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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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The Savior’s Invitation

The majority of men labor under the yoke of Satan and they are heavy laden with the burdens of sin. Jesus, however, offers a yoke that is easy. John A. Broadus (1827-1895) writes:

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

This familiar passage of Scripture contains one of the most precious among the many precious invitations of our compassionate Redeemer. Many a feeble and fainting believer has been led by it to take fresh courage and “press toward the mark,” many a burdened sinner has found in it that the gospel of Jesus is indeed “good news,” “a word in season to him that is weary.” And since the passage is so important and so precious, we may find our profit in attending a little to its phraseology, in endeavoring to make ourselves acquainted with its precise terms.

The Savior invites to him all “that labor and are heavy laden.” In this he doubtless referred partly to the burden of ceremonies and observances which the scribes and Pharisees imposed upon their followers, as required by the traditions of the fathers, and as essential and sufficient for their finding favor with God. The law itself, St. Paul tells us, was, if looked upon as a means of salvation, too grievous a burden for any to bear; and these superstitious observances made it yet more grievous. Such persons, then, tolling and borne down beneath the burden of the ceremonial law, are here invited to the Savior. . . .

Wearing the yoke of another is an expression very often employed in Scripture (as all will remember) to denote subjection to him. The figure is taken, of course, from beasts of burden, as oxen; being applied thence to all who are the laboring servants of a master. Jesus is then bidding those who have been the “servants of sin,” to obey him from the heart and be his servants; those who have been subject to Satan, to take him instead as their King. . . .

And when he says, “For I am meek and lowly in heart,” the Savior means to show that he is fitted to be a Teacher, that so all may come and learn of him. In order that a Teacher may win the hearts of his pupils, and thereby the better make them love to learn and love what they do learn, he must unite to other qualities a certain mildness, and gentleness, and kindliness . . . He would not be rough and overbearing and haughty as were the Doctors, the teachers of the law, he is not imperious and domineering and severe like many who have since professed to teach his doctrines: he is humble and affectionate, condescending and kind.

We may learn from these words the character of the lessons, as well as of the Teacher. It is the knowledge of himself that he will give; and as he is meek and lowly, i.e., gentle and humble, so those that come to learn of him will be taught lessons of gentleness, lessons of humility. Still the chief intent of this clause would seem to be what was mentioned first, namely to recommend himself as disposed to be kind and affectionate to all who might come to learn of him . . . He promises to free them from their grievous tolls, to relieve them of their heavy burdens, to give them rest. To appreciate fully the expressiveness of this figure, one must imagine himself bearing a heavy burden, a weight such as he can hardly sustain, and that after bearing it till he is almost crushed to the ground, he throws it off, and rests . . . And then suppose the burden is clinging to you, bound with cords you cannot sever, though you are bowed down under the load and vainly striving to throw it off, and that as you labor thus and are heavy laden, one offers if you come to him to loose the bonds and take away the burden, and let you rest – how sweet would be the thought! How quickly, how joyfully, how thankfully, you would run to him! (“Come Unto Me”)

Self-Righteousness

This parable is a picture of many professing Christians today. You cannot search your heart too thoroughly for self-righteousness. Beware falling for the devil’s tricks that would have you thinking this parable applies to others but not to you. J. C. Ryle writes:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

“I tell you,” says Jesus, “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” The tax collector came poor in spirit, and he was justified. The Pharisee, rich in merits and self-esteem, went empty away. The penitent was not only pardoned—but justified. He had left his house heavy and afflicted by a sense of sin, he returned with joy and peace; he had asked mercy and received it, he had sought grace and found it; he had come hungering and thirsting after righteousness and he was justified. “He went down to his house justified.” But the proud Pharisee, not feeling his own needs, not acquainted with his own sinfulness, had sought no mercy, and had found none, and he departed unblessed and unheard; and from the saying the “tax collector went down to his house justified rather than the other,” we may fairly suppose this man of self-righteousness and self-dependence had none of that sense of favor and acceptance which the repenting sinner enjoyed.

See now the general APPLICATION which our Lord makes: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be abased—but he who abases himself shall be exalted.” Mark these words, “everyone who exalts himself.” High or low, rich or poor, young or old, it matters not; for God is no respecter of people, “everyone who exalts himself” and not free grace; who trusts either in whole or in part in his own righteousness and performance and not entirely in Jesus Christ—though he go to church twice a day, though he keep the letter of the Ten Commandments, though he pays everything he owes, though he is sober and moral and decently behaved—everyone who exalts himself shall be abased and condemned, when Jesus Christ shall come to judge.

