Matthew 23
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
After Jesus had put the Jewish sectaries to silence, he addressed his disciples and the people, who had witnessed his encounters, as to how they should deport themselves in respect to the scribes and Pharisees.


1. Jewish magistrates were to be obeyed.

(1) "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." Moses is figuratively represented as then still sitting to deliver his oracles (cf. Acts 15:21). Note here the lessons of posthumous influence.

(2) The Law of Moses was the municipal law of the state. The scribes and Pharisees, being members of the Sanhedrin and inferior councils, "sat in Moses' seat," viz. as magistrates. As expounders of the municipal law, they did not travel out of their depth, and were therein sufficiently learned to give them weight and reputation.

(3) Evil men occupy good places. The seat of Moses must not be overturned because its occupants dishonour it. It must rather be upheld to make them ashamed.

2. Pagan rulers are to be obeyed.

(1) Any regular government is better than none. The tyranny of a monarch is more tolerable than the anarchy of a mob.

(2) Christ submitted to the rule of Caesar, and to that of the inferior Roman magistrates. This he did purely for our example.

(3) His inspired apostles encouraged obedience to existing authorities as being "ordained of God." They were therefore to be held in reverence. They were to be supported. Taxes were to be paid to them. Prayer was to be made for them.


1. As inconsistent teachers.

(1) The scribes and Pharisees did not fill the chair of Moses as theologians with the sanction of Christ. On the contrary, he showed that they made void the Law by their traditions. He warned his followers to beware of their doctrine (see Matthew 16:6).

(2) They might be obeyed in what they read from the Law and the prophets. The "therefore" limits the application of the "all things whatsoever" to precepts of inspiration as distinct from the traditions of the elders. We may not reject sound teaching because of the unworthiness of the teacher.

(3) Yet must we be suspicious of the teaching of the wicked. People must be warned of wolves and dogs and deceitful workers (cf. Acts 20:29, 30; Philippians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 11:13).

2. As inconsistent workers.

(1) "They say, and do not." The study of the hypocrite is to seem religious in the sight of men, rather than to be religions in the sight of God.

(2) They would aggravate the burden of the Law, which was sufficient in itself (see Acts 15:10), by the addition of traditional imposts.

(3) The burden they imposed upon the people they would not touch with a finger themselves. They were the priests who fasted upon wine and sweetmeats, while they forced the people to fast upon bread and water!

(4) How different the example of Christ, who took upon himself our heaviest burden, to make all easy for his people!

3. As examples of pride and ostentation.

(1) The scribes and Pharisees literally interpreted Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8, and wore scrolls of paper or parchment with texts of Scripture written on them, bound round their wrists and foreheads. The fringes on their garments, which God enjoined upon the Israelites to remind them of doing all the commandments (see Numbers 15:38), they wore broader and longer than other men. They paraded their piety "at feasts," and "in synagogues" and "in markets," where they might be seen.

(2) In all this ostentation there was superstition. They looked upon their phylacteries as preservatives in the sense of amulets.

(3) Such aspirants must be jealousy watched. "Mark and Luke have selected from our Lord's discourses, handed down in full in Matthew, the sins of pride, avarice, and hypocrisy, as those most suited to show why they should 'beware of the scribes'" (Harmer).


1. By refusing the arrogance of his enemies.

(1) The scribes and Pharisees would set aside the claims of Christ. They affected to be called "Rabbi," "Father," "Master," in an unwarrantable sense. The Talmud pretends that "King Jehoshaphat used to salute the wise men with the titles, Father, Father; Rabbi, Rabbi; Master, Master!" This claim purported that, as the "wise men," they should be implicitly believed in what they affirmed, without asking any further question. It purported, moreover, that they should be implicitly obeyed in what they enjoined without seeking further authority.

(2) But here they must be resisted. The Christian has but one infallible Teacher. So has he but one absolute Father - the heavenly. So has he but one supreme Master - Christ. None but Christ has ever fully illustrated his doctrine in his life.

2. By cultivating true humility.

(1) In this is Christian greatness. Love is greatness. The heart is at once the most important and most laborious organ; the servant, yet the ruler of all. Self-love is purified and dignified by being subordinated to the love of God and our neighbour.

(2) The Christian will not exalt himself. He must not covet the titles affected by the scribes, nor must he assume the authority and dominion implied in these names. When self-love is exalted, self itself becomes abased.

(3) The Christian will not unduly exalt his fellow. "All ye are brethren." Ministers are to each other brethren. They are brethren to the people. Christ himself is the "Firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). What an example to his disciples!

(4) The Christian loses himself in exalting Christ. "Call no man," etc., i.e. ascribe infallibility to none (see 1 Corinthians 3:5, 6). The whole passage (vers. 3-7), like Matthew 20:25, may justly be regarded as a prophecy and warning to the Christian Church. "Among Christians there is none to sit in Christ's seat" (Alford). It was George Herbert's habit, when he mentioned the name of Christ, to add, "my Master."

3. Christ will abase the proud, and exalt the humble.

(1) "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled." "All the world cannot exalt a proud man, because God will pull him down" (Anon.).

(2) "Whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted." No sentence of our Lord's is so often repeated. It occurs in the evangelists, with little variation, at least ten times. Pride is as natural to man as it is hateful to God.

(3) "Honour is like the shadow, that flees from those who pursue it, but follows those who flee from it" (Henry). - J.A.M.

The Pharisees first appear under this name in Jewish history about the year B.C. 160. There had been Separatists, or Puritans, as far back as the Captivity, but it was alter the return to Palestine that events gave an impulse to the Separatist idea so strong as to consolidate what might otherwise have remained a tendency. The Jews had learned the value of commerce, and it was found impossible, in dealing with foreign merchants, to observe the minute regulations prescribed by the more zealous. The minority, who even pretended to this, were obliged to become Separatists, not only from the Gentiles, but from their own less scrupulous coreligionists. Hence their frequent connection with the scribes. There had always been scribes in Israel, men who could draw state or legal documents. But after the influence of Ezra had stimulated, if it had not created, a desire to know the Law, synagogues were to be found in every town. And a synagogue implied a copy of the Law and a person who could read it. The scribes therefore necessarily became a profession, with just such a curriculum for pupils and candidates as distinguish professions among ourselves. It was inevitable that they should acquire great influence among the people. For in their best days they were the guardians of the Law, and strove unceasingly to make it supreme over every act of every person. Not only did the scribe discharge all the functions of a modern lawyer, but he was appealed to in all circumstances where the application of the law might seem obscure. They were both the makers of the law and its administrators, and they did not scruple, sitting apart; from active life, to enforce on men engaged in it all the wire drawn and fantastic distinctions which their minds, imbecile with attention to the letter of the Law and with unpractical pedantry, could contrive. It was this inconsiderate exercise of their authority which provoked our Lord's rebuke. But burdensome as was the teaching of the scribes, two causes operated to make them the most popular members of the community.

1. To them was committed the key of the kingdom of heaven; they had power to bind and loose - they alone could give a man assurance that he had actually attained to the righteousness required by the Law.

2. The people were at one with them in their grand aim to give the Law absolute sway over the life of every Jew. The Pharisees who did live as the scribes enjoined, were in the eyes of the people the true Israel, the pattern Jews. The scribes and Pharisees, then, though not identical, were closely related, so closely that our Lord subjects them to one common rebuke. The Zealots, who repudiated any king but Jehovah, and refused to pay tribute to Caesar, were the natural result of Pharisaic teaching. And indeed the Pharisees did themselves refuse to swear allegiance to Herod. They may be looked on, therefore, as the national party. Their influence was not solely and throughout evil, for to them and to the scribes was due the knowledge of the Law to which our Lord so often appealed. But the grave defects of their teaching, and its ruinous influences on the religious character, are so distinctly enounced in the Gospels that they need not be dwelt on. The origin of the Sadducees explains their position in the state. It is generally agreed that they take their name from Zadok, who was elevated to the high priesthood by Solomon. It was the same line which inherited the office after the Exile, and through all the changes in the Hebrew state the high priests maintained great influence, and in our Lord's time we find them still sitting as presidents in the highest court, the Sanhedrin. Still, also, there were grouped round them the Sadducees! It was to this party that men of wealth, men in office, and men of pure priestly descent, attached themselves, although many of the priests leant more to the Pharisees. They lived in luxury, and their morality was not high. At the same time, whether from envy of the popularity of the Pharisees, or from common sense, they resisted the Pharisaic additions to the Law. Thus they refused to accept the doctrine of the resurrection, not being able to find it in the Books of Moses. They are rarely mentioned in the Gospels, because they were mostly in Jerusalem, and their ideas had found no acceptance with the people. From the leaven of Pharisaism, or ultra-legalism, three mischievous results follow.

