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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

the Blind Leaders of the Blind

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ALL the same, the Scribes and Pharisees were quite right, as they often are. And our Lord's disciples were wholly in the wrong, as they often are. The disciples had no business to sit down to eat with unwashen hands, and the Scribes and Pharisees were only doing their bounden duty in entering their protest against such disorderly conduct. Moses never sat down to eat till he had washed both his hands and his feet. And the Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat for the very purpose of seeing to it that the great lawgiver was obeyed and imitated in all things great and small that he had ever said and done. But, indeed, Nature herself should have taught the disciples to observe ordinary decency in all their habits at table, as well as everywhere else. And, though the complainers could not know it, they had our own John Wesley with them also. For Wesley was wont to preach this high doctrine of Moses, and of Nature herself, to the people called Methodists, this high doctrine of his, that cleanliness is next to Godliness. And, more than all that, the Scribes and Pharisees had the Master of the disciples so far with them. If the beam had not been in their own eye He would have been wholly with them in pulling this mote out of the eyes of His disciples. You are quite right, He as good as said to the complainers. You are only doing your duty in what you say to My disciples. At the same time, why do you get yourselves into such a wicked temper about it? And why is it that you come down all the way from Jerusalem to do nothing else but to find fault about such matters as the washing of hands, and feet, and cups, and pots, and tables? Have you no washing to do yourselves at home? Wash your own hearts, you hypocrites. And with that He turned on them in a way that made Peter interpose and reprove Him. 'It is not safe; it is not wise,' said Peter, 'to speak to the authorities in that way. Such language will be sure to bring sharp reprisals on us all one day.' But instead of the timidity and the restraint the disciples would have had their Master observe to those men of such power, He all the more went on with some of the most plain-spoken words He ever uttered. "They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." Till Peter's prophecy at last came true. And till His enemies took the most terrible reprisals on Peter's Master for His heart-searching eye and for the fearlessness of His speech.

Now, the great value of this passage to us lies in this, that we have two classes of preachers here set before us for our learning. We have those teachers and preachers who are wholly taken up with the outside of things; with cups, and pots, and pans, and tables, and beds, as this passage has it. And on the other hand, we have our Lord who passes by all these things in order that He may get at once at the hearts of men. And it is a most fearful picture that our Lord here gives us of the hearts of men, and of the work that He and His successors in the Christian ministry have to do in the hearts of men. "For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." No wonder young Newman said that amid all his wine-parties, and all his musical evenings, and all his readiness and eagerness to join in any merriment, he was shuddering at himself all the time.

Generalia non pungunt. No. But there are no pointless generalities in our Lord's preaching. His preaching is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and opened to the eyes or Him with whom we have to do. "In the department of Christian morality," says John Foster, "many of our most evangelical preachers are greatly and culpably deficient. They rarely, if ever, take up some one topic of moral duty, such as honesty, veracity, impartiality, good temper, forgiveness of injuries, improvement of time, and such like, and investigate the principles, and the rules, and the discriminations, and the adaptations, of such things. There is little, nowadays, of the Christian casuistry found in many of our old divines. Such discussions would cost labour and thought, but they would be eminently useful in setting people's judgments and consciences to rights." And Robert Hall, in an ordination charge addressed to a young minister, says, "Be not afraid of devoting whole sermons to particular parts of moral conduct and religious duty. Sometimes dissect characters, and describe particular virtues and vices. Point out to your people, and with unmistakable distinctness, both the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit." John Jamieson of Forfar, for one, would have satisfied both John Foster and Robert Hall. For, long before their day, he had preached and published fifty most powerful sermons on our Lord's present text, treating the text as our Lord returned to it and treated it continually in His sermons, and as Foster and Hall demanded that it should be treated in every pulpit worth the name. And even after those two clear-eyed volumes of heart-searching sermons, Jamieson is bold to assert that every hearer and reader of his, who knows the plague of his own heart, will admit that the half of the shame and the pain and the wretchedness and the downright misery of his heart has not yet been told him. And those fifty Gennesatet sermons delivered in Forfar dug the deep foundations on which more than a hundred years of great preaching has been laid in Forfar, and is being laid in that privileged town down to this day. Would that every pulpit in Scotland had such Christian casuistry in it, and such unmistakable distinctness! But, then, that would not only cost the preacher labour and thought, as Foster admits, but, like the poet, such preachers would have to cease biting their pens for arguments and eloquence, and would have to look into their own hearts for all the arguments and all the eloquence of their sermons. It is the Spirit that quickeneth both you and your preaching, our Master is always saying to us preachers. And it is when our hearts are quickened to see in our own hearts all that He sees in them, it is then, and only then, that we shall be able to deal as He would have us deal, and as John Foster and Robert Hall would have us deal, and as John Jamieson actually did deal, with the hearts of his hearers. The Scribes and the Pharisees had eyes enough to preach against adultery and murder when these things once came out of the hearts of the people; but they were as blind as moles to the real roots of these things, as well as to the kindred roots of pride, and covetousness, and envy, and deceit, of which their own hearts, and the hearts of all their blinded hearers, were full. And these are the things that truly defile a man-evil thoughts, covetousness, deceit, an evil eye, and such like.

