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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Gospels

Chapter 84 - John 18:28 - Ritualism and the Cross Light & Truth: The Gospels by Bonar, Horatius




Ritualism And The Cross.


     "Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment; and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover."-John 18:28.



     These "rulers of the Jews" and the multitude that followed them, were thorough "Ritualists." It was their Ritualism that urged them on to crucify the Son of God. For Christ and Ritualism are opposed to each other as light is to darkness. The true cross in which Paul gloried, and the cross in which modern ceremonialists glory, have no resemblance to each other. The cross and the crucifix cannot agree. Either ritualism will banish Christ, or Christ will banish ritualism. They cannot possibly co-exist.

     It is the ritualism of these Jews,-Pharisees, and Scribes, and Priests,-that comes out here. It was this that kept them out of Pilate's hall,-for the touch of a Gentile, or anything belonging to a Gentile, would pollute them. They could not, in that case, eat the Passover. Arid the Passover was simply to them a rite by which they thought to recommend themselves to God and pacify their own consciences. It was their God, their Messiah, their Saviour, their religion.

     Ritualism, or sacerdotalism, or externalism, or traditionalism, are all different forms of self-righteousness; man's self-invented ways of pleasing or appeasing God, or paying for admittance into the kingdom. And these forms of self-righteousness are also forms of religious materialism, devout externalism. They are a human apparatus or machinery for performing a certain thing called worship, or procuring a thing called pardon; they are the means by which the performer of them hopes to win God's favour,-perhaps, also, man's praise,-most certainly, his own esteem.

     If there could be a righteousness or merit from any kind of human performances, it would have been under the Old Testament, for then all the ceremonies were divine. Man did not originate or invent them. They were all ordained by God. Awful as was the mistake of the Jew in making a saviour or a righteousness of these, it was not half so awful or so unnatural as making a Saviour or a righteousness out of the performance of certain rites called Christian, invented wholly by man, without God's command, nay, in defiance of it. And every act, or performance, or ceremony, that honours self, exalts self gives prominence to self, is an accursed thing; an abomination in the sight of God, however religious, or sacred, or solemn, or devout, it may seem to man.

     It is to self-righteousness in some form or other that man is always tending; under Christianity no less than under Judaism. On the one hand, we see men trying to believe that human nature is not so very bad after all and on the other, men professing to believe that it is bad, trying to make up for this badness, or to cover it over, by works, and devotions, and ceremonies. All this is pure self-righteousness.

     The touch-stone of this ritualism, or religionism, or self-righteousness, is the true cross of Christ. Let us look at it in this light; especially as exhibited in the narrative under notice; for here it is that, for the first time, self-righteousness comes in direct contact with the cross.

     I. The religion of self-righteousness. In the case of these Jews it was keeping the passover; observing a feast. That was religion! It was all the religion they had; it was their all for acceptance with God; their all for eternity. Their answer to the Judge at the judgment seat would be, "I kept your passovers." As if there were any religion in eating and drinking! The religion of self-righteousness in our day is like this;-works, feelings, fancies, music, rites, festivals, fasts, gestures, postures, garments;-that is religion! It is something which gratifies self; which pleases the natural man; which makes a man think well of himself; which gives a man something to do or to feel in order to earn pardon and merit heaven.

     II. The scruples of self-righteousness. These Jews would not enter a Gentile hall. The touch of its floor or walls would be pollution. Religion and irreligion were to them something outward; something with which the body, not the soul, had to do. After touching these, or breathing such air, they would themselves be defiled. Their scruples all turned on their own self-esteem. Pride, religious pride, was at the root. They were thoroughly blind to all that constituted real pollution, and saw only the false. They were scrupulous about entering a Gentile hall, when yet they were seeking to slay a righteous man, nay, to crucify the Lord of glory. What was the value of such scruples?  What was their meaning?  These men could swallow the camel while they were straining out a gnat. They could murder the innocent; yet they were too holy to set their foot on a Gentile floor. Such is the way in which self-righteousness acts itself out!  Such is the pride of ecclesiastical caste!

     III. The deeds of self-righteousness. These were many. Some looked very religious,-fasting, praying, almsgiving, Others not so. In the present case, the great deed of self-righteousness is the crucifying of the Lord of glory. That cross was the monument of self-righteousness. It was this that cried, Away with him; crucify him; not this man but Barabbas. So with modern self-righteousness in every form; especially in the form of ritualism and formalism. It is ever against Christ that self-righteousness shews its hatred, and aims its strokes. Ritualism is man's expression of dislike to Christ. It is the modem way of crucifying Christ afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.

     IV. The connection between this deed and the religion. Christ and self-righteousness cannot be on terms of friendship, for Christ, in his grace and finished work and free salvation, is wholly antagonistic to all forms of self righteousness. The Jews felt that He was crossing their path, that He was hewing down their temple, that He was utterly making void all their religion; and hence they hated Him; hence they crucified Him. It was self-righteous religion that crucified the Son of God.

     All rites and ceremonies, whether old or new, are man's ways of getting rid of Christ. They get rid of real religion by means of that which looks like religion, but which is not religion at all. What can all these things do? Can they save? Can postures save? Can dresses save? Can candles, lighted or unlighted, save? Can music save? Can architecture save? Can cathedrals save? Nay, can they even point the way to Jesus? Do they not lead away from Him? Do they not make void the cross, and trample on the blood?