William S. Plumer on Religious Hypocrisy
Recently, I have been reading Jehovah Jireh: A Treatise on Providence by William S. Plumer. In chapter 8 where Plumer tackles God’s providence over Judas Iscariot, a lengthy portion details and diagnoses religious hypocrisy. I have found myself referencing, reading, and rereading these sections because of its plainly-stated, piercing insights. Sincerity of faith is necessary to loving others well (1 Tim. 1:5) and persevering in the faith (1 Tim. 1:5-6, 18-19). If a true fear of God in the heart is absent, if earnestness is lacking in our worship and in our Christian duties, then we will miss the promises inherited by the faithful (Mat. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). I am sharing these thoughts from Plumer, praying that it will help us to uproot insincerity wherever it remains in us.
In Judas’ pretended regard for the poor, we see what foul wickedness may be covered with the most plausible pretences. The same thing is seen in every age. By false names every virtue is depressed and every vice exalted. Pascal says: “One of the greatest artifices the devil uses to engage men in vice and debauchery is to fasten the names of contempt on certain virtues, and thus to fill weak souls with a foolish fear of passing for scrupulous should they desire to put then in practice.” The man who beggars widows and orphans, and holds back the wages of the hireling, and lives by the distresses he brings on others, would fain persuade himself and his neighbors that he is prudent. Indeed, any pretext will satisfy a blind, stupid conscience. The great concern of the masses is to justify themselves before men. They little regard the tribunal of God. Yet the investigations of the last day will tear off all false pretences, and sweep away every refuge of lies.
Nor should we forget that character may as well be learned from small as from great things. Judas’ petty larceny was as good an index to his character as his treason. A straw will show which way the wind blows. Human character is not made up of a few great acts, but of a multitude of little things. Every-day conduct shows the man. Great events, in which we are actors, will fearfully expose us, if in small affairs we are unable to behave well. The failure of our virtue on great occasions is but an announcement to the world that we have been habitually coming short in our more private behaviour.
It is also manifest that bad men may for a long time appear well. To do so may cost them trouble, but may still be practicable. Through life they may have such a fear of exposure, and be so studious of appearances as to deceive all around them. Even suspicion may not soil their fair name, and yet they may be in the gall of bitterness. Eschewing the vices of the debauched, they may practice the sins of devils. It is true that this class of transgressors have a hard task. They are always like one who has a rent in his garment, which he finds difficult to conceal. Truth is one and simple. Falsehood is multiform and complex. An honest blunderer is to be preferred before the most cunning knave on earth. A life of deception is full of hardship and uncertainty; and at its close, when amendment is impossible, the truth comes out, and in a moment damnation flashes in the face, and the poor soul enters on an existence full of misery. When God tears away the mask, disguise is no longer possible.
And yet bad men might know the truth concerning themselves if they did not hate it. Judas well knew his own theft, yet he refused to consider it a sin to be repented of. He had before his mind the clear evidence of his own hypocrisy, but he was not disposed to give it its just weight. He hated the light, and did not come to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. When will men learn that concealment is not innocence? We may hide our sins from our own eyes, but until God casts them all behind his back they may rise up at any moment and overwhelm us. If men were not as unwise as they are wicked, they would not go to the bar of God with a lie in their right hand.
Nothing prepares a man for destruction faster than hypocrisy or formality in actions of a religious nature. The three years which Judas spent in the family of our Lord probably exceeded all the rest of his life in ripening him for destruction. So many, so solemn, so impressive truths were presented to his mind, that he must have become very rapidly hardened. “I have peace-offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows” Prov. vii. 14, said one who was ready for the worst deeds. The reason why, other things being equal, apostates are so much more wicked than others, is that they have learned how to resist all good influences. They have tried the remedy, but first learned to render it ineffectual.