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The Pharisee

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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DR. PUSEY has said somewhere that a Pharisee was just a Jew with divine light but without divine love. And that saying of Dr. Pusey's is just the thirteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians put into an epigram. Paul was once a Pharisee himself, and in the beginning of that famous chapter to the Corinthians he describes himself as a Pharisee to perfection. Every finished Pharisee, he tells us, had not the tongue of a man only, but the tongue of an angel. In some instances the Pharisee had the gift of prophecy also, and could understand all mysteries, and all knowledge. There had been Pharisees known to Paul who had a faith that could actually remove mountains. While others again had been known not to give a tenth only of all that they possessed, but who positively bestowed all their goods to feed the poor. While some went the awful length of giving their very bodies to be burnt. Our hearts bleed for the Pharisees. Our hearts bleed within us for men who could do and endure all that, and yet after all that were complete castaways from the kingdom of heaven. Who then, my brethren, can be saved?

In answer to that staggered exclamation of ours, the Apostle, who was one of them and one of the very best of them, goes on to accuse the Pharisees with such unanswerable accusations as these. With all that, says the Apostle, the finished Pharisee was wholly without love in his heart. To come to particulars and instances of that, says the Apostle. The true Pharisee entirely lacked large-heartedness and brotherly-kindness, he entirely lacked appreciation and admiration for other men. He vaunted about himself in everything, he was puffed up with himself in everything. He took no pleasure in hearing other men praised for their talents, or for their performances, or for their conduct, or for their character. The true Pharisee took no pleasure in the pure truth about other men. Nay, he had no better pleasure than in all unjust judgments and in all harsh censures concerning all other men. When he heard a backbiter he delighted in him, and he was a partaker with busybodies. He wholly lacked liberality of mind and hospitality of heart. He wholly lacked trust and hope and love. In Dr. Pusey's short and sharp way of it the true Pharisee of our Lord's day had plenty of divine light in his head, only he was wholly lacking in divine love in his heart.

But let us go back again upon some of the Pharisee's good points. And that not only for his sake but for our own sakes. For the better a man the Pharisee was the more solemnising will his history and his character and his condemnation be to us. If the Pharisees had been out and out bad men, their condemnation would not have been so startling and so solemnising to us as it is. Now when you study your New Testament well you will see how much there is to be said in behalf of the Pharisees. Compared with the Sadducees, for instance, the Pharisees were men of a high religious character. They loved the Bible. They knew the Bible by heart. They sanctified the Sabbath day. None of you better. They observed the Fast days, and all the other church ordinances, with what we would call a Puritan scrupulosity and self-denial. In short, all the best people in Israel in our Lord's day belonged to the party of the Pharisees.

But, with all that, the Pharisee was all wrong in his heart. The true Pharisee's heart was not a broken heart; and thus it was that nothing was right that the Pharisee ever said or did. This sounds a hard saying that nothing was right he ever said or did, but it is the simple truth. In one of the most powerful of his Roman Catholic sermons, entitled "The Religion of the Pharisee," Dr. Newman brings out this about a Pharisee's unbroken heart in his own incomparably powerful and impressive way. I will not water down the passage, but will give you the enjoyment and the profit of it just as it stands. "The characteristic mark of the religion of Christ," he says, "is a continual confession of sin, and a continual prayer for mercy. What is peculiar to our divine faith, as to Judaism before it, is this, that confession of sin enters into the idea of its highest saintliness, and that its pattern worshippers, and the very heroes of its history, are only, and can only be, and cherish in their hearts, the everlasting memory that they are, and carry with them into heaven the rapturous avowal of their being, restored transgressors. Such an avowal is not simply wrung from the lips of the neophyte, or of the lapsed; it is not the cry of the common run of men alone, who are buffeting with the surge of temptation in the wide world; it is the hymn of saints, it is the triumphant ode sounding from the heavenly harps of the Blessed before His throne, who sing to their Divine Redeemer, Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in Thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. And what is to the saints above a theme of never-ending thankfulness is, while they are yet on earth, the matter of their perpetual humiliation. Whatever be their advance in the spiritual life, they never rise from their knees, they never cease to beat their breasts. So it was with St. Aloysius, so it was with St. Ignatius, so it was with St. Philip Neri who, when some one praised him, cried out, Begone! I am a devil, and not a saint! And who, when going to communicate, would protest before his Lord that he was good for nothing but to do evil Such utter self-prostration, I say, is the very badge and token of the servant of Christ; and this indeed is conveyed in His own words when He says, I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And it is solemnly recognised and inculcated by Him in these words: Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and every one that abaseth himself shall be exalted. Could contrast be greater than between that and this? God I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. No; contrast could not further go than that between the true penitent, and the true Pharisee."

