Matthew 5:20

Antinomianism is unchristian. If Christianity is to be found in the teachings of Christ, Christianity does not relax the moral Law. On the contrary, it elevates and strengthens that Law. We cannot make a greater mistake than to suppose that the grace of Christ means a certain easy treatment of men, any diminution of duty, any release from the obligations of right. It is not a pardon of the past with indifference as regards the future. It is forgiveness as a foundation and preparation for a new and better life. More is expected of the Christian than of the Jew, of the convert than of the sinner.

I. IN WHAT RESPECTS THE CHRISTIAN RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TO BE SUPERIOR TO THAT OF THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES. Israel was most famous for the holiness of her religion and the righteousness of her Law; the scribes were the trained teachers of the Law, skilled in making the most of it; the Pharisees were the professed examples of highest obedience to the Law. Yet Christ expects his disciples not only to be better than publicans and sinners; there is no hope for them unless their righteousness surpasses that of the official teachers and the professed saints of Judaism. Consider in what respects this is looked for.

1. In reality. The revered teachers and examples of Israel, as a class, were not good men at all. The teachers did not walk in the strict path they pointed out to others; the examples were but theatrical pretenders. Christ called them "hypocrites." But Christ is true and real. He expects a genuine righteousness. He will not endure the mockery of a character that professes what it does not perform.

2. In depth. The righteousness of Judaism, even when genuine, was too external. It consisted too much in deeds of the hands, too little in thoughts of the heart. But Christ looks for inward righteousness - the pure heart. He forbids hate as murder, and lust as adultery.

3. In positiveness. The Law dealt largely with negatives. Its refrain was, "Thou shalt not." The righteousness of later Judaism was chiefly a matter of restraints. This is always the case in a stiffened, formal system. But Christ expects a positive goodness, a spirit of living energy in religion - love and its outflowing activity of service.

II. WHY THE CHRISTIAN RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TO BE OF THIS HIGH CHARACTER. It may seem that Christ is binding a heavy yoke on the shoulders of his disciples. Is this consistent with his gracious promises and gospel invitations? Consider the reasons for such a requirement.

1. The blessedness of righteousness. This was clearly set forth in the Beatitudes. If it is good for a man to be righteous, it is no hardship that Christ should require a lofty standard; for this means a higher joy.

2. The obligations of light. Christ was a Light revealing a fuller righteousness, teaching it in his words, illustrating it by his conduct. It is reasonable that he should expect more from those who enjoy the privilege of his light than from those who have not received it. We may forgive in the night a stumbling which is unpardonable in broad daylight. Christians are expected to be better than heathens, better even than Jews, because they know more of God's will and how to fulfil it.

3. The encouragements of grace. The Law cannot secure righteousness; the gospel can do this. Christ brings to us a God-made righteousness, and he gives us the power to be all that he expects of us (Romans 3:21, 22). His demand is only that we will not frustrate the working of his grace in us. - W.F.A.

Your righteousness shall exceed.
I. What is the nature of the righteousness God accepts from us? It is a righteousness in excess of the most scrupulous moralist.

1. A Christian righteousness exceeds a natural or Jewish in that it is positive and not negative.

2. All other righteousness does the orders of God: this does His will. Here lies the greater part of the Christian's obedience — in doing what he knows will please, though it was never laid down.

3. The motive is different.

4. As the moving power is within, so the righteousness is first an inward righteousness.

5. No wonder that such an inner righteousness when it is wrought out, goes very deep, and soars very high. It does not calculate how little it can do for God, but how much.

6. The righteousness of Christ is the exceeding righteousness; in this only can we stand before a holy God.(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

I. WHAT IS THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH MUST FAIL IF RELIED ON FOR ENTRANCE TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, Much in it that was good but only external. It was heart-deficiency.


1. In regard to its source.

2. In its quality.

(1)It must be spiritual.

(2)It must be evangelical righteousness; not by the works of the law.

(3)It must be a moral righteousness, possessed as well as imputed.

(4)It must be an essential righteousness, as essential as the air we breathe.Address those whose righteousness does not come up to the standard of the Scribes and Pharisees; those who are trusting in the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees; those who through grace have found the effectual righteousness.

(G. Fisk, LL. B.)

I. It MUST DIFFER from that of the Pharisee.

1. The seat of righteousness. Both Pharisee and Christian look alike in their conduct; the latter from the heart.

2. The righteousness of the Pharisee is limited by the narrow rule of sectarianism, that of the Christian is wide as the Word of God.

