Woe to you! You build tombs for the prophets, but it was your fathers who killed them.
I. OBJECTS OF GROSS EXAGGERATION. Our Lord pointed out the exaggerated importance which they attached to the outward, to the bodily, to the minute. They made everything of religious observances and customs. To wash the hands after coming from market, before eating bread, was to them quite a serious obligation, which they would on no account neglect; to tithe the small herbs that grew in their garden was to them a sacred duty, which they took pains to observe; to make the outside of their culinary vessels clean was a rule by no means to be forgotten; to carry no smallest stick on the sabbath day was a very sacred law, etc. These things, and such things as these, were made the staple of their religion; their piety was composed of small observances, of conformity to prescriptions and proscriptions which only touched the Outside and not the inner sanctuary, which only affected the body and not the soul; they made everything of that which was only of very slight importance; they exaggerated the minute until these became misleading and practically false.
II. OTHER OBJECTS FATALLY OVERLOOKED OR SLIGHTED. These were:
1. Inward purity. What did it matter if some cups were not quite clean? Something certainly, but very little comparatively; it was a matter of infinitesimal consequence. But it mattered much that their "inward part," their soul, was "full of ravening and wickedness." If they were themselves corrupt, no ceremonial cleanness would avail them. It is of infinite consequence to any man that he should be "all glorious within;" that there should be truth and purity "in the inward parts," in the deep recesses of the soul. It is the pure in heart alone that can see God and that can enter his kingdom.
2. Charity; a kind heart showing itself in a generous hand. Whoso has this disposition to pity, to heal, to help; whoso spends himself in endeavors to do good, to lighten the burdens of the afflicted, to brighten the path that lies in shadow; - this man is one to whom "all things are clean." He who is earnestly concerned to mitigate the sorrow of some bleeding heart, or to extricate some fallen spirit from the cruel toils of vice, or to lead some weary wanderer from the desert of doubt into the bright and happy home of faith and love, - he is not the man to be "greatly moved" because he carries a speck of dust upon his hands, or because a utensil has not been washed the proper number of times in a day.
3. Rectitude. The Pharisees passed over "judgment;" but they should have given to this a front place. To recognize the righteous claims of men on our regard, on our considerateness, on our fidelity, on our truthfulness, - is not this a very large part of any piety that is of God, commended by him and commending us to him?
4. The love of God. This also the Pharisees slighted. But it was of the very first importance. Their Law laid stress upon it (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5). It is the heritage and glory of manhood (see homily on Luke 10:27). To make little of this was so to misrepresent as to lead into ruinous error. Purity, charity, rectitude, the love of God, - these are the precious things which make man great, worthy, dear to God his Father. - C.
Ye build the sepulchres of the prophets.indignation against those who laboured to press them on them. selves. The same takes place in our own day and generation. Call to mind the names of martyrs, and confessors, and preachers, who, whilst they lived, drew on themselves almost universal detestation by their zeal in the publication of truth and the exposure of error. Gather opinions as to these martyrs, confessors, and preachers, and you will obtain well nigh an unqualified verdict, pronouncing them amongst the worthiest of men, ornaments to their own age, and examples to every succeeding. Open a subscription for some testimonial in their honour; and money will flow in for the building their tombs and garnishing their sepulchres, just as though there were a general anxiety to evince a sense of their worth, and of the injustice of their contemporaries. But now go on to examine what the principles were which these dead worthies upheld, what the doctrines which they published, what the practices which they denounced. And do you think you will find that these principles are in general repute, these doctrines generally esteemed, these practices generally shunned? Oh, not so. The principles are still those which excite opposition, the doctrines are disliked, the practices are cherished. And it is by the feelings entertained towards the things taught, and not by those expressed towards the dead who were their teachers, that we are to judge whether men would have joined in persecuting the prophets. I care nothing for the stately mausoleum. I have no faith in the laboured panegyric. I am not to be persuaded, because sculpture and painting may devote