But on the other hand remember, “he who humbles himself “as a sinner before God and comes unto Christ, though he may have been the most wicked of transgressors, though he may have broken all the commandments, though he may have been a Sabbath-breaker, a drunkard, a thief, an adulterer, an extortioner—whatever his sin may have been, if he acts as the tax collector did, “he shall be exalted.” That is—he shall be pardoned, and washed and sanctified and justified for the sake of Jesus Christ, and shall have his place with David and Manasseh and Mary Magdalene and the thief upon the cross—in the everlasting kingdom of our God and of the Lamb.

The Story of the Cross

Do you know a lot about Christ? Do you know who He was, and where He was born, and what He did? You say that you know about His miracles, His teachings, and prophecies and how He lived and died, but unless you know the cross of Christ by experience – unless you know the blood shed on the cross has washed away your sins – unless you confess that your salvation depends entirely on the work of Christ upon the cross, you will die in your sins. Bishop J. C. Ryle shares a warning:

“Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

This is the subject he [Paul] loved to preach about. He was a man who went to and fro on the earth, proclaiming to sinners that the Son of God had shed His own heart’s blood to save their souls. He walked up and down the world telling people that Jesus Christ had loved them, and died for their sins upon the cross. Mark how he says to the Corinthians, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins.” (1 Cor. 15:3.) “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2.) He, a blaspheming, persecuting Pharisee, had been washed in Christ’s blood. He could not hold his peace about it. He was never weary of telling the story of the cross.

This is the subject he loved to dwell upon when he wrote to believers. It is wonderful to observe how full his epistles generally are of the sufferings and death of Christ—how they run over with “thoughts that breathe and words that burn,” about Christ’s dying love and power. His heart seems full of the subject. He enlarges on it constantly—he returns to it continually. It is the golden thread that runs through all his doctrinal teaching and practical exhortations. He seems to think that the most advanced Christian can never hear too much about the cross. . . .

This is what he lived upon all his life, from the time of his conversion. He tells the Galatians, “The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galat. 2:20.) What made him so strong to labor? What made him so willing to work? What made him so unwearied in endeavoring to save some? What made him so persevering and patient? I will tell you the secret of it all. He was always feeding by faith on Christ’s body and Christ’s blood. Jesus crucified was the food and drink of his soul.

And we may rest assured that Paul was right. Depend upon it, the cross of Christ—the death of Christ on the cross to make atonement for sinners—is the center truth in the whole Bible. This is the truth we begin with when we open Genesis. The seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head is nothing else but a prophecy of Christ crucified. This is the truth that shines out, though veiled, all through the Law of Moses, and the history of the Jews. The daily sacrifice, the Passover lamb, the continual shedding of blood in the tabernacle and temple, all these were emblems of Christ crucified. This is the truth that we see honored in the vision of heaven before we close the book of Revelation. “In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts,” we are told, “and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain.” (Rev. 5:6.) Even in the midst of heavenly glory we get a view of Christ crucified. . . .

Let every reader of this paper mark what I say. You may know a good deal about the Bible. You may know the outlines of the histories it contains, and the dates of the events described, just as a man knows the history of England. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as a man knows Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Napoleon. You may know the several precepts of the Bible, and admire them, just as a man admires Plato, Aristotle, or Seneca. But if you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a key-stone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, and a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you. It will not deliver your soul from hell. (“The Cross of Christ”)

The Tax Collector And The Pharisee

I think that this story serves well as another reminder of the ongoing personal battle between pride and humility. This battle takes place in our minds and hearts every day. Christ will always oppose a man-oriented religion of works. So let us read J. C. Ryle’s explanation of the following verses:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

[L]et us attend to the difference in the PRAYERS of these two characters. Hear the PHARISEE: “God, I thank you that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers—or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all I possess.” Mark these words: there is no expression of any need here; he seems perfectly self-satisfied; he recites complacently what he is not, and he proudly brings forward what he is. Remember, beloved, there is ground for much thankfulness if God enables us to resist gross sins—but then there is no excuse for boasting. None of us have anything which we did not receive, and we cannot do better than follow the example of Paul, who said, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

But the Pharisee had none of this spirit. He was wrong on every point. He was wrong in supposing, as he evidently did, that his own power and strength had kept him from these vices; he was wrong in believing that he could lay any claim to the title of a perfect observer of the law on these points. It is one thing to keep God’s commandments in the letter, and another to keep them in the spirit. The one may think they do, like this Pharisee—but the other no man ever did but our Lord Jesus Christ. “In many things we offend all,” says James. “Who can tell how often he offends? O cleanse me from my secret faults,” is the language of the psalmist.

