. Their profession and the duties of their office required in them a most thorough knowledge of the holy Scriptures ; and this they were supposed to possess, as appears from
Herod's consulting with the " Scribes of the people," as well as with the chief priests, when he wished to learn where, according to the prophecies, the " Messiah should be born." The Pharisees were a religious sect or denomination, distinguished from others by their own peculiarities ; and these peculiarities consisted in their claim to a knowledge of the law more accurate, a veneration for it more profound, and an observance of it more strict and scrupulous, than were professed by others. It may naturally be supposed that the Scribes were generally of this sect, among whom the law of God was held in such high estimation. On account of their officiating as public teachers, the Scribes and Pharisees are said " to sit in Moses' seat ;" and our Saviour exhorts the people to regard and obey them so far as they taught the uncorrupted doctrines of Moses. We are to remember that, at this time, the Jewish religion, as contained in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, was the only true religion in the world ; and the Jewish nation the only people on earth by whom this religion was professed. To
112 PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. them pertained the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. From the early ages of the world, they had been the depositaries of the oracles of God. On them alone had the light of divine revelation directly and immediately shone ; and them only had Jehovah acknowledged as his chosen people. Their country was the valley of vision. They inherited it is a promised possession, a type of the heavenly Canaan, the future incorruptible inheritance reserved
for the saints in light. God had not dealt so with any other nation ; and as for his revealed judgments, they were unknown to whole heathen world. Of all descriptions of people in this so highly favoured and distinguished nation, the Scribes and Pharisees held the first rank, and were the most eminent for their religious character. As the instructed of their brethren, the study of religion was essential to their profession ; and they 1 had opportunity and advantages for superior attainments in knowledge. As Pharisees, the peculiarities of their profession required and supposed them to possess a degree of sanctity above others. Their righteousness was supposed to exceed what was obligatory on the people at large, and even to rise above the requirements of the law. Such was their repu : tation for piety, devotion, and sanctity of manners, that it is reported to have become a proverbial saying, "- that if but two men went to heaven, one of them would be a Pharisee."
PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. 113 How startled, may we then suppose, were our Lord's hearers at his declaration in the text ! To his present auditors, and, through them, to us and to all others, with the utmost solemnity he declares, that unless our righteousness, our inherent holiness, shall exceed that inculcated by the doctrines, or exhibited in the lives of the Scribes and Pharisees, unless it be of a different nature from theirs, we shall, by no means, be acknowledged as his subjects or admitted to the privileges of his heavenly kingdom. My hearers, we may not imagine ourselves uninterested in this declaration. In thus deciding upon
the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, the great Head of the church, and final Judge of the world, certainly intended our admonition and warning. As what was said with reference to them, was upon a subject which is now as greatly interesting to ourselves, it should naturally awaken our most earnest attention. Were you seeking to be introduced to some great and powerful prince, on whose favour your whole fortune depended, and were you apprized that your appearing in a particular dress would be necessary to your admission ; if it were at the same time announced that certain applicants before you, confident that they were rightly habited, had been utterly rejected on account of their having judged amiss on this article, — ^ r ould you not solicitously inquire in what habit they had made the attempt, and most diligently compare it with your 15
114 PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. own ? Or were the possession of a great estate or some high dignities proposed, on condition of acquiring skill in a certain art or science ; and a number of candidates, after much trouble and pains thus to accomplish themselves, had been pronounced deficient in the requisite qualifications, and thereby missed their objects,— would you not, engaged in the same pursuit, and aiming at the same objects, wish to learn the particular defects which occasioned their claims to be set aside ? Would you not fear lest yourselves might fall into similar mistakes, and meet with a similar disappointment ? As Christians, my brethren, the objects of our professed aim are, not the favours and honours of earthly princes, nor the peculiar treasure of kings, nor any worldly possessions or dignities ; but the
privileges and blessings of the Messiah's kingdom, the heavenly inheritance and life eternal in store for all his qualified subjects. At all times, under the law as well as under the Gospel, true religion, inherent righteousness or holiness, is the qualification indispensably requisite to the actual possession of these objects. The attainment of them was undoubtedly the aim of the Scribes and Pharisees of old, and they took much pains, in their way, to acquire what they thought the necessary qualifications. It has been already shown, that, of all men, they were favoured with the greatest external advantages for understanding and practising that righteousness without which no man can see the Lord. They had in-
PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. 115 deed a sort of righteousness, its outward appearance at least. For any neglect or defect in the forms of godliness, they seem not to have been censured. They were constant and regular in attending the sacrifices, oblations, divers washings, and other ceremonial observances of the Mosaic ritual. Formerly, in the age of Malachi, their whole nation had been charged with a backwardness to furnish the means for the support of God's worship. They were accused of robbing God in " tithes and offerings,'' — through a greedy avarice, defrauding the ministers of religion of those tenths by law required for their support. But so anxious were the Pharisees to escape all reproach in this respect, that they tithed the minutest articles of their produce. They would not make use of the common herbs of their gardens, till the tenth part of them had been first consecrated to religion. In the observance of public festivals and the seasons appropriated to the duties of religion, no men could be more scrupulous, exact, and even rigorous. ay, that they might not be
wanting in any form of devotion, or appearance of bodily mortification, it was peculiar to the sect of the Pharisees to set apart, over and above what the law had appointed, two days in every week for private, personal devotion. My brethren, when we consider these appearances of piety, and compare them with the face of religion among ourselves at the present day, are we not above measure astonished and alarmed at the
116 PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. declaration of our Saviour in the text ? If these Pharisees, who made conscience of performing so many religious duties, and who expended so much time and pains in the performance of them, did, after all, fail of that righteousness which is essential to our being the heirs of salvation, what must become of the present generation of mankind ? True indeed it is, that there may be the appearance of religion without the reality, and the form of godliness without the power ; but, on the other part, it is equally true, that there can be no religion in those who are destitute of its appearance, no godliness in those who neglect its forms. From the tree covered with leaves and blossoms, and exhibiting a most beautiful and promising appearance, it is not certain beforehand that any fruit will be gathered ; but from the tree already dead, which neither buds, nor blossoms, nor puts forth leaves, we know that there can be no fruit. The latter is evidently the present state of all those persons in whom there are no appearances of religion, who respect it neither in their own houses nor in the house of God, but customarily neglect all its seasons and duties. If such persons entertain any hope beyond this life, it cannot be founded on the Gospel of Christ. They can have no
pretence for flattering themselves with the expectation of any future benefit or advantage from him. If they would allow themselves to reflect upon the subject, they must know with the fullest certainty, that, in their present state, they are uninterested in
PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. 117 Christ, unentitled to salvation through him, — that they are of the number of those of whom it is said, that " they are condemned already," and that " the wrath of God abideth on them." We may and ought to lament over such characters ; but as, by the supposition, they are not the customary attendants on God's house and worship, they cannot be here addressed. Our present inquiries concern ourselves. As professed Christians, we have a sort of righteousness. Let us then examine whether it be better, whether it exceed that of the Pharisees. In outward forms we are required to equal them. It was a part of Christ's mission into the world to abolish the more burdensome and showy parts of the ancient religion. In lieu of all the numerous rites and ceremonies of Moses, baptism and the Lord's supper are the only positive institutions of Christ. These, accompanied with prayer and praise and the ministry of the word, constitute the public forms of Christian worship. One day in seven is the only time expressly appropriated to these purposes. The many other sabbaths and holy days required of old by the Mosaic law, are now made common by the Gospel of Christ. The duties of secret and familydevotion, being the dictates of natural religion, and, in some sort, observed by the heathen nations, cannot be said to be peculiar to the religion of Christ. The rites and forms of this religion being so few
and easy, may it not be supposed that they will all be
118 PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. regularly and conscientiously observed by every one who is truly religious ? The fact, however, is, that the greater part of those who are called Christians, conduct as though it were left to their own discretion whether to observe the whole form of christian godliness, or certain parts only, and these parts to such a degree, and at such seasons only as may chance to suit their own convenience. Accordingly, we see the great majority of our religious assemblies uniformly excusing themselves from honouring the christian eucharist ; while some of them show an equal indifference towards that ordinance which stamps a visibility of Christ, and gives a title to his name. What form or public appearance of religion have we, excepting the Lord's day ? And in the observance of this, what a variety prevails ! Some think it quite sufficient if they go to church once a day. Better Christians, indeed, make a point of attending the evening as well as the morning service ; but having done this, many of them seem to think themselves excused from whatever else has the appearance of religion. Indeed their lukewarmness, their lassitude, their impatience at the tedious length of God's worship, their eagerness to have it over, their haste to return to more agreeable exercises or amusements, and their dexterity in finding excuses for worldly occupations on the Lord's day, may seem to imply a drawback upon the credit which might otherwise be due to their zeal for his honour.
