Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus,
baptism seems to have been understood by the contemporaries of Christ, and the punctilio, vigor, and detail with which ceremonial purifications were carried out. It is only as we realize the background of daily Jewish life, against which the life to which Jesus called his disciples stood out so prominently, that we are in a position to appreciate the current force of the objections raised by Pharisee and scribe. We have here -
I. CHRISTIANITY CRITICIZED FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF RELIGIOUS TRADITION. (Vers. 1-5.) The exaggerated form the latter assumed brought out the more strikingly the peculiarity and essential character of Christ's teaching.
1. It was an age in which Jewish ceremonalism had reached its highest. The doctrine of Pharisaism had penetrated the common life of the people. They might be said to have fallen in love with it. The distinctions are artificial and super-refined, e.g. between "common," "profane," or "defiled hands, and hands ceremonially clean. They washed diligently (a paraphrase of the original substituted by our revisers for oft" of the Authorized Version, and apparently the best rendering of the difficult word in the original), "carefully," or the "many other Amongst the respectable Jews ceremonial strictness and nicety held a place very similar to what "good manners," or polite behavior and refinement, occupy with ourselves, having, of course, an additional supernatural sanction from association with the Law. Thus to-day the customs and observances of nations amongst whom civilization has long existed might equally serve as a foil for the Christian moralist; and all casuistries or secondary, customary moralities.
2. The objectors were the leaders and representatives of the religious life of the time. "Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem." They were the leaders and teachers of metropolitan fanatical ritualism. It is well when Christianity is judged that such men appear on the bench; there can then be no question as to the representative and authoritative character of the criticism. It would be a splendid thing if the representatives of modern political, social, and ecclesiastical life could be convened for such a purpose.
3. What, then, is the objection thus raised? It concerned an observance of daily life. Christians are now judged on the same arena. In small things as in large the difference will reveal itself. It depended upon an abstract distinction: the hand might be actually clean when it was not ceremonially so. It was, in the eyes of those who made it, the worst accusation they had it in their power to make. The moral life of the disciples was irreproachable; they "had wronged no man, corrupted no man, taken advantage of no man." The Christians of to-day ought to emulate this blamelessness; infidels can then fire only blank cartridge.
II. THE TABLES TURNED. (Vers. 6-23.) The critics are themselves reviewed. Trifling captiousness must be summarily dealt with, especially when it wears the garb of authority. The character of the objectors is of the first consequence in judging of Christ's tone. Grave issues were at stake. The ground of the fault-finding was superficial and untrustworthy, and a truer criterion must be discovered. "Deceivers may be denounced, that the deceived may be delivered" (Godwin). The essential nature of rectitude - the grand moral foundations must be laid bare.
1. Christ begins with an appeal to Scripture. He is careful to show that the distinction between righteousness and ritualism is a scriptural one, and not of his own invention. At the same time, he gives the reference a satirical or ironical turn by making a prophetic identification! We don't know how much is lost in ignoring the written Word of God. It is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness."
2. He next pointed out the opposition that existed between their traditions and the Law. The instance selected is a crucial one, viz. that of the fifth commandment - "the first commandment with promise." Others might have been given, but that would be sufficient. Family obligations are the inner circle in which religion most intensely operates; if a man is wrong there, he is not likely to be very righteous elsewhere. To prove their opposition to the Law was to strip them of all pretense to religion.
3. Lastly, common sense and conscience were appealed to as regarded rites and ceremonies. The "multitude" is here addressed; it is a point which the common man is supposed able to decide. There are many weapons that may thus be supplied to the evangelical armoury. If philosophy was rescued from barrenness by this method in the hands of a Socrates or a Reid, may we not hope for greater things with regard to a common-sense religion? The great foundation of all religious definitions and obligations is the true nature of man. The essential being of man is spiritual; the body is only the garment or case in which he dwells. Purity or its opposite must therefore be judged of from that standpoint. If the soul, will, spirit, inner thought of a man is pure, he is wholly pure. Spiritual and ceremonial cleanness must not be confounded. Religion is not a matter of forms, ceremonies, or anything merely outside; but of the heart. Yet the thought and will must influence the outward action, habit, and life. The spiritual is the only eternal religion (John 4:23, 24). The private question of the disciples is worthy of notice. A "parable" seems to have been their common name for a difficult saying of Christ's. Their incapacity was not intellectual but spiritual. Professed Christians themselves often require to be more fully instructed. The progressive life of the true Christian will itself solve many problems. "Had our Saviour been speaking as a physiologist, he would have admitted and contended that many things from without, if allowed to enter within, will corrupt the functions of physical life, and carry disorder and detriment into the whole fabric of the frame. But he was speaking as a moralist, and hence the antithetic statement of the next clause (cf. ver. 15)" (Morison). - M.
Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the Scribes.I. WHEN THEY CAME. When Gennesaret turned its heart toward Him. When diseased bodies had felt the virtue of His touch, and imprisoned souls had been set free by His word. Then. As soon as ever the Church's Child was born, the devil sought to drown Him (Revelation 12).