The very name that the Pharisee took to himself condemned him to his face. To be a "Pharisee" was to be a self-selected and a separated man. Now, while all good and true men must sometimes, at whatever cost, separate themselves from all bad men, and from all bad causes among bad men, at the same time, all good and true men will make the separation with great humility, and will make it as short as possible. They will not flaunt abroad their separation like a flag. They will not lay their separation like a foundation stone, and they will not build their church upon it. Now that is just what this true Pharisee was doing in the temple all that day when our Lord discovered him and denounced him. He was flaunting his flag of superiority and separation in the face of God and man. He was taking up his stance on this standing-ground before God and man, that he was so much better than all other men. He must be correctly reported, and if he is, he here puts all other men on one side, and separates himself from them all, and thanks God for it. 'Stand by,' he says to every other worshipper in the temple. 'Come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.' You have the true Pharisee in all ages, and out of his own mouth, in that speech of his. You have here that detestable spirit of sectarianism and schism that tore to pieces the Church of God in Israel, and that is tearing to pieces the Church of Christ to this day. Wherever you see any man, high or low, great or small, dwelling continually on his superiority over all other men, and on the superiority of his church over all other churches, there speaks the true Pharisee. Especially when you see him labouring by tongue or pen or purse to keep open the running sores in the Body of Christ, to dwell upon those sores, to exasperate them, to spread them, and to perpetuate them.

Now, to apply all that to the topic of this day-Christian Unity-and to our own part in the topic of this day.

To begin with, if we are ever to take any true part in healing the grievous wounds in the Body of Christ, we must first of all have clean hands ourselves; that is to say, we must have clean hearts; that is to say, we must have broken, humble, contrite hearts. What kind of a healer would he be who came to you to bind up your wounds with his hands all dropping with all manner of taint or infection? You would say to him, Physician, heal thyself. And we must all look to ourselves before we begin to bind up the Body of Christ. It is our universal and incurable self-love and self-righteousness that is the real root of all our sectarianisms and schisms and controversies, whether those controversies are carried on by the tongue or by the pen or by the sword. It is our pride and our self-idolatry; it is our contempt and scorn of all other men; it is not our love of truth, so much as our love of ourselves, that is the real cause of all our contentions and controversies. Paul was a tremendous Churchman and a tremendous sectarian controversialist as long as he was a Pharisee: that is to say, as long as his heart was unbroken. But look at him after he was born again and had become a new creature. What a contrast to his former self! What humility, what condescension, what geniality, what courtesy, what catholicity, what universal loving-kindness; in short, and in modern language, what a Christian gentleman! Coleridge says that while Luther was not perhaps such a perfect gentleman as Paul, he was almost as great a genius. And Luther gives us a taste both of his genius and of his gentlemanliness also in what he says about Paul after Paul had ceased to be a Pharisee. "Paul was gentle, and tractable, and peaceable, in his whole Christian life. Paul was meek, and courteous, and soft-spoken. Paul could wink at other men's faults and failings, or else he would expound them to the best. Paul could be well contented to yield up his own way, and to give place and honour to all other men, even to the froward and the intractable." So speaks of Paul the most Paul-like man of the modern world. And an English gentleman, if ever there was one, has said of Paul in more than one inimitable sermon: "There is not one of those refinements and delicacies of feeling that are the result of advanced civilisation, nor any one of those proprieties and embellishments of conduct in which the cultivated intellect delights, but Paul is a pattern of it. And that in the midst of an assemblage of other supernatural excellences which is the characteristic endowment of apostles and saints." But then every fibre of that, if you search down deep enough for it, you will find it all rooted in such a soil as this: "Putting me into the ministry: who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious." And still more in this: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" That is the true temper of Church unity, even as the Pharisee's prayer is the true temper of all separation and sectarianism and laceration of the Body of Christ. Only set the chief of sinners, and with broken enough hearts, as the earthly heads and leaders of all your churches, and the days of debate and division and separation are from that day doomed.

