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Our Lord brings forward this one more charge, and denounces a corresponding woe, against the scribes," Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in, ye hindered." A key used to be given to stewards of the household and some other office-bearers on their appointment; so that a key became the emblem of authority.* It is said, too, that a key was delivered into the hands of a rabbi, or Jewish doctor of the law, as a token of his authority to open up, or expound the law. It is recorded that "when Rabbi Samuel, the Little, died, his key and his tablet were hung on his tomb.† If, then, a key was delivered to a doctor of the law, as a badge of his office, the allusion, as made to this by our Lord, would be very beautiful; it would be as if he had said, "You had a key given to you: but instead of keeping it for constant use, you have carried it away, and secreted it." The meaning of the figurative language is, that these scribes, who should have done everything they could to cause the people to understand, believe, and obey the whole Old Testament Scriptures, kept them in the dark, and even led them into gross errors, by their traditions and false interpretations. In particular, they inculcated ceremonies, but dealt very unfaithfully with the prophecies, and with whatever was intended to prepare for the reception of Messiah. These they either concealed or perverted. In their carnal views of these things, the key, the leading principle to the discovery of Jesus' Messiahship, was lost. "Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men," said our Lord, according to Matthew: -they employed the key, so to speak, to lock the door of salvation against the people. They did not enter in themselves, for they rejected the gospel of Christ. In John vii. 48, we meet with the question: "Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him?" Certainly but few did. They not only would not go in themselves, but they went so far as to do their utmost to prevent those from entering in -that is, from embracing and professing the gospel-who seemed inclined to do so. They did what they could to prevent this, by their own example, by contumelious language, by excommunication, by forbidding to teach in the name of Jesus, and by every species of unjustifiable and wicked interference.
* Isa. xxii. 22; Rev. iii. 7.
+ Dr A. Clarke on Matt. xxiii. 13. See also Grotius and Doddridge.
And has there not been exhibited, in the great apostasy, to which we have found it necessary already to advert, a copy of this original portrait, not improved in any respect, but still more unseemly in all its features? Have they not, instead of labouring to instruct the people in all revealed truth, been careful to keep them in ignorance of it? Have they not darkened and perverted it, by their traditions and false glosses? Pretending that the key was their own exclusive property, have they not kept it lying rusting and useless? Nay, they have done what the scribes and Pharisees never dared to do they have kept back the Word of God altogether from many, declaring that it was not safe for them to read it. And where they cannot altogether prevent the people from having it, they prevent them as much as possible, and clog it with many incumbrances, and will not let it speak without their commentary, and tell men that they must yield up their judgment and their consciences to them. May the Lord speedily deliver every part of the Church from such impositions!
But it is an awful thing, if professed teachers, of any denomination, take away the key of knowledge, and darken or pervert the truth. May they be all "scribes" thoroughly "instructed unto the kingdom of heaven," and instrumental in introducing many others into that kingdom!
We should also notice here the great guilt they incur who exert themselves to injure others in their spiritual state. It is surely bad enough that they will not enter in themselves. Why should they seek to hinder others? The Lord enable us all to beware of such atrocious conduct! May we be all introduced into a state of grace ourselves, and anxious to carry as many along with us as possible!
The chapter concludes thus: "And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things, laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him." Being greatly provoked by his sharp and just reproofs, they set on him, while yet in the Pharisee's house, with many captious and ensnaring questions, hoping to obtain a handle against him. This was their frequent attempt, of which we have a remarkable instance in Matt. xxii. 15: "Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk; and they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians,” for that malicious purpose; but he answered them so wisely, that they marvelled and went away. In these attempts were
fulfilled in him, as the antitype, the words of the Psalmist:* "Every day they wrest my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul."
Having endeavoured to carry the practical improvement along with us, it only remains to apply to ourselves these two last verses in the way of caution and of instruction.
In the way of caution-let us beware of imitating the scribes and Pharisees in endeavouring to ensnare those with whom we may come into collision on the subject of religion, or those who are the teachers of it. Isaiah speaks with much disapprobation of those that "make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate." Let us not condemn a man for a word misplaced, or misunderstood, which he is willing to retract. And, if we find it necessary to dispute with a person, let us not be captious, but let us reason fairly.