themselves to the representing the magnanimous dead, or poetry consecrate its richest melodies to the story of their deeds and their wrongs. If the truth for which the dead died be not beloved by the living, there is no evidence that the living would not have aided in their destruction. But we may identify our own case yet more closely with that of the Jews. There is perhaps no more common feeling than that of amazement and indignation at the treatment which our Lord received from His countrymen. If ever there moved upon the earth the Being who seemed likely to disarm all enmity, and attract towards Himself universal affection, that Being undoubtedly was Jesus of Nazareth. He had so evidently no object but that of benefiting ethers, and He gave such evidences of ability to compass this object, that we might have supposed that all classes would have eagerly welcomed Him as a Prophet and Deliverer. And the apparent improbability of the rejection of Christ may easily induce a persuasion that, had we been in the days of the Jews, we could never have shared in their crime. But how ought such passages as our text to stagger us, showing us, as they do, that the Jews equally flattered themselves that they were incapable of the sin of putting a great Prophet to death! We make no doubt that, had we been contemporary with Christ, had we beheld His miracles and listened to His preaching, we should never have been of the number of those who sought His destruction. But what is this persuasion but the very persuasion of the Jews, who sat in judgment on their fathers as slayers of the prophets, and determined that they could never have joined them in their crime, and this too at the moment when they thirsted for Christ's blood, and bent themselves to compass His death? It may seem to me almost impossible that I should have conspired against Christ, that I should have helped to weave the crown of thorns and to drive the nails into His hands and His feet. But am I so unlike the Jew, is there any such radical difference between myself and the Jew, that I am warranted in believing that his wickedness could never have been mine? Ah, there is at least one point of similarity between us; and this ought to make me fearful of hastily concluding that there cannot be more. And what is this point? why, that the Jew and myself are equally ready to plead too much goodness to allow of joining in killing a prophet, My way of judging and deciding was precisely his, the reference to a crime which others committed, and determining against the possibility of any participation. And where there is the same assurance of inability to perpetrate a sin there is probably the same ability. Let us trust to no verdict of acquittal which we may be disposed to pass on ourselves after listening to that which the murderers of Christ so complacently uttered. So far, therefore, we may safely take the text, and give it as descriptive of what occurs amongst ourselves. But may we also denounce the woe which it contains? That woe is evidently denounced on account of the hypocrisy of those whose actions are described, on account of their conspiring against the living Christ, whilst joining to do honour to the murdered prophets. And is there anything parallel to this amongst ourselves? Indeed there is; for it is very easy to be indignant against those who put Jesus to death and all the while to overlook our own share in the guilty transaction. It is very easy to give up to universal execration the Roman and the Jew, and to be unmindful of the causes which brought round the Crucifixion. It is very easy to take the narrative of Christ's sufferings, just as you would the narrative of some doleful occurrence that happened in a remote age, and which has little more than its sadness to give it interest with your feelings. But who slew the Lamb of God? who drove the nails? who reared the cross? Not the Roman and the Jew. These were but agents and instruments. Christ died for the sins of the world: the sins of the world were really His murderers, though they used the Roman and the Jew as His executioners. And no man regards the death of Christ under a just point of view who does not charge himself with a share in the perpetration. He who does not make himself one of the murderers can scarcely have faith in the propitiation. And who will dare to assert that he is innocent of the blood of Jesus Christ? The Son of God is now virtually crucified afresh, whenever men turn away from the Redeemer, refusing to accept the mercy which He proffers, because they will not quit the sins which He abhors. It is virtually done by every wilful act of rebellion, by unbelief, by pride, by hardness of heart, by resistance to the strivings of the Spirit, by disobedience to the precepts of the gospel. The wilful transgressor does all which he can do towards rendering necessary a second crucifixion: he commits more and more of that which crucified Christ, and therefore, so far as his own guiltiness is concerned, may literally be charged with crucifying Him again. And, over and above this, you are to consider that Christ is continually coining to the impenitent and obdurate in and through the ordinances of religion, presenting Himself to them as their Redeemer, and beseeching them to receive Him, as they would hope to escape eternal destruction. But they treat Him with contempt. He calls, but they refuse: He stretches out His hand, but they will not regard. And what is all this if not the repetition of the Jewish denial and rejection of Christ.