Warning #4 to the Church
Written by: Ryle, J.C. Posted on: 04/09/2003
For more than a century, J. C. Ryle was the leader of the evangelical
party in the Church of England. His policy was to encourage the
conservative men to remain in the church rather than to abandon ship and
leave the liberals to pursue their program unhindered.
J. C. Ryle is best known for his plain and lively writings on practical
and spiritual themes. His great aim in all his ministry, was to
encourage strong and serious Christian living. But Ryle was not naive in
his understanding of how this should be done. He recognized that, as a
pastor of the flock of God, he had a responsibility to guard Christ's
sheep and to warn them whenever he saw approaching dangers. His
penetrating comments are as wise and relevant today as they were when he
first wrote them. His sermons and other writings have been consistently
recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to the present
day, even in the outdated English of the author's own day.
Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and
proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing?
The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the
language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came
from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be
lost to present and future generations, simply because, to them, the
language is neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the
vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to
read and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only
obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not
totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Ryle's
meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Warning #4 to the Church
Pharisees and Sadducees
J. C. Ryle
"Be careful," Jesus said to them.
"Be on your guard against the yeast
of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
Every word spoken by the Lord Jesus is full of deep instruction for
Christians. It is the voice of the Chief Shepherd. It is the Great Head
of the Church speaking to all its members--King of kings speaking to His
subjects--the Master of the house speaking to His servants--the Captain
of our salvation speaking to His soldiers. Above all, it is the voice of
Him who said, "I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent
me commanded me what to say and how to say it" (John 12:49.) The heart
of every believer in the Lord Jesus ought to burn within him when he
hears his Master's words: he ought to say, "Listen! My lover!" (Song of
And every word spoken by the Lord Jesus is of the greatest value.
Precious as gold are all His words of doctrine and teaching; precious are
all His parables and prophecies; precious are all His words of comfort
and of consolation; precious, the not least of which, are all His words
of caution and of warning. We are not merely to hear Him when He says,
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened;" we are to also hear Him
when He says, "Be careful and be on your guard."
I am going to direct attention to one of the most solemn and emphatic
warnings which the Lord Jesus ever delivered: "Be on your guard against
the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." On this text I wish to erect
a beacon for all who desire to be saved, and to preserve some souls, if
possible, from making their lives a shipwreck. The times call loudly for
such beacons: the spiritual shipwrecks of the last twenty-five years have
been deplorably numerous. The watchmen of the Church ought to speak out
plainly now, or forever hold their peace.
I. First of all, I ask my readers to observe "who they were to whom the
warning of the text was addressed."
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not speaking to men who were worldly, ungodly,
and unsanctified, but to His own disciples, companions, and friends. He
addressed men who, with the exception of the apostate Judas Iscariot,
were right-hearted in the sight of God. He spoke to the twelve Apostles,
the first founders of the Church of Christ, and the first ministers of
the Word of salvation. And yet even to them He addressed the solemn
caution of our text: "Be careful and be on your guard."
There is something very remarkable in this fact. We might have thought
that these Apostles needed little warning of this kind. Had they not
given up all for Christ's sake? They had. Had they not endured hardship
for Christ's sake? They had. Had they not believed Jesus, followed
Jesus, loved Jesus, when almost all the world was unbelieving? All these
things are true; and yet to them the caution was addressed: "Be careful
and be on your guard." We might have imagined that at any rate the
disciples had little to fear from the "yeast of the Pharisees and of the
Sadducees." They were poor and unlearned men, most of them fishermen or
tax collectors; they had no desire to follow the teachings of the
Pharisees and the Sadducees; they were more likely to be prejudiced
against them than to feel any drawing towards them. All this is
perfectly true; yet even to them there comes the solemn warning: "Be
careful and be on your guard."
There is useful counsel here for all who profess to love the Lord Jesus
Christ in sincerity. It tells us loudly that the most eminent servants
of Christ are not beyond the need of warnings, and ought to be always on
their guard. It shows us plainly that the holiest of believers ought to
walk humbly with his God, and to watch and pray so that he won't fall
into temptation, and be overtaken with sin. None is so holy, that he
can't fall--not ultimately, not hopelessly, but to his own discomfort, to
the scandal of the Church, and to the triumph of the world: none is so
strong that he cannot for a time be overcome. Chosen as believers are by
God the Father, justified as they are by the blood and righteousness of
Jesus Christ, sanctified as they are by the Holy Spirit--believers are
still only men: they are still in the body, and still in the world. They
are ever near temptation: they are ever liable to misjudge, both in
doctrine and in practice. Their hearts, though renewed, are very feeble;
their understanding, though enlightened, is still very dim. They ought
to live like those who dwell in an enemy's land, and every day to put on
the armor of God. The devil is very busy: he never slumbers or sleeps.
Let us remember the falls of Noah, and Abraham, and Lot, and Moses, and
David, and Peter; and remembering them, be humble, and be careful so that
we don't fall.