In the way of instruction—we are here taught that when we are called on to speak faithfully in defence of the truth, we must expect opposition, and that not of the most honourable kind. We must expect that ungenerous adversaries will try to provoke us to say, or do, something, from which they may take an unfair advantage of us; and it may happen that they seek to establish their own credit by ruining ours. It is very difficult to conduct such controversies with propriety: but if called to them (and many of us will be so in our common intercourse and conversation), such rules as these will be useful: Let us study to be well acquainted with the subject on which we are speaking, and to go no farther than we clearly see our way, and the Word of God warrants. Let us be discreet and cautious in our language. Let us preserve good temper and patience, lest we speak unadvisedly with our lips, and thus injure the cause which we sincerely mean to promote. Let us endeavour in meekness to instruct those who oppose themselves. Let us follow the beautiful example of the Lord Jesus Christ, considering him who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him who judgeth righteously. And let us earnestly implore the assistance of God, in prayer, beseeching him to set a watch before our mouth, to keep the door of our lips, and to give us a mouth and wisdom which "all our adversaries shall not be able to gainsay, nor resist."
Ps. lvi. 5, 6.
LUKE XII. 1-9.
"In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. 3. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops. 4. And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him. 6. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? 7. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. 8. Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God; 9. But he that denieth me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God."
In the latter part of the preceding chapter, we had an account of our Lord's dining in the house of a certain Pharisee, and of the rebukes he there faithfully administered to the Pharisees and scribes. 66 In the mean time," continues Luke, in the beginning of this 12th chapter, that is, while Christ was in the house, and engaged in this manner, "there were gathered together an innumerable multitude," literally myriads "of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another," in their desire to get near enough to see and to hear him. We read, in the 29th verse of the foregoing chapter, that "the people were gathered thick together;" and that was in the early part of the day, as appears from the tenor of the history. Now, however, the crowd had greatly increased in the neighbourhood of the house in which Jesus was. It is a pleasant thing to see people flocking in crowds to hear the words of Christ in the public ordinances. To this there is a reference in the prophetic passages. “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be:" and, "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves
to their windows?" But we know that only a small proportion of the crowds who came to hear Christ, received any saving benefit; and there is reason to fear that this is still too much the case. It is so far well that a multitude assembles to hear the gospel; but let us not thence conclude that the great object of the Christian ministry is gained; let us consider "faith unto salvation" as the ultimate object; and let every one who has joined the multitude think thus with himself: "I am present with the rest, but am I a true worshipper? I have come to hear, but am I receiving with meekness the ingrafted word which is able to save my soul?"
Though it is not expressly stated, we must, from the circumstances of the case, suppose that our Lord now left the house of the Pharisee, and went into the open air, that he might be heard by the crowd who were anxiously waiting for him. He began, however, with addressing himself more immediately to his own disciples, which may mean either the twelve only, or all those who were in the habit of waiting on his teaching to learn the way of life: but though he addressed what he said to them, it was also in the hearing, and for the benefit, of the multitude. On this we may remark, that it is proper to address sometimes one part of our audience, and sometimes another, and to distinguish the different classes; and yet that what is said to any one part, if rightly applied, will be instructive to all. What is said to believers may prove useful to unbelievers; and on the contrary, what is said to unbelievers may prove useful to believers. "He began to say unto his disciples first of all," as it is pointed in our copies, which signifies both that he began with his disciples, and that this was the first thing he said to them. Or if, as some think, the comma should come immediately after the word disciples, then the next clause will read: "First of all beware," that is, chiefly, and above all things, beware:-" Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." That our Lord employed the word “leaven to signify doctrine, is plain from Matt. xvi. 6, where he said to his disciples, to the same purpose as here: "Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the Sadducees," and made them understand "how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees, and of the Sadducees." The comparison is an apt one; for, as a piece of leaven, or soured dough, when mixed with a greater quantity of dough, sours, and