Men whose religion is nothing but an act!

It is a great joy to read your Bible and find it speaking to you on the issues of today.

Our school has printed the following text on the presentation label inside every Bible given to school leavers: “When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee,” Proverbs 6:20-22.

The Word of God does indeed speak with those who come to its pages with earnest faith. May we be given the grace to say with the child Samuel: “Speak; for thy servant heareth,” 1 Samuel 3:10.

May the following thoughts be instructive and of a benefit and blessing to you all.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Ivan Foster

The Pharisee and the Publican
water color by John Everett Millais (c. 1860)


“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in,” Matthew 23:13.

I recall, as if it were but yesterday, the first time I heard Dr Paisley preach on this chapter, in my early days attending his church in 1964. He was defending himself yet again against the railing accusations of ecumenists and modernist ministers, who had accused him of being ‘unChrist-like’ whenever he condemned in strong Biblical terms those guilty of denying the truth of the Bible!

I was thrilled to thus see that the enemies of God could be answered directly, unsparingly and powerfully from the recorded words of the Lord Jesus Himself.

I believe I learned a lesson back then that has lasted a lifetime!

1. The word ‘hypocrite’ is particularly applicable.

The Greek word from which the English word ‘hypocrite’ comes is hupokrites. It carries the meaning of an actor, stage player.  It refers to someone who is merely pretending to be someone he is not in reality.

How wonderfully precise and accurate is such a word in describing men who daily masquerade as being men that in truth they are very far from being! The term ‘Pharisee’ has entered the English language and it is used in a derogative manner when speaking of one noted for his religious falsity.

Most Protestant ministers begin their ministry by publicly swearing to believe creeds and confessions that essentially date back to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Despite years of modernism and ecumenism, most professedly Protestant churches have at least some of the basic elements of Biblical religion laid down in their foundational doctrines.

By confessing such doctrines as theirs, the men who then go on to deny and undermine these truths are indeed hypocrites, merely actors playing out a role and that for money!

No actors, no matter how much they may seek to ‘throw’ themselves into their roles, are remotely genuinely the persons they portray. They cast off the stage ‘persona’ as they leave the theatre and resume their true identity. Numerous exposures, publicised in the press, have taken place of men of religion, who were one thing in the pulpit and in the carrying out of the public duties of the office they hold, but were very different in their more private affairs. Oftentimes there was not merely a contrast between their public and private life but utter conflict!

Multitudes of Roman Catholic priests, with their supposed adherence to celibacy, were seen to be in denial of that lifestyle to a most damnable degree. Sodomy and child-abuse rather than celibacy was their true calling! Those within the ranks of Protestantism, who were shown to be ‘hypocrites’ proved to be equally deceitful and corrupt, engaging in unspeakable wickedness condemned by their creeds and confessions and, above all, by the Word of God.

Of course, such hypocrisy is to be found in every walk of life. The political realm is one into which the general public are allowed a ‘front row seat’ as it were. The foibles and defects of our representatives frequently become front page news. Their hypocrisy is highlighted almost daily.

Virtually all of our parliamentary members support abortion and ‘same-sex’ marriage. Yet, the religious profession of many of them would denounce such views. I understand that Hinduism, to which religion the Prime Minister, Mr Rishi Sunak, belongs, teaches that abortion is to be strongly condemned and which confirms a pro-life approach towards abortion. How hypocritical of the Prime Minister therefore to head a Government which legislates for and promotes abortion!

We could explore at greater depths the contradictions between the professed beliefs of members of Parliament and their practice, but it is hardly necessary since few would dispute that politics is shrouded and soaked in posturing and specious, empty talk.

2. We must notice the Saviour’s repeating of His condemnation

The Lord Jesus uses the phrase: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” some seven times in this chapter. In terms of ‘Biblical numerology’, this is a condemnation of the fullest measure by the Saviour against the religious leaders of His day.

I think that it is true to say that actors are usually renowned for their vanity, their sense of ‘self-importance’!

They hold high opinions of themselves and their position in life. Very few remain with their ‘feet on the ground’. Of course, the fawning ‘artsy’ public is only too ready to glory in such persons, making them role models, whose lifestyles are to be copied. That is indeed the modern Pharisee. What was said of the Pharisees of old is true still of their counterparts today. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men,” Matthew 23:5. How sickening it is to see, almost daily, photographs of leading clerics, striking a pose, with hands clasped in what is deemed to be a ‘prayerful’ manner, bedecked with all the religious ‘trumpery’ that goes with the modern  high ecclesiastical office!