I may be allowed to say that none need warnings so much as the ministers
of Christ's Gospel. Our office and our ordination are no security
against errors and mistakes. It is true, that the greatest heresies have
crept into the Church of Christ by means of ordained men. Ordination
does not confers any immunity from error and false doctrine. Our very
familiarity with the Gospel often creates in us a hardened state of mind.
We are apt to read the Scriptures, and preach the Word, and conduct
public worship, and carry on the service of God, in a dry, hard, formal,
callous spirit. Our very familiarity with sacred things, unless we watch
our hearts, is likely to lead us astray. "Nowhere," says an old writer,
"is a man's soul in more danger than in a minister's study." The history
of the Church of Christ contains many dismal proofs that the most
distinguished ministers may for a time fall away. Who has not heard of
Cranmer recanting and going back from those opinions he had defended so
stoutly, though, by God's mercy, raised again to witness a glorious
confession at last? Who has not heard of Jewell signing documents that
he most thoroughly disapproved, and of which signature he afterwards
bitterly repented? Who does not know that many others might be named,
who at one time or another, have been overtaken by faults, have fallen
into errors, and been led astray? And who does not know the mournful
fact that many of them never came back to the truth, but died in hardness
of heart, and held their errors to the end?
These things ought to make us humble and cautious. They tell us to
distrust our own hearts and to pray to be kept from falling. In these
days, when we are especially called upon to cleave firmly to the
doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, let us be careful that our zeal
for Protestantism does not puff us up, and make us proud. Let us never
say in our self-conceit, "I shall never fall into the errors Roman
Catholicism or any New Theology: those views will never suit me." Let us
remember that many have begun well and run well for a season, and yet
afterwards turned aside out of the right way. Let us be careful that we
are spiritual men as well as Protestants, and real friends of Christ as
well as enemies of antichrist. Let us pray that we may be kept from
error, and never forget that the twelve Apostles themselves were the men
to whom the Great Head of the Church addressed these words: "Be careful
and be on your guard."
II. I propose, in the second place, to explain "what were those dangers
against which our Lord warned the Apostles." "Be careful," He says, "Be
on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
The danger of which He warns them is false doctrine. He says nothing
about the sword of persecution, or the love of money, or the love of
pleasure. All these things no doubt were perils and snares to which the
souls of the Apostles were exposed; but against these things our Lord
raises no warning voice here. His warning is confined to one single
point: "The yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." We are not
left to conjecture what our Lord meant by that word "yeast." The Holy
Spirit, a few verses after the very text on which I am now dwelling,
tells us plainly that by yeast was meant the "doctrine" of the Pharisees
and of the Sadducees.
Let us try to understand what we mean when we speak of the "doctrine of
the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
(a) The doctrine of the Pharisees may be summed up in three words: they
were formalists, tradition-worshippers, and self-righteous. They
attached such weight to the traditions of men that they practically
regarded them of more importance than the inspired writings of the Old
Testament. They valued themselves on excessive strictness in their
attention to all the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law. They
thought much of being descended from Abraham, and said in their hearts,
"We have Abraham for our father." They fancied themselves because they
had Abraham for their father that they were not in danger of hell like
other men, and that their descent from him was a kind of title to heaven.
They attached great value to washings and ceremonial purifyings of the
body, and believed that the very touching of the dead body of a fly or
gnat would defile them. They made a great deal about the outward parts
of religion, and such things that could be seen by men. They made broad
their phylacteries, and enlarged the fringes of their garments. They
prided themselves on paying great honor to dead saints, and garnishing
the graves of the righteous. They were very zealous to make converts.
They prided themselves in having power, rank, and preeminence, and of
being called by men, "Teacher, Teacher." These things, and many things
like these, the Pharisees did. Every well-informed Christian can find
these things in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (See Matthew 15 and 23;
Remember, all this time, they did not formally deny any part of the Old
Testament Scripture. But they brought in, over and above it, so much of
human invention, that they virtually put Scripture aside, and buried it
under their own traditions. This is the sort of religion, of which our
Lord says to the Apostles, "Be careful and be on your guard."
(b) The doctrine of the Sadducees, on the other hand, may be summed up in
three words: free-thinking, skepticism, and rationalism. Their creed was
far less popular than that of the Pharisees, and, therefore, we find them
mentioned less often in the New Testament Scriptures. So far as we can
judge from the New Testament, they appear to have held the doctrine of
degrees of inspiration; at all times they attached greater value to the
Pentateuch [first five Books of the Old Testament] above all the other
parts of the Old Testament, if indeed they did not altogether ignore the
They believed that there was no resurrection, no angels, and no spirits,
and tried to laugh men out ot their belief in these things, by bringing
forward difficult questions. We have an instance of their mode of
argument in the case which they propounded to our Lord of the woman who
had had seven husbands, when they asked, "At the resurrection, whose wife
will she be of the seven?" And in this way they probably hoped, by
rendering religion absurd, and its chief doctrines ridiculous, to make
men altogether give up the faith they had received from the Scriptures.
