THE FEAR OF MAN A SNARE
A Sermon by B.H. Carroll
TEXT: Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defleth the man. Then came the disciples and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. – MATTHEW 15:11-14.
OUR relation to God is the first of all relations in importance. Its obligations are paramount. The fear of man’s judgment – the desire to please men – becomes a snare when it leads us to put the creature above the Creator. It is a convincing evidence of depravity, a cogent proof of flabbiness in moral fiber when we become unduly sensitive to public opinion. It reveals that we have no fixed, no supreme standard of right and wrong. Washington Irving tells us in Knickerbocker’s New York that the Dutch governor’s servant climbed upon the roof at the mansion and set the weathercock every morning according to his best judgment of the way the wind was blowing, and then all the people set their weathercocks by the governor’s, so all the vanes in the city arbitrarily pointed for that day, regardless of higher law. Now are many of us better than the simple Dutch in Irving’s satire? Not “What is right according to divine law,” do we ask, but, “What is the fashion, what says society, what do our leading people say?”
Educated in this man-fearing, man-pleasing spirit, many group up so exceedingly sensitive, so apprehensive of wounding others that you might not miss it far to say that their idea of the “chief end of man” is not to offend men. Their theory is about this: the main thing, the sum of human duty, is so to pass through life as not to offend anybody or combat anything. Converted into precept: never take a position that will make anybody mad, never avow an offensive doctrine, repress your individuality, rub off salient angles, become round, and when round, become soft. If others make sharp issues which invade your neutrality, be noncommittal, trim, straddle, compliment both sides, stick to generalizations, such as, “There are good and bad in all parties and religions,” or “It matters little what one believes, so he lives right.” If these rude disturbers of your peace insist on alignment, whisper to them aside that you admire their courage, wish you could imitate it, and only wait a favorable opportunity to come out openly, but owing to cruel circumstances over which you have no control, you cannot just now afford to have opinions, much less express them.
Our context shows that the disciples of our Lord were not free from this servile spirit. Two antagonistic, aggressive, and irreconcilable forces had met in conflict – Phariseeism and the gospel of Jesus. The issue came on the question: “What is sin?” The insuperable obstacle in the way of reconciliation was a difference in the standards defining sin, the word of God versus human tradition. The Pharisees held to a mass of traditions not then written, but since embodied in the Talmud. This mass had accumulated in three ways. First, many alleged teachings of Moses never reduced to writing but transmitted orally from father to son.. Second, the various decisions of Jewish courts construing, under appeals to their tribunals, the written text. Third, the comment on the text by various learned rabbis. These traditions became the unwritten law. Of course the practical question was inevitable: Which standard is paramount in case of conflict, the written or unwritten law? On this point the Talmud of Jerusalem says, “The words of the scribes are more lovely than the words of the law: for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty.” Elsewhere it declares that it is a greater crime to “transgress the words of the school of Hillel” than the law. And again: “My son, attend to the words of the scribes, more than to the words of the law.” (Quoted from Broadus on Matthew.)
This same Pharisaic exaltation of tradition over God’s written Word characterizes the papacy today and, coloring all its theological teaching, gives rise to as curious cases of conscience on the nature of sin as the case of our context. To offend this spirit is now as dangerous as it was in the days of Jesus Christ. And there is now the same jelly-fish subserviency to human judgment, the same men-fearing and men-pleasing spirit that prompted the disciples to say, “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended at this saying?”
From the introductory Scriptures read, you see the issue: “Why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat.” Very sternly, in no honeyed words, our Lord met the issue. Every point of his counter-accusation is terrible: “According to your own prophets ye are hypocrites; ye substitute lip service for heart service; ye make void the law of God by your traditions; ye blot out the fifth commandment by a pretended vow. Changing the law standard ye change the nature of sin, making that to be sin which is no sin, and making that to be righteousness which is sin.”
Then followed his great parable, which in one terse sentence digs up all Phariseeism by the roots, “Hear and understand: Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man.” Which parable he thus interprets: “Perceive ye not, that whatsoever goeth into the mouth passeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings; these are the things which defile the man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man.”
The proverb, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” will serve for an advertisement of Pear’s soap, but it is far from being scriptural. Those who receive the high wages of unrighteousness are usually externally clean and well dressed, while many of the purest in heart are in homely dress and grimed with toil. It is an awful sin to count dirt as sin.
