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First, Into the nature of their righteousness, and then
Secondly, Respecting that which is required of us, in order to our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
What the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was, upon which they relied for justification before God, we learn from one of our Saviour's parables, in which He described one of these persons pleading his supposed works of righteousness before God, as the ground of his acceptance in His most holy presence. Hence it appears that their boasted righteousness consisted in negative virtues and ceremonial observances. On account of these they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. With regard to his negative virtues, this man vaunted, I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. And with regard to his ceremonial observances, he added, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.98 If the character which this man gave of himself as to negative virtues was true, he was a better man than others of his sect, to whom our Lord said, Ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Ye outwardly appear righteous unto
98 Luke xviii. 9, 11, 12.
men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.99 But supposing it to be true, that they were in general exempt from gross sins; which would have destroyed the high character for sanctity which they had among the people, and which it was their great object to retain, and for which they were highly applauded, and so had their reward: which was therefore a feeble proof of self-denial, since thereby the pride of their hearts was greatly fostered and gratified; and allowing also that they scrupulously performed the injunctions of the ceremonial law, and of the traditions of the elders; which was done to ingratiate themselves with the priesthood, who highly commended them for it: taking the Pharisees on the ground of their own boasting pretensions, how very far did all this fall short of the righteousness required by the law of God, which declares, that cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Their freedom from some particular vices, their compliance with certain ceremonial observances, and their performance of some religious duties, were no ground of justification before that God, who requires to be loved by His creatures with all the heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. The great anxiety of these arrogant claimants of Divine favour was to appear outwardly righteous
99 Matthew xxiii. 14, 25, 28.
1 Galatians iii. 10.
before men. They were not anxious that their hearts should be right with God; and therefore although they were highly esteemed among men, they were an abomination in the sight of God, instead of being accepted with Him. Although they justified themselves before men, and trusted in themselves that they were righteous before God, and were ready to say to all around them, Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou; yet our Saviour assures them in the text, that they should in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
What reason have we to beware of self-deception; lest after having made an outward profession of religion before our fellow-creatures, we should nevertheless be excluded from the abode of the blessed. God knoweth our hearts,2 whether we love Him or not, whether we desire to approve ourselves to Him, or are anxious only for the good opinion of mankind.
The Apostle Paul says of his countrymen, the Jews, that they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God. And he states the ground of their mistake; which was, that they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.5
2 Luke xvi. 15. 3 Isaiah lxv. 5. 4 Romans x. 3. 5 Romans ix. 32.
They thought that an imperfect obedience to the law of God would entitle them to His favour; and in consequence rejected the revelation of God respecting the provision which He had made for the pardon of sin, and the acceptance of fallen man in His presence, by the promise of a Redeemer and Mediator, who should make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness, and so become the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. This Saviour was made known to our first parents under the character of the Seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent's head, and whose heel should be bruised in the tremendous conflict. And to Him all the prophets had given witness, that whosoever believed in Him should receive remission of sins. The scribes and Pharisees were therefore inexcusable in rejecting the testimony of their own sacred writings on this important subject; when they professed not only to have the utmost reverence for Divine revelation, but also took upon themselves to be its expounders to the people. But although they professed to rest in the law, and made their boast of God, of knowing His will, and of being able to discern, and therefore of approving the things that are more excellent, in consequence of being instructed out of the law; and though they were confident that
6 Daniel ix. 24.
Romans x. 4. 8 Acts x. 43.
they had every qualification requisite for being guides of the blind, and lights of them that were in darkness, instructors of the foolish, and teachers of babes, because they had the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law;9 yet notwithstanding all their self-confidence, and the high estimation in which they were held among the people, they were in reality ignorant and destitute of that righteousness which the word of God reveals, and which is needful in order to the enjoyment of the Divine favour, and an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The pride of selfrighteousness blinded their eyes, and prevented them from attaining to a right knowledge of themselves and of God. They had the form of godliness, but were without the power1o of it.
In all ages of the world this has proved a grand stone of stumbling to professors of religion. How many are there, who imagine that the possession of some negative virtues, or an exemption from some sins which are committed by others; together with an attention to some ceremonial observances, or to the outward forms of religion, will avail for their salvation! How many are there, who have no doubt that they shall be saved for these or similar reasons! What an awful delusion is this! Such was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, which in no case
? Romans ii. 17-20.
10 2 Timothy iii. 5.