II. WHO THEY WERE THAT CAME. Pharisees and scribes. The learned and the religious. These two classes have always been the greatest opponents of Christ's kingdom.
III. WHENCE THEY CAME. From Jerusalem. Machiavel observed that there was nowhere less piety than in those that dwelt nearest to Rome. "The nearer the Church, the farther from God." "It cannot be that a prophet shall perish out of Jerusalem."
IV. WHERE THEY CAME. To Jesus. As the moth flies at the lamp, and bats fly at the sun, What a contrast between such a coming and those named in Mark 6:56. "I will draw all men unto Me."
Monday Club Sermons.It is the folly of men that, in discharge of me duties of religion, they are satisfied to put ceremonies and confessions that cost but little, in the place of righteousness of heart and life which cost a great deal.
I. There is today an ECCLESIASTICAL ritualism, which is disastrous to piety. It starts with the assumption that its methods of worship are the best possible; and, after a little, declares they are the only ones acceptable to God. The Church usurps the place of Christ. Of any church that estimates ritual above character, that endeavours to build up form rather than shape life, Christ says, "Full well do ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your tradition."
II. There is today a SOCIAL ritualism, which is disastrous to true piety. Public opinion is a power; it has its theory of religion. Certain things done, and certain others left undone, are the credentials of piety. Men's actions are the only things taken into account, not the men themselves. Society has agreed that a little honesty, a little charity, and church going, shall be accepted as religion. Such reject the commandment of God that they may keep their tradition.
III. There is a ritualism of PERSONAL OPINION, which is disastrous to true piety. Every man has his own idea of the conditions on which he personally may be right with God. They forget that it is for God to decide what is satisfactory to Him. It is sometimes argued that, since there are so many opposite theories and conflicting creeds, our acceptance or rejection of what is called religion cannot be of much importance. But religion is a simple matter. Piety is the being and doing what God has commanded; just that; nothing more and nothing less. Those commandments are few, brief, intelligible. Whatever vagueness and confusion there may be in our ideas of religion, it is of our own making. Let God speak for Himself, and listen only to Him, and all is plain.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Monday Club Sermons.Accepting the traditions of men as our rule, we get to be heirs of a vast deal of rubbish. Just as around the anchored rock in the ever-swinging tide, there gathers all sorts of debris, floating fragments of wrecks, drifting grass and weeds, with perhaps now and then some bright sea blossom, or shell of beauty cast up by the heave of the surge — so a church that takes as pattern of its creed and ceremonial the belief and methods of men of other times, is sure to be cumbered with a mass of outworn mistakes, the refuse and driftwood of centuries, with here and there a suggestion of world long value, but as a whole, out of date and useless.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Monday Club Sermons.Each generation encumbered the divinely ordained ritual with its own comments; so after awhile men's notions overgrew and hid from sight God's thought, as some wild vine in the forest wreathes its fetters of verdure around the hearty tree, interlacing and interknotting its sprays, looping mesh on mesh of pliant growth, till the tree is smothered and hidden, and the all-encompassing vine alone is seen and seems to bare life.
(Monday Club Sermons.)1 Kings 13). The Man of God was greatly to be pitied, yet he was greatly to be blamed. He had received it explicitly from God that he should neither eat nor drink in idolatrous Bethel; and it was his plain duty to adhere to that command, unless God repealed it in the same way in which he gave it, or with equal evidence that such was His will; whereas he believes an old man of whom he knows nothing, on his own word, under suspicious circumstances, and in opposition to what had been the Word of God to himself. While a direct and palpable temptation to go contrary to God's command was offered, he resisted and repelled the temptation; but when a temptation was offered, which came as a repeal of the command and in relief of his necessities, though on no sufficient authority, then his weakness prevailed. Why, think you, were lying prophets permitted? Why are lying teachers still suffered? Why, even lying wonders? To try the state of men's hearts. Is your heart, by the grace of God, made humble and teachable? then will you be taught of the Spirit "to discern the things which differ" — to detect the fallacies and delusions practised upon it — and "to approve the things which are more excellent." Is your heart self-sufficient, careless, carnal? then will it be deceived and led astray by plausible and flattering pretences. In contending that the Scriptures are the sole rule of faith, we give them exclusive authority over the judgment and the conscience. This authority lies in the real sense, and the just application of that sense, not in any sense or application contrary to that which is just and true, and which man may seek to impose. This sense is to be ascertained, and the right application of it is to be learnt by humble, teachable, diligent, and devout study, with the use of all needful helps thereto. The influence of the Scriptures on the heart is the special work of Him who dictated them. The blessing of God is needful to our success in endeavouring to ascertain the sense and right application of them; but so great are the obstacles to our "receiving with meekness the engrafted Word," that "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, must shine into our hearts" by the special grace of the Holy Spirit, in order to our feeling the transforming influence of the light of the knowledge of His glory, as seen in the face of Jesus Christ. No consent of man in any interpretation or application of Scripture is of binding authority on others. Consent is often contagious — not enlightened. The influence of leaders, the supposed interests of party, early associations, and prejudices, often bias the judgment. But the unerring standard remains. And the deviations of churches, and councils, and nations, from this standard, and the continuance of those deviations for ages, cannot deflect this standard one jot or tittle from its rectitude. But while no consent of men can bind of authority to any interpretation or application of Scripture, yet those views of truth which are commended to us by the consent in them of varied bodies of enlightened and devout men, come to us under a just and commanding influence.