Remember, all this time, we cannot say that the Sadducees were downright
infidels: this they were not. We may not say they denied revelation
altogether: this they did not do. They observed the law of Moses. Many
of them were found among the priests in the times described in the Acts
of the Apostles. Caiaphas who condemned our Lord was a Sadducee. But
the practical effect of their teaching was to shake men's faith in any
revelation, and to throw a cloud of doubt over men's minds, which was
only one degree better than infidelity. And of all such kind of
doctrine: free thinking, skepticism, rationalism, our Lord says, "Be
careful and be on your guard."
Now the question arises, Why did our Lord Jesus Christ deliver this
warning? He knew, no doubt, that within forty years the schools of the
Pharisees and the Sadducees would be completely overthrown. He that knew
all things from the beginning, knew perfectly well that in forty years
Jerusalem, with its magnificent temple, would be destroyed, and the Jews
scattered over the face of the earth. Why then do we find Him giving
this warning about "the yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees")
I believe that our Lord delivered this solemn warning for the perpetual
benefit of that Church which He came to earth to establish. He spoke
with a prophetic knowledge. He knew well the diseases to which human
nature is always liable. He foresaw that the two great plagues of His
Church on earth would always be the doctrine of the Pharisees and the
doctrine of the Sadducees. He knew that these would like two large
rocks, between which His truth would be perpetually crushed and bruised
until He came the second time. He knew that there always would be
Pharisees in spirit, and Sadducees in spirit, among professing
Christians. He knew that their succession would never fail, and their
generation never become extinct, and that though the names of Pharisees
and Sadducees were no more, yet their principles would always exist. He
knew that during the time that the Church existed, until His return,
there would always be some that would add to the Word, and some that
would subtract from it, some that would tone it down, by adding to it
other things, and some that would bleed it to death, by subtracting from
its principal truths. And this is the reason why we find Him delivering
this solemn warning: "Be careful and be on your guard against the yeast
of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
And now comes the question, Did not our Lord Jesus Christ have good
reason to give this warning? I appeal to all who know anything of Church
history--was there indeed not a cause? I appeal to all who remember what
took place soon after the apostles were dead. Do we not read that in the
primitive Church of Christ, there rose up two distinct parties; one ever
inclined to err, like the Arians, in holding less than the truth, the
other ever inclined to err, like the relic worshipers and saint
worshipers [of the Roman Catholic Church], in holding more than the truth
as it is in Jesus? Do we not see the same thing coming out in later
times, in the form of Roman Catholicism? These are ancient things. In a
short paper like this it is impossible for me to enter more fully into
them. They are things well known to all who are familiar with records of
past days. There always have been these two great parties, the party
representing the principles of the Pharisee, and the party representing
the principles of the Sadducee. Therefore our Lord had good cause to say
of these two great principles, "Be careful and be on your guard."
But, I desire to bring the subject even nearer at the present moment. I
ask my readers to consider whether warnings like this are not especially
needed in our own times. We have, undoubtedly, much to be thankful for
in England. We have made great advances in arts and sciences in the last
three centuries, and have much of the form and show of morality and
religion. But, I ask anybody who can see beyond his own door, or his own
living room, whether we do not live in the midst of dangers from false
We have among us, on the one side, a group of men who, wittingly or
unwittingly, are paving the way to the Church of Rome [Catholicism]--a
school that professes to draw its principles from primitive tradition,
the writings of the Fathers, and the voice of the Church--a teaching that
talks and writes so much about the Church, the ministry, and the
Sacraments, that it makes them like Aaron's rod which swallows up
everything else in Christianity, a teaching that attaches vast
importance to the outward form and ceremony of religion, to gestures,
postures, bowings, crosses, holy water, seats of honor for the clergy,
altar cloths, incense, statues, banners, processions, floral decorations,
and many other like things, about which not a word is to be found in the
Holy Scriptures as having any place in Christian worship. I refer, of
course, to the school of Churchmen called Ritualists. When we examine
the proceedings of that school, there can be but one conclusion
concerning them. I believe whatever be the meaning and intention of its
teachers, however devoted, zealous, and self-denying, many of them are,
those whom has fallen the cloak of the Pharisees.
We have, on the other hand, a school of men who, wittingly or
unwittingly, appear to pave the way to Socinianism, a school which holds
strange views about the absolute inspiration of Holy Scripture, and
stranger views about the doctrine of sacrifice, and the Atonement of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, strange views about the eternity of
punishment, and God's love to man, a school strong in negatives, but very
weak in positives, skillful in raising doubts, but impotent in removing
them, clever in unsettling and unscrewing men's faith, but powerless to
offer any firm rest for man. And, whether the leaders of this school
mean it or not, I believe that on them has fallen the cloak of the
These things sound harsh. It saves a vast deal of trouble to shut our
eyes, and say, "I see no danger," and because it is not seen, therefore
not to believe it. It is easy to cover our ears and say, "I hear
nothing," and because we hear nothing, therefore to feel no alarm. But
we know well who they are that rejoice over the state of things we have
to deplore in some quarters of our own Church. We know what the Roman
Catholic thinks: we know what the Socinian thinks. The Roman Catholic
rejoices over the rise of the Catholicism: the Socinian rejoices over the
rise of men who teach such views as those set forth in modern days about
the atonement and inspiration. They would not rejoice as they do if they
did not see their work being done, and their cause being helped forward.