1. The minute regulations which are extended to the whole of life leave no room for conscience to exercise itself, and accordingly it pines and dies.

2. Minute observances obtain a magnified importance.

3. The bare performance of the duty enjoined is reckoned everything, while the state of heart is overlooked. We shall escape the leaven of the Pharisee if we learn to pay more attention to the heart than to the conduct; if we have so true a delight in pleasing the Lord that we do not consider what men think of us. The leaven of the Sadducees is perhaps even more certainly fatal to true religion. The Pharisee has sincerity, though it is quite superficial; he has zeal, though misdirected; but the Sadducee has neither. He is all for this world, and, save to forward him in it, religion is an encumbrance. His heart is not gladdened with any loving thoughts of God, nor his spirit refreshed by fellowship with the unseen world. If we escape these influences we shall do what few have done. For all men are under the temptation either to make too much of the observances of religion or to make them a mere form. Worldliness deadens a man's spirit to spiritual impressions, and gradually saps his faith till he ceases to believe in anything but the palpable world with which he has now to do. On the other hand, if the leaven of the Pharisee prevails to the extent of making us fear God more than we love him, and do by constraint what we ought to do because we delight in it, we are in as unwholesome a state as the Sadducee we reprobate. - D.

For they say, and do not. To our Lord the supreme offence was contradiction between saying and doing, appearance and fact, outside and inside, show and reality. A man who is himself consciously sincere is always keen to detect, quick to revolt against, insincerity in others. But if inconsistency is mischievous in any man, it is doubly mischievous in religious teachers, and in persons occupying prominent positions of influence. Probably the reference of our Lord to "scribes and Pharisees" is intended to limit his denunciation to particular classes of Pharisees - those who were learned in the Law, and professed to teach the Law. It really means "those Pharisees who were also scribes." And when Jesus adds the word "hypocrites," he really limits his denunciation to such as were hypocrites.

I. INCONSISTENCY IS THE PERIL OF OFFICIALS. Whatever is done regularly as a duty is in danger of being done perfunctorily. The heart may go with the act at first, but the constancy and the outwardness soon involve the failing of heart interest, and presently the heart is occupied with one thing and the hands with another; and even the desire for harmony between the interests of heart and hand can easily be lost. This is the common peril of all officials - priests, clergy, statesmen, teachers, secretaries; and the peril is never so great as in cases of religion. Cases of open inconsistency may happily be infrequent in the Christian ministry, but the fear of inconsistency should always be present to the mind of those who hold office, and make them watchful and zealous concerning their own integrity. A teacher never has his true power unless heart and hand go well together.

II. INCONSISTENCY IS THE PERIL OF DISCIPLES. Our Lord was anxious concerning the influence of the model teachers of his day on the men who were to teach his truth after he ascended. So his words are intended to be a solemn warning to them. What scribes said was more worthy and more important than what they did. What our Lord's disciples were and did was always much more important than what they said. To do Christ's work in the world, our words must always precisely utter our hearts. But show the danger of overstating religious feeling and experience, and so weakening our force by the suggestion of inconsistency.

III. INCONSISTENCY IS THE PERIL OF THE PEOPLE. For if they see it in their teachers, they readily take up the idea that it is permissible in themselves, and so Christ's truth is dishonoured and his service misconceived. - R.T.

The faults of the scribes and Pharisees were not confined to their own private lives. Not only were they formal and unreal themselves, and blameworthy on that account; they were harsh and tyrannical in their treatment of the people. They showed their sanctity in constructing an artificial standard of holiness for other persons to follow. This is a not uncommon fault of professional religionists, and it leads to the imposition of needless burdens of many forms.


1. Their character. These burdens are of various kinds.

(1) Vexatious observances. Rites of religion have been multiplied and elaborated, until, ceasing to serve their true end as instruments of devotion, they have checked the worship they could not sustain.

(2) Difficult doctrines. Notions which were not involved in the scriptural revelation have been added by speculation and handed down by tradition, and belief in them insisted on as essential to salvation.

(3) Fancied duties. An unwholesome casuistry, which neglected the weightier matters of the Law, has been busy in multiplying the petty details of correct conduct.

2. Their origin. These needless burdens were not imposed by God. He is reasonable and merciful. We must look lower for their origin.

(1) From men. Without any Divine authority, though insolently claiming that authority, men have assumed to bind needless burdens on their fellows.

(2) In hypocrisy. The authors of the burdens would not so much as move them with their finger. Inwardly lax, they were externally rigorous. Hypocrites lack the grace of Christian charity.

II. THE CREATION OF NEEDLESS BURDENS. This is one of Christ's happy works.

1. The grounds of the removal of them.

(1) Their needlessness. Christ is practical. He is too real to tolerate artificialities in religion.

(2) Their oppression. The sympathy of Christ was called forth, and his indignation was roused as he saw simple folks tyrannized over by hypocrites.

(3) Their hindrance of necessary duty. Jesus did not desire to see a lax style of living. He himself brought high claims and made great demands - once bidding a rich young man renounce the whole of his wealth (Mark 10:21). Needless burdens would distract the attention and absorb the energy of people to the neglect of important duties. While they are given up to the pursuit of little, insignificant, useless performances, they forget and omit great and weighty obligations.

2. The method of their removal.

(1) On the authority of Christ. He has a right to direct our conduct. Let us go to him and not to man for our "Christian Directory."

(2) By the exposure of the character of the needless burdens. The timid conscience is often scrupulous, just in proportion to the smallness of the fancied duties with which it troubles itself. What it wants is a clear perception of the needlessness of its supposed obligations. Christ was daring in breaking bands which never should have been bound. He who receives the Spirit of Christ receives the Spirit of liberty.

(3) With the revelation of true duty. We are called to leave the slavery of law and of casuistry, that we may have power to accept the great obligations of Christian service; and the realization of these obligations is a means of attaining the desired liberty. They who have taken Christ's yoke cannot allow themselves to be encumbered with the Pharisees' burdens. - W.F.A.

All their works they do for to be seen of men. It is right for us to desire acceptance and favour with our fellow men. The desire for human praise is a proper incentive and inspiration, which no moralist can afford to underestimate. But in relation to it, we must apply the ever-working law of Christian moderation. The love of praise very readily becomes an absorbing mania, and, like all manias, it implies mental and moral deterioration. A man may come to live for praise, and make a life aim of getting his fellows' admiration. If he does, he will drift ever downward, until he even tries to get praise for the cut of his garments, the grace of his bow, and the politeness of his speech. He will even be pleased when ignorant street people gape at his phylacteries and the wide borders of his garments; and everywhere he will be asserting himself, and pushing into the chief places; making himself disagreeable by trying to make himself admirable.

I. HUMAN PRAISE AS AN INSPIRATION. It is not the highest and best inspiration. It is only an inspiration. The loyal-hearted and high-toned man seeks Divine acceptance. "Study to show thyself approved unto God. But men can help others by kindly approvals. And the hope of gaining approval does worthily influence grown men as well as young children. Show

(1) that the praise of men may translate God's approval to us;

(2) that we need never be puffed up, if we take men's praise to God, and thank him for letting us have the cheer of it;

(3) that we need not make the desire for men's praise shape our conduct and relations. We can do right because it is right, and accept men's praise if it comes. It is always well to remember that God approves the quality of a thing, but men are usually caught by the appearance of things. There is never any reason why a good thing should not also be a good looking thing.

II. HUMAN PRAISE AS A SNARE. In the case of these scribes we see that it made them untrue to themselves. They soon found out what men stared at and admired, and then set themselves to provide it, heedless as to whether it expressed their real selves or not. Human praise cultivates vanity, a meaner vice than pride. Vanity differs from pride partly in this - the proud man generally has something to be proud about; the vain man is vain concerning just himself, and wants flattery, yearns for it, lives on it, will demean himself if only he can get it, feeds his vanity on praise, and never minds though the praise is worthless in its insincerity. - R.T.

