Topic - Obedience Sermon 10. Profession without Practice

"When there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, He began to say unto His disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Luke xii. 1.

{124} HYPOCRISY is a serious word. We are accustomed to consider the hypocrite as a hateful, despicable character, and an uncommon one. How is it, then, that our Blessed Lord, when surrounded by an innumerable multitude, began first of all, to warn His disciples against hypocrisy, as though they were in especial danger of becoming like those base deceivers, the Pharisees? Thus an instructive subject is opened to our consideration, which I will now pursue.

I say, we are accustomed to consider the hypocrite as a character of excessive wickedness, and of very rare occurrence. That hypocrisy is a great wickedness need not be questioned; but that it is an uncommon sin, is not true, as a little examination will show us. For what is a hypocrite? We are apt to understand by a hypocrite, one who makes a profession of religion for secret {125} ends, without practising what he professes; who is malevolent, covetous, or profligate, while he assumes an outward sanctity in his words and conduct, and who does so deliberately and without remorse, deceiving others, and not at all self-deceived. Such a man, truly, would be a portent, for he seems to disbelieve the existence of a God who sees the heart. I will not deny that in some ages, nay, in all ages, a few such men have existed. But this is not what our Saviour seems to have meant by a hypocrite, nor were the Pharisees such.

The Pharisees, it is true, said one thing and did another; but they were not aware that they were thus inconsistent; they deceived themselves as well as others. Indeed, it is not in human nature to deceive others for any long time, without in a measure deceiving ourselves also. And in most cases we contrive to deceive ourselves as much as we deceive others. The Pharisees boasted they were Abraham's children, not at all understanding, not knowing what was implied in the term. They were not really included under the blessing given to Abraham, and they wished the world to believe they were; but then they also themselves thought that they were, or, at least, with whatever misgivings, they were, on the whole, persuaded of it. They had deceived themselves as well as the world; and therefore our Lord sets before them the great and plain truth, which, simple as it was, they had forgotten. "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham." [John viii. 39.]

This truth, I say, they had forgotten;—for doubtless, {126} they once knew it. There was a time doubtless, when in some measure they knew themselves, and what they were doing. When they began (each of them in his turn) to deceive the people, they were not, at the moment, self-deceived. But by degrees they forgot,—because they did not care to retain it in their knowledge,—they forgot that to be blessed like Abraham, they must be holy like Abraham; that outward ceremonies avail nothing without inward purity, that their thoughts and motives must be heavenly. Part of their duty they altogether ceased to know; another part might still know indeed, but did not value as they ought. They became ignorant of their own spiritual condition; it did not come home to them, that they were supremely influenced by worldly objects; that zeal for God's service was but a secondary principle in their conduct, and that they loved the praise of men better than God's praise. They went on merely talking of religion, of heaven and hell, the blessed and the reprobate, till their discourses became but words of course in their mouths, with no true meaning attached to them; and they either did not read Holy Scripture at all, or read it without earnestness and watchfulness to get at its real sense. Accordingly, they were scrupulously careful of paying tithe even in the least matters, of mint, anise, and cummin, while they omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith; and on this account our Lord calls them "blind guides,"—not bold impious deceivers, who knew that they were false guides, but blind. [Matt. xxiii. 24. Luke xi. 39-52.] Again, they were blind, in thinking that, {127} had they lived in their fathers' days, they would not have killed the prophets as their fathers did. They did not know themselves; they had unawares deceived themselves as well as the people. Ignorance of their own ignorance was their punishment and the evidence of their sin. "If ye were blind," our Saviour says to them, if you were simply blind, and conscious you were so, and distressed at it, "ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see,"—they did not even know their blindness—"therefore your sin remaineth." [John ix. 41. [Note 1]]

