Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
(1) proselytes of the gate, who received the teachings of the Old Testament, but not the ceremonial Law; and
(2) proselytes of righteousness, who conformed to the whole Law. Our modern term "pervert" conveys something of the idea our Lord attached to "proselyte." Dean Plumptre gives an historical reference, which skilfully brings out the point of our Lord's reproof. "The zeal of the earlier Pharisees had shown itself in a propagandism which reminds us rather of the spread of the religion of Mahomet than of that of Christ. John Hyrcanus, the last of the Maccabean priest rulers, had offered the Idumaeans the alternative of death, exile, or circumcision. When the government of Rome rendered such measures impossible, they resorted to all the arts of persuasion, and exulted when they succeeded in enrolling a heathen convert as a member of their party. but the proselytes thus made were too often a scandal and proverb of reproach. There was no real conversion, and those who were most active in the work of proselytizing were for the most part blind leaders of the blind. The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. The ties of duty and natural affection were ruthlessly snapped asunder. The popular Jewish feeling about them was like that of the popular Christian feeling about a converted Jew."
I. THE PERIL OF MAKING PROSELYTES FOR THOSE WHO MAKE THEM. Open such points as these:
1. A man must exaggerate sectarian differences before he can try to win proselytes to an opinion.
2. A man must make more of the outward form than the inward spirit.
3. A man is only too likely to use bad means in gaining such an end.
4. A man who makes proselytes honours himself rather than God.
5. And such a man is only too likely to be deceived in the result he attains.
II. THE PERIL OF MAKING PROSELYTES FOR THOSE WHO ARE MADE. Open these points:
1. Men may be overpressed to accept opinions on which they have really formed no judgment.
2. Perverts notoriously exaggerate the formalities of the new creed they adopt, and become bitterest partisans. - R.T.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.I. THAT THEY SHUT UP THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AGAINST MEN. "Neither suffer ye them that are entering in."
1. They did this by their extraordinary strictness and outward purity. By such austerities they made religion repulsive. This accusation has often been preferred against the pure ministers of a pure religion. Compare this text with the parallel passage in Luke 11:52. They shut the kingdom of heaven against themselves and others by taking away the key of knowledge. The same sin is committed by any church that imposes the traditions of men in that province in which only the commandment of God is of authority. The kingdom of heaven is opened by knowledge. It is important to recognize this. Ministers of the Church have in a certain sense the power of shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men.(1) Let us learn to read the Bible and listen to its truths, in the assurance that our eternal destiny depends upon the knowledge of them.(2) Let ministers learn their proper vocation as porters to the kingdom of heaven, and let them beware of handling the Word of God deceitfully.
2. The second charge against the scribes and Pharisees. They devoured the houses of widows. They were robbers of the defenceless. Those who lie under this woe are:(1) Those ministers who enter upon and continue in their office for a piece of bread.
3. The third charge against the scribes and Pharisees — "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte." The apostles of deceit and falsehood have often manifested a zeal in the propagation of their principles which is fitted to minister a severe reproof to those who know and believe the truth. It is not the fact of making proselytes against which the woe is directed; this is the duty of the Church. But they did not care to make their councils holier.(1) They made proselytes by reviling and scorn;(2) by misrepresentation and calumny;(3) by force.
In the description of the scribes and Pharisees in this chapter we have a full-length portrait of the hypocriteI. They shut up the kingdom of heaven against others (ver. 13).
II. They committed the grossest iniquity under a cloak of religion (ver. 14).
III. They showed great zeal in making proselytes, yet did it only for gain, and made them more wicked (ver. 15).
IV. They taught false doctrine, artful contrivances to destroy the force of oaths, and shut out the Creator from their view (vers. 16-22).
V. They were superstitious (ver. 23).
VI. They were openly hypocritical (vers. 25-28).
VII. They professed great veneration for the memory of the pious dead, while at the same time they were conscious that they really approved the conduct of those who killed them (vers. 29-31). Never, perhaps, was there a combination of more wicked feelings and hypocritical actions than among them; and never was there more profound knowledge of the human heart and more faithfulness than in Him who tore off the mask, and showed them what they were.
(A. Barnes, D. D.)I. Spiritual ambition; petitioners changed into beggars. The long prayers of the hypocrites, and the long sentence of judgment.
II. Those who shut the kingdom of heaven.
III. Proselytism. Soul-winners and soul-ruiners.
IV. The work of man up, the work of God down; the inward nothing, the outward everything. The true oath always by the living and true God. The blindest ignorance connected with a conceit of keenest insight into the laws of the kingdom of God.
V. Legality in little things; lawlessness in great.
VI. The outside and the inside of the cup and the platter, or the feast of the religious and moral hypocrite.
1. In the outward form, consecrated or adorned.
2. In the inner character, abominable and reprobate.
VII. The whited sepulchres: like pleasant abodes outwardly; caves of bones, diffusing death, within — spiritual death, in the guise of spiritual bloom.
VIII. The murderers of the prophets. To persecute Christ in His saints is to persecute Christ himself.
(J. P. Lange, D. D.)
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