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were not “bruised reeds," nor “smoking flax;" because, instead of being men of contrite hearts, with the spark of repentance already kindled in them, they were proud in heart, and self-sufficient, looking upon themselves as the only righteous people, and looking down upon or despising all others.
Upon men of this temper, kind and tender language would have been lost. They would not have understood our Lord. What they wanted was to be humbled to be undeceived to have the veil of pretence which they had hung before them torn off — to be shown in their true character -empty of all good, with a name to live but dead before God.
It is thus we account for those severe words, already quoted, spoken of the Pharisees by our Lord.
And if we look at the chapter in which those words occur, the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew, we shall find that this estimate of the Pharisees is abundantly borne out and maintained. We shall find that it is not without good reason that our Lord denounces them as“ hypocrites," as “blind guides," as “formalists." We shall have brought out, piece by piece, the practice and pretensions of these men; practice and pretensions which are not, I fear, so utterly extinct as some would think :
but which have their counterpart still, and flourish and abound only too plentifully amongst us.
For, brethren, do not let us think, that in reading about the Pharisees in the Gospel we are reading about men with whom we can have little to do— men long since dead, of another country, and another religion. Rather think, and be sure, that we are reading in their history what may be but too true an account of ourselves. Rather think that here, as in almost every section of the Gospel, the Word of our Lord is as a glass, in which we may behold the reflection of our own features, and learn what manner of men we are; and profit, if but we will, by that learning. Profit - not by going away, and forgetting what we have heard—but by applying it, each by himself, for his own correction, own rebuke, own instruction in the way of a Christian life.
With these remarks, I will now ask you to follow me in a short
of some of the chief faults laid by our Lord at the door of the Pharisees. And further, I would urge you to reflect if such faults do not still appear, even in Christians, and so call for watchfulness and prayer, and a constant humbling of our own hearts before God.
And first, it is said of the Pharisees by our Lord, “That they said, and did not that they bound heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne,
and laid them on men's shoulders; but they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers."
This refers to the conduct of the Pharisees as it affected religion. They sat in Moses' seat. They were great authorities on all religious questions: and that authority they abused. They wearied the people with irksome rites, and vexatious restraints ; especially as regarded the Sabbath. By pressing too closely the letter of the fourth commandment, they did all they could to make that most holy day miss its aim; to be, not a delight, but a burden, to their countrymen. Again, they were always finding fault with, and rebuking the people. Without being remarkable themselves for holiness, they were quick to judge others as unholy, quick to require that this, or the other offender should be punished. Without first taking the beam out of their own eye, they were ever saying, and in no gentle way, “ Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye." I do not say that they were hypocrites in this. They no doubt considered it was their duty to teach, and admonish others, to watch for offences, and call for punishment on the sinner. But they wanted the true qualification for so delicate an office. They wanted self-knowledge, and that which self-knowledge brings, a spirit of meekness, a heart awake
to sympathy, prompting to tender dealing with the offender, from a consciousness of its own infirmities.
And are there not such classes of people still? Are there not in these days, amongst those who seem to be, and are accounted religious, too many who, like the Pharisees of old, bind heavy burdens for the people—too many who, thinking all the time they are doing God service, do yet interfere with that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free?
And so, too, in judging, and condemning the ignorant and erring, have we not here also much of the spirit of the Pharisees ? Are we not, as they were, fond of sitting in Moses' seat: ready to lay down the law for others, quick to call our brother into account, clamorous in demanding his punishment? Do we not take upon ourselves to exhort, and rebuke, and point out the way to others, while we leave alone our own faults ? Are there not, both among clergy, and laity, numbers who would do well, often and often, to read what St. Paul says of the religious teachers in his day, to read it for their own learning —“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that
thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself ?” “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.”
Again, the Pharisees were exact, and particular about little things. They were scrupulous in discharging little duties. They stretched the Levitical law about tithes to an extreme of strictness. They made it include “mint, and rue and all manner of herbs.” They would never sit down to meat with unwashed hands. On no account would they suffer the people to come to Jesus to be healed on the Sabbath. They fixed a furlong as the length of a walk that a man might take on that day.
And yet these men, sticklers for conformity to the outward letter, greatly overlooked the real spirit of their holy law. They passed over mercy, and faith. They were pitiless in their persecution of a fallen sister. They let a man plead “ corban,” in excuse for the neglect of a higher duty—the succouring his parents. They forgot that the Lord, whom they pretended to serve, desired mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of Him-know