The Review and Herald


April 30, 1895

Personal Piety Alone of Value


In his sermon on the mount, Christ presented to the people the fact that personal piety was their strength. They were to surrender themselves to God, working with him with unreserved co-operation. High pretensions, forms, and ceremonies, however imposing, do not make the heart good and the character pure. True love for God is an active principle, a purifying agency. The scribes and the Pharisees appeared to be very punctilious in living out the letter of the law; but Christ said to his disciples, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” What a startling declaration was this! It made manifest the insufficiency of legal or natural religion, and showed the need of moral renovation and the necessity of divine enlightenment. The Jewish nation had occupied the highest position; they had built walls great and high to inclose themselves from association with the heathen world; they had represented themselves as the special, loyal people who were favored of God. But Christ presented their religion as devoid of saving faith. It was a combination of dry, hard doctrines, intermingled with sacrifices and offerings. They were very particular to practice circumcision, but they did not teach the necessity of having a pure heart. They exalted the commandments of God in words, but refused to exalt them in practice; and their religion was only a stumbling-block to men. The old bottles were found unfit to contain the new wine, and new bottles must be provided for the new wine. Thus it was with priests and rabbis, scribes and Pharisees; they were as old bottles that could not contain the new wine of the kingdom of Christ. Although they had hitherto held undisputed authority in religious matters, they must now give place to the great Teacher, and to a religion which knew no bounds and made no distinction of caste or position in society, or of race among nations. But the truth taught by Christ was designed for the whole human family; the only true faith is that which works by love and purifies the soul. It is as leaven that transforms human character. The truth brought into the soul temple cleanses it of moral defilement; but where there is no change in the characters of those who profess to believe it, it is evident that it is not taken into the soul temple, and is simply no truth to those who advocate it. Such are under a deception. RH April 30, 1895, par. 1

The gospel of Christ means practical godliness, a religion which lifts the receiver out of his natural depravity. He who beholds the Lamb of God, knows that he takes away the sins of the world. True religion would result in an entirely different development of life and character than that seen in the lives of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus presented the true nature of religion in comparing his followers to the “salt of the earth.” He said: “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Salt that has lost its savor well represents the condition of the Pharisees and the effect of their religion upon society. Again Christ spoke of his people as “the light of the world.” He said: “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” While Christ taught the value of humility, and condemned all the ostentation and self-exaltation which characterized the Jewish religion, he also distinctly set forth the fact that his grace and love cherished in the heart will be revealed in the character. If cherished in the soul they will be made manifest in outward conduct. Those who believe in Christ as their personal Saviour will love him, and through his Spirit and grace they will co-operate with him, giving themselves without reserve to his service. They will submit to him to be educated and disciplined for his kingdom. RH April 30, 1895, par. 2

Christ is our living example. He kept his Father's commandments. In his sermon on the mount he stripped human inventions and exactions from the holy precepts of the law, and revealed its true principle, showing that they were holy, just, and good. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;” and this law is the foundation of his spiritual kingdom, the transcript of the divine character. If his disciples could reach no higher standard than that which was reached by the scribes and Pharisees, they could not enter into his kingdom. The condition of entrance to his kingdom was imitation of his life by obedience to his commandments. A religion like that of the Pharisees possessed no value and could not be accepted, for it possessed no saving power. RH April 30, 1895, par. 3

The people of God are to preserve the world from complete corruption by their own moral characteristics; but if they lose their moral qualities, they have no value to restore the world from its state of moral pollution. He who preserves his saving qualities and exercises them in benefiting humanity, is shedding forth the light of truth and co-operating with Christ. But those who lose their spirituality, whose love waxes cold because of the iniquity that abounds, have a sickly piety, and are as salt when it has lost its savor. Their energy and efficiency are gone. RH April 30, 1895, par. 4

The religion of the Jews had been perverted from its original nature and purpose. The Lord had given them light and knowledge to preserve them from the iniquity abounding on every hand, but they had erected partitioning walls to keep them in exclusion from every other people, and this was not under the direction of God. God does not give light that it may be hidden selfishly, and not penetrate to those who sit in darkness. Human agents are God's appointed channel to the world. Instead of being instructed to hide their light, the Saviour says to men, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The statements which Christ made in reference to practical godliness were misinterpreted by the Pharisees; for Christ did away with all their maxims, injunctions, and precepts, because they made of no effect the commandments of God. They had burdened the law with the rubbish of tradition, and in removing it from the commandments, they claimed that he was doing away with the law of God. But Christ himself was the foundation of the whole Jewish system of religion. He rolled away from the minds of scribes and Pharisees the supposition that they were making, that he did not teach the law of God. He met their unspoken thoughts, and said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” He was to fulfill every specification of the law, to obey every requirement, to redeem Adam's transgression, and to establish his kingdom upon the commandments of God. He said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” RH April 30, 1895, par. 5

The maxims, doctrines, and traditions of men had served to eclipse the dignity of the law before the world. They had dwelt upon forms, and the carrying out of specific, minute injunctions, and this had influenced men to depreciate the law. Though Christ did away with their multitudinous exactions, he explicitly declared that not one jot or tittle of the law should ever fail. He had come to exalt the law, to magnify the law and make it honorable. He revealed its true character by sweeping away the rubbish that had hidden it from the view of men. He sought to relieve the minds of men of the idea that the exactions of the law were stern and inexorable. The intolerable burdens which the Pharisees had urged upon the people made them regard the law as anything else than a law of liberty. They quoted the words of former rabbis to uphold their maxims and traditions, and felt bitter hatred toward Christ, whom they termed a meddler and an intruder. RH April 30, 1895, par. 6

Satan held almost undisputed sway over the earth when Christ came to do the work of redeeming. He was the light of the world to shine amid the moral darkness; for darkness had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. Of them it could be said: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you; ... for your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth; they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.... In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey; and the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” RH April 30, 1895, par. 7