by J.C. Ryle
Gospel: St. Matthew 16:5-12
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them.
“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Every word spoken by the Lord Jesus is full of deep instruction for Christians. It is the voice of the Chief Shepherd. It is the Great Head of the Church speaking to all its members – King of kings speaking to His subjects – the Master of the house speaking to His servants – the Captain of our salvation speaking to His soldiers. Above all, it is the voice of Him who said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it” (John 12:49.) The heart of every believer in the Lord Jesus ought to burn within him when he hears his Master’s words: he ought to say, “Listen! My lover!” (Song of Solomon 2:8).
And every word spoken by the Lord Jesus is of the greatest value. Precious as gold are all His words of doctrine and teaching; precious are all His parables and prophecies; precious are all His words of comfort and of consolation; precious, the not least of which, are all His words of caution and of warning. We are not merely to hear Him when He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened;” we are to also hear Him when He says, “Be careful and be on your guard.”
I am going to direct attention to one of the most solemn and emphatic warnings which the Lord Jesus ever delivered: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” On this text I wish to erect a beacon for all who desire to be saved, and to preserve some souls, if possible, from making their lives a shipwreck. The times call loudly for such beacons: the spiritual shipwrecks of the last twenty-five years have been deplorably numerous. The watchmen of the Church ought to speak out plainly now, or forever hold their peace.
I. First of all, I ask my readers to observe “who they were to whom the warning of the text was addressed.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not speaking to men who were worldly, ungodly, and unsanctified, but to His own disciples, companions, and friends. He addressed men who, with the exception of the apostate Judas Iscariot, were right-hearted in the sight of God. He spoke to the twelve Apostles, the first founders of the Church of Christ, and the first ministers of the Word of salvation. And yet even to them He addressed the solemn caution of our text: “Be careful and be on your guard.”
There is something very remarkable in this fact. We might have thought that these Apostles needed little warning of this kind. Had they not given up all for Christ’s sake? They had. Had they not endured hardship for Christ’s sake? They had. Had they not believed Jesus, followed Jesus, loved Jesus, when almost all the world was unbelieving? All these things are true; and yet to them the caution was addressed: “Be careful and be on your guard.”
We might have imagined that at any rate the disciples had little to fear from the “yeast of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” They were poor and unlearned men, most of them fishermen or tax collectors; they had no desire to follow the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees; they were more likely to be prejudiced against them than to feel any drawing towards them. All this is perfectly true; yet even to them there comes the solemn warning: “Be careful and be on your guard.”
There is useful counsel here for all who profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. It tells us loudly that the most eminent servants of Christ are not beyond the need of warnings, and ought to be always on their guard. It shows us plainly that the holiest of believers ought to walk humbly with his God, and to watch and pray so that he won’t fall into temptation, and be overtaken with sin. None is so holy, that he can’t fall–not ultimately, not hopelessly, but to his own discomfort, to the scandal of the Church, and to the triumph of the world: none is so strong that he cannot for a time be overcome.
Chosen as believers are by God the Father, justified as they are by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, sanctified as they are by the Holy Spirit–believers are still only men: they are still in the body, and still in the world. They are ever near temptation: they are ever liable to misjudge, both in doctrine and in practice. Their hearts, though renewed, are very feeble; their understanding, though enlightened, is still very dim. They ought to live like those who dwell in an enemy’s land, and every day to put on the armor of God.
The devil is very busy: he never slumbers or sleeps. Let us remember the falls of Noah, and Abraham, and Lot, and Moses, and David, and Peter; and remembering them, be humble, and be careful so that we don’t fall.
I may be allowed to say that none need warnings so much as the ministers of Christ’s Gospel. Our office and our ordination are no security against errors and mistakes. It is true, that the greatest heresies have crept into the Church of Christ by means of ordained men. Ordination does not confers any immunity from error and false doctrine. Our very familiarity with the Gospel often creates in us a hardened state of mind. We are apt to read the Scriptures, and preach the Word, and conduct public worship, and carry on the service of God, in a dry, hard, formal, callous spirit. Our very familiarity with sacred things, unless we watch our hearts, is likely to lead us astray.
“Nowhere,” says an old writer, “is a man’s soul in more danger than in a minister’s study.”
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