The danger, I believe, is far greater than we are apt to suppose. The
books that are read in many quarters are most mischievous, and the tone
of thought on religious subjects, among many classes, and especially
among the higher ranks, is deeply unsatisfactory. The plague is abroad.
If we love life, we ought to search our own hearts, and try our own
faith, and make sure that we stand on the right foundation. Above all,
we ought to take heed that we ourselves do not drink the poison of false
doctrine, and go back from our first love.
I feel deeply the painfulness of speaking out on these subjects. I know
well that speaking plain about false doctrine is very unpopular, and that
the speaker must be content to find himself being thought of as very
uncharitable, very troublesome, and very narrow-minded. Thousands of
people can never distinguish differences in religion. To the bulk of men
a clergyman is a clergyman, and a sermon is a sermon, and as to any
difference between one minister and another, or one doctrine and another,
they are utterly unable to understand it. I cannot expect such people to
approve of any warning against false doctrine. I must make up my mind to
meet with their disapproval, and must bear it as I best can.
But I will ask any honest-minded, unprejudiced Bible reader to turn to
the New Testament and see what he will find there. He will find many
plain warnings against false doctrine:
"Watch out for false prophets" (Matthew 7:15).
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive
philosophy" (Colossians 2:8).
"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings" (Hebrews
"Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they
are from God" (1 John 4:1).
He will find a large part of several inspired epistles taken up with
elaborate explanations of true doctrine and warnings against false
teaching. I ask whether it is possible for a minister who takes the
Bible for his rule of faith to avoid giving warnings against doctrinal
Finally, I ask any one to mark what is going on in England at this very
day. I ask whether it is not true that hundreds have left the
Established Church and joined the Church of Rome [Roman Catholic Church]
within the last thirty years? I ask whether it is not true that hundreds
remain within our boundaries, who in heart are little better than
Romanists? I ask again whether it is not true that scores of young men,
both at Oxford and Cambridge, are spoiled and ruined by the withering
influence of skepticism, and have lost all positive principles in
religion? Sneers at religious newspapers, loud declarations of dislike
to "denominations," high-sounding, vague phrases about "deep thinking,
broad views, new light, free handling of Scripture, and the barren
weakness of certain schools of theology," make up the whole Christianity
of many of the rising generation. And yet, in the face of these
notorious facts, men cry out, "Hold your peace about false doctrine. Let
false doctrine alone!" I cannot hold my peace. Faith in the Word of God,
love to the souls of men, the vows I took when I was ordained, alike
constrain me to bear witness against the errors of the day. And I
believe that the saying of our Lord is eminently a truth for the times:
"Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and of the
III. The third thing to which I wish to call attention is "the peculiar
name by which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of the doctrines of the
Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
The words which our Lord used were always the wisest and the best that
could be used. He might have said, "Be careful and be on your guard
against the doctrine, or of the teaching, or of the opinions of the
Pharisees and of the Sadducees." But He does not say so: He uses a word
of a peculiar nature--He says, "Be careful and be on your guard against
the 'yeasts' of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
Now we all know what is the true meaning of the word "yeast." The yeast
is added to the lump of dough in making a loaf of bread. This yeast
bears but a small proportion to the lump into which it is mixed; just so,
our Lord would have us know, the first beginning of false doctrine is but
small compared to the body of Christianity. It works quietly and
silently; just so, our Lord would have us know, false doctrine works
secretly in the heart in which it is once planted. It insensibly changes
the character of the whole mass with which it is mingled; just so, our
Lord would have us know, the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees
turn everything upside down, when once admitted into a Church or into a
man's heart. Let us mark these points: they throw light on many things
that we see in the present day. It is of vast importance to receive the
lessons of wisdom that this word "yeast" contains in itself.
False doctrine does not meet men face to face, and proclaim that it is
false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavor openly to turn
us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before men in
broad day, and summon them to surrender. It approaches us secretly,
quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm man's
suspicion, and throw him off his guard. It is the wolf in sheep's
clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light, who have always
proved the most dangerous foes of the Church of Christ.
I believe the most powerful champion of the Pharisees is not the man who
bids you openly and honestly come out and join the Church of Rome: it is
the man who says that he agrees on all points with you in "doctrine." He
would not take anything away from those evangelical views that you hold;
would not have you make any changes at all; all he asks you to do is to
"add" a little more to your belief, in order to make your Christianity
perfect. "Believe me," he says,
We do not want you to give up anything. We only want you to
hold a few more clear views about the Church and the
sacraments. We want you to add to your present opinions a
little more about the office of the ministry, and a little
more about episcopal authority, and a little more about the
Prayer-book, and a little more about the necessity of order
and of discipline. We only want you to add "a little more"
of these things to your system of religion, and you will be
But when men speak to you in this way, then is the time to remember what
our Lord said, and to "Be careful and be on your guard." This is the,
yeast of the Pharisees, against which we are to stand upon our guard.
Why do I say this? I say it because there is no security against the
doctrine of the Pharisees, unless we resist its principles in their
1. Beginning with a "little more about the Church"--You may one day place
the Church in the place of Christ.
2. Beginning with a "little more about the ministry"--You may one day
regard the minister as "the mediator between God and man."
3. Beginning with a "little more about the sacraments"--You may one day
altogether give up the doctrine of justification by faith without the
deeds of the law.
4. Beginning with a "little more reverence for the Prayer-book"--You may
one day place it above the Holy Word of God Himself.
5. Beginning with a "little more honor to Bishops"--You may at last
refuse salvation to every one who does not belong to an Episcopal Church.
I only tell an old story: I only mark out roads that have been trodden by
hundreds of members of the Church of England in the last few years. They
began by faultfinding at the Reformers, and have ended by swallowing the
decrees of the Council of Trent [Roman Catholic Doctrinal Council]. They
began by crying about the way things were, and have ended by formally
joining the Church of Rome. I believe that when we hear men asking us to
"add a little more" to our good old plain Evangelical views, we should
stand upon our guard. We should remember our Lord's caution: "Be on your
guard against the yeast of the Pharisees."
I consider the most dangerous champion of the Sadducee school is not the
man who tells you openly that he wants you to lay aside any part of the
truth, and to become a free-thinker and a skeptic. It is the man who
begins with quietly insinuating doubts as to the position that we ought
to take up about religion, doubts whether we ought to be so positive in
saying "this is truth, and that falsehood," doubts whether we ought to
think men wrong who differ from us on religious opinions, since they may
after all be as much right as we are.
It is the man who tells us we ought not to condemn anybody's views, lest
we err on the side of the lack of love. It is the man who always begins
talking in a vague way about God being a God of love, and hints that we
ought to believe perhaps that all men, whatever doctrine they profess,
will be saved. It is the man who is ever reminding us that we ought to
take care how we think lightly of men of powerful minds, and great
intellects (though they are deists and skeptics), who do not think as we
do, and that, after all, "great minds are all more or less, taught of
It is the man who is ever harping on the difficulties of inspiration, and
raising questions whether all men may not be found saved in the end, and
whether all may not be right in the sight of God. It is the man who
crowns this kind of talk by a few calm sneers against what he is pleased
to call "old-fashioned views," and "narrow-minded theology," and
"bigotry," and the "lack of liberality and love," in the present day.
But when men begin to speak to us in this kind of way, then is the time
to stand upon our guard. Then is the time to remember the words of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and "Be careful and be on your guard against the
Once more, why do I say this? I say it because there is no security
against Sadduceeism, any more than against Phariseeism, unless we resist
its principles in the bud. Beginning with a little vague talk about
"love," you may end in the doctrine of universal salvation, fill heaven
with a mixed multitude of wicked as well as good, and deny the existence
of hell. Beginning with a few high-sounding phrases about intellect and
the inner light in man, you may end with denying the work of the Holy
Spirit, and maintaining that Homer and Shakespeare were as truly inspired
as Paul, and thus practically casting aside the Bible. Beginning with
some dreamy, misty idea about "all religions containing more or less
truth," you may end with utterly denying the necessity of missions, and
maintaining that the best plan is to leave everybody alone.
Beginning with dislike to "Evangelical religion," as old-fashioned,
narrow, and exclusive, you may end by rejecting every leading doctrine of
Christianity--the atonement, the need of grace, and the divinity of
Christ. Again I repeat that I only tell an old story: I only give a
sketch of a path which scores have trodden in the last few years. They
were once satisfied with such divinity as that of Newton, Scott, Cecil,
and Romaine; they are now fancying they have found a more excellent way
in the principles which have been propounded by theologians of the Broad
school! I believe there is no safety for a man's soul unless he
remembers the lesson involved in those solemn words, "Be on your guard
against the yeast of the Sadducees."
Let us be on our guard against the "insidiousness" of false doctrine.
Like the fruit of which Eve and Adam ate, at first sight it looks
pleasant and good, and a thing to be desired. Poison is not written upon
it, and so people are not afraid. Like counterfeit coin, it is not
stamped "bad:" it passes for the real thing because of the very likeness
it bears to the truth.
