Dark Minds

  "But 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." By perverting the meaning of the Scriptures the priests blinded the understanding of those who would otherwise have seen the nature of Christ's kingdom, and that inward, divine life which is essential to true holiness. By their endless round of forms they fastened the minds of the people upon external services to the neglect of true religion.    

     They not only rejected Christ themselves but took the most unfair means to prejudice the people against him, deceiving them by false reports and gross misrepresentations. In all ages of the world truth has been unpopular; its doctrines are not congenial to the natural mind; for it searches the heart, and reproves its hidden sin. Those who persecute the advocates of God's truth have ever, like the Pharisees, misrepresented their words and motives. Jesus resumed: 

     "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation." The Pharisees so wrought upon the minds of many conscientious widows that they believed it a duty to devote their entire property to religious purposes. These deluded women would trust the appropriation of their money to the scribes and priests, in whom they placed implicit confidence; and those wily men would use it for their own benefit. To cover their dishonesty they made long prayers in public, and a great show of piety. Jesus declared that this hypocrisy would bring them the greater damnation. Many professors of exalted piety in our day come under the same ban. Selfishness and avarice stain their lives; yet they throw over all this a garment of seeming purity, and deceive honest souls; but they cannot deceive God; he reads every purpose of the heart and will mete out to every person according to his works. The Saviour continued his denunciations:

     "Woe unto you, ye blind guides, who 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, and treating others of perhaps less consequence as unpardonable. They accepted money from persons 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 priests and rulers would pronounce severe judgment against others for trivial offenses. 

     "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." According to the requirements of God the tithing system was obligatory upon the Jews. But the priests did not leave the people to carry out their convictions of duty in giving to the Lord one-tenth of all the increase of the marketable products of the land. They carried the requirements of the tithing system to extremes, making them embrace such trifling things as anise, mint and other small herbs which were cultivated to a limited extent. This caused the tithing plan to be attended with such care and perplexity that it was a wearisome burden. While they were so exact in things which God had never required of them, and were confusing their judgment and lessening the dignity of the divine system of benevolence by their narrow views, they were making clean the outside of the platter while the inside was corrupt. Exact in matters of little consequence, Jesus accuses them of having "omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith." No outward service, even in that which is required by God, can be a substitute for an obedient life. The Creator desires heart service of his creatures. 

     The Jews read in the requirements given to Moses that nothing unclean should be eaten. God specified the beasts that were unfit for food, and forbade the use of swine's flesh and the flesh of certain other animals, as likely to fill the blood with impurities and shorten life. But the Pharisees did not leave these restrictions where God had left them. They carried them to unwarranted extremes; among other things the people were required to strain all the water used, lest it might contain the smallest insect, undiscernible to the eye, which might be classed with the unclean animals. Jesus, in contrasting these trivial exactions of external cleanliness with the magnitude of their actual sins, said to the Pharisees: "Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." 

     "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." All the pomp and ceremony of the priests and rulers were but a cloak to conceal their iniquity, as the white and beautifully decorated tomb covers the putrefying remains within it. Jesus also compared the Pharisees to hidden graves which, under a fair exterior, conceal the corruption of dead bodies: "Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." All the high pretensions of those who claimed to have the law of God written in their hearts as well as borne upon their persons, were thus shown to be vain pretense. Jesus continued:

     "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them who killed the prophets." The Jews were very particular to beautify the tombs of the dead prophets as evidence of their esteem for them; yet they did not profit by their teachings, nor regard their reproofs and warnings. 

     In the days of Christ a superstitious regard was cherished for the tombs of the dead. This was frequently carried to the verge of idolatry, and vast sums of money were lavished upon their decoration. The same species of idolatry is carried to great lengths today, and especially by the Roman Church. But the Christian world at large are guilty of neglecting the widow and the fatherless, the poor and afflicted, to erect expensive monuments in honor of the dead. Time, money, and labor are not stinted for this purpose, while duties to the living are neglected. The Pharisees built the tombs of the prophets and garnished their sepulchers, and said one to another, If we had lived in those days we should not have been partakers with those who shed the blood of God's servants. Yet at the same time they were planning to destroy the Son of God, and would not have hesitated to imbrue their hands in his blood if they had not feared the people. 

     This condition of the Pharisees should be a lesson to the Christian world of the present day; it should open their eyes to the power of Satan to deceive human minds when they once turn from the precious light of truth, and yield to the control of the enemy. Many follow in the track of the Pharisees. They revere the martyrs who died for their faith; and declare that, had they lived in the days when Christ was upon earth, they would have gladly received his teachings and obeyed them; they would never have been partakers of the guilt of those who rejected the Saviour. But these very persons stifle their honest convictions at any cost rather than yield obedience to God when it involves self-denial and humiliation. In our day the light shines clearer than in the time of the Pharisees. Then the people were to accept Christ as revealed in prophecy, and to believe on him through the evidences which attended his mission. The Jews saw in Jesus a young Galilean without worldly honor, and, though he came as prophecy foretold he would come, they refused to accept their Messiah in poverty and humiliation, and crucified him, as prophecy foretold they would do.   

     The Christian world now has a Saviour who has fulfilled all the specifications of prophecy in regard to his life and death; yet many reject his teachings, they do not follow his precepts, they crucify the Saviour every day. Should they be tested as were the Jews at the first advent of Christ, they would not accept him in his humiliation and poverty. 

3SP 61-66