Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The tragic essence of Pharisaic piety

Where will you find the best expression of the essence of Pharisaic piety?

It lies in what Jesus says about the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. (Lk. 18:11-12)
It is a prayer that makes the wrong comparison because it looks upon a fellow sinner with a sense of elevation.  It is a prayer that makes the wrong appeal because it imagines a sense of righteousness that comes from being free from certain sinful acts committed by others.  It is a prayer that compounds that wrong appeal by placing confidence in works-righteousness.

But it is still a prayer.

And it discloses the very essence of Pharisaic piety.  It makes it's boast not only by a wrong comparison, not only by a wrong appeal, but in the presence of the Holy and Righteous God.  Its unseemly piety is expressed coram deo.

It is said that Pelagius taught the following prayer:
Thou knowest, O Lord, how holy, how innocent, how pure from all deceit and rapine, are the hands which I stretch forth unto thee; how just, how unspotted with evil, how free from lying, are those lips wherewith I pour forth prayers unto thee, that thou wouldst have mercy on me.
In that prayer you can hear the same cadences of Pharisaic piety that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18.

The atmosphere of true piety is found in the words of the tac collector: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

That same atmosphere can be found in the pastoral counsel of Anselm:
Put all thy confidence in this death alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself wholly with this alone... 
And if God would judge thee say 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy judgment...' 
And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins; and I offer no merits of my own, which I should have, and have not' 
If he say that he is angry with thee, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger'.
Elsewhere Anselm wrote:
My conscience hath deserved damnation, and my repentance is not sufficient for satisfaction; but most certain it is that thy mercy aboundeth above all offence.
Ambrose also gave expression to the essence of true piety when he wrote these words:
Let no man arrogate anything unto himself, let no man glory in his own merits or good deeds, let no man boast of his power: let us all hope to find mercy by our Lord Jesus; for we shall all stand before his judgment-seat.   
Of him I will beg pardon...what other hope is there for sinners?


Unknown said...

When one strips away the embellishments, basically what it comes down to is pride disguised as piety. The real problem, I think, is that it's a much easier trap to fall in than most believers think. A good object lesson for this can be found in Philip Yancey's book, The Jesus I Never Knew, where he relates a story of where a student of his caught him and the rest of the class he was teaching of acting Pharisaical by criticizing others for being Pharisees (pp. 85-86).

Charlie J. Ray said...

Philip Yancey? Please:) Yancey is one of those fellows who follows experience above Scripture. Reading his books is more like reading pop psychology than reading theology.

Of course Yancey comes off as a Pharisee. It is because his theology is non-doctrinal experientialism and pietism rather than biblical and dogmatic theology.

There is one axiom that every Christian should adhere to: The Bible IS the Word of God. Literally.

Anyone reading the Scriptures consistently and logically cannot help but see that God is sovereign and owes every single individual His eternal wrath in hell. So the basis for salvation is not a general grace given to all accompanied by our helping God out in saving us and our neighbor. No, grace is particular and is given only to whom God will give it. (Romans 9:11-18). His sovereign choice is the only way anyone will be saved and that choice was made prior to the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,5).

Sad to say but Yancey is another Arminian. Arminianism is represented by the attitude of the Pharisee who thinks he deserves credit for his merits and in fact brags about his accomplishments. Pelagianism is alive and well today.

The attitude of the Calvinist is the attitude of the tax collector. "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!" A modern equivalent would be a serial killer on death row or a child molester in prison--both social outcasts and pariahs of the world at large--who know that they deserve hell. The pariah who cries out for mercy is the one who is justified, not the one who thinks his personal transformation and accomplishments and success are the basis for God's favor.


Steve Martin said...

Pride. It's what we do.

Thanks be to God that He loves and forgives us. Exposing our pride and self-will.


Steve Martin said...

He does expose our pride. And He forgives us and leads us to repentance.

What a God!

Michael The Archangel said...

Heresy, it is in one sentence this:

The denial of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saint Michael

Psalm 91

Lead me to my most blessed websites.

luan said...

God is really good.
I love the image you've embedded.
Thank you for sharing this, you've feed my hungry soul today.

Alice from moules silicone