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MATTHEW 23:23-28; LUKE 11:42, 44
23. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin and have omitted the more important points of the law, judgment, and mercy, and faith. The latter you ought to have done, and not to have omitted the former. 24. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat, but swallow the camel. 25. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outer part of the cup and of the dish, but within they are full of extortion and intemperance. 26. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first what is within the cup and dish, that the outer parts of them also may be made clean. 27. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitened sepulchers, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. 28. So you also outwardly indeed appear righteous to men; but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
42. But woe to you, Pharisees! for you pay tithe of mint, and rue, and every kind of herb, and pass by judgment and the love of God. The latter you ought to have done, and not to have omitted the former. (A little after.) 44. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are as tombs which do not appear, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.
Christ charges the scribes with a fault which is found in all hypocrites, that they are exceedingly diligent and careful in small matters, but disregard the principal points of the Law. This disease has prevailed in almost all ages, and among all nations; so that men have, in most cases, endeavored to please God by observing with exactness some trivial matters. Finding that they cannot entirely release themselves from all obedience to God, they have recourse to this second remedy of expiating any heinous offenses by satisfactions which are of no value. Thus we see that the Papists, while they transgress the chief commandments of God, are extremely zealous in the performance of trifling ceremonies. Hypocrisy of the same kind is now reproved by God in the scribes, who, while they were very diligent and careful in paying tithes, cared little about the principal points of the Law. To expose more fully to ridicule their offensive ostentation, he does not say generally that they paid tithes, but tithes of mint, and anise, and (as Luke has it) of every kind of herb, so as to make a display of extraordinary zeal for piety at the least possible expense.
But as Christ makes the chief righteousness of the Law to consist in mercy, judgment, and faith, we must first, see what he means by these words; and, secondly, why he left out the commandments of the first table, which strictly relate to the worship of God, as if godliness were of less value than the duties of charity. Judgment is taken for equity, or uprightness, the effect of which is, that we render to every man what belongs to him, and that no man deceives or injures others. Mercy proceeds farther, and leads a man to endeavor to assist his brethren with his property, to relieve the wretched by advice or by money, to protect those who are unjustly oppressed, and to employ liberally for the common good the means which God has put into his hands. Faith is nothing else than strict integrity; not to attempt any thing by cunning, or malice, or deceit, but to cultivate towards all that mutual sincerity which every man wishes to be pursued towards himself. The sum of the Law, therefore, relates to charity.
The word faith, I am aware, is interpreted by some persons differently, as including, by synecdoche, the whole worship of God; but Christ, according to his custom, here brings the true test of holiness to brotherly love, and therefore does not refer to the first table. Nor is it inconsistent with this view that, instead of faith, Luke uses the expression, the love of God; for the design of Christ was, to show what it is that the Lord chiefly requires of us in his Law. It is well known that the Law was divided into two tables, so as to point out, first, what we owe to God, and next, what we owe to men. Luke expresses both parts as if Christ had said, that the chief design of the Law is, that we should love God, and that we should be just and merciful towards our neighbors. Matthew satisfies himself with one part; and there is no absurdity in calling the duties of charity the principal points of the Law, since charity itself is pronounced by Paul to be the perfection of the Law; as he also says, that
the Law is fulfilled if toe love our neighbors,
And Christ, when formerly interrogated as to the commandments of the Law quoted none but those which belonged to the second table.
If it be objected, that in this way men are preferred to God, because charity, which is performed towards them, is reckoned more valuable than religion, the answer is easy. Christ does not here contrast the second table of the Law with the first, but, on the contrary, draws from the manner in which the second table is kept the proof whether or not God is truly and sincerely worshipped. As piety lies within the heart, and as God does not dwell amongst us in order to make trial of our love towards Him, and does not even need our services, it is easy for hypocrites to lie, and falsely to pretend to love God. But the duties of brotherly love fall under the senses, and are placed before the eyes of all, and therefore in them the impudence of hypocrites is better ascertained. Christ, therefore, did not intend to enter into subtle inquiries about the particular parts of righteousness, or their order, but, so far as the ordinary capacity of men allowed, intended simply to show that the Law is kept only when men are just, and kind, and true, towards each other; for thus they testify that they love and fear God, and give proper and sufficient evidence of sincere piety. Not that it is enough to discharge our duties towards men, if we do not first render to God what we owe to him, but because he who regulates his life according to God’s commandment must be a sincere worshipper of God.
And yet the question is not fully answered; for tithes, which Christ places inferior to judgment and mercy, were a part of divine worship, and some part of them was usually bestowed on the poor, so that tithes contained a double sacrifice. I reply: Tithes are not simply compared to alms, and faith, and judgment, but the pretended holiness of the scribes is compared with the sincere and pure feeling of charity. Why were they so ready and willing to pay tithes, but in order to pacify God a, the least expense and trouble? For they did not regard the principal point; and therefore those light matters, by which they attempted to deceive God and men, ought not to be reckoned along the duties of charity.
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