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Mat. V. 20.
For I say unto you, that except your right
eousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in
no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. - IT would be a gratification to many to know the lowest degree of piety that would suffice for their admission into the kingdom of heaven. But to have such a line drawn for us, would be by no means profitable : for it may well be doubted, whether any, who under present circumstances are slothful in their pursuit of holiness, would be quickened by it; and there is reason to fear that the zeal of many would be damped. Information, however, of a nature not very
dissimilar, is given us ; and it will be found of the highest importance to every child of man. Our blessed Lord has marked out for us a line, that must be passed by all who would be numbered amongst his true disciples. There were certain characters, very numerous among the Jews, characters much contemplated and much admired; these, he tells us, must be surpassed. To equal the most exalted among them will not suffice : our righteousness must exceed theirs, if ever we would enter into the kingdom of heaven. The persons we refer to, were the Scribes and Pbarisees; the former of whom were the learned Teachers and Expositors of the Law; the latter were a Sect, who affected peculiar sanctity, and were regard. ed by the people as the most distinguisbed patterns of piety and virtue. The two were generally associated together in the Scriptures, because the Scribes, though not necessarily, yet for the most part, belonged to the Sect of the Pharisees: and, so united, they where considered as having all the learning and piety of the nation concentred in
them. But, notwithstanding the high estimation in which they were held, our Lord most solemnly affirmed, that none of them could, in their present state, be admitted into heaven; and that all who would be counted worthy of that honour, must attain a higher righteousness than theirs.
This information, I say, is valuable ; be. cause, though it is not so definite as to encourage any to sit down contented with their attainments, it serves as a standard by which we may try our attainments, and a criterion whereby we may judge of our real state,
In investigating the subject, there are two things to be considered ;
1. Wherein our righteousness must ex. ceed theirs; and,
II. Why it must exceed theirs.
To prepare the way for shewing wherein our righteousness is to exceed theirs, we
must begin with stating as clearly as we can, what righteousness they possessed. But in doing this, we shall be careful neither to exalt their character too much, on the one hand, nor to depress it too much, on the other. Indeed, precision in this part of our statement is of peculiar importance; for, as a comparison is instituted between their righteousness and ours, we are concerned to have the clearest knowledge of that by which our estimate must be formed. Their character was a mixture of good and evil. They had much which might be considered as righteousness; and at the same time had great defects. Their righteous. ness, such as it was, was seen; their defects were unseen: their righteousness consisted in acts; their defects, in motives and principles : their righteousness was that which rendered them objects of admiration to men; their defects made them objects of abhorrence to God.
Let us begin with viewing the favourable side of their character. And here we cannot do better than refer to the account which the Pharisee gives of himself, when addressing the most high God; and which our Lord particularly adverts to, as characterizing the more distinguished members of their community. After thanking God that he was not as other men are," he first tells us what he had not done: He was " not an extortioner," nor could be accused by any man of demanding, on any account whatever, more than was his due. He was not unjust” in any of his dealings, but, whether in commercial transactions or in any other way, he had done to all as he would be done unto. * " Nor was he an adulterer:" common as the crime of adultery was among the Jews, and great as his advantages had been for insinuating himself into the affections of others, he had never availed himself of any opportunity to seduce his neighbour's wife. In short he had avoided all those evils, which the generality of Publicans and Sinners committed without remorse.