Are ye so without understanding also? demanded their Master of His still ignorant disciples. Without understanding, that is, of what it is that really defiles a man, and where it comes from. It is bad enough to have some secret and deadly disease about you. But to have your physician stark ignorant of what is the matter with you, and how to treat you, that is simply despair and death to you. I was once summoned to a deathbed around which stood three of the most eminent doctors in the city. Surely it is not come to that, I said, as the dying man sent for me to bid me good-bye. It need not come to that, said the three doctors, if he would only rouse himself and determine not to die. You will see! said the dying man, smiling to me. He felt the hand of death on him, but his doctors were stark blind to what he felt, and why he felt it. They were without understanding, and so he was in his grave before the week was at an end. Tragedies like that will occur sometimes even with the best physicians, but such tragical cases are of every day occurrence with us ministers. The diseases of our patients are so deep down in their hearts, and we are so blind to our own hearts, and to the diseases of our own hearts, that such blood-guilty deaths take place with us every day. In the plain-spoken words of this very Scripture, we attend too much to the outside of things; to pots, and pans, and tables, and beds, and too little to our own hearts and the hearts of our hearers.

When the Pilgrim was making his progress through the valley of the shadow of death, his rare biographer tells us some things about the pilgrim's experiences that always speak home to my heart. About the middle of the valley was the mouth of hell, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn to pieces, or trodden down like the mire in the streets. Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stept up closely to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own heart. When Christian had travelled in this disconsolate condition for some considerable time, he thought he heard a voice of a man, as going before him, saying, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Now, this Scripture at present open before us has much the same effect on me as that voice in the valley of the shadow of death had upon Christian. For, as from that voice he gathered that some one who feared God was in that valley as well as himself; so, from this scripture I gather that He who here searches the hearts of men, knows my heart down to the bottom, with all its wickedness, and all its wretchedness, and all its possession of the devil. Speaking only for myself in all these matters, but speaking honestly for myself, I confess to you that I find far more comfort just in this dreadful discovery of the hearts of men, and of my own heart, than I find in far more ostensibly evangelical scriptures. To me this awful scripture is as cheering sometimes as was the voice of that as yet unseen man in the valley of the shadow of death. And for much the same reason. I told you about the three doctors and their fast-dying patient. Now, he died of sheer despair because his disease was so much deeper than his doctors' diagnosis. Had those three doctors put their finger on the deadly spot, and said, thou ailest here and here; and thou ailest with this kind of agony and that,-then that dead man would have been back at his work within a week. But as it was he was in his grave before the next Sabbath day dawned. And it is just because my great Doctor, Jesus Christ, puts His Divine finger straight on this agony of mine and that: it is this that makes me turn away from every other practitioner of the heart, and say to Him, To whom can I go but to Thee! And it is this same thing that makes me always go away back to John Bunyan, and to the other great specialists of his deep and true school. Almost all the doctors who stand round my bed in these days seem to me to be far too much taken up with the outside of things; while, all the time, I am dying of a heart like the pilgrim's heart, and like this same heart that Christ here lays bare to His apostles and to the people. And thus it is that my Master's so perfect diagnosis of me, even before He has begun to prescribe to me, is already such a message of hope to me. The seventh of Mark, as well as the seventh of Romans, and the Pilgrim's Progress, and John Owen, and all the rest of that great heart-searching kind, all make me glad, and for these reasons: First, because I gather from them that some who feared God were in this valley as well as myself. Second, for that I see that God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state, and why not with me? And, third, that I shall have them for my company all the rest of my way.

And when He had called all the people unto Him. He said unto them, Hearken unto Me, every one of you, and understand. And, every one of you people here tonight, hearken and understand all that He here says to you about your own hearts, every one of you. And then understand this also, that they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. And, every one of you, understand with me also, and act with me. And act with me in this way. His discovery to me of the state of my own heart only the more entitles me and encourages me to take my heart to Him, and to claim at His hands all His skill in such hearts as mine, and all His instruments for them and all His remedies for them. It is my part to hear and to understand what He here says to me about myself, and then it is His part to heal me. And I warn Him, and I take all you people for witnesses, that I will give Him no rest till my heart is as clean and as whole as His own.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'the Blind Leaders of the Blind'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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