(J. Pratt, B. D.)I. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES WASHING WITH WATER FOR PURITY OF HEART.
II. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS FOR THE COMMANDS OF GOD.
III. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE WORSHIP OF THE LIPS FOR THE WORSHIP OF THE HEART.
IV. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES A SUBTLE EVASION FOR FILIAL DUTY.
V. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES AVOIDANCE OF UNCLEAN FOOD FOR AVOIDANCE OF IMPURE AND MALICIOUS THOUGHTS. Application: It is possible to be, in a sense, religious, and yet, in a deeper sense, sinful, and out of harmony with the mind and will of God. None is wholly free from the temptation to substitute the external, formal, apparent, for the faith, love, and loyalty of heart required by God. Hence the need of a good heart, which must be a new heart — the gift and creation of God by His Spirit.
(J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
I. A GROSS PERVERSION OF THE RELATIVE CLAIMS OF THE PARENT AND THE CHURCH.
II. A WICKED INTERFERENCE WITH THE FIRST COMMANDMENT WITH PROMISE.
III. A CRUEL UNDERMINING OF FILIAL AFFECTION AND FIDELITY AND AS CRUEL AN EXPOSURE OF THE AGED AND ENFEEBLED PARENTS TO A FALSELY JUSTIFIED NEGLECT.
IV. AN UNWARRANTED USURPATION OF AUTHORITY TO WEAKEN THE OBLIGATION OF A DIVINE LAW.
I. CONSISTED MAINLY OF EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES (vers. 2-4).
1. By this feature the same system of religion may be detected in the present day.
2. Religion in this sense is upheld by many strong principles in the nature of man-awakened conscience, self-righteousness, vanity.
3. This system is exceedingly dangerous. Misleads the awakened sinner; produces a deep and fatal slumber.
II. RESTS ON HUMAN AUTHORITY AS ITS WARRANT (vers. 3, 5, 7).
1. By this feature we may detect it in the present day. Among those who take away the right — duty and exercise of private judgment. Among those who derive their religious belief from man — in whatever way.
2. This form of false religion is exceedingly dangerous. It dishonours Christ as a prophet, etc. It gives despotic power to man, which he is not qualified to wield. It degrades the soul to be a servant of servants, etc.
3. Call no man mawr.
III. PUTS DISHONOUR UPON THE SACRED SCRIPTURES.
1. By this feature we detect its existence now. In the Church of Rome, etc., the Scriptures are wholly concealed — made to speak according to tradition and the Church. Amongst ourselves: opinions are not surrendered to them, and they are neglected.
2. This form of religion stands opposed to those Scriptures which it dishonours (John 5:39, and others).
3. Know the Scriptures and revere them.
IV. MADE LIGHT OF THE MORAL LAW (vers. 8-12).
1. May be seen in our own day — in the Church of Rome. May be seen, amongst ourselves, in those who put religious ceremonies in the place of moral duties.
2. This form has its origin in the love of sin, and is accommodated to an unsanctified heart.
3. It has no tendency to purify, but the reverse.
4. Beware of Antinomianism.
V. CONSISTED IN HYPOCRISY, putting on appearances.
VI. WAS VIGILANT AND JEALOUS OF CHRIST AND CENSURED HIS DISCIPLES (vers. 1, 2).
(Geikie's Life of Christ.)
(1) (2) (R. Glover.) (T. Manton.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (Sword and Trowel.) (Burkitt.) (R. Glover.) (Dr. Wylie.) (Buck.) I. Fail to read and study it and to appropriate its blessings. II. When we give precedence to any human authority or law. III. When by our lives we misrepresent it before the world. IV. When we fail to urge its truths upon the anxious inquirer or careless sinner. (J. Gordon.) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (Quesnel.)
(2) (R. Glover.) (T. Manton.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (C. H. Spurgeon.) (Sword and Trowel.) (Burkitt.) (R. Glover.) (Dr. Wylie.) (Buck.) I. Fail to read and study it and to appropriate its blessings. II. When we give precedence to any human authority or law. III. When by our lives we misrepresent it before the world. IV. When we fail to urge its truths upon the anxious inquirer or careless sinner. (J. Gordon.) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (Quesnel.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(Sword and Trowel.)
I. Fail to read and study it and to appropriate its blessings.
II. When we give precedence to any human authority or law.
III. When by our lives we misrepresent it before the world.
IV. When we fail to urge its truths upon the anxious inquirer or careless sinner.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (Quesnel.)