3. The righteousness of the Pharisee is at fault in its source. Its beginning and end is self. Christ is our righteousness.


1. In the object of its faith.

2. In enabling the Christian to reach heaven.

(W. D. Harwood.)

The sense it which it must surpass them: —



1. Not of mere outward zeal for the law, but of inward conformity.

2. Not of servile fear, but of filial confidence.

3. Not of religious pride, but of devout humility.

III. In AIM, not to be seen of men.

1. This will rectify our judgment of righteousness.

2. Animate our pursuit of righteousness.

3. Brighten our prospect of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8).

(Prof. Griffith, M. A.)

I. The nature of that righteousness which distinguished the Scribes and Pharisees. Was, according to God's law, extensive, connected with great devotion, self-denial, liberality, and zeal.

II. The nature of that righteousness necessary to our entering the kingdom of God. Ours must " exceed " theirs in its origin, nature, extent, end, effects. The revelation of this righteousness is given in God's blessed Word. It is obtained by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. who is made unto us, "wisdom," etc. The purity of the Divine law, etc., render this righteousness necessary.

(Dr. Burns.)


1. Orthodox.

2. Popular.

3. Moral.

4. Zealous.


1. Superstitious.

2. Servile.


1. Personal.

2. Through faith.

3. Originating in love.

(W. W. Whythe.)

Now, no man can develop a true manhood who does not love the things which he does. No man ever does anything that marks him as masterly except it be done by a certain inspiration into which the whole soul enters. A man that paints, hating his business, never is an artist, and never can be one. A man that is a teacher, and hates teaching, making drudgery of it, can never be an inspirational teacher. A man that is a true workman in any sphere must work by a stimulation which comes from the actual enthusiasm of loving the thing done. A man that obeys moral laws without loving them is like a man who walks within the walls of a penitentiary.


I. WHAT IT was. It consisted in —

1. A speculative knowledge of the truth and doctrines of religion.

2. A scrupulous observance of the forms of religion.

3. A freedom from scandalous sins.


1. The righteousness here spoken of is insufficient for justification.

2. It is insufficient as the evidence of a justified state. It fell short in three respects.

(1)It was altogether external.

(2)It was partial in its requirements.

(3)It left its followers under the unrestrained influence of spiritual pride.

3. How delighted we should be that our righteousness does exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.

(E. Cooper.)

There are several kinds of religion.

1. There is the religion of simple technical observances.

2. There is a religion of conduct, or morality.

3. There is the religion of spirituality: this contemplates God and ignores man's needs.

4. There is the religion of morality and spirituality. Right conduct springing from right motives. Let us look at the nature and value of morality.

I. Morality may be defined as conformity to the laws of our condition. The laws of the body, the law of fellowship, civil laws.

II. The advantages of morality.

1. It is the gateway of spirituality.

2. All the things that come within the range of morality are good in themselves.

3. It has a tendency to educate men.

4. When men try to place themselves in conformity to the law of morals they put themselves in a line in which they will be illumined and carried to a higher Christian experience.

5. We must not suppose that morality is a substitute for the higher forms of religion.

6. It must not be a mask for self-indulgence.

7. Morality relates especially to this life, but religion to eternity, as fully realized in immortal existence.

A man builds him a house two stories high; but money fails, and he does not put on any roof. What is he going to do now? Live in it? He cannot live in it. It is good as far as it goes, but good for what? Until somebody can put a roof on it, and close it in, it is not good to live in. Honesty is a good thing. Kindness and neighbourliness are good things. Care for the laws of life is a very good thing. If this was all of our life, if these external and bodily relationships represented the sum total of all our existence, all that we should want would be morality. But we live again.

(H. W. Beecher.)A shipmaster wants to anchor. He throws out his anchor, and puts out his cable, and comes within about. twenty feet of the bottom. It is not any longer. What is it good for? It is good as far as it goes; but it does not go far enough to touch the bottom, and therefore it is not good for anything.

(H. W. Beecher.)

What is it to enter the kingdom of heaven? It involves leaving the kingdom of evil. There is no admission to it without righteousness.


1. They were celebrated for their knowledge. As Scribes, they were acquainted with the Scriptures.

2. In religious matters they were particular and earnest. Always at temple, earnest at prayer.

3. They were wonderfully generous. They gave tithes of all they possessed.

4. They were held in high esteem by their fellow-countrymen.

5. Can you hope to excel them? Out of Christ you cannot.


1. By works.

2. By faith. No thoroughfare along the first way. In nature's loom we cannot weave a better righteousness. Christ's righteousness exceeds; as the sunlight exceeds the glimmer of the glow-worm.