Lastly, he was wrong in supposing that his external fulfilment of the law would give him a title to justification in the sight of God. Salvation is all of grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified.”

But the Pharisee, besides this, was especially wrong in going out of his way to make unnecessary and uncharitable remarks upon the tax collector. He talks like one who had no account to settle about his own soul; he assumes as a matter of course that the tax collector was more vile in God’s sight than himself. And he proves himself a child of the devil by usurping Satan’s office—he becomes an accuser of his brethren. “I am not as other men are—or even as this tax collector.”

Beloved, I must call your particular attention to this language, for I declare unto you with grief that I have heard people say things, which in effect are very much the same about themselves, who yet profess and call themselves Christians. Many say, if they are urged about their own sinfulness in God’s sight, “Well, at any rate I am no worse than my neighbors: I am thankful I do not drink, like such a one next door. I am no fornicator, like such a one down the way. I do not miss church altogether, like such a one who lives down the road.” Listen to me, I beseech you: is not this the very mind of the Pharisee? You are not to be judged by the standard of those around you; it will be no excuse before God to talk about your neighbors—sin is sin whether you live in it in company or alone. Be sure that it will not diminish your misery in hell, to find that all your neighbors are there as well as yourself. Oh, beloved, beware of this delusion; not a few allow such thoughts to dwell within them, who never express them with their lips, and even in the presence of God they flatter themselves they are acceptable to Him, because they are free from open and gross vices, and perform certain known duties. All such are Pharisees; they use the Pharisee’s prayer, and they will meet with the Pharisee’s reception at the hand of God.

Hearken now to the TAX COLLECTOR. “He smote upon his bosom, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” He does not say “Be merciful to all sinners,” thus leaving it doubtful whether he means himself or not—but “Be merciful to me,” a sinner in whom there is no health, in whom there is no good thing—a sinner in thought, word and deed; and he gives the ground of his hope too, not like some among you, who hope to be forgiven without exactly knowing how or why. The words translated “be merciful,” go further. They mean, “offer an atonement for me, be reconciled unto me, through the sacrifice You have appointed.” Do you think he would have been offended, as some are now, if he had been called a child of the devil, utterly corrupt, full of iniquity and worthy of nothing but wrath? Far from it: he knew he was a sinner, he felt his lost condition, he made no excuses, he offered no justification, he did not talk about his temptations, he did not make great professions of amendment, as if that could make up for the past; he presented himself at the throne of grace, as he was, weary and heavy laden, casting himself on the mercy of God with all his iniquities, and pleading the blood of the atonement. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Blessed indeed are all among you who have done likewise! (“Self-Righteousness”)

The Spirit Of The Tax Collector

What is the spirit that Jesus loves? Are you an indifferent cultural Christian? Bishop J. C. Ryle describes the spirit that Jesus loves:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Let us . . . consider the different BEHAVIOR of these two worshipers. Behold the Pharisee. “He stood and prayed thus with himself.” Observe this: he went to some conspicuous part of the temple, where he could stand alone near the altar, separate from the rest of men, that all might see what a devout man he was, and not lose sight of him in the crowd. He stood “with himself,” not among the congregation, lest he should be defiled by touching them; he was too good for them. We do not read of anything like humility here; we do not learn that he even bowed his head, as a mark of respect to his Creator—but there he stood erect, like one who felt that he had done all that God required of him, that he had no sin to repent of, that he had a right to expect a blessing as a profitable servant.

Turn now to the tax collector. “Standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven—but smote upon his bosom.” He stood afar off probably in the outward court, as one who did not feel himself worthy to come beyond the threshold of Him whose name is Holy. “He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.” He felt the remembrance of his sins so grievous and the burden of them so intolerable, that, like a child who has offended its father, he dare not look his Almighty Maker in the face. “He smote upon his bosom.” He could not control the feelings that arose in his mind: he recollected the mercies he had received and his own neglect of them, the life he had led and the God he had despised; and, like those who saw Jesus hanging on the cross, “he smote his bosom,” in sorrow, self-abasement and godly fear. Beloved, the posture of the body and the expression of the face are certainly not always sure signs of the state of a man’s heart—but you may rest assured that a truly humble and devout worshiper will generally be distinguished by his conduct in the house of God.

