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RELIGIOUS LIFE OF PHARISEES.
MAT. VI. 1.
In commencing the second great division of the Sermon on the Mount, that which refers to the righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus sets out with the important truth that the life of the Christian is a hidden life wrought in the very depths of the soul by the effectual operation of the Spirit of God. The religious life of an ancient Pharisee, or of a modern formalist, for in reality they are one and the same, consists only of the strict observance of outward forms, and that too, from no higher principle than to be seen of men. What a contrast then is there between the hypocrite and the Christian! The one is seen and applauded of men, the other is only discerned of God. The life of the believer is a secret, exclusive dealing with his God, and all his actions are done as unto God and not as
This is the peculiar characteristic of the life of God in the soul, and such is the importance which the Redeemer attaches to it, that He illustrates its operation in the case of three great Christian duties, almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
Accordingly the Redeemer sets out in this part of His discourse with issuing the solemn warning in reference to righteousness in general.
V. 1. "Take heed that ye do not your alms (marginal reading, righteousness,) before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."
It may be observed that instead of the word here rendered "alms," many manuscripts read a word which may more properly be rendered "righteousness," and, accordingly, several commentators regard this verse as introductory to our Lord's remarks upon the three great Christian duties. Nor is it at all unlikely that in commencing a new division of the sermon He should have used the same word which He had employed in the passage that formed, in our opinion, the ground-work of the whole. Righteousness, or conformity to the law of God, was the subject of His discourse. He had shewn by various striking instances that its real nature was misrepresented in the teaching of the Scribes, and now that He is about to shew that it has been equally misrepresented in the
actual conduct of the Pharisees, what more natural than that He should commence with the warning, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven ?" There is no doubt, however, that the term "righteousness" is employed in a few passages in the sense of compassion or benevolence. Thus in 2 Cor. ix. 9, "As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth for ever." But taking the word in its most extensive signification, as implying holiness or virtue, a signification so completely in harmony with the object of the sermon, this verse may be viewed as laying down an important caution in reference to the prevailing motive by which we ought to be regulated in the performance of even good actions. For while the doctrine has been often inculcated by writers on morals, that the character of an action depends upon the intention of the agent, there is some danger that, by the unlimited adoption of such a principle, we might give countenance to the maxim of the Romish Church, that the end sanctifies the means. It may be well, therefore, to remark, that while the intention may convert a good into a bad action, it cannot possibly convert a bad into a good action. Every act that a man does, must, in order to be a good action, be in accordance with the law of God. It must be a duty commanded by the great
Lawgiver, and not only so, but it must be done from a regard to the authority, and with a desire to promote the glory, of God. The righteousness or goodness of the Pharisees was of a very different character. Even their religious duties, actions in themselves good, were entirely vitiated, and converted into actions totally unacceptable in the sight of God, by the unhallowed nature of the ruling motive from which they were performed. They were done from no other, no higher motive than to be seen and applauded of men. This was the principle of action with an ancient Pharisee as it is with a modern formalist, even in the worship of his God. Hence it was regarded as an essential part of the action, that it should be done before men. Jesus had no doubt in this very discourse enjoined upon his people the important duty of openly avowing in their whole words and actions the high and holy principles by which they were actuated. "Let your light," says He, "so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." And yet even in these very words now quoted, the perfect harmony and consistency of the two commands may be observed. The desire of the child of God is, that his works may be seen in order that his Father may be glorified. It is only, therefore, when he entertains a reasonable prospect that such will be the result of his actions that he will even seek to do them openly. The ultimate, the
only aim of the Pharisee on the other hand, is to be seen of men. His heart is set upon the honour that cometh from man and not upon that which cometh from God only.
To shew, therefore, the utter vanity and worthlessness of the desire of human applause as the ruling motive for the performance of actions in themselves good, Jesus anticipates the judgment-day, the day of final retribution. Man's actions will then be weighed in the balances of the sanctuary. Every action, whether good or bad, will be traced back to its origin, to the secret spiritual motive from which it has sprung. And the Redeemer warns the Pharisee of the result of a righteousness which arose from no other motive than to be approved of men, 66 ye have no reward of your Father which is heaven." This was an explicit announcement from Him to whom all judgment hath been committed. "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." ing then from His lips : urge upon every one to mark well the state of his heart, to scrutinize the motives from which even his good actions are performed, and, above all, to be often realizing the judgment-day.
How solemn the warn"Take heed." He would
Our Lord sets before His people, in this passage, the prospect of a future reward, and a reward dependent, in some way or other, on the character of their works. They are to beware of improper motives in