(Thomas Spurgeon.)

I. The Scribes represent those who are formalists in the treatment of God's Word.

II. The Pharisees, the formalists in religious life.

(Dean Alford.)

Will you try to imagine that just in front of you there is roaring the great cataract of Niagara? Now, there are two ways of getting over the cataract. "What are they? " asks. one. Well, do you see that thin airy looking bridge, which in the distance seems like a spider's web, which has been flung athwart the torrent? That is the suspension bridge of Niagara, and that is one way across, and the best way. too. There is another way — the way that poor foolhardy Captain Webb went — right through the breakers. You may say that he did not get across. No; but it was his fault that he went that way, for it was not a way after all. And there are two ways to cross the cataract of sin and the avalanche of God's wrath. One way is the bridge of salvation which God, in mercy, through the blood and sacrifice of Christ, has flung right across the mighty stream. Its buttresses are eternal power and everlasting love, and feeble as it looks it is strong enough to bear creation. There is another way, and there thou shalt battle with the flood thyself, and stem the breakers in thine own strength, and dash thyself against the stones, and sink to rise no more. Any man in his senses would choose the simplest path, the way that everybody else goes.

(T. Spurgeon.)

I have sometimes seen, at athletic sports, how, when one has jumped the long jump, an opponent, another competitor in the jump, will come and look how far his rival has jumped, and mark the place; and I see him go away, with rather dejected head, as he sees what his rival has accomplished, and wonders whether he can do as much, and wonders much more whether he can exceed that wondrous jump. Now, I want to show you how far the Scribes and Pharisees jumped; and then I have to tell you that you have to jump farther than they did.

(T. Spurgeon.)

here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, designates that spiritual society which Jesus came on earth to found. The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was at fault because they placed righteousness in what a man does, irrespective of what he is, and though practising many things which might be called virtues, yet they did so from outward considerations. The results springing from these false principles were:

I. Divorce of religion from common life.

II. Overlaying of the spirit of God's law by the letter.

III. Ostentation in the performance of their so-called religious duties, and uncharitable judgment of others. Pharisaism is a form of righteousness that is not extinct among us.

(Dr. W. M. Taylor.)Here we have two things to consider:

I. What was the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees?

II. How far that is to be exceeded by the righteousness of Christians.

I. (1) The Pharisees obeyed the commandments in the letter, not in the spirit. They minded what God spake, but not what He intended; they were busy in the outward work of the hand, but not careful of the affections and choice of the heart. This was just as if a man should run on his master's errand, and do no business when he came there.(2) The Scribes and Pharisees placed their righteousness in negatives; they would not commit what was forbidden, but they cared little for the included positive, and the omissions of good actions did not much trouble them.(3) They broke Moses's tables into pieces, and gathering up the fragments, took to themselves what part of duty they pleased, and let the rest alone.

II. (1) When it is said our "righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees," we must do all that lies before us, all that is in our hand; the outward work must be done, and it is not enough to say " my heart went right, but my hand went aside."(2) Our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, by extension of our obedience to things of the same signification. Whatever ministers to sin, and is the way of it, it partakes of its nature and its curse.(3) Christ's commandments extend our duty, not only to what is named, and what is not named of the same nature and design, but that we abstain from all such things as are like to sins. Of this there are many. All violences of passion, prodigality of our time, doing things unworthy our birth or profession, aptness to go to law, misconstruction of the words and actions of our brother, easiness to believe evil of others, willingness to report the evil we hear, indiscreet and importune standing for place, and other things prohibited by the Christian and royal law of charity.

(Jeremy Taylor.)

1. It was a righteousness of the outward letter rather than of the inward spirit. They washed their hands, but not their hearts.

2. Another defect in their righteousness was its narrowness and partiality. God's commandment is exceeding broad; condemns anger as well as murder.

3. It contented itself too much with mere abstinences and negatives.

4. They mutilated the law's proper unity, reversed the principle that failure in one point makes guilty of all, and considered it enough to keep the law in general.

5. It leaned more on the blood in the veins than on thorough obedience in the life. They were of Jacob.

6. Their greatest defect was their self-sufficiency.

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

. — A man should not live in a hovel when he can live in a house. A man is not content to live in a house when he can live in a mansion. And no man, I think, would live in a mansion when he could live in a palace. So no man is living rightly or honourably who demands of himself no more than morality requires.


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