He who is duly sensible of his own guilt, and is ever coming to Jesus as his Advocate; he who is acquainted with the sinfulness of sin and the devices of Satan, and the value of the means of grace and the necessity of using them if he would save his soul—such a one will never show any lack of reverence, any levity or carelessness of manner, when he has entered any place where prayer is accustomed to be made and the gospel preached, and Christ Himself is standing in the midst. But if a person comes to church with an air of indifference, as if he did the minister a favor by coming and cared not if he never came again, and does not join in the prayers, and looks as if he would be ashamed if any one thought he did, and does not listen to the word of God, and does not pay attention to the sermon; if he employs himself with looking at other people’s dress—or deliberately goes to sleep—or talks to his neighbors—or makes plans for the next week—he may have his own reasons for coming here—but it is pretty clear to me that he does not come in the way that Jesus loves, as a miserable sinner who sees nothing but evil in himself, nor in the spirit that Jesus loves, that is in the spirit of the tax collector. (“Self-Righteousness”)

God’s Perseverance

In the words of John Arrowsmith:

“Election having once pitched upon a man, it will find him out and call him home, wherever he be. It called Zaccheus out of accursed Jericho; Abraham out of idolatrous Ur of the Chaldees; Nicodemus and Paul, from the College of the Pharisees, Christ’s sworn enemies; Dionysius and Damaris, out of superstitious Athens. In whatsoever dunghills God’s elect are hid, election will find them out and bring them home.”

J. C. Ryle: The Pharisee And The Tax Collector

We may know a man by his outward behavior, but only God can truly see the man’s heart. J. C. Ryle writes:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

The parable—or rather narrative, for it is probably a true story, adapted by our Lord to the purpose of the moment—begins by stating that “One was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.” Now, it is almost impossible to imagine a more striking contrast, in the opinion of a Jewish congregation. The PHARISEES were the strictest sect among the Jews: “I was of the strictest sect of the Pharisees,” says Paul. They prayed often—which was very right—but they also made long prayers for a pretense, and they would pray at the corners of the streets where two roads met, that they might be seen by people going and coming both ways and so get a name for uncommon sanctity. There is no reason for supposing they were generally anything but moral men—but their grand fault was that they relied on their good works, as a ground of acceptance before God. They seem to have been indifferent as to the real state of their hearts, and to have cared only for keeping up a fair appearance before men, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

We may get some idea of their real character from our Lord’s saying, that they gave tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and truth; and from His comparison of them to whitened sepulchers, which outwardly appear beautiful before men—but inwardly are filled with dead men’s bones and all corruption. They “made broad the borders of their phylacteries,” they had pieces of parchment sewed to the edge of their long robes, on which some texts of Scripture were written, that people might see them and infer that they were great lovers of the law of God. They were very strict about outward purifications, and set great value on the washing of pots, brazen vessels and tables, and many other such-like things that they did. They were particularly zealous for the traditions of the fathers, and for the observation of the rites and ceremonies of the Church, and yet they often made the law of God void by their traditions. They were exceeding exact in the outward observation of the Sabbath—so much so that they called our Lord a sinner, and said he was not of God, because on the Sabbath day He had healed a man who was born blind.

And for all these reasons they were held in high esteem by the people; for men always prefer the things of sight to the things of faith, and think more of outward service than of heart; they had the uppermost places in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces, and were called of men Rabbi. In short, they got such a reputation for piety, that it became a proverb among the Jews that if there were but two men saved, one of them must be a Pharisee.

Such were the Pharisees. But what was the character given to the TAX COLLECTORS? It was very different in every respect. They were generally Jews who were employed to collect the Roman taxes. And as the Jews always disliked to pay tribute to the Gentiles, their office as tax collectors was looked upon as disgraceful and disreputable. Besides this, it is pretty clear that they used to exact much more than their due, and to amass much wealth by false accusations, to the great disgust of their fellow-countrymen. On these accounts they were so universally notorious, that our Lord Himself tells His disciples that if any man would not listen to the church, he must be to them as a heathen man and a tax collector. The enemies of Jesus thought it a heavy charge against Him that He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners; and in one place we find the tax collectors and harlots mentioned together, as people of like reputation.

