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Bunyan Characters First Series: 12. FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY

By Alexander Whyte


      'A form of godliness.'--Paul.

      We all began our religious life by being formalists. And we were not altogether to blame for that. Our parents were first to blame for that, and then our teachers, and then our ministers. They made us say our psalm and our catechism to them, and if we only said our sacred lesson without stumbling, we were straightway rewarded with their highest praise. They seldom took the trouble to make us understand the things we said to them. They were more than content with our correct repetition of the words. We were never taught either to read or repeat with our eyes on the object. And we had come to our manhood before we knew how to seek for the visual image that lies at the root of all our words. And thus the ill-taught schoolboy became in us the father of the confirmed formalist. The mischief of this neglect still spreads through the whole of our life, but it is absolutely disastrous in our religious life. Look at the religious formalist at family worship with his household gathered round him all in his own image. He would not on any account let his family break up any night without the habitual duty. He has a severe method in his religious duties that nothing is ever allowed to disarrange or in any way to interfere with. As the hour strikes, the big Bible is brought out. He opens where he left off last night, he reads the regulation chapter, he leads the singing in the regulation psalm, and then, as from a book, he repeats his regulation prayer. But he never says a word to show that he either sees or feels what he reads, and his household break up without an idea in their heads or an affection in their hearts. He comes to church and goes through public worship in the same wooden way, and he sits through the Lord's Table in the same formal and ceremonious manner. He has eyes of glass and hands of wood, and a heart without either blood or motion in it. His mind and his heart were destroyed in his youth, and all his religion is a religion of rites and ceremonies without sense or substance. 'Because I knew no better,' says Bunyan, 'I fell in very eagerly with the religion of the times: to wit, to go to church twice a day, and that, too, with the foremost. And there should I sing and say as others did. Withal, I was so overrun with the spirit of superstition that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things, both the high place, priest, clerk, vestment, service, and what else belonged to the church: counting all things holy that were therein contained. But all this time I was not sensible of the danger and evil of sin. I was kept from considering that sin would damn me, what religion soever I followed, unless I was found in Christ. Nay, I never thought of Christ, nor whether there was one or no.'

      A formalist is not yet a hypocrite exactly, but he is ready now and well on the way at any moment to become a hypocrite. As soon now as some temptation shall come to him to make appear another and a better man than he really is: when in some way it becomes his advantage to seem to other people to be a spiritual man: when he thinks he sees his way to some profit or praise by saying things and doing things that are not true and natural to him,--then he will pass on from being a bare and simple formalist, and will henceforth become a hypocrite. He has never had any real possession or experience of spiritual things amid all his formal observances of religious duties, and he has little or no difficulty, therefore, in adding another formality or two to his former life of unreality. And thus the transition is easily made from a comparatively innocent and unconscious formalist to a conscious and studied hypocrite. 'An hypocrite,' says Samuel Rutherford, 'is he who on the stage represents a king when he is none, a beggar, an old man, a husband, when he is really no such thing. To the Hebrews, they were faciales, face-men; colorati, dyed men, red men, birds of many colours. You may paint a man, you may paint a rose, you may paint a fire burning, but you cannot paint a soul, or the smell of a rose, or the heat of a fire. And it is hard to counterfeit spiritual graces, such as love to Christ, sincere intending of the glory of God, and such like spiritual things.' Yes, indeed; it is hard to put on and to go through with a truly spiritual grace even to the best and most spiritually-minded of men; and as for the true hypocrite, he never honestly attempts it. If he ever did honestly and resolutely attempt it, he would at once in that pass out of the ranks of the hypocrites altogether and pass over into a very different category. Bunyan lets us see how a formalist and a hypocrite and a Christian all respectively do when they come to a real difficulty. The three pilgrims were all walking in the same path, and with their faces for the time in the same direction. They had not held much conference together since their first conversation, and as time goes on, Christian has no more talk but with himself, and that sometimes sighingly, and sometimes more comfortably. When, all at once, the three men come on the hill Difficulty. A severe act of self-denial has to be done at this point of their pilgrimage. A proud heart has to be humbled to the dust. A second, a third, a tenth place has to be taken in the praise of men. An outbreak of anger and wrath has to be kept under for hours and days. A great injury, a scandalous case of ingratitude, has to be forgiven and forgotten; in short, as Rutherford says, an impossible-to-be-counterfeited spiritual grace has to be put into its severest and sorest exercise; and the result was--what we know. Our pilgrim went and drank of the spring that always runs at the bottom of the hill Difficulty, and thus refreshed himself against that hill; while Formalist took the one low road, and Hypocrisy the other, which led him into a wide field full of dark mountains, where he stumbled and fell and rose no more. When, after his visit to the spring, Christian began to go up the hill, saying:

      'This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
      The difficulty will not me offend;
      For I perceive the way to life lies here;
      Come, pluck up heart; let's neither faint nor fear;
      Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
      Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.'