Our Lord does not wish to see the distinctions of Judaism, which had become so odious in his day, repeated in Christianity. He does not desire the dogmatism of the rabbis to be copied by the Christian teachers, or the authority of the rulers to be transferred to the Christian pastors. He does not want his people to think that they can best show their humility by losing their self-respect and cringing before ecclesiastical superiors. In opposition to all such tendencies, he enunciates his principles of Christian equality.

I. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN EQUALITY. Christianity is essentially democratic. Jesus Christ was a Man of the people, the greatest Tribune of the people the world has ever seen. He took the side of the oppressed against their oppressors, that of the "dim multitude," not that of the privileged few. His aim in this matter was to bring about a condition of brotherhood. There is a measure of inequality which no arrangements of men can set aside. One man is not always as good as another. People differ enormously in character, in ability, in energy. Therefore absolute equality is impossible. It is impossible according to the constitution of nature, and it is doubly impossible in face of the great variation of human conduct. But there is an equality to be striven for. The equality of Christian brotherhood is to be observed among Christians. Christ's words do not directly apply to the larger society of mankind. This equality should involve an equivalent in religious privileges which are meant to be freely offered to all. It should discourage any artificial distinctions.


1. The Fatherhood of God. We have one Father in heaven, and undue deference to men in religion obscures the honour due to God.

2. The Lordship of Christ. This is the specifically Christian principle, while the former one is a general religious principle. The Church is not a republic; it is a kingdom with Christ as its Head. Christians are bound to see that they put no one in the place of Christ. He has direct dealings with each of his people. He wants no grand vizier, no local satrap, no intermediate lord. He is the Master of each individual Christian, and every one can go to him personally for instructions.

III. THE VIOLATION OF CHRISTIAN EQUALITY. The words of Christ are ominous of coming dangers. They have a profound significance in the light of subsequent events. It is wonderful that their plain meaning should have been so egregiously disregarded as to permit of the construction of a monstrous ecclesiastical hierarchy in one direction and the creation of a system of dogmatic orthodoxy in another. Forgetting Christ and the privilege of closest relationship with him, Christian people have bowed their necks to the tyranny of various ecclesiastical masters and theological fathers. Order requires the appointment of officers in the Church, and truth demands respect for knowledge and for the capacity to teach. But it is a mistake, a wrong to God and Christ, to show such deference to human authorities as shall be false to Christian liberty. - W.F.A.

And all ye are brethren. The kindliness and mutual helpfulness of brotherhood are not prominent in our Lord's mind at this time. He was rather thinking of the equality of the brothers in one family. All are sons. No one of them is any more than a son. No one of them has any rights over his brother. The variety of gifts, talents, and dispositions in no way affects the equal rights of the brotherhood. All who push themselves into chief places, bid for special greetings, or claim to be masters - if they presume to call themselves Christ's disciples - sin against the equality of the Christian brotherhood.

I. THE EQUALITY OF THE BROTHERHOOD IS BASED ON THE COMMON SONSHIP. If our standing in Christ depended on the Divine recognition of peculiarities in us; or if we gained it upon superior merit or upon special endeavour, there might be orders and gradations in the Christian discipleship. But brothers are just born into families; they are brothers because they are sons, and for no other reason; the bond uniting them is the common family life. So we are born of God; made sons apart from all effort of our own; quickened with a Divine life whose operations we cannot control. And we are all quickened and saved and made sons in just the same way. Rich or poor, there is for all the one "laver of regeneration." We are brothers because we are sons; and as we are nothing but sons, so we are nothing but brothers.

II. THE EQUALITY OF THE BROTHERHOOD ADMITS OF VARIETIES IN ABILITY. The diversity of character and of gifts in a family is the subject of constant remark. It is a commonplace. But noble natures never make such diversity a reason for claiming superiority. The most talented members are often the most brotherly. The family bond is not affected by personal peculiarities. There are diversifies of gifts in God's redeemed family. We always go wrong when, on account of some gift, we assert ourselves and break the brotherhood.

III. THE EQUALITY OF THE BROTHERHOOD IS SEEN IN MUTUAL SERVICE. It is not that some one member is served by the rest, but that each is ready to serve the other. Each holds his gift at the command of the other. True, a brother's gift may put him in some office; but he is there to serve, not to rule. This idea is preserved, in idea at least, in every section of Christ's Church. The highest offices are never other than brotherly places of service. Our ministers are our brethren. - R.T.

This setting of truth was repeated by our Lord again and again, and variously illustrated by parable and by example (as in our Lord's washing the disciples' feet). He must have been much impressed by the unreadiness to serve which distinguished the prominent religionists of his days. The Pharisee class was always scheming to get - to get wealth, to get praise, to get credit. He never saw them giving, or trying to do anything for anybody. They were always standing on their dignity. They loved "salutations in the market places," everybody paying special deference to these learned and holy men. Even the little boys pulling off their turbans, and bowing low as the great man passed. It was in the mind of Christ to set a complete contrast to all this before the people; and he would have his disciples continue his example. But it should be clearly shown that our Lord's example was in no sense put on; it was the natural and proper expression of his principles and spirit.

I. A MAN IS IN NO SENSE GREAT WHO THINKS CHIEFLY ABOUT HIMSELF. This is what Christ teaches. This is not what the world teaches. If a man is to "get on," the world says he must take care of "number one." Christ says he may get on, that way, but he will never get up. The inspiration is low which a man gives himself. The old-world idea of greatness was summed up in the ideas of position and achievement. In connection with our text, set out before you a self-centred Pharisee, and say whether that man is, in any sense at all, great. What can you admire in him? No doubt he thinks himself great; but is he? Evidently Christ has raised our standard of judgment, and we find we only despise the man whose life circles round himself.

II. A MAN IS GREAT WHO THINKS CHIEFLY ABOUT WHAT HE CAN DO FOR OTHERS. Christ has recovered "ministry," and ennobled it forever. Recovered it, because:

1. It was God's primal idea for the human race. When he made man male and female, he established the law of mutual service. When he made parents and children, he glorified the law of mutual service, and lifted motherhood into the first human place. When he permitted sickness, trouble, and poverty in his world, he called for a brotherhood of sympathizing service.

2. It was man's mischief making to interfere with God's dignity of service. This man did when, in his wilfulness, he organized society, built cities, made offices, and set one man above another. Then everybody soon began to think what advantage he could get over his brother, instead of what he could do to serve him. - R.T.

A most important part of the work of Christ was to expose the utterly false and worthless character of the venerated religious leaders of his day. It was a thankless task, one that brought odium on the head of its Author. A weaker man would have shrunk from it, and a less sensitive man might have enjoyed the humiliation it inflicted on his enemies. But Jesus was neither cowardly nor censorious. Therefore he rebuked the venerated religionists, and yet we know the necessity of doing so must have been most repulsive to him.


1. Speciously religious. There was an appearance of sanctity in the Pharisees and a pretence of orthodoxy in the scribes that won for both a reputation of religious superiority. The world has never been without persons of brilliant external appearances in religion, and these persons have always had "their reward" (Matthew 6:2).

2. Inwardly false. Our Lord saw that the religion was unreal, that it was only worn as a garment for show. This is the characteristic of the hypocrite. He is more than a pretender; he is consciously false to his pretences; he is a living lie.

3. Acting a part. The hypocrite is an actor. He dresses his character and poses so as to win the admiration of other people. His very course in life is planned and carried out with a theatrical intention. This intention is the explanation of the glaring contradiction between the mask and the real countenance.


1. The hindrance of others. The scribes and Pharisees prevented simpler people from entering the kingdom of heaven. This they did partly by confusing their minds with false notions, and partly by discouraging their efforts in setting before them vexatious precepts and needless, impossible requirements. It is a mark of hypocrisy to represent religion as a very difficult attainment, and to lay claim to superior sanctity by the easy method of setting up a high, or rather a false and unattainable, standard for other people.

2. Their own failure. These hypocrites behaved like the dog in the manger. Their harshness to other people did not help their own cause. No one enters the kingdom of heaven by keeping other people out of it. Religious selfishness is doomed to disappointment.


1. Its exposure. For a time these people live in honour, and their skilful arts of deception seem to secure them against any discovery of their hollow and unreal characters. But this calm security cannot last long. Even if it is maintained till the end of the present life, it must vanish like smoke in the great apocalypse of the future judgment. God knows all from the beginning, and if he does not at once reveal the wicked falsehood, it cannot be because this ever imposes upon him. In his own time he will unveil it.