This then is hypocrisy;—not simply for a man to deceive others, knowing all the while that he is deceiving them, but to deceive himself and others at the same time, to aim at their praise by a religious profession, without perceiving that he loves their praise more than the praise of God, and that he is professing far more than he practises. And if this be the true Scripture meaning of the word, we have some insight (as it appears) into the reasons which induced our Divine Teacher to warn His Disciples in so marked a way against hypocrisy. An innumerable multitude was thronging Him, and His disciples were around Him. Twelve of them had been appointed to minister to Him as His especial friends. Other seventy had been sent out from Him with miraculous gifts; and, on their return, had with triumph told of their own wonderful doings. All of them had been addressed by Him as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the children of His kingdom. They were mediators between Him and {128} the people at large, introducing to His notice the sick and heavy-laden. And now they stood by Him, partaking in His popularity, perhaps glorying in their connexion with the Christ, and pleased to be gazed upon by the impatient crowd. Then it was that, instead of addressing the multitude, He spoke first of all to His disciples, saying, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy;" as if He had said, "What is the chief sin of My enemies and persecutors? not that they openly deny God, but that they love a profession of religion for the sake of the praise of men that follows it. They like to contrast themselves with other men; they pride themselves on being a little flock, to whom life is secured in the midst of reprobates; they like to stand and be admired amid their religious performances, and think to be saved, not by their own personal holiness, but by the faith of their father Abraham. All this delusion may come upon you also, if you forget that you are hereafter to be tried one by one at God's judgment seat, according to your works. At present, indeed, you are invested in My greatness, and have the credit of My teaching and holiness: but 'there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid, that shall not be known,' at the last day."

This warning against hypocrisy becomes still more needful and impressive, from the greatness of the Christian privileges as contrasted with the Jewish. The Pharisees boasted they were Abraham's children; we have the infinitely higher blessing which fellowship with Christ imparts. In our infancy we have all been gifted with the most awful and glorious titles, as children of {129} God, members of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom heaven. We have been honoured with the grant of spiritual influences, which have overshadowed and rested upon us, making our very bodies temples of God; and when we came to years of discretion, we were admitted to the mystery of a heavenly communication of the Body and Blood of Christ. What is more likely, considering our perverse nature, than that we should neglect the duties, while we wish to retain the privileges of our Christian profession? Our Lord has sorrowfully foretold in His parables what was to happen in His Church; for instance, when He compared it to a net which gathered of every kind, but was not inspected till the end, and then emptied of its various contents, good and bad. Till the day of visitation the visible Church will ever be full of such hypocrites as I have described, who live on under her shadow, enjoying the name of Christian, and vainly fancying they will partake its ultimate blessedness.

Perhaps, however, it will be granted that there are vast numbers in the Christian world thus professing without adequately practising; and yet denied, that such a case is enough to constitute a hypocrite in the Scripture sense of the word; as if a hypocrite were one who professes himself to be what he is not, with some bad motive. It may be urged that the Pharisees had an end in what they did, which careless and formal Christians have not. But consider for a moment; what was the motive which urged the Pharisees to their hypocrisy? surely that they might be seen of men, have glory of men [Note 2]. This is our Lord's own account of them. Now {130} who will say that the esteem and fear of the world's judgment, and the expectation of worldly advantages, do not at present most powerfully influence the generality of men in their profession of Christianity? so much so, that it is a hard matter, and is thought a great and noble act for men who live in the public world to do what they believe to be their duty to God, in a straight-forward way, should the opinion of society about it happen to run counter to them. Indeed, there hardly has been a time since the Apostles' day, in which men were more likely than in this age to do their good deeds to be seen of men, to lay out for human praise, and therefore to shape their actions by the world's rule rather than God's will. We ought to be very suspicious, every one of us, of the soundness of our faith and virtue. Let us consider whether we should act as strictly as we now do, were the eyes of our acquaintance and neighbours withdrawn from us. Not that a regard to the opinion of others is a bad motive; in subordination to the fear of God's judgment, it is innocent and allowable, and in many cases a duty to admit it; and the opportunity of doing so is a gracious gift given from God to lead us forward in the right way. But when we prefer man's fallible judgment to God's unerring command, then it is we are wrong,—and in two ways; both because we prefer it, and because, being fallible, it will mislead us; and what I am asking you, my brethren, is, not whether you merely regard man's opinion of you (which you ought to do), but whether you set it before God's judgment, which you assuredly should not do,—and which if you do, you are like the Pharisees, so far {131} as to be hypocrites, though you may not go so far as they did in their hollow self-deceiving ways.