PHARISEES* RIGHTEOUS ESS. 119
My brethren, I will submit a supposed case to your consideration: I will suppose that Christ, instead of setting aside, had continued upon the neck of his disciples the yoke imposed by Moses ; — that in order to our enjoying the privileges of his subjects, we were still required to attend all the costly sacrifices and numerous ceremonies of the law, and, besides the exact and scrupulous observance of these forms, were required (a circumstance, perhaps, more nearly touching the sensibility of a certain class of people) absolutely to part with a whole tenth of our annual incomes to the support of religion. Were these the terms proposed by the Gospel, I would ask, what number of persons among us, in your consciences, ye imagine, would offer themselves as candidates for the kingdom of heaven, and persevere in seeking it by a righteousness equal in labour and and expense to that of the Scribes and Pharisees ? In this case, however, far as it is beyond almost any apparent example of religion in modern times, our Lord in the text declares, that even such candidates would ultimately fail of success. The truth is, that the righteousness of the Pharisees, however specious in appearance, exact and complete in externals, was yet essentially defective in that sanctification of the heart and affections, and devotion of them to God and his service, which Moses, as well as Christ, requires as the life and soul of all true religion. The love of God is the first and great command ; as shed abroad in the heart, it is the princi-
120 PHARISEES* RIGHTEOUS ESS. pie of true obedience to every other command, the root from which all the branches of righteousness spring forth ; the spirit which inspires and animates the whole system of true godliness, without which, rites and forms and all outward appearances are
mere statues, lifeless pictures, empty shadows, sounding brass, and tinkling cymbals. The want of this principle was the grand and fatal defect in the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, leaving it a baseless fabrick, an unfounded structure, a mere bodily exercise which could not profit. To them our Saviour peremptorily declared, " I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." They busied themselves about trifles comparatively, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law. All their care and attention were taken up about rites and forms, were exhausted upon externals, in keeping the outside clean, while, their hearts and affections being neglected, every depraved desire and passion was suffered to grow and predominate within, and they were full of extortion and excess. On this account our Lord compared them to painted sepulchres, which seem beautiful without, and make a shining appearance, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Be assured, my brethren, that our religious acts, though they should extend to the outward observance of all the ordinances of the Gospel, and the regular support of the whole form of godliness ; yet
PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. 121 if they proceed not from a thorough change of heart, from our being regenerated by the Spirit of God, from our having become new creatures through his enlightening, quickening, and sanctifying influences on our souls, — they are, after all, but a Pharisaic righteousness. If we value ourselves upon them ; if, in comparing ourselves with others, we feel a self-complacency and satisfaction that we are better
than they, in that we have performed duties neglected by them ; if we make these duties the basis of our hope towards God, and conclude that since we have done so much for him, have taken such pains to serve and glorify him, He will certainly show us mercy, as it would be inconsistent with his justice to withhold salvation from characters so faultless as ours ; — if these be our inward feelings and reasonings, we are undoubtedly on the very rock where the Pharisees were wrecked. Of them it is said, that, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, u they went about to establish their own," and from the deeds of the law, looked for justification before God. This was the common mistake of their nation, and proved the ground of their so general opposition to Christ and his Gospel. In that age, no error was deemed by the Apostles more dangerous and fatal. In most of his Epistles, St. Paul sets himself professedly, by various arguments, to expose and refute it. So much indeed upon this subject occurs throughout the ew Testament, that but few Christians so confessedly trust to their own 16
122 Pharisees' righteousness. righteousness, as did the Pharisees. Some variation has taken place in modifying the old mistake. Many seem to think that their own duties and virtues are the foundation, and that, where these fail, Christ will supply the breach, and his righteousness finish the structure. Hence their trust is divided between him and themselves. But, my brethren, this scheme has no support in the Gospel, and is utterly irreconcileable with the gospel terms of repentance and faith. True and evangelical repentance confesses that our secret faults
and open transgressions are innumerable, and that our very best services are mingled with imperfections sufficient for our condemnation. Faith, weary and heavy laden under the consciousness of this burden of guilt and ill desert, joyfully receives Christ as the Lord, our righteousness, whose obedience alone avails to our justification, and procures for us all the treasures of mercy and grace — receives him as " made of God unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Faith is the bond of union between Christ and his people, by virtue of which they derive strength from him for every good work which they perform. Here, then, we may discern the nature and the principle of that righteousness, which is better than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. It results from that renovated state of mind which takes place on the exercise of repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is consequent upon our
PHARISEES 5 RIGHTEOUS ESS. 123 being created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has ordained that we should walk in them, and it is performed through him, working in us both to will and to do. These sentiments and impressions have taken such hold on the heart of the sincere Christian, as to produce a change in his habitual thoughts, temper, desires, aims, and pursuits. Old things pass away, and all things become new to the taste and relish of his mind. His affections are set on things above. Though he neglects not his temporal concerns, jet he regards them but with a subordinate view to objects incomparably more important. Feeling that he is not his own, that he has been
bought with a price, he consecrates himself, body and soul, his worldly possessions, his time, his influence, his all, to the service of him by whom he has been redeemed ; and this, not from constraint, but willingly, from love, gratitude, and the pleasure which he experiences in what he believes to be the service of God. To him, the duties of religion are no longer a burden and a weariness, but his delight. His language is that of the Psalmist, " Oh how I love thy law ! How amiable are thy tabernacles ! I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. I esteem thy precepts concerning all things to be right. I will run the way of thy commandments."
124 PHARISEES' RIGHTEOUS ESS. By a righteousness thus prompted by love and gratitude, faith and hope, men become the subjects of Christ's kingdom on earth, and qualify themselves for its enjoyment in heaven. May divine grace produce in us all a righteousness of this kind!
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