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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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IV. True Religion contrasted with the Mock Piety of the Pharisees.

§ 156. (1.) Alms, Prayer, Fasting; (2.) Rigid Judgment of Self, Mild Judgment of others; (3.) Test of Sincerity in Seeking after Righteousness. (Matt., 1-18; vii., 1-5.)

(1.)

After setting forth the opposition between legal and true holiness, Christ passes on to contrast the latter with the false spiritual tendencies at that time existing; to contrast that piety which attaches no importance either to its own works or to the show of them, with the mock religion of the Pharisees, which did every thing for show. It is the contrast, in a word, between being and seeming; and no words could express it more strikingly than “when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. So far from doing good that others may see it, thou must not even think of it as thy own work; do it, in childish simplicity, from thy loving spirit, as if thou couldst not do otherwise.” This principle Christ applies to three separate acts, in which the Pharisees were specially wont to make a pious display, viz.: Alms, prayer, and fasting409409   Since Christ specifies these three, in order to apply to them the general principle of v. 1 τὴν δικαιοσύνην μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων), we infer that it was foreign to his purpose to give an exposition of the nature of prayer here, which confirms our view that the “Lord’s Prayer” is not here in its proper chronological connexion. (vi., 1-18).

(2.)

The sin which is next410410   Matt., vii., 1, stands in a close logical connexion with vi., 18, and the preceding verses; and is also given by Luke, proving that it belongs to the original body of the discourse, but vi., 19-34 [not given by Luke in this connexion] appears as obviously not so. So of 5-11, below. condemned (vii., 1-5) springs from the same root as the one just mentioned. The Pharisees judged others severely, but were quite indulgent to themselves, and, indeed, never rightly examined themselves. He that knows what true righteousness is, and feels his own want of it, will be a rigid censor of his own life, but a mild and gentle judge of others. [“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own? Thou hypocrite! first cast out the beam that is in thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s.”]

(3.) The Saviour then411411   The οὖν in verse 12, as well as the course of thought, connect it with v. 5. gives (vii., 12) a criterion to distinguish true from Pharisaic righteousness. “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (If you are striving sincerely after the essence of righteousness, you will place yourself in the condition of others, and act towards them as you would wish them, in such case, to have acted towards you.)

It was certainly not Christ’s purpose here to set up a rule of morals contradictory to the whole spirit of the rest of the sermon, which places the seat of true morality in the heart. Mere outward action, according to this rule, might spring from diverse dispositions, e.g., the mere prudence of selfishness might lead us to observe it, in order to get like for like. But, placing it in connexion with what has gone before, and making love the mainspring of our actions, the rule affords a touchstone of their character. And when our actions stand this test, Christ says that “the law and the prophets (i. e., the life and essence of piety to which they point) are fulfilled;” for, as he elsewhere says, “love is the fulfilling of the law.”

V. Exhortations and Warnings to the Children of the Kingdom.


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