But our concern today is with the weakness of the disciples. “Lord, were you not too harsh in that statement; were you not rude, impolite, inconsiderate of the feelings of others? Lord, did you know that you had offended the Pharisees? They constitute an influential class, indeed are the chief people of our nation. They sit in Moses seat. They are leaders in society and give tone to fashion. Their cue is the popular cry. Now, was it expedient to offend these people? In view of their standing, would it not have been better to soften the asperities of your doctrine and accommodate it to the ruling classes? Is there not danger of being righteous over-much?” Such is the fair import of their rebuke. Why cannot all men see that it is impossible to reconcile these two oppositions, first, human tradition versus God’s Word; second, ceremonial services versus moral and spiritual duties? Men are prone to make old religious usage an authority and to take so much more interest in it than in express commands of God, that they practically alter the divine law to harmonize with their custom. Fallen human nature so tends to be more interested in the external than in the moral and spiritual that we not infrequently witness the disgrace of neglecting the highest and holiest commands of God for the sake of mere human usages.
How, then, could our Lord be faithful to himself and his mission and not give offense? To require only lip service would not offend man, but would offend God. To require heart service would please God but offend man. “Honor thy father and thy mother” is not only a divine law, but is founded in nature, arising from the filial relation. That relation entails mutual obligations on parent and child which may not be nullified. The parent must cherish the child in helpless infancy and safely direct his youth. The child must obey the parent in all things lawful and cherish father and mother in their helpless old age. It would seem that our Lord might without offense to any insist on compliance with such obligations. But not so. Tradition had freed the child from the law of God. The liberty conferred by tradition exempted the child from conformity to both natural and revealed law. Lord, if you insist on that antiquated fifth commandment you will offend the Pharisees.”
Mark the reply of Jesus: “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” Here the plant means doctrine. Spare your needless anxiety, brother. Let not your heart fail you for fear of things which seem to impend. Have faith in God. Take no counsel of your fears. Say not within yourselves: “See how error is spreading! See how false doctrines obtain credence! See how the advocates of evil are multiplying!” Be easy in your minds. Possess your souls in patience. What is contrary to God will be rooted up. Not now perhaps, but ultimately surely. Remember the parable of the tares and of the net. The Lord cometh.
What next says our Lord? “Let them alone.” But this means what? Can it mean that no effort must be put forth to combat error? If it means that, Jesus was violating his own precept. Very faithfully did he expose error. Even unto death he witnessed against sin. What then does he mean by saying, “Let them alone”? It was a rebuke to the anxiety of the disciples. They were busying themselves with concern about offending errorists. His words are equivalent to these: “Turn loose your anxieties about these people. Let them alone in the matter of your needless concern.” Do you suppose, my brethren, that such doctrines as Jesus preached could slip along in the world as smoothly as flowing oil? Make no noise? Create no disturbance? Stir up no excitement? Give no offense? Awaken no hostility? Did he come to send peace on earth? I tell you a sword rather. His gospel must at times make a man’s foes those of his own household, pitting father against son and mother against daughter.
And why? Because our duty to God is paramount. It takes precedence of human relations. As the world is evil, it turns the world upside down. It must overturn and overturn. It must slay before giving life. It must drain the moral Okefenokee swamps, cut down its jungles, let in the light, however much its slimy denizens may squirm, or however dolefully its owls may hoot. O ye timid, ye fearful ones, ye shrinking and sensitive ones, so anxious to court the world and conciliate its favor, hear ye the word of the Lord: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. The friendship of the world is enmity with God. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
Have you yet to learn, my brethren, that to preach a gospel which unveils all hidden things of dishonesty, that shines into the secret chambers of thought, exposing every slimy thing, that requires crucifixion of self and supreme love to God and man – do you think that gospel contravening all depravity and thwarting all selfishness can fail to excite undying hatred and war just in proportion to its power? Does human nature change with lapse of time? Does the veneer of so-called modern civilization never crack its surface, revealing the grinning, scowling, vicious brutality within?
Here is an example: There sits my brother pastor from the distant border city of El Paso. He is announced to preach tonight. A few weeks ago it was hardly safe for him to walk the streets of El Paso in the daytime. Why? Can you not anticipate me? Well, our pugilistic friend, Dan Stuart, had virtual possession of El Paso, trying to bring off a prize fight across the New Mexico border two miles away. But this preacher and two others wired Congress of the impending fact and that the territorial governor was powerless because there was no law to forbid the brutalizing exhibition. Congress responded by instant legislation. Whereupon the howl: “These three preachers have cost El Paso $50,000!” Did you know, my brother, that you offended people by that telegram? Could you not have learned from Paul’s example at Ephesus not to offend trade? Have you forgotten Demetrius and his slogan, “By this craft we have our wealth”? Why did you not prophesy smooth things?
Find another application in your Sunday school lesson today. Peter’s rebuke of our Lord because he had showed plainly the imperious necessity of his vicarious passion. The devil first suggested, in the temptation, a Messiahship that would win the sovereignty of the world, if only Jesus would not disturb Satan and leave out the atonement. How clearly does our Lord point out the great danger and its antidote. What danger? The danger of being ashamed of Jesus. Ashamed of him at heart? No. Ashamed of him before the world, before men, on the streets, in business, in the secular papers. Ashamed to come out on the Lord’s side, challenging attention of men, angels and devils to your confession: “Here I stand. can do no other. I am a follower of Jesus. I avow it. My only shame is my unworthiness. My faults mar my profession. I wish I were better. But even such as I am, I am for Jesus now and forevermore.”