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)I. THESE PHARISAIC WORTHIES DID CHEAP AND OSTENTATIOUS HOMAGE TO DEAD AND DISTANT VIRTUE. They "built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous." Monuments of the illustrious and pious dead were common in Jerusalem. These memorials the Pharisees held in most officious veneration, repairing, ornamenting, or building them anew. Pious acts, one might deem. Could such grave-visaged votaries be other than God-fearing men? Alas for poor human nature! A certain homage to virtue it doubtless was, this rearing of monumental honours to prophets long dead. Even in the worst of men, such acts are not without their value in testifying to a conscience within them, and a God above them. We blame not the instinct for monuments, nor need we, for it is as deep as human nature, as old as history: witness the pyramids, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome. We see it in the rude stone or cairn that marks some hard-fought field, or the spot where some old mailed king grimly bit the ground. It continues to fill our squares with statues, our graveyards with sculptures, our cathedrals with "storied urn and animated bust." Yea, it fills our houses with portraits and other relics of the dear departed, over whom memory contests it stoutly with the very grave, and makes it "give us back the dead, even in the loveliest looks they wore." Need I add that Christianity, too, which has a true and kindly side for everything natural, has its monumental institutions? But, with all this, monumental zeal is but a cheap, and often vulgar homage. Stone memorials may be projected and erected by very stony hearts. The tomb-building rage is often symptomatic of a degenerate time, in which the nation has passed its zenith, has stopped producing heroes, and now produces only their statues, or it may be, like Jerusalem, their persecutors and killers. Illustrations of this tendency are not far to seek, though we are very far from calling ours a degenerate age. In one of our minor capitals, any visitor may find in a certain spacious street, standing in a row, the express image of royal sensuality, supported on the one side by that of political tyranny, and on the other by that of political corruption. Some years ago, twenty-five thousand pounds were subscribed to erect a statue to a public person whose only known accomplishment was railway gambling, and whose only public virtue was success. The old prophets, persecuted through life, and at last stoned out of it, did come, in a future age, to get recognition. "The memory of the just is blessed," while "the memory of the wicked shall rot"; and thus, even from foes, the good may get posthumous instalments of the honours that await them in full measure before assembled worlds. But this homage they never get till they are fairly out of the way. A dead prophet's tomb called only for the cheap surrender of a little pelf. The living prophet himself would have demanded the right hand or the right eye, the immolation of the darling lust, the consecration of the whole man. To deny due honour to the prophet, and pay mock honours to his tomb, was truly a lie in livery. So is it still. Wesley is lauded by many in our day who, were he alive, would brand him, as did even his pious contemporary Toplady, as "an inveterate troubler of Israel." Why? Because Wesley is out of their way — he has" ceased from troubling"; and thus be whom, living, men classed among troublers, may, now that he is dead, be enrolled among the saints. Thus death or distance lends enchantment to the view. The noblest monument we can rear to a prophet, is to gather up his teachings into our experience, and reproduce his character in our life. For the real monument of the heroes and martyrs that founded England's greatness — circumspice! — if you ask where it is, we answer, Where is it not? The true Wallace monument is not the rock-dwarfed thing which, under that name, disfigures a picturesque and memorable spot, but is seen in a nation of patriots who had the good sense to be indifferent to that structural anachronism, and who have often contributed many times its cost, in one of their cities alone, for modern patriotic objects common and dear to the United Kingdom. No tribute to such men as Watt and the Stephensons could equal that which thunders in every factory and steams on every sea.
