The Signs of the Times


June 9, 1887

A Lesson from the Pharisees


“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses's seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” ST June 9, 1887, par. 1

The scribes and Pharisees took the place of Moses as expounders of the law and judges of the people, and claimed to be invested with similar divine authority. In accordance with these claims, they expected the same deference and obedience from the people that had been accorded to the great lawgiver. Jesus admonished his hearers to follow the teachings of the priests so far as they were in harmony with the law, but not to copy their example; for they neglected the duties which they enjoined upon others. ST June 9, 1887, par. 2

Notwithstanding the abuse which he received from the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus held no personal grievance against them; and while he openly condemned their acts as opposed to their teaching, and therefore not to be imitated, he made it plain to all that he was not actuated by unkind feeling. Said he: “They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” ST June 9, 1887, par. 3

The leading Jews, in teaching and administering the law, carried the prohibitions of God to unreasonable lengths. They also enjoined a multitude of minute regulations having their foundation in tradition, and unreasonably restraining personal liberty of action. They carried the regulations of eating and drinking so far that the mind was kept on a continual strain to discriminate between what was considered clean and unclean, and to follow out the multitude of injunctions imposed by the priests. All the water was strained, lest the presence of the smallest speck or insect might render it unclean, and therefore unfit to use. The people were thus kept in constant fear of infringing upon customs and traditions taught to them as portions of the law; and life was made a burden by these ceremonies and restrictions. ST June 9, 1887, par. 4

By their endless round of forms, the Pharisees fixed the minds of the people upon external services, to the neglect of true religion. They failed to connect the thought of Christ with their ceremonies; and, having forsaken the fountain of living water, they hewed out for themselves broken cisterns that could hold no water. ST June 9, 1887, par. 5

Not only did the priests, scribes, and rulers reject Christ themselves, but they took the most unfair means to prejudice the people against him, deceiving them by false reports and gross misrepresentations. Said Jesus: “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.” These words, condemning this sin of the Pharisees, are applicable to all who follow their example. In all ages of the world truth has been unpopular; for its doctrines are not congenial to the natural mind. The cold professor, the bigot, and the hypocrite are not willing to accept a truth which searches the heart and reproves the life. ST June 9, 1887, par. 6

The Saviour then pronounced a woe upon those who, imitating the great rebel, compass all difficulties to make one proselyte. Said he: “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 the child of hell than yourselves.” These cutting words were applied to those who made the highest pretensions to godliness, and who regarded all other nations as contemptible in the sight of God. There are just such zealous adversaries of the truth now, who leave no means untried to subvert the minds and consciences of men. They are willing to make great sacrifices and endure rebuffs in order to attain their object, returning again and again to the same point, seeking to turn souls away from divine truth to superstitions and fables. And such is the downward road to ruin that those whom they succeed in gaining become even worse than the teachers who have led them into error. ST June 9, 1887, par. 7

The Saviour continued: “Woe unto you, ye 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! 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?” The priests interpreted the requirements of God to meet their false and narrow standard. They presumed to make nice distinctions between the comparative guilt of various sins, passing over some lightly, assigning as an excuse that the end justified the means, while errors of perhaps less consequence were treated as unpardonable. Thus these blind guides confused the minds of their followers in regard to sin and the proper standard of holiness. ST June 9, 1887, par. 8

The Pharisees took upon themselves the responsibility of deciding concerning the burdens and duty of others according to their own carnal minds. They accepted sums of money in return for excusing them from their vows, and in some cases crimes of an aggravated character were passed over in consideration of large sums of money paid to the authorities by the transgressor. At the same time these hypocritical priests were exact in the matter of sacrifices and ceremonies, as though it were possible for cold forms to blot out the unrepented sins of their daily lives. Thus these blind guides confused the minds of their followers in regard to sin and the true standard of holiness. ST June 9, 1887, par. 9

The Lord said unto Samuel: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” No outward service, even such as is required by God, can be a substitute for an obedient life. The Creator desires heart service of his creatures. ST June 9, 1887, par. 10

Through Hosea God said: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant; there have they dealt treacherously against me.” The many sacrifices of the Jews, and the flowing of blood to atone for sins for which they felt no true repentance, was an offense to God. Micah says: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy; and to walk humbly with thy God?” ST June 9, 1887, par. 11

The favor of God cannot be won by costly gifts and a semblance of holiness. He requires for his mercies a contrite spirit, a heart open to the light of truth, love and compassion for our fellow-men, and a spirit that refuses to be bribed through avarice or self-love. These priests and rulers were destitute of these essentials to God's favor, and their most precious gifts and gorgeous ceremonies were an abomination in his eyes. They had gone step by step into darkness, rejecting the evidence that Jesus was the true Messiah, until the obscurity of their minds was so great that they called righteousness sin and sin righteousness. They evinced the same malice that in Heaven actuated Satan against Christ, and for the same reason,—because of the superior goodness of the Son of God. ST June 9, 1887, par. 12

Unpopular truth is no more acceptable to Pharisaical, self-righteous hearts today than when Christ walked the earth, a man among men. If Christians were to be tested now as were the Jews at the first advent of Christ, few would accept him wrapped in his garment of humanity, living a life of humiliation and poverty. The Christian world can accept as Messiah a King at the right hand of God in Heaven; but their hearts reject a Saviour of humility and self-sacrifice. They shrink from the cross of Christ, even as did the haughty Pharisees, and many are in as great blindness concerning the plan of salvation. Jesus exhorts his disciples to follow in his footsteps; but there are few indeed who imitate his example, and follow his teaching in their daily lives. ST June 9, 1887, par. 13

When a man sacrifices righteous principles and truth because he can thus avoid persecution and trial, he barters his eternal welfare for trifling considerations. But he that obeys the requirements of Christ, neither looking nor planning for his own convenience, will secure the reward of immortal life. Jesus says: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” ST June 9, 1887, par. 14

Basel, Switzerland.