1. That even decently conducted Christians are most extensively and fearfully ruled by the opinion of society about them, instead of living by faith in the unseen God, is proved to my mind by the following circumstance;—that according as their rank in life makes men independent of the judgment of others, so the profession of regularity and strictness is given up. There are two classes of men who are withdrawn from the judgment of the community; those who are above it, and those who are below it;—the poorest class of all, which has no thought of maintaining itself by its own exertions, and has lost shame; and what is called (to use a word of this world) high fashionable society, by which I mean not the rich necessarily, but those among the rich and noble who throw themselves out of the pale of the community, break the ties which attach them to others, whether above or below themselves, and then live to themselves and each other, their ordinary doings being unseen by the world at large. Now since it happens that these two ranks, the outlaws, as they may be called, of public opinion, are (to speak generally) the most openly and daringly profligate in their conduct, how much may be thence inferred about the influence of a mere love of reputation in keeping us all in the right way! It is plain, as a matter of fact, that the great mass of men are protected from gross sin by the forms of society. The received laws of propriety and decency, the prospect of a loss of character, stand as sentinels, giving the alarm, long before their Christian principles have time to act. {132} But among the poorest and rudest class, on the contrary, such artificial safeguards against crime are unknown; and (observe, I say) it is among them and that other class I have mentioned, that vice and crime are most frequent. Are we, therefore, better than they? Scarcely. Doubtless their temptations are greater, which alone prevents our boasting over them; but, besides, do we not rather gain from the sight of their more scandalous sins a grave lesson and an urgent warning for ourselves, a call on us for honest self-examination? for we are of the same nature, with like passions with them; we may be better than they, but our mere seeming so is no proof that we are. The question is, whether, in spite of our greater apparent virtue, we should not fall like them, if the restraint of society were withdrawn; i.e. whether we are not in the main hypocrites like the Pharisees, professing to honour God, while we honour Him only so far as men require it of us?

2. Another test of being like or unlike the Pharisees may be mentioned. Our Lord warns us against hypocrisy in three respects,—in doing our alms, in praying, and in fasting. "When thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men ... When thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men ... When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast." [Matt. vi. 2-16.] {133} Here let us ask ourselves, first about our alms, whether we be not like the hypocrites. Doubtless some of our charity must be public, for the very mentioning our name encourages others to follow our example. Still I ask, is much of our charity also private? is as much private as is public? I will not ask whether much more is done in secret than is done before men, though this, if possible, ought to be the case. But at least, if we think in the first place of our public charities, and only in the second of the duty of private alms-giving, are we not plainly like the hypocritical Pharisees?

The manner of our prayers will supply us with a still stronger test. We are here assembled in worship. It is well. Have we really been praying as well as seeming to pray? have our minds been actively employed in trying to form in us the difficult habit of prayer? Further, are we as regular in praying in our closet to our Father which is in secret, as in public? [Note 3] Do we feel any great remorse in omitting our morning and evening prayers, in saying them hastily and irreverently? And yet should not we feel excessive pain and shame, and rightly, at the thought of having committed any open impropriety in church? Should we, for instance, be betrayed into laughter or other light conduct during the service, should we not feel most acutely ashamed of ourselves, and consider we had disgraced ourselves, notwithstanding our habit of altogether forgetting the next moment any sinful carelessness at prayer in our closet? Is not this to be as the Pharisees? {134}

Take, again, the case of fasting. Alas! most of us, I fear, do not think at all of fasting. We do not even let it enter our thoughts, nor debate with ourselves, whether or not it be needful or suitable for us to fast, or in any way mortify our flesh. Well, this is one neglect of Christ's words. But again, neither do we disfigure our outward appearance to seem to fast, which the Pharisees did. Here we seem to differ from the Pharisees. Yet, in truth, this very apparent difference is a singular confirmation of our real likeness to them. Austerity gained them credit; it would gain us none. It would gain us little more than mockery from the world. The age is changed. In Christ's time the show of fasting made men appear saints in the eyes of the many. See then what we do. We keep up the outward show of almsgiving and public worship,—observances which (it so happens) the world approves. We have dropped the show of fasting, which (it so happens) the world at the present day derides. Are we quite sure that if fasting were in honour, we should not begin to hold fasts, as the Pharisees? Thus we seek the praise of men. But in all this, how are we, in any good measure, following God's guidance and promises?