II. THOSE PHARISEES BORE CHEAP AND OSTENTATIOUS TESTIMONY AGAINST DEAD AND DISTANT SIN. They said, "If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Pious men! Blushing crimson for being sons of prophet-murdering sires! Such was their profession in regard to the dead. What now was their actual practice in regard to the living? You may read it here (verse 33) in the words "serpents," "vipers." Our Lord thereby describes them as men whose hearts were venom-bags, whose mouths were open sepulchres, whose tongues were rooted, and floated, in the poison of asps. There had already come among them a prophet, yea, and more than a prophet, even the Son of the Highest. And how did those saintly tomb-builders receive Him? "It is certain that a Herod and a Herodias to John the Baptist, would have been an Ahab and a Jezebel to Elijah." Let this bring home to us the humiliating lesson of our fatal proneness to glide into the delusive persuasion that this or that sin is what we, for our parts, are wholly incapable of committing — that, though all men should fall into it, yet will not we. Where is the Bible reading youth who has not in his inexperience marvelled at Israel's murmurings in the desert, and at the sad falls of some of the most eminent of the Old Testament saints? But riper views, and deeper spiritual experiences, not only correct this mistake, but let us see in the very facts we once deemed so stumbling, striking evidence of the truth and divinity of the book that records them. The holiest man will be the least disposed to declare himself incapable of this or that sin.
III. BY ALL THIS THESE PHARISEES EXPOSED AND CONDEMNED THEMSELVES (see verses 30, 31). In conclusion, note one thing they ought to have done, but left undone; nay, did the opposite; that of humbly owning their oneness with the prophet-killing fathers. Paradoxical as it may sound, this was the first step to standing out from their fathers' crime.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)I. WHAT IS HERE MEANT BY "THE WISDOM OF GOD." "Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles," &c. In St. Matthew, our Saviour speaks this in His own name — "Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets ": for which reason, some think that by "the wisdom of God" our Saviour here designed Himself; as if He had said, Therefore I, who am the "wisdom of God," declare unto you. But this is not very probable, our Saviour nowhere else in the Gospel speaking of Himself in any such style; though St. Paul calls Him "the power of God," and "the wisdom of God." Others think that our Saviour here refers to some prophecy of the Old Testament to this purpose: "Therefore, the Wisdom of God hath said"; that is, the Holy Spirit of wisdom, which inspired the prophets in the Old Testament. But this conceit is utterly without ground, for we find no such passage. But the most plain and simple interpretation is this: "Therefore hath the wisdom of God said"; that is, the most wise God hath determined to send among you such messengers and holy men, and I foresee that ye will thus abuse them, and thereby bring wrath and destruction upon yourselves. And whereas our Saviour says, in St. Matthew, "behold I send unto yon prophets"; it is very probable He speaks in God's name, and that it is to be understood, Behold, says God, I send unto you. By apostles is here meant all sorts of Divine messengers; for so St. Matthew expresseth it, "I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes"; that is, several holy and excellent men, endowed with all sorts of Divine gifts.
II. WHO THIS ZACHARIAS WAS HERE MENTIONED BY OUR SAVIOUR.
III. IN WHAT SENSE, AND WITH WHAT REASON AND JUSTICE IT IS HERE THREATENED, THAT "THE BLOOD OF ALL THE PROPHETS AND RIGHTEOUS MEN, SHED FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD," SHOULD BE REQUIRED OF THAT GENERATION.
1. That it hath been the lot of holy and righteous men, in most ages of the world, to meetwith very bad usage, to be "persecuted and slain." The devil began this work early.
2. We may observe likewise, hence, how great a sin they are guilty of who persecute the righteous, and how terrible a vengeance from God waits on them.
3. From this whole passage of our Saviour, which I have been explaining to you, we may learn how vain it is for men to pretend to honour the dead saints, when they persecute the living.