2. Its punishment. God hates lies, and he is angry against those who put stumbling blocks in the way of children and humble persons (Matthew 18:6, 7). The hypocrites who are guilty of both of these faults are doubly culpable in the sight of Heaven. Their condemnation is just. - W.F.A.

The Church of God is a unity throughout the ages. It is more proper to speak of the Christian dispensation of the Church than of the Christian Church as opposed to the Jewish. This unity exists, not only through the ages, but also throughout the universe. While its headquarters are in heaven, there has ever been a visible representation upon the earth. This is sometimes called "the Church;" in the Gospels it is distinguished as "the kingdom of heaven." In this sense we now speak of it. Note, then -


1. They enter it for selfish ends.

(1) What care the hypocrites for God's glory? They are simply stage players in religion.

(2) They affect the glory of human applause. They transfer to themselves what should be given to God.

(3) By pretending to extraordinary piety, they insinuate themselves into the confidence of unprotected and unsuspecting persons, to rob them of their property (cf. 2 Timothy 3:6; Titus 1:11). The extreme of avarice is to devour the house of the widow, who should be specially spared (cf. Exodus 22:22, 23; Proverbs 15:25; Isaiah 10:1, 2). "While they seemed to soar heavenward upon the wings of prayer, their eye, like the kite's, was all the while upon their prey on the earth, some widow's house" (Henry).

(4) Some think it probable that the scribes and Pharisees sold their "long prayers," as the Romish priests sell their Masses. Through sympathy for their deceased husbands, widows might fall easy victims to the avarice of those who "make merchandise of souls."

2. In it they are obstructive to good.

(1) The scribes and Pharisees would not enter the kingdom themselves. They did not use "the key of knowledge" to see what Scripture said about Messiah.

(a) In Jacob's departing sceptre of Judah.

(b) In Moses' Prophet.

(c) In Daniel's weeks. They shut their eyes.

(2) They hindered those who were entering. The people were on the point of entering into the privileges of the new dispensation preached by John Baptist and Jesus, but were hindered by the scribes and Pharisees.

(a) They were hindered by their example (see John 7:48).

(b) By their doctrine, in cavilling against Christ (see Matthew 12:24; John 9:16).

(c) By their authority, in the threat of excommunication (see John 9:22).

(d) Therefore only the violent could force an entrance into the kingdom (see Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16).

3. They promoted evil.

(1) They were infernally zealous. They spared no pains to make proselytes, not, however, with a view to benefit them, but for sectarian ostentation. For the scribes and Pharisees made proselytes to the schools of particular rabbins.

(2) Their victims they made even more the sons of hell than themselves. Note:

(a) Hypocrisy is itself the offspring of hell, for it originates with the "father of lies."

(b) "Twofold more." The Hellenist Jews, who were mostly proselytes, were the bitterest enemies of the apostles (see Acts 13:45; Acts 14:2, 19; Acts 17:5; Acts 18:6). Truth falsified is worse than simple falsity. Half-truths are the most vicious lies.

(c) The proselytes were trained by the Pharisees in wicked sophistry, which palliated vice and substituted ceremony for piety. They were also taught to practise evil with less remorse and greater subtlety than they had been accustomed to in their former condition.


1. Unbelief seeks to fasten their scandal upon it.

(1) Sons of Belial are never weary of denouncing the hypocrisy of the Church. If they can find any rascality in a professor of religion, they cry exultingly, "There's your Christianity!"

(2) They delight in favourably contrasting themselves with the hypocrites of the Church. What is more common than for sons of Belial to say, "I don't profess to be religious, but I am better than many of your Christians"?

2. But this is manifestly unfair.

(1) Christ does not recognize hypocrites as Christians. On the contrary, he repudiates them with the strongest abhorrence.

(2) They are only tolerated in the Church because of the difficulty of finding them out. For want of infallible judgment, the tares have to grow with the wheat until the harvest.

(3) Hypocrites are not Christians. The "hypocrisy of the Church" is a misnomer. There is a clear distinction between the true members of the Church and those hypocrites who intrude into its visible corporation. In all fairness this should be recognized.

(4) Instead of contrasting themselves with hypocrites, let them compare themselves with Christ, and see then where they stand in the judgment.

(5) Let them compare themselves with the Christ-like. These are the only true Christians, the only true Church members - members approved by its laws, and permanently belonging to its corporation. Hypocrites are neither.


1. By separating the hypocrites from it.

(1) They fairly belong to the world. Their spirit is of the world.

(2) Their connection with the Church is unnatural. It is like themselves, a deception.

(3) Their connection with the Church is transient. Like the tares among the wheat, the bad fish among the good in the net, the goats among the sheep, in the final judgment.

2. By dooming them to perdition.

(1) Hypocrites will be found with worldlings in the damnation of hell. Let the sons of Belial, then, contrast themselves with their own if they will. They will scarcely call the hypocrites Christians in damnation.

(2) The greater damnation. Note:

(a) There are degrees of damnation

(b) Pretences of religion will aggravate the torments of the lost.

(c) The gospel curses are the sorer (cf. Hebrews 10:29).

Who can entreat for him against whom the great Intercessor pleads? A "woe" from Christ has no remedy. No such wrath as that of the Lamb! "Three woes are made to look very dreadful (Revelation 8:13-9:12); but here are eight woes, in opposition to the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:4)" (Henry).

3. By rebuking their accomplices. The open sinner is an accomplice with the very hypocrite he affects to scorn, in rejecting and crucifying the Just One. All sinners will have "their portion with the hypocrites" (see Matthew 24:51). - J.A.M.

The word "woe" is repeated again and again in this chapter, and yet the reader of it fails to realize what the woe denounced precisely was. The suggestive word is left by Christ. It is enough to tell these men that they are surely heaping up woe for themselves in the latter day. Some hint of the coming woe may be given in the closing verses of the chapter, which indicate a time of sorest humiliation, of hopeless ruin. Jewish literature gives quite as bad a picture of them as Jesus did. "Fear not true Pharisees, but greatly fear painted Pharisees," said a Jewish ruler to his wife, when he was dying. "The supreme tribunal," said another, "will duly punish hypocrites who wrap their talliths around them to appear - what they are not - true Pharisees."

I. WHAT THINGS WERE HEAPING UP WOE FOR THESE HYPOCRITES. Our Lord marks several things in which their hypocrisy was especially manifest.

1. Their professing to be spiritual teachers, yet keeping the people from receiving spiritual truth (ver. 13).

2. They joined devout prayers for desolate widows with a grasping covetousness that seized the widows' property and ruined them.

3. They made proselytes, so to say, to righteousness, but compelled them to be as bitter, base, and uncharitable as themselves.

4. They made foolish distinctions, which they took care did not hinder themselves.

5. They appeared to be most delicately scrupulous, but in their conduct they allowed the grossest and most abominable licence.

6. They were supremely anxious about the look of things; they were wickedly indifferent about the real condition of things.

7. They wanted men to admire them in public, but they dare not let any one see their private lives. It is easy enough to see that, for such men, a revealing day must come, and, when it came, it would prove humiliation and woe indeed. It is woe for such men to be found out. It was a beginning of woe for Jesus thus to show them up before the people, and make them objects of scorn and detestation.

II. WHAT PERSONS SUFFERED WOE BECAUSE OF THE HYPOCRITE. For the religious hypocrite is a woe-maker. And this point may be opened out with some treshness. Every religiously insincere man:

1. Makes woe for himself. He has no enemy like himself.

2. He makes woe for the religious community to which he belongs. He prays against their prayers; he brings disgrace on them when he is found out.

3. He makes woe for society, which learns, by his failure, the misery of mutual mistrust.

4. He even brings dishonour on the name and cause of God. - R.T.

The term "proselytes" is used, and not "converts" or "disciples." it is employed when the idea to be conveyed is "persuasion" to accept some particular opinion or hobby, or to join some particular system or party. "Conversion" suggests an inward change and renewal; "proselyting" suggests outward association with a party. "Conversion" is full of hope; "proselyting" is full of peril. The word was used by the Jews for persons who had been heathen, but had accepted Judaism, and they distinguished between

(1) proselytes of the gate, who received the teachings of the Old Testament, but not the ceremonial Law; and

(2) proselytes of righteousness, who conformed to the whole Law. Our modern term "pervert" conveys something of the idea our Lord attached to "proselyte." Dean Plumptre gives an historical reference, which skilfully brings out the point of our Lord's reproof. "The zeal of the earlier Pharisees had shown itself in a propagandism which reminds us rather of the spread of the religion of Mahomet than of that of Christ. John Hyrcanus, the last of the Maccabean priest rulers, had offered the Idumaeans the alternative of death, exile, or circumcision. When the government of Rome rendered such measures impossible, they resorted to all the arts of persuasion, and exulted when they succeeded in enrolling a heathen convert as a member of their party. but the proselytes thus made were too often a scandal and proverb of reproach. There was no real conversion, and those who were most active in the work of proselytizing were for the most part blind leaders of the blind. The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. The ties of duty and natural affection were ruthlessly snapped asunder. The popular Jewish feeling about them was like that of the popular Christian feeling about a converted Jew."