On the whole, then, we may fairly conclude that in teaching the nature of acceptable worship, our Lord could not have chosen two examples more unlike each other than a Pharisee and a tax collector. One is of great repute with his fellow-creatures, while the other is peculiarly offensive—but which will God accept? (“Self-Righteousness”)

Another excerpt from this sermon will be posted soon.

The One Who Humbles Himself Will Be Exalted

J. C. Ryle explains how we should present ourselves before the Lord:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Now, before entering closely into the parable, I would have you mark, that the first verse tells us there was one point on which the Pharisee and the tax collector were agreed—one point which they had in common, and one only—and this was, “They both went up into the temple to pray.” They both set their faces the same way, they walked in the same path, they entered the same house, and so far we can discover no difference whatever between them, in their outward behavior at least. But we shall soon find that their hearts were far asunder, and like the first worshipers recorded in the Bible, even Cain and Abel, there was a mighty gulf between them—for God, we shall see, accepted the sacrifice of the one—but rejected that of the other.

Oh, beloved, this passage suggests very solemn reflections, and for our sakes no doubt it was written. Both these men, it appears, “went up to the temple to pray,” and yet how fearfully the narrative ends! Jesus had just been speaking of the necessity of constant prayer, in the parable of the unjust judge, and immediately, without anything happening to break the thread of his discourse, he adds the parable we are now considering. Surely, then, this must be meant to remind us, as a thing we are liable to forget, that, however important prayer may be, we are not to suppose all who pray have a godly spirit; and that outward service is often given where there is no real dedication of the heart to God.

Truly it is cheerful and encouraging to see a multitude going up to the house of God—but still it is painful to remember that too many go in the spirit of the Pharisee, and far too few in that of the Tax collector. They all use the same prayers, they bow the knee, they move the lips together, and yet they are as widely different as gold and base metal. All are not Israel, who are called Israel. All are not Christians who name the name of Christ. All are not acceptable worshipers who are found in the temples of the Most High.

And what is the line of distinction? We learn this in the parable. Some come as Pharisees, and some as tax collectors; some appear with a broken and a contrite heart, such as the Lord will not despise, and others with an unhumbled and self-exalting spirit, wise in their own eyes and pure in their own sight—the sacrifice of all such is abominable in the sight of God. Oh that you would try to bear in mind more constantly, that “the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance—but the Lord looks on the heart”; that to Him “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Him no secrets are hidden!” And if you felt this more, you would be more careful about the spirit in which you draw near to His throne; you would avoid anything like vain or trifling conversation both before and after service, and so observe the advice of Solomon—to guard your steps when you go to the house of God.”

J. C. Ryle: Self-Righteousness

You should not believe that all who pray have a godly spirit or that outward service cannot be done unless you have Jesus Christ as your savior. There are people who use the same prayers, bow their knees, move their lips along with others; and yet they are as different as light and darkness. All are not Christians who name the name of Christ. Bishop J. C. Ryle shares some thoughts on this matter:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: (Luke 18:9 ESV)

We have daily proof that the disease spoken of in our text is as deep-seated and hard to cure as ever, and of all the mischievous delusions that keep men out of heaven, of all the soul-destroying snares that Satan employs to oppose Christ’s Gospel, there is none we find so dangerous, none so successful, as self-righteousness!

Perhaps you think this strange, and I dare say there are few who would not say, if asked the ground of their hopes, and how they expect to be saved, “We trust in the merits of Christ.” But I fear that too many of you are making the Lord Jesus but half your Savior, and could never stand the sifting of an inquiry which would draw out into daylight the secrets of your hearts. How much would then come out by degrees about ‘doing as well as you could’, and ‘being no worse than others’, and ‘having been sober and industrious and well-behaved’, and ‘having attended church regularly’, and ‘having had a Bible and a Prayer book of your own ever since you can remember’, and the like; besides many other self-approving thoughts, which often never appear until a death-bed. And all prove the root of all evil, which is pride, to be still vigorous and flourishing within.

Oh this pride of heart, beloved!—it is fearful to see the harm that it does, and the carelessness with which it is regarded. It is melancholy indeed to think of a man, weak frail man, the descendant of fallen Adam, the inheritor of a corrupt nature, forgetting his own countless sins, shortcomings and backslidings, trusting in himself, and despising those who are his brethren according to the flesh. And wisely has our Lord spoken the parable immediately following my text—”Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14).

