Matthew 15:1

The omission with which the Pharisees here charge the disciples was that of a ceremonial observance on which they laid immense stress. Certain washings for purification had been commanded by the Law of Moses, but to these countless additions of a minute and vexatious kind had been added by the rabbis. Even when no defilement had been consciously contracted, the washings must be observed because, unwittingly, a man might touch what would defile him. Wherever in religion such human inventions are accepted as binding, they tend to become more prominent than the fundamental moral law. It was so in this case, and it is to this our Lord's words point. "By your tradition," he says, "ye make the Word of God of none effect. You put aside his commandment that you may keep your own tradition. You accept as the important things such trifles as these, while the truly great things of the Law you utterly neglect." But the evil of Pharisaism lay even deeper than this. The Pharisees were not mere formalists; those of Paul's type could honestly say that, touching the Law, they were blameless. Their mistake was that they thought their good actions made them good men. Our Lord came to give men clear perception and hold of the real distinction between good and evil. Men were not to be allowed to suppose the distinction between good men and bad was a slight one, that could be bridged over by a few acquired habits or formal observances. They were to be made to see that the distinction was deep as humanity itself; that their goodness must be one that would be eternal; not being the result of a superficial imitation, or attempt to satisfy the expectations or win the applause of men, but springing from the man's inmost self. To illustrate the principle that respect to human tradition tends to disrespect of God's Law, our Lord cites an instance well known to them. Under the guise of extra devotion to God, a man could evade the first of human duties by merely saying over anything he wished to keep, "Corban" - "It is devoted." This was monstrous, and the system which encouraged it manifestly "a plant which his Father had not planted." The principle which lies at the root of our Lord's teaching here he enounces in the words, "There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile a man." We may apply this in two ways.

1. To those who, under the guise of greater religiousness than that of other men, evade the common duties of life; who, in defending some trifle that hangs to the skirt of religion, do not scruple to transgress the broad laws of justice, truth, and charity which form its life. Every age has had its representatives of the Pharisees, the defenders of traditional religion, who have shown the same unscrupulousness and intolerance in defence of what they suppose to be religious truth. And when we consider the damage done to religion by such persons, and the difficulty of convincing them of their error, we do not wonder that no class was so frequently and so unsparingly denounced by our Lord. In every religious community there is a tendency to place the keeping of certain observances that are added to the Law above the Law itself; to consider these extra things as the marks of a religious man, and to call a man religious or irreligious according as he does or does not things that have as little to do with fundamental morality as the washing of hands before eating. We are apt, all of us, to pay attention to the means rather than to what is the great end of all religion; to wash our hands instead of our hearts. "These things ye ought to have done, but not to have left the others undone." All these things that are peculiar marks of religious people are good, but become enormous evils when out of proportion to the essential matters of the Law - of morality, of justice and truth between man and man, of love to God and to our fellows. Or:

2. We may consider the principle as enouncing the general truth that man's life is determined in all respects by what is within, not by what is without. Our Lord was sinless, not because he was not in circumstances of temptation, but because there was nothing on which temptation could fix. We lay the blame of our low spiritual condition, our actual fails, on our circumstances. But why is it these circumstances tempt us? Others pass through them without peril. The blame is within. We must seek for the remedy, also, within. The change that determines our destiny is a change in ourselves. - D.

Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?
I. The worst form of hypocrisy is that which sets aside plain moral duties on the plea that they binder spiritual worship; for, if done as in God's presence, they are spiritual worship.

II. No moral duty is more clearly expressed, either in the Bible or in the heart, than that of obeying, honouring, and ministering to parents.

1. They are the first of our fellow-creatures towards whom we have responsibilities.

2. They are the representatives of God to us. Through them we are to rise to know Him as our Eternal Father, and through them we are to learn how to care for and regard His human family.

III. Strange perversion of what constitutes the service of God, to imagine that a man can free himself from so fundamental a duty as ministering to his parents, by professing to dedicate his property to the support of the temple-worship, and that such a freeing of himself will be acceptable to Him who prefers obedience to sacrifice, and who is Himself honoured in the honour shown to parents. Such external worship is, in God's sight, empty and worthless.

(V. W. Hutton, M. A.)

The fatal mistake of many is that they think of nothing but the profession — the mere externalities of religion — the name, the form, the visible rite, or, at most, the aesthetic emotion. Thus, with all their religiousness, they have no religion, no spiritual vitality, no renewal of nature, and no union with Christ. It is recorded of a certain Spartan in olden times, that he tried hard to make a corpse stand; but utterly failing to do so, in spite of every effort, he said, "I see it wants something within." So it is with these — they want life, and grace, and unction. Censorious men: — Censorious men commonly take up magnifying glasses to look at other persons' imperfections, and diminishing glasses to look at their own enormities.


Reader, why will you search another man's wound while your own is bleeding? Take heed that your own vesture be not full of dust, when you are brushing your neighbour's. Complain not of dirty streets, when heaps lie at your own doors. Many people are no longer well than while they are holding their fingers upon other persons' sores; such are no better in their conduct than crows, which prey only upon carrion.


Christ, no doubt, would exceed all scribes and Pharisees in the love of real cleanliness, inner and outer. But He felt constrained to lay His ban upon the imaginary virtue that was supposed to be inherent in the act of removing imaginary uncleanness. It was supposed that there was a demon called Shibta, which sits upon men's hands during night; and if any person touches his food with unwashed hands, then that demon sits upon his food, and makes it dangerous?

(J. Morison, D. D.)

It is customary with all, but obligatory for Muslims, to wash the hands before eating. The sect of the Sunnites, which includes the Turks and Arabs, wash both hands, but the Sheites, or Persians, only the right, with which the food is taken and conveyed to the mouth. Thus did the Pharisees in the time of our Saviour. For this purpose a ewer and basin are presented to each guest in turn by a servant, who drops upon his right knee while he rests the basin upon the left; the towel is carried upon his shoulder, or is offered by anotherservant.

(Van Lennep.)

As to those who would officiously substitute their traditions in the room of the clear light of the written Word; it is a similar case as if you should fall in with one travelling on the way, and he offers himself to be your companion and guide; and tells you that you have eyes to make use of in choosing your way, but that these eyes are only troublesome to you; that they represent to you diversities of objects that invite you this way and that, so that you cannot mind your path. "And pray," saith he, "let me pull out those eyes of yours, and submit yourself to my guidance;" and all this that he may draw you into a pit!

(J. Howe.)

Would persons as readily believe the correctness of a report transmitted by word of mouth in popular rumours from one end of the kingdom to another, as if it came in a letter passed from one person to another over the same space? Would they think that because they could trust most servants to deliver a letter however long or important, therefore they could trust the same man to deliver the contents of a long and important letter, in a message by word of mouth? Let us put a familiar case: a footman brings you a letter from a friend upon whose word you can perfectly rely, giving an account of something that has happened to himself, and the exact account of which it concerned you to know. While you are reading and answering the letter, the footman goes into the kitchen and there gives your cook an account of the same thing, which he says he overheard the upper servants at home talking over as related to them by the valet, who said he had it from your friend's son's own lips; the cook relates the story to your groom, and he in turn tells you. Would you judge of that story by the letter, or the letter by the story?

(Illustrations of Truth.)

The late William Jay, in his "Practical Illustrations of Character," says, "What a difference must a Christian and a minister feel, between the trammels of some systems of divinity and the advantage of Scripture freedom, the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The one is the horse standing in the street in harness, feeding indeed, but on the contents of a bag tossed up and down; the other, the same animal in a large, fine meadow, where he lies down in green pastures, and feeds beside the still waters.

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