Faith, God, Grace, Healing, Holy Spirit

It’s The Thought That Counts

Is it true that the tangible always matter more than the intangible? Are actions and physical objects always more important than thoughts and feelings? Tears are drops of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person’s eye when they cry or when the eye is irritated. In contrast, crocodile tears (or superficial sympathy) are a false, insincere display of emotion such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief. (The phrase derives from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey.) A kiss is a touch or caress with the lips, but Judas kiss is an act of betrayal, especially one disguised as a gesture of friendship. By just focusing on the physical, that is tears and kisses, we can be missing out on the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that bring about those tears and kisses.

Does God care why we honour and worship Him? Is He more concerned about the type and duration of our prayers or the motivation behind them?

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said: ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone says to his father or mother, ‘The help you would have received from me has been given to God,’ he need not honor his father or mother with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; they teach as doctrine the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15:3-9)

Our blessed Lord spoke of their traditions as inventions of their own, and pointed out one instance in which this was very clear, that of their transgressing the fifth commandment. When a parent’s wants called for assistance, they pleaded, that they had devoted to the temple all they could spare, even though they did not part with it, and therefore their parents must expect nothing from them. This was making the command of God of no effect.

Let us see what was the contradiction which the tradition of the elders gave to this command. It was not direct and downright, but implicit their casuists gave them such rules as furnished them with an easy evasion from the obligation of this command (cf. Matthew 15:5-6).

First, what their tradition was; That a man could not in any case bestow his worldly estate better than to give it to the priests, and devote it to the service of the temple: and that when anything was so devoted, it was not only unlawful to alienate it, but all other obligations, though ever so just and sacred, were thereby superseded, and a man was thereby discharged from them. And this proceeded partly from their ceremoniousness, and the superstitious regard they had to the temple, and partly from their covetousness, and love of money: for what was given to the temple they were gainers by. The former was, in pretence, the latter was, in truth, at the bottom of this tradition.

Secondly, how they allowed the application of this to the case of children. When their parents’ necessities called for their assistance, they pleaded, that all they could spare from themselves and their children, they had devoted to the treasury of the temple. It is a gift and therefore their parents must expect nothing from them; that the spiritual advantage of what was so devoted, would redound to the parents, who must live upon that air. This, they taught, was a good and valid plea, and many undutiful, unnatural children made use of it, and they justified them in it. The pretence of religion would make his refusal to provide for his parents not only passable but plausible. But the absurdity and impiety of this tradition were very evident: for revealed religion was intended to improve, not to overthrow natural religion, one of the fundamental laws of which is this of honouring our parents and had they known what that meant, I will have justice, and mercy, and not sacrifice, they had not thus made the most arbitrary rituals destructive of the most necessary morals. This was making the command of God of no effect. To break the law is bad, but to teach men so, as the scribes and Pharisees did, is much worse (cf. ch. 5:19). To what purpose is the command given, if it be not obeyed?

The eye of man can perceive open profaneness, but it is only the eye of Christ that can discern hypocrisy (cf. Luke 16:15). And as it is a sin which his eye discovers, so it is a sin which of all others his soul hates.

Now Christ fetches his reproof from Isaiah 29:13. Isaiah spoke it of the men of that generation to which he prophesied, yet Christ applies it to these scribes and Pharisees. Note, the reproofs of sin and sinners, which we find in scripture, were designed to reach the like persons and practices to the end of the world for they are not of private interpretation (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21). The sinners of the latter days are prophesied of (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Pt. 3:3). Threatenings directed against others, belong to us, if we be guilty of the same sins. Isaiah prophesied not of them only, but of all other hypocrites, against whom that word of his is still levelled, and stands in force. The prophecies of scripture are everyday in the fulfilling.

Isaiah descibes hypocrites, in two things. [1] In their own performances of religious worship, v. 8, when they draw nigh to God with their mouth, and honour him with their lips, their heart is far from him. Observe, They approached the ordinances of God, and drew nigh to him, and attended him in outward worship; they prayed unto him publicly, and constantly, in the streets, in the synagogues, and temple, and with much seeming devotion and sanctity. They owned him to be their creator and preserver; they made their boast of him, and of their knowledge of him, as the one only living, and true God, and as the God of Israel; they brought their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, even the fruit of their lips, unto him, for their many peculiar mercies, privileges, and favours, as a nation, church, and people, and with much seeming sincerity and affection.

But their heart is far from God; they had no true love to God, nor faith in him, nor fear of him; they were not at all concerned for his presence with them, or for communion with him, or for his honour and glory; their hearts were in the world, and after their covetousness; they made religion a tool to their secular purposes, supposing gain to be godliness; sought the applause of men, and contented themselves with bodily exercise; having no regard to internal religion, powerful godliness, or where their hearts were, so be it, their bodies were presented to God in public worship; and what they did it was to be seen and approved of men, not caring what the searcher of hearts knew concerning them, or what He required of them. The great thing that God looks at and requires is the heart (cf. Proverbs 23:26); if that be far from him, it is not a reasonable service and therefore not an acceptable one; it is the sacrifice of fools (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:1).

[2] In their prescriptions to others. This is an instance of their hypocrisy, that they teach for doctrines the commandments of men. When men’s inventions are tacked to God’s institutions, and imposed accordingly, this is hypocrisy, a mere human religion. The commandments of men are properly conversant about the things of men, but God will have His own work done by His own rules, and accepts not that which He did not Himself appoint. That only comes to Him, that comes from Him.

The doom of hypocrites; it is put in a little compass; In vain do they worship me. Their worship does not attain the end for which it was appointed; it will neither please God, nor profit themselves. If it be not in spirit, it is not in truth, and so it is all nothing. That man who only seems to be religious, but is not so, his religion is vain (cf. James 1:26); and if our religion be a vain oblation, a vain religion, how great is that vanity! How sad is it to live in an age of prayers and sermons, and sabbaths and sacraments, in vain, to beat the air in all these; it is so, if the heart be not with God in them. Lip-labour is lost labour (cf. Isaiah 1:11). Hypocrites sow the wind and reap the whirlwind; they trust in vanity, and vanity will be their recompence.

I believe we are all convinced that God is more concerned about the state of our hearts than the types of prayer we say or the kinds of rituals we perform. In fact, Jesus told the crowd that only evil thoughts that come from their hearts could defile them (cf. Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:14-23). So long as hearts are evil, evils will proceed from them. The only physician for sin is the Lord Jesus, and His heavenly surgery lies in the renewing of the heart by grace through the Holy Spirit who works by the gospel. Let us keep to the old gospel, keep to the one remedy which has healed so many. No new theories for us, we accept the old and tried everlasting gospel of the blessed God. The truth of God will live and flourish when all the evil thoughts of men have proven their foolishness and are cast to the moles and to the bats, as images of deception, without life or power.

Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts with the song “By The Waking Of Our Hearts”:

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