Cassell's Family Magazine.The tombs of Egypt are among the grandest and most striking of its monuments. The pyramids were tombs, and they are still wonders of the world. The rock-hewn sepulchres, however, which surround the pyramids, and which dot the mountain gorges of Thebes and Bene-Hassan, are now probably the most instructive. Their chambers are so many museums, containing not merely the embalmed remains, but, on the inscribed and sculptured walls, the whole history of the mighty dead. Nothing is overlooked or forgotten that would throw light on their lives and labours. In this way we have a most vivid picture of ancient Egypt; the victories of kings; processes in law courts; the building of cities; the hewing and transport of colossal statues and obelisks; the embalming of the dead; funeral rites and processions; marriage ceremonies; every department of household work and family life, such as cooking, washing, dressing, shaving the head and beard, eating; trades of all kinds — goldsmiths, painters, potters, glass-blowers, bakers, weavers; games and amusements — jugglers, music, dancing; tilling the soil; irrigating the fields; feeding and milking cows; watering flax, reaping, threshing, grinding — all these and many other things are delineated with singular, and not unfrequently amusing, minuteness of detail. In examining those unique tombs one can study the manners and customs, the private life and public acts, the religious rites and ceremonies, the features and dress of those who lived in cottage and palace in that country from three to four thousand years ago, with almost as much advantage as if he had lived among them. The perfect preservation of the paintings and papyri is astonishing. In this Western land of rain and frost half a century of neglect would destroy them; hut in Upper Egypt rain and frost are unknown. The dry and equable climate is the grand curator; and this has been materially assisted by the desert sand, which has partially covered some of the monuments, and for long ages hermetically sealed many of the finest tombs. The figures and brilliant colouring on the walls, and written characters upon the papyrus have been thus preserved as fresh as if only finished yesterday. Looking at them one can scarcely believe that their age has to be reckoned by thousands of years.
(Cassell's Family Magazine.)
Cassell's Family Magazine.At the entrance are two sentry-box looking constructions with glass windows. These are lamps kept perpetually lighted, the flame not having been allowed to die out for many years. The sanctum is very splendid, the roofs and walls being lined with gold brocade, and the frames of the door inlaid with carved ivory. The air is oppressive with the perfume of flowers and spices. Flowers especially are a favourite offering at Buddha's shrine, and are always present in great profusion. On one occasion no less than 6,480,320 flowers were counted at the shrine, and it is recorded that in the fifteenth century a royal devotee sent 100,000 flowers a day for a considerable time, and each day the flowers were of a different kind. The karundua, or vessel containing the tooth, stands covered on a table of massive silver, richly chased, in the midst of a profusion of valuable articles of jeweilery, which are either relies or offerings. The most beautiful in the collection is a bird with wings spread. It is formed entirely of diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, &c., set in gold, which is hid by a profusion of gems. While we were all admiring this magnificent offering, the priests or monks removed several folds of muslin from the karundua, and discovered a sort of dome of gilded silver, about five feet high, studded with a few gems. When this was removed, another was found underneath, made of beautifully carved gold. This was festooned with jewelled chains, and literally incrusted with all the glittering gems for which Ceylon is so celebrated — sapphires and emeralds of extraordinary size, cat's eyes (much prized), rubies, amethysts, and pearls. Another similar covering, and still another, were taken off, when at last was reached a small case of gold, covered externally with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, in which, resting on the leaves of a gold lotus, was the tooth itself.
(Cassell's Family Magazine.)— I never saw the honours of this world in their hollowness and hypocrisy so much as I have seen them within the last few days, as I have been looking over the life and death of that wonderful man just departed, Charles Sumner. Now that he is dead the whole nation takes off the hat. The flags are at half-mast and the minute-guns on Boston Common throb, now that his heart has ceased to beat. Was it always so? While he lived, how censured of legislative resolutions, how caricatured of the pictorials, how charged with every motive mean and ridiculous; how, when struck down in Senate-chamber, there were hundreds of thousands of people who said, "Good for him, served him right!" O Commonwealth of Massachusetts I who is that man that sleeps to-night in your public hall, covered with garlands and wrapped in the stars and stripes? Is that the man whom, only a few months ago, you denounced as the foe of Republican and Democratic institutions? Is that the same man? You were either wrong then or you are wrong now — a thing most certain, O Commonwealth of Massachusetts! When I see a man like that pursued by all the hounds of the political kennel so long as he lives, and then buried under garlands almost mountain high, and amid the lamentations of a whole nation, I say to myself, "What an unutterably hypocritical thing is all human applause and all human favour!" You took twenty-five years in trying to pull down his fame, and now you will take twenty-five years in trying to build his monument. You were either wrong then, or you are wrong now. My friends, was there ever a better commentary on the hollowness of all earthly favour?
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