1. A man must exaggerate sectarian differences before he can try to win proselytes to an opinion.

2. A man must make more of the outward form than the inward spirit.

3. A man is only too likely to use bad means in gaining such an end.

4. A man who makes proselytes honours himself rather than God.

5. And such a man is only too likely to be deceived in the result he attains.


1. Men may be overpressed to accept opinions on which they have really formed no judgment.

2. Perverts notoriously exaggerate the formalities of the new creed they adopt, and become bitterest partisans. - R.T.

From the doings of the scribes and Pharisees the Lord passes to their teaching; and he commences with their refinement in respect to oaths. There is no reference here to judicial swearing, or deposing upon oath before a magistrate in the interests of public justice. The whole argument goes to show that the swearing here referred to is the voluntary and gratuitous.


1. Simple assertion, is the sufficient bond of a true man.

(1) By volunteering more, a man reflects upon his own honour, he that will not trifle with his word has no need to swear.

(2) By requiring more, he reflects upon the character of his neighbour.

(3) An oath is no increased guarantee for truth. He that can trifle with his word will trifle with an oath.

2. More than affirmation is from an evil source.

(1) It comes from the spirit of falsehood. This is the spirit of the devil. He is the father of lies.

(2) The spirit of falsehood will make lies as black as possible by calling in sacred things to witness them.


1. The Pharisees invented evasive distinctions.

(1) "An oath for confirmation is the end of all strife," because it is an appeal to God as witness to the truth.

(2) But the Pharisees made it "nothing," i.e. the oath has no force, or may be violated with impunity, to swear by the temple, provided the gold of the temple was left out of the question. So they made it "nothing" to swear by the altar, provided the gift upon the altar was excepted. Thus their swearing tended to lying.

2. These distinctions were false in fact.

(1) They inverted the order of importance. They preferred the gifts to the altar, and the gold to the temple. They preferred their own righteousness to the righteousness of God, in holding their gifts to be of greater consequence than God's appointment.

(2) The altar which sanctifies the gift is greater than the gift; so for the same reason is the temple greater than the gold. Note: Gold that touches the altar is more than gold, for it is consecrated to the Divine service. Things are great in proportion to their sacredness. Therefore seek first the kingdom of God.

(3) The value of material things is determined by their uses. A fortune coming to a sot is but a death warrant to him.

3. They are demoralizing.

(1) The object of attaching superior sanctity to the gifts of the altar and gold of the temple treasury was to heighten the idea of meritoriousness in presenting them.

(2) The scribes and Pharisees also probably derived pecuniary advantage from those gifts.


1. It is a breach of the commandments.

(1) It offends against the first and second. An oath is an appeal to God; to make this appeal to a creature is to put that creature in his place (see Deuteronomy 6:13). To swear by anything lower than God is to set aside the Author of truth and faith in favour of a creature.

(2) It offends against the third. It vulgarizes the most sacred things. Too much familiarity with them brings them into contempt. This is an offence which God will not lightly pass over (see Exodus 20:7).

2. It is a violation of the gospel law.

(1) Our Lord is most emphatic in his inhibition of swearing (see Matthew 5:33-37).

(2) Swearing is now, therefore, no longer a thing sacred, but, on the contrary, most profane.


1. The guides are blind.

(1) It is bad when the leaders of the people cause them to err (see Isaiah 9:16; Isaiah 56:10). It is bad for the people. When the conscience, by casuistry, is made the ally of vice, the condition of the dupe is hopeless.

(2) If it is bad for the people, it is worse for the guides. Their blindness is worse than ignorance. It is the blindness of a wilful, perverting casuistry.

(3) However keen sighted a man may be about his temporal interests, he is blind indeed if he be unable to discern what concerns his eternal welfare.

2. But God is not deceived.

(1) He will be no party to the fictitious distinctions of men by which they would fain release themselves from the obligation of their oaths. He holds the swearer by the temple to swear by the God of the temple.

(2) "By him that dwetleth," perhaps dwelt, in allusion to the Shechinah, which was the chief glory of the temple once, but was then wanting in the second temple. Taken in the present, the temple with the Shechinah was the body of Christ (see John 2:21). This is the greatest and most durable of temples - the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Note: Every Christian is a living temple; so common things are sanctified. to him (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:14; Titus 1:15).

(3) "By all things thereon." The substitution of this phrase here for the gold suggests a reference to the sacred fire, and to the ministration of the priests. Appurtenances pass with the principal (cf. Psalm 26:6; Psalm 43:4).

(4) All forms of oaths are by God reduced to the true intent of an oath. A man should never take advantage of his own fault. God will be his own witness, and will make the swearer answerable for his oaths. - J.A.M.

Our Lord proceeds to pronounce upon the hypocrite the woe of his other evils. Note -


1. These are its moral precepts.

(1) "Judgment." This implies:

(a) Justice in principle.

(b) Justice in practice.

(2) "Mercy." This must harmonize with justice. The gospel gloriously brings out this harmony.

(3) "Faith." This implies:

(a) Faith in the sense of creed, or truth in belief. A true creed is of great importance.

(b) Faith in the sense of sincerity, in opposition to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Those called hypocrites are otherwise described as unbelievers (cf. Matthew 24:51; Luke 12:46; 1 Timothy 4:2, 3).

(c) Faith in the sense of fidelity or faithfulness, viz. to God first, then also to man (cf. Micah 6:8; Luke 11:42).

(4) There must be the judgment of intelligence in the understanding; the mercy of love in the heart; the works of faith or truth in the life.

2. Its ceremonies are for the sake of its morals.

(1) Distinction in animals, clean and unclean, was to show the differences between good and bad men.

(2) Distinction in meats was to teach discrimination in fellowships.

(3) Laws respecting the treatment of creatures was to show how men should be treated. "Doth God take care for oxen?" (cf. Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18). They that are taught in the Word, and do not communicate to them that teach them - loving a cheap gospel - come short of the Pharisee, who tithed pot herbs.

(4) Purifications which terminated in the flesh taught the need of the "answer of a good conscience toward God."


1. He is punctilious to trifles.

(1) He is scrupulous to the tithing of mint, dill, rue, cummin (see Leviticus 27:30). The Talmud says, "The tithing of corn is from the Law; the tithing of herbs is from the rabbins." He will "strain out the gnat." The stricter Jews were extremely particular in straining their liquors before drinking, lest they should inadvertently swallow some unclean insect, and so be defiled. The wine-gnat is easily caught in a strainer.

(2) Scrupulousness in the abstract is not blameworthy. "These things ought ye to have done." Eminent virtue may display itself in the smallest matters (see Mark 12:42). The morality is imperfect that neglects detail.

2. He misses important things.

(1) The scrupulous Pharisee, in his minute attention to the letter, missed the spirit of the Law, which was of far greater importance. The gnat and the camel are both unclean, though of very different magnitude. The Pharisee was scrupulous over the ceremonial, unscrupulous as to the moral - the greater. He unblushingly practised the greatest iniquities. The Law is fulfilled more in the spirit than in the letter. The gospel is the spirit of the Law.

(2) We strain out the gnat and swallow the camel when we are scrupulous about trifling errors and unscrupulous about great evils. The Pharisee is like the customer that is punctual in paying small debts that he may get deeper into the tradesman's books and defraud him of a greater sum. They swallowed the camel when they gave Judas the price of innocent blood; they strained out the gnat when they scrupled to put the money in the treasury (Matthew 26:6).

(3) Things should be taken in God's order, which is the order of their importance. The things of God come before those of men (see Matthew 16:23). Those only who attend to the "weightier matters" are qualified to judge as to the lighter ones. The formal may exclude the essential, but the essential does not exclude the formal. There may be piety without religion; there cannot be religion without piety. - J.A.M.