 Observe now how much more striking the lesson sounds when conveyed to us in the form of an example. How little many people would have been affected if our Lord had given a general discourse about the ‘evil of pride’ and the ‘excellence of humility’; about the danger of formality and the importance of a truly penitent frame of mind, if he had merely said, “Be not self-righteous in your dealings with God—but be lowly and self-abased!” And how much more are our hard hearts likely to be moved when we see, as it were, living specimens of two sorts of worshipers, placed vividly before our eyes!

May God the Holy Spirit direct the instruction here contained to the awakening of the self-righteous, to the comfort of those who labor and are heavy-laden, and to the edification of all! (“Self-Righteousness”)

They Abide In His House Forever

For the Christian, the life of God in their souls is exercised in seeking God’s face and strength. They, through grace, shall endeavor to do His will. Dr. John Kennedy writes:

“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” (Psalm 25:14)

They who fear the Lord seek to do His will. He who does homage to the Lord at the footstool of His throne comes forth to serve Him. In earthly families there are children who make a show of affection in their manner towards their father, but quite forget to do his will when he is out of sight. There are no such children in the heavenly family. Men have children who cannot refrain from expressing a reverent love to their fathers when they are near them, and who act according to their directions when they send them on an errand. Such as these do all God’s children seek to be. . . .

They have respect to all their Father’s commandments. . . . Their righteousness exceeded in breadth “the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees.” Nor do they rest contented unless their obedience arises from the heart; they seek to obey out of genuine love. Their righteousness thus exceeds in depth “the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees.” The aim of their service is higher; they seek not their own, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s. That the Lord may be pleased and glorified is the end to which they aspire. Their righteousness thus exceeds in height “the righteousness of Scribed and Pharisees.” (Matthew 5:20)

[T]heir enjoyment of privileges depends greatly, on their obedience. They cannot be happy without having respect to all God’s commandments. (Psalm 119:6) They must first seek grace to fear the Lord in order that His secret may be with them. When they wander from His way, He will either frown upon them and be silent, or He will frown upon them and chasten them with His rod. They shall not be cast out of their father’s house because they sin; but when they regard in iniquity in their heart, the Lord will not hear them. (Psalm 66:18) When they have departed from the Lord they shall not again enjoy the light of His face till their backslidings have been healed. (Isaiah 57:18) An offended father may thrust out his child from his presence, and that child may for a time be outside with the dogs, but he is a child there as surely as when he lay on his father’s bosom. He has not been thrust out of the Father’s house. . . . He will not disown the adopted sons whom “the Only Begotten” has made free. He abides in the house forever, and so shall they. (Psalm 89:30-34, John 8:35-36) (“The Secret of the Lord”)

The Doctrine Of The Pharisees

John Charles Ryle (1816-1900)

J. C. Ryle

We must be cautious as Christians that we do not add our own imaginations to the Word of God. The path to salvation is already narrow enough. Yet, we fancy that every Christian should be our twin. We look beside us on the pew and declare to ourselves that the brother or sister who sits there cannot be a Christian because, “They do not share many of the interests I have or perform the duties that I do. They do not sing as loud as I do or attend Wednesday night service as I do.” Modern Pharisees seek to make all men like them rather than like Christ. The following excerpt from the sermon “Pharisees and Sadducees” by J. C. Ryle helps us to understand the original Pharisees:

The doctrine of the Pharisees may be summed up in three words: they were formalists, tradition-worshippers, and self-righteous. They attached such weight to the traditions of men that they practically regarded them of more importance than the inspired writings of the Old Testament. They valued themselves on excessive strictness in their attention to all the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law. They thought much of being descended from Abraham, and said in their hearts, “We have Abraham for our father.” They fancied themselves because they had Abraham for their father that they were not in danger of hell like other men, and that their descent from him was a kind of title to heaven.

They attached great value to washings and ceremonial purifyings of the body, and believed that the very touching of the dead body of a fly or gnat would defile them. They made a great deal about the outward parts of religion, and such things that could be seen by men. They made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the fringes of their garments. They prided themselves on paying great honor to dead saints, and garnishing the graves of the righteous. They were very zealous to make converts. They prided themselves in having power, rank, and preeminence, and of being called by men, “Teacher, Teacher.” These things, and many things like these, the Pharisees did. Every well-informed Christian can find these things in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (See Matthew 15 and 23; Mark 7).

Remember, all this time, they did not formally deny any part of the Old Testament Scripture. But they brought in, over and above it, so much of human invention, that they virtually put Scripture aside, and buried it under their own traditions. This is the sort of religion, of which our Lord says to the Apostles, “Be careful and be on your guard.”

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