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in remembrance the law, and all that God had done for Israel.* Our Lord never found fault with established customs, but only with the abuse of them, and in the lines we have just read, He does not seem to blame the Pharisees for wearing Phylacteries, but for taking a pride in them, for making them broad, “ to be seen of men,” and so to obtain a character for great wisdom and holiness. The Jews had been expressly commanded by God, to wear borders on their garments of a ribbon of blue with fringe, and the reason given, was, that when they looked upon them they might remember all the commandments of God, and not seek after; that is, not study to please, their own hearts, and their own eyes, but that they might remember to be holy unto God.+
These borders were to be worn throughout their generations, that is, the law was to continue binding from father to son throughout the nation of the Jews, therefore the Pharisees were right to wear them ; but their pride of heart made their very obedience a cause of sin ; our Lord reproves them because that even by means of these outward signs, they sinned that very sin to prevent which they were appointed, and in them sought the pleasure of their own hearts, and their own eyes,” wearing them so broad as to make a parade of them till they might obtain the praise of men. God looks upon the motives from which we act. Oh! let this not be forgotten. We do not wear phylacteries, nor borders to our garments, as any part of our religious services, yet time which changes all other things, cannot change the heart of men ; through all ages it remains the same, and we are as much in danger now of deserving our Lord's reproach "All their works they do to be seen of man,” as were the Jews of old. Oh God, deliver us from this awful danger, this fearful snare, which would turn even Thy service into sin. Give us to take earnest heed to the words of our Lord, when He spoke of the Pharisees to the people.
* The Jews of the present day make use of these phylacteries, when they meet together for religious purposes—and they are extremely careful of them.
f Numbers xv. 37–40.
[When the number is divided here, read again the text from the 1st verse.]
Verses 6–11. “They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, , and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called. Rabbi : for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man Father upon earth : for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters : for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
Perhaps in these last words our Lord spoke beforehand of the service He meant Himself to perform for His disciples, when on the very next day He should wash their feet, and teach them from his conduct a lesson of lowly, self-denying love to each other.
It was thus Jesus warned His people against two opposite dangers into which human nature is apt to fall. In one sort of character there is a domineering love of power that seeks to lead, desiring to be called Rabbi. These do good far more for the praise of men, to gratify their own pride, than for the love of God, striving to be foremost in all plans and places of religion, that they may lead where others only follow. This is the danger of those characters in which pride and vanity have the rule, though often hidden under the veil of zeal for God's service. The opposite danger to this, is a cowardly and lazy desire to be rid of the responsibility of thinking and acting for oneself, glad to follow when others lead, and finding rest in giving up conscience itself to another man's guidance. This is a tone of mind so like humility that it may well deceive: but Christ has said to all such, “ Call no man father or master, for God in heaven is your father, and Christ only is your Master; and all ye are brethren.” These opposite dangers are like rocks on either side of a narrow sea, on one or other of which the sailor may easily be wrecked. He is only safe, when sitting at the helm he steers straight to his point, and we are only safe when our one object is to serve God; looking to Him as our one Father, and to one Mediator, even Christ.
Let us not pass on from the warning words of our Lord so as to forget them; for one or other of these tempers of mind is natural to us all, either the pride of heart that would always lead, or the slavish spirit that would always follow. Either of them is shipwreck to the Christian life. A boastful spirit turns even good works into sin. They may benefit others, but they help to destroy ourselves. We may well tremble when we read the heavy woes laid on those who sought the praise of men, and the stern words spoken to them by Jesus the tender-hearted and the kind, in whose human frame dwelt bodily the very God of love. Yet let us not, in the thought of this, forget the opposite danger, lest we suffer shipwreck upon that. To give up the power which God has given to every man, of judging what is right, and either from cowardice, from indolence, or from thoughtlessness, to follow blindly when others lead, is a grievous sin. There is no end to the depths in which we may be plunged. We may thus become twofold more the children of hell than our false guides. The Pharisees led the people; both were guilty of the murder of their Messiah who they professed to seek. His blood is upon them and upon their children.
Speaking to His disciples and to the people, Jesus repeated again what He had often said before, as though it could not be sufficiently impressed upon the hearts of men.
Verse 12. "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased ; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."
Then turning from them to the group of long-robed priests and scribes,* and of Pharisees with phylacteries bound upon their frowning brows, He said
Verses 13–15.“ Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men ; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers ; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte ; and when he is made, ye make him twofold more a child of hell than yourselves.”
A proselyte is a man who is converted to a new religion, and it was the duty of the Jews, as it is of all those to whom the true faith is known, to seek earnestly to impart it to the ignorant. It was the duty of the Jews, as the people of God, to make known His religion to the heathen round them; but the pride and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were the established teachers of the law, made even this sacred duty a cause of awful sin. Their religion was so completely a false and outward show that it only tended to feed the sinful pride of each man's nature. It could not bring any to repentance, it could not correct a single fault, it only threw the cloak of Jewish hypocrisy over the vices of the heathen. Thus did they dishonor God and hinder His kingdom upon earth. Thus did they deserve the woe our Lord pronounced upon them.
It is a fearful thing to see how this outward religion can as it were eat away the very core from the service of God, and leave nothing but a worthless husk, fit only to be cast away. It must be cast away. Before the searching word of God it falls at once into its true nothingness.
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* Luke xx. 46.
Verses 16—19. “Woe unto you, blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! (that is, by the treasure in the temple, he is bound to keep his oath!) Ye fools and blind, for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing ; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind ; for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?”
What gave the value to the gold or to the gifts, and made them different from any other ? was it not that they were set apart for the service of God, and had become sacred by becom
How great therefore the folly of the Pharisees! Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the Temple, sweareth by it, and by Him that dwelleth therein. And whoso shall swear by heaven sweareth by the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth thereon.
Are we not too apt thus to take God's holy name in vain by thinking that little oaths are nothing. Let us weigh the meaning of our words, and perhaps we shall find that a small matter often moves us to swear by “the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth thereon.” Many who would fear to do so in plain words, think little or nothing of such protestations as our Lord here tells us have the same meaning. Our safest guide is His counsel: “Let your yea, be yea, and your nay, nay;—for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Our Lord had begun His ministry by shewing to all alike, to Pharisees and to Sadducees, to the people, and their rulers, who were the truly Blessed.
The Pharisees had heard His teaching, they had hardened themselves against it, and now they were obliged to listen to a