It was characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees to strain out the gnat and yet to swallow the camel. They would be very careful in avoiding minute formal improprieties, while they committed great sins without compunction.

I. THE EVIL HAUNT. This is seen in many forms today.

1. In moral conduct. People are found to be very scrupulous about points of politeness, and very negligent of real kindness. They will not offend an acquaintance with a harsh phrase, and yet they will ruin him if they can outwit him in a business transaction. There are persons of strict Puritanism, who forbid even innocent forms of amusement for their children, and yet who are self-indulgent, ill-tempered, uncharitable, and covetous. Such people swallow many a huge camel, while sedulously straining the gnats out of their children's cup of pleasure.

2. In religious observances. The greatest care is taken for the correct observance of ritual, while the spirit of devotion is neglected; a rigid standard of orthodoxy is insisted on, but living faith is neglected; a punctual performance of Church ordinances is accompanied by a total disregard for the will of God and the obligations of obedience.


1. Hypocrisy. This was the source in the case of the scribes and Pharisees, as our Lord himself indicated. It is easier to attend to minutiae of conduct than to be right in the great fundamental principles; to rectify these a resolution, a regeneration of character, is required; but to set the superficial details in a certain state of decency and order involves no such serious change. Moreover, the little superficial points are obvious to all people, and, like Chinese puzzles, challenge admiration on account of their very minuteness.

2. Small-mindedness. In some cases there may be no conscious hypocrisy. But a littleness of thinking and acting has dwarfed the whole area of observation. The small soul is able to see the gnat, but it cannot even perceive the existence of the camel. It is so busy with the fussy trivialities on which it prides itself, that it has no power left to attend to weightier matters.


1. By the revelation of its existence. When the foolish thing is done in all simplicity and good faith, it only needs to be seen to be rejected. When it is the fruit of sheer hypocrisy, the exposure of it will, of course, make it clear that the performance will no longer win the plaudits of the crowd; and then, as there will be no motive to continue in it, the actor will lay his part aside. But this does not imply a real cure. For that we must go further.

2. By the gift of a larger life. We are all of us more or less cramped by our own pettiness, and just in proportion as we are self-centred and self-contained shall we give attention to small things. We want to be lifted out of ourselves, we need the awakening of our higher spiritual powers. It is the object of Christ to effect this grand change. When he takes possession of the soul he sets all things in their true light. Then we can strive for great objects, fight great sins, win great victories, and forget the gnats in the magnitude of the camels. - W.F.A.

Strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. The proverbial character of this sentence is manifest, but the precise form is disputed. Trench thinks "straining out a gnat" is better; and he suggests reference to the scrupulous anxiety shown in drinking water. A traveller in North Africa reports that a Moorish soldier who accompanied him, when he drank, always unfolded the end of his turban, and placed it over the mouth of his bota, drinking through the muslin, to strain out the gnats, whose larvae swarm in the water of that country. The "camel" is only used in the proverb as the representative of something big. The Hindoo proverbial saying is, "Swallowing an elephant, and being choked with a flea." Reference must be kept to the class of persons that may be regarded as represented by hypocritical Pharisees.

I. HE WHO PRESERVES THE SPIRIT CAN ADAPT THE FORMS. No man may say that the forms of religion are unimportant. They have their place, and only need to be kept in their right place. But life comes before expression of life; and spirit comes before form. Being "born from above" is more important than any religious rite., even the most sacred. Only the man who has the spirit can bear right relations to the forms. He will use them. He will not be mastered by them. He understands that forms were made for him, and he was not made for the forms. They must, therefore, be adjusted to him and to his needs. To him all forms are servants. Authority in the forms of religion may be voluntarily recognized; but a man's own quickened life is the supreme authority to him.

II. HE WHO UNDULY ESTIMATES THE FORM WILL SOON BE ENSLAVED BY THE FORM. The student of human nature, who considers the sense-conditions under which we are set, will argue that it must always be so. He who observes Christian life, or skilfully reads personal experience, will declare that it is so. Once let religious forms and ceremonies control conduct, break bounds of the restraint of soul life, and they will run as does loosened fire; they will overlay the spiritual feeling; they will absorb all the powers; and become supreme interests; and when the spirit is thus overlaid, the result too often follows which we see in these Pharisees - exaggerated scruples about exact and minute forms going along with a demoralizing indifference to moral purity. - R.T.

Our Lord continues to denounce woes against hypocrites, both for what they do and for what they are. The relation between doing and being is constant. These things are written for our learning.


1. He is guilty of heart wickedness.

(1) Under the utmost ceremonial strictness, like the garnished tomb enclosing "dead men's bones and all uncleanness," is concealed the greatest moral laxity. Thus -

"Nature, like a beauteous wall,
Doth oft close in pollution."


(2) As an adorned tomb is but the garniture of death and corruption, so is the external sanctity of the Pharisee in disgusting contrast to his inward turpitude.

(3) The meat and drink in the platter and cup, externally so scrupulously cleansed, are the nourishment and refreshment of the hypocrite. His luxuries are procured by means nefarious and corrupt (see ver. 14). The hypocrite is selfish to cruelty.

(4) The nourishment and refreshment of the Pharisee is, in the estimation of Christ, filth and poison. Luxury punishes fraud, feeding disease with fruits of injustice. The disease and death thus nourished are moral more than physical.

2. He is guilty of deceiving others.

(1) The cleansed outside of the cup and platter, and the whiting on the sepulchre, are intended to be seen; and so is the piety of the hypocrite. The purpose is to divert attention from the filth and rottenness within.

(2) The success is often too well assured. Man surveys surfaces. His vision does not search substances. To do this requires experiment which he is too lazy to institute.

(3) Hence the professed belief in human nature.

(a) Unconverted men must be hypocrites to be endured. Society would be intolerable but for its veneer.

(b) The children of nature are readily deceived in a world of hypocrites. Their pride and self-conceit leads them to credit themselves with virtues; and the Pharisee deceives them.

(c) But that religious persons should "believe in human nature" only shows how successfully the hypocrite may even "deceive the very elect."

(d) The believers in human nature are liable to trust in it instead of Christ for their salvation, and perish in their delusion.

3. He is guilty of insulting God.

(1) He ignores God. While he strives after the praise of men, he leaves God out of the account. Is God to be treated as nobody with impunity!

(2) He degrades God. Affecting the praise of men rather than the praise of God, he treats the Creator as inferior to his creatures. Will this insolence be endured forever?

(3) As the whitening of the sepulchre was intended to warn passengers to avoid its defiling contact, so should the sham piety of the Pharisee warn honest men away from the sphere of his moral infection (see Luke 11:44).

(4) Let the sinner be alarmed at the formidableness of the impending woe. Let him repent, amend, and sue for mercy.


1. God requires truth in the heart.

(1) He is himself essentially holy. This means that his nature must repel from him everything that is unholy. God must needs wage eternal war against sin.

(2) But his grace has made possible his reconciliation to the sinner.

(a) In the provision of the atonement.

(b) In the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(c) Through faith the righteousness of the Law may not only become "imputed to us," but also "fulfilled in us."

(3) The life will be holy when the heart is clean. "The heart may be a temple of God or a grave; a heaven or a hell" (Slier). The cleansing of the inside affects the outside, but not contrariwise. "Cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside. thereof may become clean also."

(4) There is a cleansing that is external even after the heart is clean. This our Lord evinced when he washed the feet of his disciples.

2. The hypocrite imposes upon himself.

(1) He is criminally blind to the folly that avoids those scandalous sins which would spoil his reputation with men, while he allows the heart wickedness which renders him odious to God (see Psalm 5:9). Jesus saw the filth within the cup and platter, and the rottenness within the sepulchre.

(2) He is criminally blind to the fact that in imposing upon his fellows he does not impose upon his Maker. The same Jesus who showed the Pharisee the extortion and excesses of the heart will show these things to him again in the day of woe.

(3) The hypocrite is criminally blind to the fact that the life is cleansed in the heart. Those only are externally clean who are inwardly pure. Christ views the profession in relation to the state of the heart. In this light he will judge the works of men at the last great day. - J.A.M.

Ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. This is the revelation, not of a mere observer of men, but of a Divine Heart searcher, a Divine Thought reader.