      Now, all this brings us to the last step in the evolution of a perfect hypocrite out of a simple formalist. The perfect and finished hypocrite is not your commonplace and vulgar scoundrel of the playwright and the penny-novelist type; the finest hypocrite is a character their art cannot touch. 'The worst of hypocrites,' Rutherford goes on to say, 'is he who whitens himself till he deceives himself. It is strange that a man hath such power over himself. But a man's heart may deceive his heart, and he may persuade himself that he is godly and righteous when he knows nothing about it.' 'Preaching in a certain place,' says Boston, 'after supper the mistress of the house told me how I had terrified God's people. This was by my doctrine of self-love, self-righteousness, self-ends, and such like. She restricted hypocrites to that sort that do all things to be seen of men, and harped much on this--how can one be a hypocrite who hates hypocrisy in other people? how can one be a hypocrite and not know it? All this led me to see the need of such doctrine.' And if only to show you that this is not the dismal doctrine of antediluvian Presbyterians only, Canon Mozley says: 'The Pharisee did not know that he was a Pharisee; if he had known it he would not have been a Pharisee. He does not know that he is a hypocrite. The vulgar hypocrite knows that he is a hypocrite because he deceives others, but the true Scripture hypocrite deceives himself.' And the most subtle teacher of our century, or of any century, has said: 'What is a hypocrite? We are apt to understand by a hypocrite one who makes a profession of religion for secret ends without practising what he professes; who is malevolent, covetous, or profligate, while he assumes an outward sanctity in his words and conduct, and who does so deliberately, deceiving others, and not at all self-deceived. But this is not what our Saviour seems to have meant by a hypocrite; nor were the Pharisees such. The Pharisees deceived themselves as well as others. Indeed, it is not in human nature to deceive others for any long time without in a measure deceiving ourselves also. When they began, each in his turn, to deceive the people, they were not at the moment self-deceived. But by degrees they forgot that outward ceremonies avail nothing without inward purity. They did not know themselves, and they unawares deceived themselves as well as the people.' What a terrible light, as of the last day itself, does all that cast upon the formalisms and the hypocrisies of which our own religious life is full! And what a terrible light it casts on those miserable men who are complete and finished in their self-deception! For the complete and finished hypocrite is not he who thinks that he is better than all other men; that is hopeless enough; but the paragon of hypocrisy is he who does not know that he is worse than all other men. And in his stone-blindness to himself, and consequently to all reality and inwardness and spirituality in religion, you see him intensely interested in, and day and night occupied with, the outside things of religion, till nothing short of a miracle will open his eyes. See him in the ministry, for instance, sweating at his sermons and in his visiting, till you would almost think that he is the minister of whom Paul prophesied, who should spend and be spent for the salvation of men's souls. But all the time, such is the hypocrisy that haunts the ministerial calling, he is really and at bottom animated with ambition for the praise of men only, and for the increase of his congregation. See him, again, now assailing or now defending a church's secular privileges, and he knowing no more, all the time, what a church has been set up for on earth than the man in the moon. What a penalty his defence is and his support to a church of Christ, and what an incubus his membership must be! Or, see him, again, making long speeches and many prayers for the extension of the kingdom of Christ, and all the time spending ten times more on wine or whisky or tobacco, or on books or pictures or foreign travel, than he gives to the cause of home or foreign missions. And so on, all through our hypocritical and self-blinded life. Through such stages, and to such a finish, does the formalist pass from his thoughtless and neglected youth to his hardened, blinded, self-seeking life, spent in the ostensible service of the church of Christ. If the light that is in such men be darkness, how great is that darkness! We may all well shudder as we hear our Lord saying to ministers and members and church defenders and church supporters, like ourselves: 'Now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.'