Our Lord, in your very lesson today, shows how impossible it is to touch religion lightly. Hear his words: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
You cannot partially acknowledge his sovereignty. There is no room for compromise. You may not hold with him in some things and against him in others. He scouts the miserable subterfuge. It is for or against. There is no middle ground, no “free zone” as broad as the edge of a razor. Ye that try to go in two opposite directions, on you come shame, discomfiture, and irreparable disaster. “What will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Allow me to find a climax in the example of the most illustrious contemporary of our Lord. You recall the title of Mrs. Evans’ great work of fiction, At the Mercy of Tiberius, suggested by a statue of the third Caesar. Tiberius was now Roman emperor while Jesus speaks these words. He had the sovereignty of all the world.
Who was Tiberius? A distinguished Roman, educated by Augustus, a brilliant general, who obtained four triumphs. He it was that quelled insurrection in that very Armenia, whose woes now excite universal compassion. He put Tigranes on the Armenian throne, extorted from the Parthians the eagles lost by Crassus, snatched victory from the Barbarians on the Raetian Alps, overwhelmed by many disastrous defeats the indomitable Germans, adopted as the son of Augustus by whom he was compelled to divorce a wife he loved, to marry the shamefully dissolute daughter of the Emperor, and after the death of Augustus he was raised to the imperial throne.
What a man! How cold and hard! When the city of Troas presumed by embassy to offer condolence for the death of his son, his brutal, sarcastic response was that he condoled with Troy on the death of her illustrious citizen, Hector! Finally, weary with empire and triumph, he is now in the island of Capri, given over to most hellish orgies and beastly sensualities. He has all the world. About the time Jesus is speaking the foregoing words, Tiberius is trying to reply to certain interrogatories of his obsequious senate. Tacitus preserves the letter. Hear this letter from the man who owns the world: What to write to you or how to write, I know not; and what not to write at this time, may all the gods and goddesses torment me more than I daily feel that I am suffering, if I do know.” What awful disclosure is here! First, inexpressible pain. Second, pain every day. Third, hopeless ignorance, in the depths of agnosticism: “I know not what to write nor what not to write.”
When a young man, he was as straight as Apollo, handsome as Adonis and as majestic as Mars. But now his face is so blotched with the signal flags of debauchery he is ashamed to be seen. His once stalwart form is now like Nebuchadnezzar’s, so bowed by excess he moves almost on all fours like a beast. Four years after Christ was crucified, this man also died. And how? In a village not far from Rome he had hid. den his marred form and visage, guarded from intrusive inspection by a cordon of imperial troops. As if to say, “Let no man see my blotched face. Let no prurient curiosity witness the painful movements of my bowed form.” Courtesan and courtier left him, while the Roman mob, like a growling tiger, kept shouting, “To the Tiber with Tiberius.” Becoming unconscious, he was gladly reported dead and a successor announced. Reviving, slaves smothered him under old clothes. What did it profit the man to gain the whole world and lose himself?
Thou hesitating, compromising soul, thou fool, shutting thine eyes to the alternative of Jesus and daring to touch religion lightly, draw near and look at Tiberius. Do come and look! He had all the world. But O look at the blotched face of Tiberius! Look, man, at the bent form of Tiberius! Touch the flickering pulse of Tiberius! Read the anguish and horror in the eyes of Tiberius! Contemplate the ignorance of Tiberius! Why shakes yonder pile of old clothes? Lift them and behold the hideous, gasping, smothering Tiberius! Catechize him in the interval of dying groans. Bend over him and whisper, “O Tiberius, one question before you pass away: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Think you he heard? Try it in this form: “O Tiberius, what now would you give in exchange for your soul?” O my brethren, compare. Hear Paul about to die under a murderous sentence of the successor of Tiberius: For I am already being offered and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Do you not hear the echo of Balaam’s voice: “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his”? (Numbers 23:10.) But what eternal horrors hang around the death of the lost! His lamp is put out! Eternal night shrouds him in outer darkness! O when you think of the latter end of the wicked, very lovingly, very tenderly, very kindly, and with infinite patience bear with their faults. Divest yourself of every shred of animosity. Kindle in your hearts a desire that Niagara outpoured on it cannot quench – a desire that they may be saved. Pray for them. Speak to them. Plead with them. Bear with them. Hold up before them Jesus Christ as their only hope. Stop not to be anxious lest some be offended. Preach the Word. Preach it in tears.
Preach it in faith. Preach it in hope. Preach it in the power of the Holy Ghost. Father, Father in heaven, pour out on this church thy Holy Spirit! Revive us, O Spirit of Life, breathe, breathe on the valley of dry bones, and make an army rise up!