EXCEPT YOUR JUSTICE EXCEED THAT OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES, YOU SHALL NOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. MATT. v. 20
Consider first, how much it concerns us all to know what we must do to save our souls; and what kind of justice that is, what degree of virtue is necessary to bring us to heaven, lest we deceive ourselves, or let ourselves be imposed upon by the enemy with false appearances and outward show, and catching at the shadow of virtue, lose the substance of it, and our souls into the bargain. The Scribes and Pharisees were the most precise among the Jews, and professed the greatest zeal for the law of God and the true religion; they prayed much,, they gave large alms, and they fasted frequently; so that they passed for saints amongst the people; and yet we are here assured by the mouth of truth itself, that except our virtue exceeds theirs, we shall have no share in his heavenly kingdom. See then, my soul, and examine well in what their justice was defective; that so thou mayest avoid their defects, lest thou perish with them; for why shouldst thou suffer thyself to be deluded, to the loss both of thy God and of thyself, for all eternity?
Consider 2ndly, that the justice of the Scribes and of the Pharisees was many ways deficient; but more especially in this, that it contented itself with reforming and regulating the outside, whilst it neglected the interior, which is the true seat of Christian justice. They ‘made clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, whilst their inside was full of iniquity,’ Luke xi. 39. Their good works were not done with a pure intention they sought not God, but themselves, in all they did; their prayers, their alms, their fastings, were directed to the gaining of the applause of the world; to the end they might be honoured and esteemed by men. And whilst they avoided the more scandalous excesses of the grosser carnal sins of drunkenness and impurity, which might have rendered them infamous in the eyes of the world, they made no scruple of the spiritual sins, (much more odious to God,) of envy, hatred, detraction, covetousness, and an extravagant pride and conceit of themselves, joined with a contempt of all others. Thus all the good they seemed to do was quite vitiated and corrupted; all their virtues were but in appearance and before the eyes of men; but their vices were real and abominable in the sight of God. Christians, take heed of this leaven of the Pharisees, as your Lord admonishes you; take heed of hypocrisy, of ostentation, and an outward show of devotion, destitute of the real substance of it. All the glory of the true spouse, the daughter of the king is within; it lies hidden in the interior of the soul. Take heed lest pride or vainglory vitiate your good actions by vitiating your intention. Keep yourselves clean, not only from all the defilements of the flesh, but of the spirit also; for these are the more heinous sins of the two. O! see that nothing of the Pharisee corrupt the Christian in you.
Consider 3rdly, what the justice is which Jesus Christ insists upon as necessary to the eternal salvation of our souls. It consists not in mere outward professions; for ‘not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven,’ Matt. vii. 12. Nor will faith alone suffice to Christian justice, James ii. 17, 24. Nor will alms, prayers, or fastings alone make any one just, (as we see in the very case of the Pharisee,) nor any outward form of worship;, without the inward spirit, nor anything else that can be separated from obedience to the commandments, from true Christian humility and divine charity. No, my soul, the justice that is to bring thee to heaven is to keep the commandments, Matt. xix. 17; it is to ‘do the will of thy Father who is in heaven,’ Matt. vii. 21; it is to be ‘poor in spirit,’ Matt. v. 3; it is to be ‘humble like a little child,’ Matt. xviii. 3,4; it is to ‘love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength, and to love thy neighbour as thyself.’ This is Christian justice indeed! Do this, and thou shalt live. But where any part of this is wanting, nothing else can make any man just.
Conclude to be quite in earnest in seeking and following after this Christian justice in all its branches, by purity of intention in all thy works; by sincerity and simplicity, or uprightness of soul; by attending to thy interior, to keep that regular and orderly; by true humility of heart; and above all things by fleeing sins and loving God; and thus shalt be just indeed before the Lord, and entitled to his heavenly kingdom.