Let us be on our guard against the "very small beginnings" of false
doctrine. Every heresy began at one time with some little departure from
the truth. There is only a little seed of error needed to create a great
tree. It is the little stones that make up the mighty building. It was
the little timbers that made the great ark that carried Noah and his
family over a deluged world. It is the little leaven that leavens the
whole lump. It is the little flaw in one link of the chain cable that
wrecks the gallant ship, and drowns the crew. It is the omission or
addition of one little item in the doctor's prescription that spoils the
whole medicine, and turns it into poison. We do not tolerate quietly a
little dishonesty, or a little cheating, or a little lying: just so, let
us never allow a little false doctrine to ruin us, by thinking it is but
a "little one," and can do no harm. The Galatians seemed to be doing
nothing very dangerous when they "were observing special days and months
and seasons and years;" yet Paul says, "I fear for you" (Galatians 4:10,
Finally, let us be on our guard against supposing that "we at any rate
are not in danger." "Our views are sound: our feet stand firm: others
may fall away, but we are safe!" Hundreds have thought the same, and
have come to a bad end. In their self-confidence they tampered with
little temptations and little forms of false doctrine; in their self-
conceit they went near the brink of danger; and now they seem lost
forever. They appear given over to a strong delusion, so as to believe a
lie. Some of them are praying to the Virgin Mary, and bowing down to
images. Others of them are casting overboard one doctrine after another,
and are stripping themselves of every sort of religion but a few scraps
of Deism. Very striking is the vision in Pilgrim's Progress, which
describes the hill Error as "very steep on the farthest side;" and "when
Christian and Hopeful looked down they saw at the bottom several men
dashed all to pieces by a fall they had from the top." Never, never let
us forget the caution to beware of "yeast;" and if we think we stand, let
us "be careful that we don't fall!"
IV. I propose in the fourth and last place, to suggest "some safeguards
and treatment against the dangers of the present day--the yeast of the
Pharisees and the yeast of the Sadducees."
I feel that we all need more and more the presence of the Holy Spirit in
our hearts, to guide, to teach, and to keep us sound in the faith. We
all need to watch more, and to pray to be held up, and preserved from
falling away. But still, there are certain great truths, which, in a day
like this, we are specially bound to keep in mind. There are times when
some common epidemic invades a land, when medicines, at all times
valuable, become of special value. There are places where a uncommon
malaria prevails, in which remedies, in every place valuable, are more
than ever valuable in consequence of it. So I believe there are times
and seasons in the Church of Christ when we are bound to tighten our hold
upon certain great leading truths, to grasp them with more than ordinary
firmness in our hands, to press them to our hearts, and not to let them
go. Such doctrines I desire to set forth in order, as the great
prescription against the yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
When Saul and Jonathan were slain by the archers, David ordered the
children of Israel to be taught the use of the bow.
(a) For one thing, if we would be kept sound in the faith, we must take
heed to our doctrine about the "total corruption of human nature." The
corruption of human nature is no slight thing. It is no partial,
skin-deep disease, but a radical and universal corruption of man's will,
intellect, affections, and conscience. We are not merely poor and
pitiable sinners in God's sight: we are guilty sinners; we are
blameworthy sinners: we deserve justly God's wrath and God's
condemnation. I believe there are very few errors and false doctrines of
which the beginning may not be traced up to unsound views about the
corruption of human nature. Wrong views of a disease will always bring
with them wrong views of the remedy. Wrong views of the corruption of
human nature will always carry with them wrong views of the grand
treatment and cure of that corruption.
(b) For another thing, we must take heed to our doctrine about "the
inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures." Let us boldly
maintain, in the face of all the opposers, that the whole of the Bible is
given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that all is inspired completely,
not one part more than another, and that there is an entire gulf between
the Word of God and any other book in the world. We need not be afraid
of difficulties in the way of the doctrine of absolute inspiration.
There may be many things about it far too high for us to comprehend: it
is a miracle, and all miracles are necessarily mysterious. But if we are
not to believe anything until we can entirely explain it, there are very
few things indeed that we shall believe. We need not be afraid of all
the assaults that criticism brings to bear upon the Bible. From the days
of the apostles the Word of the Lord has been incessantly "tried," and
has never failed to come forth as gold, uninjured, and spotless.
We need not be afraid of the discoveries of science. Astronomers may
sweep the heavens with telescopes, and geologists may dig down into the
heart of the earth, and never shake the authority of the Bible: "The
voice of God, and the work of God's hands never will be found to con
tradict one another." We need not be afraid of the researches of
travelers. They will never discover anything that contradicts God's
Bible. I believe that if a man were to go over all the earth and dig up
a hundred buried Ninevehs, there would not be found a single inscription
which would contradict a single fact in the Word of God.
Furthermore, we must boldly maintain that this Word of God is the only
rule of faith and of practice, that whatsoever is not written in it
cannot be required of any man as needful of salvation, and that however
plausibly new doctrines may be defended, if they are not in the Word of
God they cannot be worth our attention. It matters nothing who says a
thing, whether he be bishop, archdeacon, dean, or presbyter. It matters
nothing that the thing is well said, eloquently, attractively, forcibly,
and in such a way as to turn the laugh against you. We are not to
believe it except it be proved to us by Holy Scripture.