I. MAN JUDGES BY THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE, AND MAKES MISTAKES. When Samuel saw the handsome eldest son of Jesse, he said, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before him." But he was reproved. "The Lord seeth not as man sooth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

1. Man can only judge by the help of appearances, because he cannot read the heart.

2. Man is disposed to judge of religion by appearances, because he is daily judging everything in this way.

3. Man is always liable to make mistakes, because appearances often accidentally, and more often intentionally, fail to present realities. The peril of trusting to appearances may be illustrated by the way in which goods are dressed up to attract sale. The same thing is found in religious spheres. Credit is gained by the show of piety; and the hypocrite is ever over-anxious about his external observances. Our Lord's figure of the cup is common to every age; his figure of the "whited sepulchres" belongs to the East. Sepulchres were whited so that Jews might not unconsciously walk over them, seeing that this involved ceremonial defilement. The outsides of burial places were whitewashed once a year. It is not enough to see a man's devoutness at church. See him at home. See him in business. See him in private prayer. See him as God sees him.

II. GOD JUDGES BY THE INWARD REALITY, AND MAKES NO MISTAKE. He looks inside the cup. He knows what is inside the sepulchre. He reads the secret life of the fastidiously devout Pharisees. He finds David right hearted, and chooses him rather than his handsome brother. St. Paul intimates that the Christian man should be so absolutely sincere and true, that he could readily stand out in the sunshine, and let it look him through and through, and round and round. See how the good man comes altogether to prefer the Divine appraisement, and to say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart." Impress that when the man is heart right with God, he is properly anxious about his appearance before men. He wants that to tell, as fully as possible, the truth of his inner life. - R.T.

In the rather vulgar architectural restoration which went on during the days of the Herods, it might often be seen that old, venerated, but ruinous tombs were being rebuilt and decorated afresh. The process was significant of behaviour which is often repeated in other places and in other ages.

I. GOOD MEN, ILL TREATED DURING THEIR LIFETIME, ARE HONOURED AFTER THEIR DEATH. The world venerates its own martyrs. In course of time, it comes to lavish extravagant honours on the men whom it treated as the very scum of the earth during their lifetime. Most conspicuous has this been in the case of Jesus Christ himself - despised, rejected, insulted, crucified while on earth, yet now at least respected, even by those who have not learnt to love him. No doubt this admits of explanation. There are characters which men do not quickly understand or appreciate. A life is not complete until it is finished, and the whole meaning of it cannot be read until we can see it as a whole. A great man is in advance of his age, and only the later age, which has been in some measure educated up to him by the very influence of his life and teaching, is in a position to comprehend him. But while all this is natural, it is not the less unfortunate. What is the use of honours heaped on the grave of the silent dead? The laurels we pile on their tombs cannot bring joy to those who are no longer with us. There is a grim irony in the common custom of waiting for their death before recognizing the merits of the best men. The applause that, bursts out so rapturously after they have left the stage is of no comfort to them now. It would have been better to have shown them more kindness during their lifetime. In homelier regions much heartbreaking might be spared, and many bitter regrets avoided, if we would take care to show the affection and forbearance for our dear ones in their lifetime which we shall vainly yearn to render them when it is too late.

II. THEY WHO HONOUR THE DEAD MAY BE UNGENEROUS TO THE LIVING. The Jews venerated their ancient prophets, and yet they persecuted contemporary prophets. The very qualities which made the great dead so glorious in their eyes were seen in John the Baptist and Jesus, only to be treated with contempt or even with anger. In the Christian Church it has been the fashion to look back with semi-adoration on "the Fathers;" but possibly men as good and great have been living in our own day. Descendants of the Puritans, who were the champions of freedom a century or two ago, have been most repressive towards those who have inherited the liberty-loving spirit of the Puritans. But in commemorating the deeds of Christian heroism of the past, we condemn ourselves if we will not give every encouragement to the true heroes of the present. Now it must never be forgotten that the prophets were unpopular in their day; that they protested against prevalent beliefs and fashionable practices; that they denounced the sins of social and religious leaders. The disposition to honour such men should justify itself by allowing a larger liberty to the advanced thinkers and the earnest reformers of our own times. - W.F.A.

We come now to the eighth and last of this series of woes denounced by Christ against the wicked, which stands in striking contrast to the eighth and last of the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:10-12). Note -


1. The fathers of the wicked were the persecutors of the good.

(1) The older Pharisees were guilty of the blood of the more ancient prophets. Rulers, civil and ecclesiastical alike, were persecutors. Note:

(a) Rulers are generally what the people will have them. "Like people. like priest" (cf. Isaiah 24:2; Jeremiah 5:30, 31; Hosea 4:9).

(b) So contrariwise, people are demoralized by their rulers.

(2) They slew the righteous because of their righteousness. So it was in the case of Abel (cf. 1 John 3:12). And for having reproved the iniquity of the people, Zechariah was slain by order of King Joash (see 2 Chronicles 24:20, 21).

2. The children of wickedness confess while they denounce their fathers.

(1) By building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, the Pharisees disavowed the deeds of their fathers who had persecuted them. But this was precisely what their fathers did with the tombs of the prophets whom the grandfathers had slain. Note: It is a sign of a hypocrite to profess veneration for all good men excepting those among whom he lives.

(2) The cases of Abel and Zechariah are cited as belonging to a series destined to be continued. By sending his prophets and scribes, apostles and evangelists (cf. Matthew 13:52; Luke 11:49), Jesus gave these hypocrites the opportunity to prove themselves by the very deeds they professed to abhor, the children of their wicked fathers. Accordingly, as he predicted, they "killed" the two Jameses; "crucified" Andrew and Peter; "stoned" Stephen and Paul; "scourged" Peter, John, and Paul; and others they "persecuted from city to city" (see Acts 8:1; Acts 9:2). Being the "offspring of vipers," they were "serpents," and, together with their fathers, the brood of the original serpent (cf. Matthew 3:7; Matthew 12:34; John 8:44). Note: The same providence of God is an opportunity for a man to prove himself a hero or a rascal.

(3) "Ye build," etc. Note: Hypocrites incur guilt in matters not wrong in themselves. Building the sepulchres of the righteous is a cheap affectation of righteousness. The dead Pharisee was burying his dead when he honoured the dead messenger and dishonoured the living message.


1. Judgment is provoked by persistent impenitence.

(1) There is a measure of iniquity which provokes judgment. As when the "fourth" transgression is added to the third (see Amos 1:3, etc.).

(2) Wickedness may be so encouraged as to render repentance and reformation utterly hopeless (see Jeremiah 13:23).

(3) Judgment is deferred until the measure of iniquity which provokes it is full (see Genesis 15:16).

(4) The measure is full when that point is reached beyond which it is inconsistent with the character of a wise and righteous government, though founded in mercy, to extend impunity.

(5) He who commits any sin is partaker with all who have committed the same. So the iniquity of the fathers is visited upon their children.

2. Its severity follows in the wake of mercy.

(1) The hen clucking her chickens under her wing when the hawk is overhead is a fine figure to set forth the merciful protection which Jesus would extend to Jerusalem against the Roman eagle, did her children but know the day of their visitation (cf. Psalm 91:4; Malachi 4:2).

(2) That sinners are not gathered to Christ is owing wholly to their wickedness (cf. Psalm 81:11, 12). "Fill ye up," etc., is a word of permission, not a command; as if he had. said, "I contend with you no longer: I leave you to yourselves."

(3) "The tears of Jesus are the last issues of defeated love, and tell sinners," Thou hast despised my blood that would have saved thee; thou shalt yet have my tears that do only lament thee lost'" (Howe).

(4) Punishment equal to the accumulated woes brought upon men for resisting the truth and persecuting its preachers in all past ages, came upon this generation for putting to death One infinitely greater than all the prophets.


1. So it proved in the days of the fathers.

(1) The blood of Zechariah, like that of Abel, cried for vengeance. The last words of Zechariah were, "The Lord see, and require it" (cf. Genesis 4:10; 2 Chronicles 24:22).

(2) Vengeance came when "the host of Syria came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people." A people deprived of princely rulers - princely in the moral sense - is in a sorry case.

(3) But the temple was not desolated by the Babylonians until after the sins of the people had provoked God to take away the glory of his own blessed presence.

2. So it proved in the days of their children.

(1) As the blood of Jehoiada returned upon the head of his murderers in the Babylonian invasion, so did that of Jesus return upon their children in the Roman invasion.

(2) As the Babylonians did not demolish the first temple until after the Shechinah had abandoned it, so neither did the Romans destroy the second temple until after Jesus had left it.