The Saviour’s words indicate that evil men need to be clearly and repeatedly told of their sins. They do not cease from them very readily. The stubbornness of these men is seen in that even after such a condemning of their cant and humbug, they remain unchanged and are just as relentless in their opposition to Christ.

I do not believe that we should hold out much hope of those who have sold out to ‘the lie’ ever being recovered. I can never think of today’s manifestation of ‘Phariseeism’ without a sense of horror at the terrible fate that awaits them.

3. The boldness of the Saviour is seen in that he was speaking directly to the culprits!

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees”. The Saviour began by addressing  a multitude. “Then spake Jesus to the multitude,” verse 1. There was amongst that crowd, as was usually the case, scribes and the Pharisees. From verse 14 onward of Matthew 23, the Saviour speaks particularly to the “scribes and Pharisees” who mingled with that multitude. They tended to dog the Saviour’s footsteps, ever seeking to catch Him out in something He said. Proof of this is seen in Luke chapter 11, where there is an early manifestation of the spirit in which Christ spoke in Matthew 23. Following that earlier reproving of their hypocrisy we read that they determined evil against the saviour, “laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him,” verse 54. This evil determination was their response to the Saviour’s speaking plainly and directly to one Pharisee in his own home as the Saviour partook of a meal provided by him and then going on to direct His words against his fellow Pharisees who were there also.

“And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them,” Luke 11:37-44.

As I say, this was but a preview of the fuller condemnation directed at the  ‘scribes and Pharisees’ that is recorded  in Matthew 23.

The Saviour was not an ‘ecclesiastical diplomat’ as men would have preachers to be today. No, He spoke out plainly and directly to those requiring His rebuke, even when He was in their home eating the food they provided! The comments of the Pharisee in whose home He was provoked the saviour’s words of rebuke. Consider the verses 37-39 of Luke 11. “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.”

It was not ill-mannered of the Saviour to speak so frankly to him as He partook of the hospitality of the Pharisee, for good manners never require us to ignore sin and and to be silent before folly!

The expression, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23:13) clearly indicates He was looking them in the eyes and very evidently directing His words at them, as had been the case with the individual Pharisee in Luke chapter 11. Little wonder the corrupt companions of the Pharisee in whose home the Saviour was and who had overheard His words, reacted so vehemently to His comments. “And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him,” Luke 11:53-54.

Rather than heed His words, they set out to murder Him. This murderous ambition would end at Calvary. “After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death,” Mark 14:1.

4. We must observe that the Saviour did not only apply the term ‘hypocrite to these men.

He multiplied His words of condemnation. In so doing He set forth the proof of His accusations. He gave examples of their sinfulness. I recall Dr Paisley saying that he could never match the degree of condemnation that the Saviour uttered against His enemies! No man could for there are things stated by the Saviour in this chapter that only deity can say. The Saviour saw into the hearts of those He condemned.

That, no man can do!

Please note what is said by the Lord Jesus against the Pharisees.

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in,” verse 13.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation,” verse 14.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves,” verse 15.

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?  . . .  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?”verses 16-17, 19.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel,” verses 23-24.

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity,” verses 26-28.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar,” verses 29-35.

These are most grievous accusations! Never was there such a barrage of condemnation directed at men in such a straightforward, unrelenting manner than these words of censure, uttered, I might say, under the shadow of the cross, for these words were spoken but days before His crucifixion. Their like will only be heard again in that day when “God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,” Romans 2:16.

Pretended religion is a most heinous thing to God and will be visited with His terrible judgment. In this day of pretence and make-believe, shallowness and posturing, let us each one seek “to make your calling and election sure,” 2 Peter 1:10. Let each one “examine (ourselves), whether ye be in the faith; prove (our) own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” 2 Corinthians 13:5.

The term ‘reprobate’ is linked to ‘dross metal’, that which is riddled with impurities.

Such is indeed the ‘chaff’ religion that is commonly called ‘Christianity” today!

Heed these calls and warnings today. Do not be content with a sham and empty profession of faith!


Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)

January 26th, 2023