Last, but not least, we must use the Bible as if we believed it was given
by inspiration. We must use it with reverence, and read it with all the
tenderness with which we would read the words of an absent father. We
must not expect to find in a book inspired by the Spirit of God no
mysteries. We must rather remember that in nature there are many things
we cannot understand; and that as it is in the book of nature, so it will
always be in the book of Revelation. We should draw near to the Word of
God in that spirit of piety recommended by Lord Bacon many years ago.
"Remember," he says, speaking of the book of nature, "that man is not the
master of that book, but the interpreter of that book." And as we deal
with the book of nature, so we must deal with the Book of God. We must
draw near to it, not to teach, but to learn, not like the master of it
but like a humble scholar, seeking to understand it.
(c) For another thing, we must take heed to our doctrine respecting "the
atonement and priestly office of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." We
must boldly maintain that the death of our Lord on the cross was no
common death. It was not the death of one who only died like Cranmer,
Ridley, and Latimer, as a martyr. It was not the death of one who only
died to give us a mighty example of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The
death of Christ was an offering up to God of Christ's own body and blood,
to make satisfaction for man's sin and transgression. It was a sacrifice
and appeasement; a sacrifice typified in every offering of the Mosaic
law, a sacrifice of the mightiest influence on all mankind. Without the
shedding of that blood there could not be, there never was to be, any
remission of sin.
Furthermore, we must boldly maintain that this crucified Savior evermore
sits at the right hand of God, to make intercession for all that come to
God by Him; that He there represents and pleads for them that put their
trust in Him; and that He has delegated His office of Priest and Mediator
to no man, or set of men on the face of the earth. We need none besides.
We need no Virgin Mary, no angels, no saint, no priest, no person
ordained or unordained, to stand between us and God, but the one
Mediator, Christ Jesus.
Furthermore, we must boldly maintain that peace of conscience is not to
be bought by confession to a priest, and by receiving a man's absolution
from sin. It is to be had only by going to the great High Priest, Christ
Jesus; by confession before Him, not before man; and by absolution from
Him only, who alone can say, "Your sins are forgiven: go in peace."
Last, but not least, we must boldly maintain that peace with God, once
obtained by faith in Christ, is to be kept up, not by mere outward
ceremonial acts of worship, not by receiving the sacrament of the Lord's
Supper every day, but by the daily habit of looking to the Lord Jesus
Christ by faith, eating by faith His body, and drinking by faith His
blood; that eating and drinking of which our Lord says that he who eats
and drinks shall find His "body to be meat, and His blood to be drink
indeed." Godly John Owen declared, long ago, that if there was any one
point more than another that Satan wished to overthrow, it was the
Priestly office of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Satan knew well,
he said, that it was the "principal foundation of faith and consolation
of the Church." Right views about that office are of essential
importance in the present day, if men would not fall into error.
(d) One more remedy I must mention. We must take heed to our doctrine
about "the work of God the Holy Spirit." Let us settle it in our minds
that His work is no uncertain invisible operation on the heart: and that
where He is, He is not hidden, not unfelt, not unobserved. We do not
believe that the dew, when it falls, cannot be felt, or that where there
is life in a man it cannot be seen and observed by his breath. So is it
with the influence of the Holy Spirit. No man has any right to lay claim
to it, except its fruits, its experimental effects, can be seen in his
life. Where He is, there will ever be a new creation, and a new man.
Where He is, there will ever be new knowledge, new faith, new holiness,
new fruits in the life, in the family, in the world, in the Church. And
where these new things are not to be seen we may well say, with
confidence, there is no work of the Holy Spirit. These are times in
which we all need to be on our guard about the doctrine of the work of
the Spirit. Madame Guyon said, long ago, that the time would perhaps
come when men might have to be martyrs for the work of the Holy Spirit.
That time seems not far distant. At any rate, if there is one truth in
religion that seems to have more contempt showered upon it than another,
it is the work of the Spirit.
I desire to impress the immense importance of these four points upon all
who read this paper:
(a) clear views of the sinfulness of human nature.
(b) clear views of the inspiration of Scripture.
(c) clear views of the Atonement and Priestly office of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ.
(d) clear views of the work of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that strange doctrines about the Church, the ministry, and the
Sacraments, about the love of God, the death of Christ, and the eternity
of punishment, will find no foothold in the heart which is sound on these
four points. I believe that they are four great safeguards against the
yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
I will now conclude this paper with a few remarks by way of practical
application. My desire is to make the whole subject useful to those into
whose hands these pages may fall, and to supply an answer to the
questions which may possibly arise in some hearts. What are we to do?
What advice have you got to offer for these times?
(1) In the first place, I will ask every reader of this paper to find out
whether he has "saving personal religion for his own soul." This is the
principal thing after all. It will profit no man to belong to a sound
visible Church, if he does not himself belong to Christ. It will avail a
man nothing to be intellectually sound in the faith, and to approve sound
doctrine, if he is not himself sound at heart. Is this the case with
you? Can you say that your heart is right in the sight of God? Is it
renewed by the Holy Spirit? Does Christ dwell in it by faith? O, rest
not, rest not, till you can give a satisfactory answer to these
questions! The man who dies unconverted, however sound his views, is as
truly lost forever as the worst Pharisee or Sadducee that ever lived.