As you are my witnesses I am always beseeching you to work together with God in driving out of your hearts the seven devils of prepossession, and prejudice, and partyspirit, and narrowmindedness, and narrowheartedness. And that by reading the very best books, and especially by reading the very best of your enemy's books. I will repeat to you what I took it upon me to say on this subject last May in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I had the honour, I told them, and the happiness, to be one of Dr. John Duncan's students, that so catholic genius and true saint, and among the many lessons of truth, and grace, and genius, and rare Christian wisdom, he taught his students I always remember this. "If," he said, "I met a man from New England, I would say to him, Read the Marrow Men; and if I met a Marrow Man, I would say, Read the New Englanders." And, though I almost owe my soul to the great Puritans, yet, acting on Dr. Duncan's advice, I have read Hooker, the great opponent of the Puritans, till I have come to see that in many of their contentions Hooker was in the right, and Travers in the wrong. And this very morning, I told them, I counted seven very different authors all standing most amicably on my desk. There was Hooker at their head with his Polity, there was John Donne with his Sermons, there was Edwards with his Affections, there was Newman with his Grammar, and there was Dante with his Banquet. I had been making a banquet for my classes out of them all, and there they stood, not excommunicating one another any more, but rather supplementing, and supporting, and assisting, one another, and me. And not only do all those authors agree on my desk today, but they all agree themselves now where they now are. They are all reading one another's books now with an open mind and with an open heart. They are all blaming their own past prejudices now, they are all ashamed of all their past party spirit now. They are all rejoicing in their neighbour's truth now, and in his prosperity, and in his fame. In the pulpit of the Heavenly Temple the forenoon no longer speaks Canterbury, and the afternoon Geneva. And not only the great masterpieces of the past, but to read the periodicals and the newspapers of other churches than your own will reward you, and that not only with information that you will not get elsewhere, but with a wider sympathy, a more catholic, and a more liberal and generous, temper. And that will be Christian unity accomplished already, as far as you are concerned. That will be heaven already, with its love and its peace, descended into you.

And on the other hand shun controversial literature of all kinds, unless you are very far advanced in all knowledge and in all love. If controversial literature must be written and read, I doubt if you are the man either to write it or to read it. You are not, unless your heart is far more full of love and its fruits than most men's hearts are. Richard Baxter, you must admit, has purchased a right and a title to speak to us all on this matter now in hand. "Another fatal hindrance to a heavenly walk and conversation," he says, "is our too frequent disputes. A disputatious spirit is a sure sign of an unsanctified spirit. They are usually men least acquainted with the heavenly life who are the most violent disputers about the circumstantiality of religion. Yea, though you were sure that your opinions were true, yet when the chiefest of your zeal is turned to these things, the life of grace soon decays within. I could wish you were all men of understanding and ability to defend every truth of God; but, still, I would have the chiefest truth to be chiefly studied, and no truth to shoulder out the thought of eternity. The least controverted truths are usually the most weighty and of most necessary and frequent use to our souls." So testifies to us the seraphic author of the Saint's Rest. And, to wind up with, listen to a very different voice from that of Richard Baxter. Listen to what Homer says, who though dead yet speaketh through the mouth of Æneas to Achilles:-

Long in the field of words we may contend,
Reproach is infinite, and knows no end,
Arm'd, or with truth or falsehood, right a wrong:
So voluble a weapon is the tongue,
Wounded we wound; and neither side can fail,
For every man has equal strength to rail.

The God of peace did not leave Himself without a witness wherever even a Homer sang his immortal Iliad.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Pharisee'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​t/the-pharisee.html. 1901.
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