Heart Piety Essential
The Signs of the Times
April 2, 1896
Heart Piety Essential
By Mrs. E. G. White
"This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous."
Wherever the holy precepts of God are observed, it is an evidence that the word and the Spirit of God have penetrated the human heart and transformed the natural character. The law of God is the true standard of character, and the commandments can not be disregarded and ignored without detriment to character. Wherever there is departure from the precepts of Jehovah, the moral attributes are deformed. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul."
As the law of God was in Eden, so it stands today. It requires of us what it required of our first parents,—"purity of heart." Through Jesus Christ moral power may be imparted to man, and when it is combined with human effort, we may reach the divine standard. The faith that works by love is an active agent, and purifies the soul, separating from the character everything that is out of harmony with the standard of righteousness. Outward conformity to the law is not sufficient. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
The Pharisees, tho professing to keep the commandments of God, were exalting their own traditions above the law, and requiring needless exactions from the people. Many in our day are doing as did the Pharisees, and, while laying claims to high piety and sanctification, they are following their own ideas, and refusing to meet the condition upon which God has promised eternal life. Paul presented the true steps by which men may come to God. He says: "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God [because of the transgression of God's law], and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," by which men may return to allegiance to the law of heaven.
Christ came to our world because the human race had departed from God, broken his law, and multiplied transgression upon transgression. Among the religious teachers at the time of Christ, deception and hypocrisy were practiced. Men built themselves up in their own self-righteousness, and misled the people by presenting before them a false standard. That which they presented as true piety was a spurious article; it misinterpreted the percepts of God to the people, and broke the principles of the divine law. While claiming to be the people of God, they transgressed his word, and, instead of a Thus saith the Lord, they substituted their own requirements. They were zealous in carrying out a round of ceremonies, and satisfied themselves with forms, while their lives were corrupt before God. Jesus came to exalt the law and make it honorable. In his sermon on the mount he weeded out the traditions of men, and proclaimed the truth, placing it in sharp contrast with errors that were hoary with age. He made truth appear in its preciousness and value before the multitude.
The Pharisees substituted external ceremonies for true heart piety, and made occasions of religious observances serve for their own exaltation. They made a show of paying tithe, and of abstaining from food, and taught that these outward semblances of humility met the demands of the whole law of God. Self-flattery became woven with every phase of their religious life, and thus they lifted up their souls unto vanity. But Christ described the religion of the Pharisees as like salt that had lost its savor. Christ, the Author of truth, was fully able to separate truth from the companionship of error, and to place it where it would shine in its original brightness.
Christ was a teacher from his youth up. At twelve years of age he was found among the doctors, listening to them and asking them questions. He asked such questions as suggested the discovery of deep truths that had been lost from the doctrines that were taught, and yet which were vital to the salvation of souls. Wherever he went, he presented himself as one hungering and thirsting for a knowledge of God. His questions were of such an order as baffled the wisdom of the wise men, yet every question he asked put before them a divine lesson, and placed truth in a new aspect. They could see that their teachings were out of harmony with the real meaning of the Scriptures. But while presenting deep truths to their minds, his manner was modest and humble. Tho perplexing the scribes and learned doctors with his deep questions, yet he was gentle and unassuming.
Curious to test his knowledge, the doctors and the scribes turned upon him with questions, and they were amazed at his answers. He expounded the inspired word, giving a spiritual significance to the utterances of the prophets that the wise men had not seen nor conceived. While in the temple he had laid out lines of truth which, if followed, would have worked a great reformation in the religion of the day. But he looked in vain to see the leaders of the nation leading the people upward by presenting to them in simplicity the word of the Lord. The Old Testament Scriptures which he had expounded to them were vital with truth, and would have made both teachers and learners wise unto salvation.
If these truths had been presented and obeyed, a deep interest in spiritual things would have been the result. But the truth, which should have brightened and expanded through contemplation and practice, became the condemnation of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Instead of becoming elevated, ennobled, and sanctified through the truth which had been presented to them, they allowed its precious, vital influence to pass away from them, and let the truth slip. If they had opened their hearts to receive the truth which Christ presented in his sermon on the mount, their minds would have been illuminated, and they would have seen that their sacrificial system was but a shadow and example of the life and teachings of Christ. If they had not turned their hearts from God, they would not have become envious of Christ, nor would they have refused the precious truths which he came to unfold to them. They would not have exalted their human inventions and traditions as sacred; they would not have set aside the Scriptures, and made them a confused jumble of inconsistencies; but they refused Christ, and, tho they had been made the depositaries of sacred truth, yet they persisted in misinterpretation of the Bible, and thus closed the word of God to the people.
In our day there is similar danger of closing the Bible to the people through misinterpretation of the word of God. Many are casting contempt upon the Old Testament Scriptures, but these are not to lose their sacredness; throughout all time they are not to be dropped out of our instruction. Paul writes concerning the experiences of the people of God in ancient times, "All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." The prophets spoke less for their own time than for the ages which have followed, and for our own day. Peter says: "Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into."
In this age of the world we find the same influences at work to make of no effect the word of God. The traditions of men are again exalted above the commandments of God. But Christ declares, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Christ declared that he came to our world not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill every specification of the law by living out its precepts. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." The light that shines from the Old Testament Scriptures is the light that was imparted to the prophets and wise men by Jesus Christ.
Let us see to it that we study the words of Christ in both the Old and the New Testaments, and take heed that we be not agents who shall work to make of no effect the word of God by exalting the traditions and opinions of men.