(2) In the next place, let me entreat every reader of this paper who
desires to be sound in the faith, to study diligently the Bible. That
blessed book is given to be a light to our feet, and a lantern to our
path. No man who reads it reverently, prayerfully, humbly, and
regularly, shall ever be allowed to miss the way to heaven. By it every
sermon, and every religious book, and every ministry ought to be weighed
Would you know what is truth? Do you feel confused and puzzled by the
war of words which you hear on every side about religion? Do you want to
know what you ought to believe, and what you ought to be and do, in order
to be saved? Take down your Bible, and cease listening to man. Read
your Bible with earnest prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit; read
it with honest determination to abide by its lessons. Do so steadily and
perseveringly, and you shall see light: you shall be kept from the yeast
of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and be guided to eternal life. The way
to do a thing is to do it. Act upon this advice without delay.
(3) In the next place, let me advise every reader of this paper who has
reason to hope that he is sound in faith and heart, to "take heed to the
proportion of truths." I mean by that to impress the importance of
giving each truth of Christianity the same place and position in our
hearts which is given to it in God's Word. The first things must not be
put second, and the second things must not be put first in our religion.
The Church must not be put above Christ. Ministers must not be exalted
above the place assigned to them by Christ; means of grace must not be
regarded as an end instead of a means. Attention to this point is of
great moment: the mistakes which arise from neglecting it are neither few
nor small. Here lies the immense importance of studying the whole Word
of God, omitting nothing, and avoiding partiality in reading one part
more than another. Here again lies the value of having a clear system of
Christianity in our minds.
(4) In the next place, let me entreat every true hearted servant of
Christ "not to be deceived by the superficial disguise" under which false
doctrines often approach our souls in the present day. Beware of
supposing that a teacher of religion is to be trusted, because although
he holds some unsound views, he yet "teaches a great deal of truth." Such
a teacher is precisely the man to do you harm: poison is always most
dangerous when it is given in small doses and mixed with wholesome food.
Beware of being taken in by the apparent earnestness of many of the
teachers and upholders of false doctrine. Remember that zeal and
sincerity and fervor are no proof whatever that a man is working for
Christ, and ought to be believed.
Peter no doubt was in earnest when he told our Lord to spare Himself, and
not go to the cross; yet our Lord said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan."
Saul no doubt was in earnest when he went to and fro persecuting
Christians; yet he did it ignorantly, and his zeal was not according to
knowledge. The founders of the Spanish Inquisition no doubt were in
earnest, and in burning God's saints alive thought they were doing God
service; yet they were actually persecuting Christ's members and walking
in the steps of Cain. It is an awful fact that, "Satan himself
masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). Of all the
delusions prevalent in these latter days, there is none greater than the
common notion that "if a man is in serious about his religion he must be
a good man!" Beware of being carried away by this delusion; beware of
being led astray by "serious-minded men!" Seriousness is in itself an
excellent thing; but it must be seriousness in behalf of Christ and His
whole truth, or else it is worth nothing at all. The things that are
highly esteemed among men are often abominable in the sight of God.
(5) In the next place, let me counsel every true servant of Christ to
"examine his own heart" frequently and carefully as to his state before
God. This is a practice which is useful at all times: it is especially
desirable at the present day. When the great plague of London was at its
height people remarked the least symptoms that appeared on their bodies
in a way that they never remarked them before. A spot here, or a spot
there, which in time of health men thought nothing of, received close
attention when the plague was decimating families, and striking down one
after another! So it ought to be with ourselves, in the times in which
we live. We ought to watch our hearts with double watchfulness. We
ought to give more time to meditation, self-examination, and reflection.
It is a hurrying, bustling age: if we would be kept from falling, we must
make time for being frequently alone with God.
(6) Last of all, let me urge all true believers "to contend for the faith
that was once for all entrusted to the saints." We have no cause to be
ashamed of that faith. I am firmly persuaded that there is no system so
life-giving, so calculated to awaken the sleeping, lead on the inquiring,
and build up the saints, as that system which is called the Evangelical
system of Christianity. Wherever it is faithfully preached, and
efficiently carried out, and consistently adorned by the lives of its
professors, it is the power of God. It may be spoken against and mocked
by some; but so it was in the days of the Apostles. It may be weakly set
forth and defended by many of its advocates; but, after all, its fruits
and its results are its highest praise. No other system of religion can
point to such fruits. Nowhere are so many souls converted to God as in
those congregations where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in all
its fullness, without any mixture of the Pharisee or Sadducee doctrine.
We are not called upon, beyond all doubt, to be nothing but
controversialists; but we never ought to be ashamed to testify to the
truth as it is in Jesus, and to stand up boldly for Evangelical religion.
We have the truth, and we need not be afraid to say so. The judgment-day
will prove who is right, and to that day we may boldly appeal.
Transcribed by Tony Capoccia of
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