Observations On Hypocrisy

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:1-3; KJV).


“Then Jesus spoke to the crowd and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have sat down on Moses’ seat. Then all things, whatever they tell you to keep, keep and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:1-3; LITV).


“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest [his] will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Romans 2:17-24; KJV).


“Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the Law, and boast in God, and know the will, and approve the things excelling, being instructed out of the Law, and persuading yourself to be a guide of blind ones, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of foolish ones, a teacher of infants, having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law. Then the [one] teaching another, do you not teach yourself? The [one] preaching not to steal, do you steal? The [one] saying not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? The [one] detesting the idols, do you rob temples? [You] who boast in Law, do you dishonor God through transgression of the Law? For the name of God is blasphemed among the nations through you, even as it has been written” (Romans 2:17-24; LITV).


“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed [is] not grievous, but for you [it is] safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but [this] one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:1-14).



NOTE: All extra-biblical authors I cite does not imply endorsement of them as true Christians.]


The Christ-hater W.G.T. Shedd accurately writes:


“…[The] approbation of goodness is not the same as the love of it.[1]


[Shedd’s Footnote 1: See, upon this whole subject of conscience as distinguished from will, and of amiable instincts as distinguished from holiness, the profound and discriminating views of Edwards: The Nature of Virtue, Chapters v. vi. vii.]


This superficial and “said” approbation of goodness and possession of a “form of knowledge and of truth in the law” is clearly NOT THE SAME as a genuine love of this truth as evidenced by one’s character and conduct.


On Matthew 23:1-3, Shedd makes the following observation:


“The testimony of man is equally explicit. That is a very remarkable witness which the poet Ovid bears to this truth. ‘I see the right,’ — he says, — ‘and approve of it, but I follow and practise the wrong.’ This is the testimony of a profligate man of pleasure, in whom the light of nature had been greatly dimmed in the darkness of sin and lust. But he had not succeeded in annihilating his conscience, and hence, in a sober hour, he left upon record his own damnation. He expressly informed the whole cultivated classical world, who were to read his polished numbers, that he that had taught others had not taught himself; that he who had said that man should not commit adultery had himself committed adultery” (W.G.T. Shedd, Sermons to the Natural Man).


The English lexicographer and essayist Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) writes:


“It is not difficult to conceive, however, that for many reasons a man writes much better than he lives. For without entering into refined speculations, it may be shown much easier to design than to perform. A man proposes his schemes of life in a state of abstraction and disengagement, exempt from the enticements of hope, the solicitations of affection, the importunities of appetite, or the depressions of fear, and is in the same state with him that teaches upon land the art of navigation, to whom the sea is always smooth, and the wind always prosperous” (Samuel Johnson, Essays). 


There is an ENTIRE UNIVERSE of difference between the intense struggles of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-25 and the hypocritical huffings of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-3. Obviously. Clearly. In relation to overarching CHARACTER, Paul and all true Christians live as good as they Biblically write. But intermingled and interspersed in their CONDUCT are frustrating interruptions of indwelling sin (cf. Romans 7:15-25). To fall into the mud of sin is NOT the same as wallowing in this mud, all while “approving” of the rightness of observing the Law of God.


Samuel Johnson writes:


“Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practise; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others those attempts which he neglects himself. The interest which the corrupt part of mankind have in hardening themselves against every motive to amendment, has disposed them to give to these contradictions, when they can be produced against the cause of virtue, that weight which they will not allow them in any other case. They see men act in opposition to their interest, without supposing that they do not know it; those who give way to the sudden violence of passion, and forsake the most important pursuits for petty pleasures, are not supposed to have changed their opinions, or to approve their own conduct. In moral or religious questions alone, they determine the sentiments by the actions, and charge every man with endeavouring to impose upon the world, whose writings are not confirmed by his life. They never consider that themselves neglect or practise something every day inconsistently with their own settled judgment, nor discover that the conduct of the advocates for virtue can little increase, or lessen, the obligations of their dictates; argument is to be invalidated only by argument, and is in itself of the same force, whether or not it convinces him by whom it is proposed. Yet since this prejudice, however unreasonable, is always likely to have some prevalence, it is the duty of every man to take care lest he should hinder the efficacy of his own instructions. When he desires to gain the belief of others, he should show that he believes himself; and when he teaches the fitness of virtue by his reasonings, he should, by his example, prove its possibility: Thus much at least may be required of him, that he shall not act worse than others, because he writes better; nor imagine that, by the merit of his genius, he may claim indulgence beyond mortals of the lower classes, and be excused for want of prudence, or neglect of virtue” (Samuel Johnson, Essays).


The Scriptures quoted at the beginning of this post set forth the STARK DIFFERENCE between a genuine, yet imperfect, striving and pressing after conformity to God’s Law in Christ, and merely MOUTHING empty encomiums from Moses’ seat.


To re-quote a portion from Samuel Johnson:


“Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice” (Samuel Johnson, Essays).


Hypocrisy is a just charge if we are considering the Pharisees condemned by Jesus. It is an unjust charge if we are considering Paul and all truly regenerate believers, since although the virtue they “neglect to practice” is absolute and perfect conformity to God’s Law in their character and conduct, nevertheless, their lives are CHARACTERIZED by a love of God’s Law, and they observe it out of genuine love for Christ who saved them (see Philippians 3:1-14).