      Now, the first step to the cure of all such hypocrisy, and to the salvation of our souls, is to know that we are hypocrites, and to know also what that is in which we are most hypocritical. Well, there are two absolutely infallible tests of a true hypocrite,--tests warranted to unmask, expose, and condemn the most finished, refined, and even evangelical hypocrite in this house to-night, or in all the world. By far and away the best and swiftest is prayer. True prayer, that is. For here again our inexpugnable hypocrisy comes in and leads us down to perdition even in our prayers. There is nothing our Lord more bitterly and more contemptuously assails the Pharisees for than just the length, the loudness, the number, and the publicity of their prayers. The truth is, public prayer, for the most part, is no true prayer at all. It is at best an open homage paid to secret prayer. We make such shipwrecks of devotion in public prayer, that if we have a shred of true religion about us, we are glad to get home and to shut our door. We preach in our public prayers. We make speeches on public men and on public events in our public prayers. We see the reporters all the time in our public prayers. We do everything but pray in our public prayers. And to get away alone,--what an escape that is from the temptations and defeats of public prayer! No; public prayer is no test whatever of a hypocrite. A hypocrite revels in public prayer. It is secret prayer that finds him out. And even secret prayer will sometimes deceive us. We are crushed down on our secret knees sometimes, by sheer shame and the strength of conscience. Fear of exposure, fear of death and hell, will sometimes make us shut our door. A flood of passing feeling will sometimes make us pray for a season in secret. Job had all that before him when he said, 'Will the hypocrite delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?' No, he will not. And it is just here that the hypocrite and the true Christian best discover themselves both to God and to themselves. The true Christian will, as Job again says, pray in secret till God slays him. He will pray in his dreams; he will pray till death; he will pray after he is dead. Are you in earnest, then, not to be any more a hypocrite and to know the infallible marks of such? Ask the key of your closet door. Ask the chair at your bedside. Ask the watchman what you were doing and why your light was in so long. Ask the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and the crows on the ploughed lands after your solitary walk.

      Almost a better test of true and false religion than even secret prayer, but a test that is far more difficult to handle, is our opinion of ourselves. In His last analysis of the truly justified man and the truly reprobate, our Lord made the deepest test to be their opinion of themselves. 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as this publican,' said the hypocrite. 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' said the true penitent. And then this fine principle comes in here--not only to speed the sure sanctification of a true Christian, but also, if he has skill and courage to use it, for his assurance and comfort,--that the saintlier he becomes and the riper for glory, the more he will beat his breast over what yet abides within his breast. Yes; a man's secret opinion of himself is almost a better test of his true spiritual state than even secret prayer. But, then, these two are not competing and exclusive tests; they always go together and are never found apart. And at the mouth of these two witnesses every true hypocrite shall be condemned and every true Christian justified.

      Dr. Pusey says somewhere that the perfect hypocrite is the man who has the truth of God in his mind, but is without the love of God in his heart. 'Truth without love,' says that saintly scholar, 'makes a finished Pharisee.' Now we Scottish and Free Church people believe we have the truth, if any people on the face of the earth have it; and if we have not love mixed with it, you see where and what we are. We are called to display a banner because of the truth, but let love always be our flag-staff. Let us be jealous for the truth, but let it be a godly, that is to say, a loving jealousy. When we contend for purity of doctrine and for purity of worship, when we protest against popery and priestcraft, when we resist rationalism and infidelity, when we do battle now for national religion, as we call it, and now for the freedom of the church, let us do it all in love to all men, else we had better not do it at all. If we cannot do it with clean and all-men-loving hearts, let us leave all debate and contention to stronger and better men than we are. The truth will never be advanced or guarded by us, nor will the Lord of truth and love accept our service or bless our souls, till we put on the divine nature, and have our hearts and our mouths still more full of love than our minds and our mouths are full of truth. Let us watch ourselves, lest with all our so-called love of truth we be found reprobates at last because we loved the truth for some selfish or party end, and hated and despised our brother, and believed all evil and disbelieved all good concerning our brother. Truth without love makes a hypocrite, says Dr. Pusey; and evangelical truth without evangelical love makes an evangelical hypocrite, says Thomas Shepard. Only where the whole truth is united to a heart full of love have we the perfect New Testament Christian.

      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

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See Also:
   INTRODUCTORY
   1. EVANGELIST
   2. OBSTINATE
   3. PLIABLE
   4. HELP
   5. MR. WORLDLY-WISEMAN
   6. GOODWILL, THE GATEKEEPER
   7. THE INTERPRETER
   8. PASSION
   9. PATIENCE
   10. SIMPLE, SLOTH, AND PRESUMPTION
   11. THE THREE SHINING ONES AT THE CROSS
   12. FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY
   13. TIMOROUS AND MISTRUST
   14. PRUDENCE
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   17. TALKATIVE
   18. JUDGE HATE-GOOD
   19. FAITHFUL IN VANITY FAIR
   20. BY-ENDS
   21. GIANT DESPAIR
   22. KNOWLEDGE
   23. EXPERIENCE
   24. WATCHFUL
   25. SINCERE

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