Why the Lord said, For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me…
I. THERE IS A FEAR TOWARDS GOD WHICH IS TAUGHT BY THE PRECEPT OF MEN. It is unquestionable that, although it is nothing but the recklessness of infidelity which would speak of religion as an engine of state policy, still no state policy can be effective which looks not to religion as an auxiliary. If there could be taken off from a community those restraints which are imposed on it by the doctrine of the soul's immortality, and of a future dispensation of rewards and punishments, there would be done more towards the introduction of a universal lawlessness and profligacy than if the statute books of the land were torn up and the courts of justice levelled with the ground. But if religion be thus susceptible of being employed with advantage as an auxiliary, there is a corresponding risk of its being resorted to as a human engine and not as a Divine. All inculcations of religion which are dictated by the consciousness that it is politic to stand by religion would turn into inculcations of infidelity the moment it should appear that it would be politic to stand by infidelity. It is a possible case that rulers might do on the political principle what Hezekiah did on the God-fearing principle — they might busy themselves with exacting from their subjects attention to the laws of the Almighty, and so might bring round great outward conformity to many commands of the Bible. The result in the two eases might be similar: the tokens of the absence of God's fear might be swept from the land; and there might, on the contrary, be seen on the whole outspread of the population, appearances of the maintenance of that fear. What is to be said of that fear of God which seems to discover itself in its attention to ordinances, but which is only dictated by habit — or respect for appearances — or concern for religion as an engine of state! If we could mark each individual, as he enters the house, who is only brought hither by custom — by the feeling that it is decorous to come — by the sense that it is right that old institutions should be upheld, why, since in the whole assemblage of such motives there is no real recognition of the authority of Jehovah, we should be bound to say of all those who thus render to God a spurious and inferior homage, that their fear towards Him was "taught by the precept of men." The motive or sentiment which is the prime energy in producing that fear towards God which is not according to His word is the opinion of merit, the attachment of worth to this or that action, which is ordinarily described as self-righteousness. The cases of the fear towards God, which is taught by the Precept of men, might be further multiplied. If you went the round of even the religious world you would find much of a restless endeavour to bring down godliness to something of the human standard.
II. THE FEAR TOWARDS GOD, TAUGHT BY MAN'S PRECEPT, IS MOST OFFENSIVE IN THE SIGHT OF THE ALMIGHTY. We conclude the fact of the offensiveness from God's express determination of punishing the Jews with a signal punishment. Our simple business is therefore to search after the reason of this offensiveness.
1. The fear must be a defective fear. If you take your standard from aught else than the Bible, you will necessarily have a standard which is low and imperfect; and although you may act unflinchingly up to this standard, where it is the standard of other men's opinions or long practice or custom, you stand accountable for the adoption of the standard.
2. This fear involves a contempt of revelation; and on this account as well as on the former most peculiarly incurs the wrath of Jehovah.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
WEB: The Lord said, "Because this people draws near with their mouth and with their lips to honor me, but they have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught;