Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

January 3, 1900

“Ye Teach for Doctrine the Commandments of Men”

Trifling Traditions—Christ's Position, and Why—Vain Worship—Rooted Up—How Helped

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” “The Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not.”

Many of the Jewish traditions were of so trifling and worthless a character as to cheapen their whole religion, and these traditions were handed down from generation to generation, and were regarded by many as the word of God. Human inventions, which were constantly becoming more foolish and inconsistent, were placed on an equality with the moral law, until at the time of Christ's first advent, pure doctrine had given place to false ideas. Selfishness, cupidity, self-exaltation had brought in every false practise, until the Jewish nation had lost their high-souled integrity, and their daily practises were acts of robbery toward God and their fellow-men. They robbed God of the pure service He required of them, and they robbed their fellow-men of religious guidance and a holy example. The Word of God was dismissed from their councils, and they laid their souls as manacled victims on the altar of mammon.

Christ paid no heed to these human inventions, for He wished by His example to draw a line between human theories and the sacred requirements of God. To the charge of the Pharisees He said: “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother; and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your traditions.

The law of God requires that a son should honor his parents, and provide for their necessities, and tenderly care for them when they are old. But these false teachers taught that it was of far greater importance for children to consecrate their property by a vow to the temple service. Then when the parents applied to their children for assistance, they could say, “It is Corban, devoted to God.” They taught that it was sacrilege to recall the property once given to the temple and appropriate it to the necessities of the parents. When such a vow is made, it was held sacred; it must be fulfilled; for, said they, has not God declared, “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee”? Thus under a semblance of piety these teachers excused the youth from the obligations of the fifth commandment, while they appropriated to their own selfish purposes the property which should have been used to make their parents happy in their old age, and those to whom it rightfully belonged were often left in distress and want. The all-seeing eye of God looked beneath the action to the motive which prompted it, and He declared: “In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups.... Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”

Through Isaiah God had declared of this nation: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord; they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” “Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?”

Christ's Object

The One who had spoken through Isaiah was now speaking to His people face to face. He was seeking to weed out the traditions and the false doctrines which had become mingled with the pure principles of God's Word. The scribes and Pharisees had accused Him and His disciples of transgression because they did not observe the traditions of the elders. Christ now showed them that it is not that which enters into the mouth that defiles the soul, but that which proceeds from the heart, and that by exalting the traditions of men above the law, they were polluting their own souls and the souls of others. Calling the multitude, He said, “Hear, and understand; not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”

These words aroused the indignation of the Pharisees. That their aged traditions should be set aside and treated as fallacious, made them terribly angry. They were angry also that their deceitful hearts should thus be laid bare to the view of the people.

“Then came His disciples, and said unto Him, Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But He answered and said, Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

By the words, “Let them alone,” Christ did not mean that His followers were to make no effort to correct their untruthful doctrines. He was charging His disciples to enter into no controversy with them. “Let them alone,” He said. Do not be indignant because they set aside My words. They are blind, and blind men can not see. They are leaders of the blind. They have an influence, and many believe their assertions. But because they do not open their understanding to the Word of God, they walk in darkness. If I tell them that they have no foundation for their tradition, and show them truth in contrast with error, they will not believe Me. It is not evidence of the truth they want; they want an excuse for holding to their traditions.

To Peter, who had imbibed the teachings of the Pharisees, the words of Christ seemed new and strange. He said to Christ, “Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

The teachings of Christ were just what the nation needed to save them from eternal ruin. He taught them pure requirements. He showed that no man who has not first offered himself to God as a living sacrifice, who is not a fit temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in, is fit for the service of God. He taught that purification of life and character could be obtained only through Christ. They could discern heavenly things only by becoming partakers of the divine nature, by laying hold of the light and power and knowledge that He was bringing within their reach.

Were Jesus personally teaching in our world today, we should hear from His lips the same truths. If we will submit to the working of the Holy Spirit, God will make us partakers of the divine nature. Only by walking according to the commandments of God can we be clean.

Mrs. E. G. White

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