(3) It is remarkable that, in leaving the temple, he followed the course indicated by the Shechinah (Ezekiel 10.). It stood first upon the threshold. So did Jesus when he uttered his pathetic lamentation. Then it removed to the east of the city to the Mount of Olives. So did Jesus. From the Mount of Olives it ascended into heaven. After the ascension of Jesus came the abomination of desolation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel.

(4) "Your house." So the temple is now termed - not "God's house" any longer (cf. Exodus 32:7, where God says to Moses, "Thy people"). "Is left unto you" - to the Jews especially - "desolate," since they can no longer seek salvation there.

(5) The Jews still carry the curse of Cain the murderer of Abel - the "mark" of the "fugitive and vagabond."

3. The children of wickedness are not exclusively Jewish.

(1) For the blood of the martyrs of Jesus shed by the pagan Romans desolation was poured upon Daniel's "desolator" (see Daniel 9:27). The barbarians were the instruments of retribution.

(2) The mystical Babylon revived in the papacy is reserved for retribution for the blood of the martyrs which is found in her (see Revelation 6:11; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:20).

(3) Individual offenders are reserved to the judgment of the last day. "So terrible is God's judgment that when he punishes a sinner he seems to punish all sin in him" (Quesnel).


1. The Jews will yet see Christ in his glory.

(1) This they have clamoured for.

(2) The contrast to his first coming in humiliation will be great.

2. They will all acknowledge him then.

(1) Formerly the babes perfected praise when the rulers refused it (see Matthew 21:9).

(2) The rulers then will cry, "Hosanna!" The words, "Blessed is he!" are a confession of the Messiahship of Jesus (see Romans 11:26, 27).

(3) If they do not say, "Blessed is he!" in penitence then, they will say it by constraint in perdition. - J.A.M.

Revised Version, "Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?" margin, "Gehenna." It is neither right nor wise to attempt any mitigations or modifications of this intensely severe sentence. Let the words stand precisely as we find them; and let the sentence be the sternest, severest, intensest sentence that ever passed the Divine lips of our blessed Lord. Capable of being misunderstood and misrepresented, they are capable also of most rational and most reasonable explanation. All we have to do is to inquire whether the persons referred to, and the circumstances under which the words were uttered, would justify a noble-minded man in speaking so intensely. If they would. then Jesus is justified.

I. THESE DENUNCIATIONS, READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE PERSONS DENOUNCED. Explain that they would have been unsuitable for the Pharisees as a class. They would have been over-intense if applied to the formalist and hypocritical sections of the Pharisee class. But they are strictly appropriate to those few men who, for months past, had been resisting every witness that favoured Christ's claim; had been plotting, dodging, scheming, to destroy Christ; had come fawning upon him, with malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness in their hearts. Defeated in argument, they would not admit defeat. Humiliated by our Lord's answers, they were still bent on effecting their shameless purpose. What did such men deserve? What was left to be done with them? They had to be shown up, as men are shown up when withering denunciations are heaped upon them, under which they cower, conscience smitten. Jesus was doing the best thing possible for those wretched men, by these holy enunciations, the mere form of which must be judged by Eastern, not Western, models.

II. THESE DENUNCIATIONS, READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE PERSON DENOUNCING. Those who so readily accuse Christ of over-severity would be the very first and loudest in accusing him of moral weakness, inability to recognize or respond to sin, if such instances of severity had not been recorded. The true man, the Divine man, feels adequately in response to every situation; and we may unhesitatingly affirm that this was a time to be sublimely indignant, and that burning words of wrath - terrible as these - were the fitting thing for the occasion. - R.T.

These are among the most touching words ever uttered by our Lord. They reveal his strong patriotism, his deep human affection, the greatness of the salvation he brought, and at the same time the frustration of the hopes which these things naturally raise, owing to the stubborn self-will of the Jews. Here is a lesson for all time.


1. No city was more privileged. Jerusalem was the favoured city of a favoured land. David, the great singer, celebrated her praises; David, the great king, raised her fortunes. But better than royal fame was her religious glory. Great prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, taught in her streets. More than once signal Divine providences helped her in direst necessity. Here was the temple of the Divine Presence. Finally the city was honoured by the coming of Christ.

2. No city was more sinful. When account is taken of her privileges, Jerusalem excels in guilt as she excels in favour. The most favoured people prove to be the most ungrateful and rebellious. She murders her best friends. She crowns her guilt by delivering her Christ up to death.

II. THE PITYING SAVIOUR. Jesus is grieved and loth to think of the doom of the wicked city.

1. It was his own city. Not his native city, but the capital of his land, and the royal city, to which he came as King (ch. 21:4, 5). Jesus was a patriot.

2. It was the city of God. Its ruin was like the ruin of God's own daughter. They who have once known God touch the heart of Christ with peculiar compassion when they lose their happy privilege.

3. It was a doomed city. Already with prophetic eye Jesus saw the Roman legions compassing it about. It lay as the prey ready for the eagle. The heart of Jesus grieves over the sinner's doom.

III. THE WONDERFUL SALVATION. By a homely and yet most touching illustration Jesus tells what he has longed to do for the city in its peril.

1. He comes to save. This is his great mission, and his salvation begins with "the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24).

2. He is able to save. Jesus speaks with the utmost confidence. He can save a whole city; nay, we know he can save a whole world. No doubt, if Jerusalem had accepted Christ and his teaching, the mad revolt which called down the vengeance of Rome would have been prevented. But in his deeper work, as our Lord has redeemed many of the worst profligates, he has shown himself able to save all men.

3. He offers to save. The pathos of this wonderful utterance of Jesus lies in his own heartfelt desire and its disappointment. With long suffering patience he repeats his often-rejected offer. He stands at the door, and knocks.

IV. THE FINAL DOOM. The house is to be left desolate at last.

1. There is an end to the opportunity for escape. This has lasted long. Many were the occasions when Jesus would have welcomed the people of Jerusalem, and have extended to them his saving grace. But at last the end has come. The day of grace must be followed by the day of judgment.

2. Even Christ's desire to save may be frustrated. It is not enough to know that he yearns to save. Men may be lost now, as Jerusalem was lost.

3. Obstinate rejection of Christ will lead to ruin. Man's will may thus frustrate Christ's desire. Note: It was not for stoning the prophets, but for rejecting Christ's salvation, that Jerusalem was ultimately doomed. Christ can save from the worst sin; but none can be saved who wilfully reject him. - W.F.A.

One writer observes that converts to Judaism were said to come "under the wings of the Shechinah." This familiar metaphor may have suggested to our Lord's mind the figure of the hen and her brood. "Many times by his prophets Christ called the children of Jerusalem to himself - the true Shechinah - through whom the glory of the latter house was greater than that of the former." Whedon well says, "The beautiful tenderness of this verse shows that the warnings of the previous verses are the language, not of human anger, but of terrible Divine justice." It is quite probable that our Lord's visits to Jerusalem, and his prolonged labours in that city, are not fully detailed in the Gospels. He may refer to his own efforts to win the people to full allegiance to Jehovah, as represented in his own mission. Jerusalem had its opportunities. They were multiplied until it seemed almost overweighted with privilege. Those opportunities had been neglected and despised again and again, and now they were growing into heavy, overwhelming judgments.

I. OUR OPPORTUNITIES ARE PROVISIONS OF THE DIVINE MERCY. We say of those who try us beyond endurance, "Well, we will give him one more chance." And we think this a great sign of our pitifulness and mercy. Then what was God's mercy in patiently bearing with his wayward people, and renewing their chance, their opportunity, age. after age? Trace the opportunities by following the line of prophets, special Divine messengers, up to the mission of John, and then of the Lord Jesus. The figure of the text is a specially tender one, viewed in the light of Eastern associations. Birds of prey abound, and chickens are in momentary danger, and hens have to be keenly watchful. But what can a hen do, if her chickens are wilful, and will not respond to her call?

II. OUR OPPORTUNITIES DESPISED MUST TURN INTO DIVINE JUDGMENTS. God's dealings with us must have issues. We cannot play with them as we like. If God acts in mercy, he does not forego his claim. But it may be also shown that the treatment of our opportunities becomes a revelation of our character, and it reveas bad things. God's judgments really come on character, and on acts only because they reveal character. Jerusalem sinners thoroughly needed and deserved their judgment. - R.T.

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