We see, then, how seasonable is our Lord's warning to us, His disciples, first of all, to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy: professing without practising. He warns us against it as leaven, as a subtle insinuating evil which will silently spread itself throughout the whole character, if we suffer it. He {135} warns us, his disciples, lovingly considerate for us, lest we make ourselves a scorn and derision to the profane multitude, who throng around to gaze curiously, or malevolently, or selfishly, at His doings. They seek Him, not as adoring Him for His miracles' sake, but, if so be that they can obtain any thing from Him, or can please their natural tastes while they profess to honour Him; and in time of trial they desert Him. They make a gain of godliness, or a fashion. So He speaks not to them, but to us, His little flock, His Church, to whom it has been His Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom [Note 4]; and He bids us take heed of falling, as the Pharisees did before us, and like them coming short of our reward. He warns us that the pretence of religion never deceives beyond a little time; that sooner or later, "whatsoever we have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light, and that which we have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." Even in this world the discovery is often made. A man is brought into temptation of some sort or other, and having no root in himself falls away, and gives occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. Nay, this will happen to him without himself being aware of it; for though a man begins to deceive others before he deceives himself, yet he does not deceive them so long as he deceives himself. Their eyes are at length opened to him, while his own continue closed to himself. The world sees through him, detects, and triumphs in detecting, his low motives and secular {136} plans and artifices, while he is but very faintly sensible of them himself, much less has a notion that others clearly see them. And thus he will go on professing the highest principles and feelings, while bad men scorn him, and insult true religion in his person.

Do not think I am speaking of one or two men, when I speak of the scandal which a Christian's inconsistency brings upon his cause. The Christian world, so called, what is it practically, but a witness for Satan rather than a witness for Christ? Rightly understood, doubtless the very disobedience of Christians witnesses for Him who will overcome whenever He is judged. But is there any antecedent prejudice against religion so great as that which is occasioned by the lives of its professors? Let us ever remember, that all who follow God with but a half heart, strengthen the hands of His enemies, give cause of exultation to wicked men, perplex inquirers after truth, and bring reproach upon their Saviour's name. It is a known fact, that unbelievers triumphantly maintain that the greater part of the English people is on their side; that the disobedience of professing Christians is a proof, that (whatever they say) yet in their hearts they are unbelievers too. This we ourselves perhaps have heard said; and said, not in the heat of argument, or as a satire, but in sober earnestness, from real and full persuasion that it is true; that is, the men who have cast off their Saviour, console themselves with the idea, that their neighbours, though too timid or too indolent openly to do so, yet in secret, or at least in their real character, do the same. And witnessing this general inconsistency, they despise them {137} as unmanly, cowardly, and slavish, and hate religion as the origin of this debasement of mind. "The people who in this country call themselves Christians (says one of these men), with few exceptions, are not believers; and every man of sense, whose bigotry has not blinded him, must see that persons who are evidently devoted to worldly gain, or worldly vanities, or luxurious enjoyments, though still preserving a little decency, while they pretend to believe the infinitely momentous doctrines of Christianity, are performers in a miserable farce, which is beneath contempt." Such are the words of an open enemy of Christ; as though he felt he dared confess his unbelief, and despised the mean hypocrisy of those around him. His argument, indeed, will not endure the trial of God's judgment at the last day, for no one is an unbeliever but by his own fault. But though no excuse for him, it is their condemnation. What, indeed, will they plead before the Throne of God, when, on the revelation of all hidden deeds, this reviler of religion attributes his unbelief in a measure to the sight of their inconsistent conduct? When he mentions this action or that conversation, this violent or worldly conduct, that covetous or unjust transaction, or that self-indulgent life, as partly the occasion of his falling away? "Woe unto the world (it is written), because of scandals; for it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal cometh!" [Matt. xviii. 7.] Woe unto the deceiver and self-deceived! "His hope shall perish; his hope shall be cut off, and his trust shall {138} be a spider's web: he shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand; he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure." [Job viii. 13-15.] God give us grace to flee from this woe while we have time! Let us examine ourselves, to see if there be any wicked way in us; let us aim at obtaining some comfortable assurance that we are in the narrow way that leads to life. And let us pray God to enlighten us, and to guide us, and to give us the will to please Him, and the power.

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Notes

1. Vide James i. 22.
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2. Matt. vi. 2, 5.
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3. Matt. vi. 6.
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4. Luke xii. 32.
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