THE SINCERITY OF JESUS
"Ye shall not be as the hypocrites."
- Matthew vi:5.
ALL the graces are beautiful, but some have a finer loveliness than do others. All virtues are important, but some are more essential than others. There are virtues whose absence leaves the character ragged and marred, and there are others whose absence leaves the soul a hollow shell. Certain virtues are conspicuously ornamental, whereas others are plainly fundamental. If the former are not developed, the edifice is not complete; but if the latter are not present, the whole structure comes tumbling down in ruin. Such a fundamental virtue is the virtue of sincerity. It is the keystone in the arch without which the arch collapses. Or to change the figure it is the mother of a noble family of virtues, all of which draw their strength and beauty from it. Truthfulness, honesty, plainness, frankness, simplicity, these and many others are only children of the Queen – Sincerity.
It is the virtue that the human heart instinctively craves and looks for. It is a trait that a parent’s eyes seek for in his children. Anything like deceit or trickery or sham in a child causes the parental heart to bleed. "Do you mean what you are saying?" "Are you telling me what you really feel?" "Are you concealing from me things which I ought to know?" There is nothing which a parent desires so much in his children as the unaffected simplicity of a sincere heart. This is what we demand in all the higher relationships of life. In the lower relationships sincerity is desirable, but in the higher ones it is absolutely indispensable. A man may sweep the pavement or make our garden, and do both well even though he is at heart a cheat. But we like him better and we feel more comfortable in his presence if he looks up at us out of honest eyes. A servant may hold his place and be insincere, not so a friend. There is an adjective that the word "friend" will not keep company with, and that is the adjective "insincere." You cannot induce them to stay together in the same room. They flatly contradict each other. The moment we find out that a comrade is insincere with us, he ceases to be our friend. Sincerity is the very blood and breath of friendship. "Pure gold he is," we say with exultation, meaning that in our friend there is no alloy. His nature is unspoiled and unadulterated. We can rely upon him through the twenty-four hours of every day. We are so constructed that we look for sincerity in others, and when we do not find it we are grieved and disappointed. When what we have taken for sincerity turns out to be nothing but an imitation, our heart sinks within us and we feel like a man who has been stabbed. There is nothing that so takes the life out of us as the discovery that some one whom we have trusted has been other than what he seemed to be. The very suspicion that some one whose life is close to us is insincere renders us restless and makes the universe seem insecure.
And yet how common insincerity is. What a miserable old humbug of a world we are living in, full of trickery and dishonesty and deceit of every kind. Society is cursed with affectation, business is honeycombed with dishonesty, the political world abounds in duplicity and chicanery, there is sham and pretense and humbuggery everywhere. Some use big words they do not understand, and some lay claim to knowledge which they do not have, and some parade in dresses which they cannot pay for; the life of many a man and many a woman is one colossal lie. We say things which we do not mean, express emotions which we do not feel, we praise when we secretly condemn, we smile when there is a frown on the face of the heart, we give compliments when we are really thinking curses, striving a hundred times a week to make people think we are other than we are. It is a penitentiary offense to obtain money under false pretenses, and so from this we carefully refrain. But how many other things are obtained, do you think, by shamming and pretending, for which there is no penalty but the condemnation of Almighty God? Yes, it is a sad, deceitful, demoralized world in the midst of which we find ourselves; but thank God there are hearts here and there upon which we can evermore depend. We have tested them and we know them to be true. Life would not be worth the living if there were no one on earth sincere. It is to the honest heart that we return again and again, seeking rest and finding it. It is a fountain at which we drink and refresh ourselves for the toilsome journey. Beautiful, indeed, is the virtue of sincerity. It is not a gaudy virtue. It does not glitter. it has no sparkle in it. But it is substantial. It is life giving. It sustains and nourishes the heart. It is a virtue within the reach of the humblest of us. There are some things we cannot be, and many things we cannot do. But this one thing is within the reach of us all, – we may pray God unceasingly to keep our heart sincere.
Would you see sincerity in its loveliest form, then come to Jesus. Here is a man incapable of a lie. Nothing was so abhorrent to him as falsehood. No other people so stirred his wrath as men who pretended to be what they were not. The most odious word upon his lips was the word "hypocrite." Have you ever wondered why it is impossible to speak that word without it falling from the lips like a serpent – it is because his curse is resting on it. It was not a harsh word before he spoke it, but he breathed the hot breath of his scorn into it, and it has been ever since a word degraded and lost. A hypocrite is an actor. It is a word taken originally from the stage. In the theater we expect men and women to be other than they seem to be. An ordinary plebeian wraps round him the robes of a king, talks like a king, and acts like one, and we are not offended, because we are not deceived. It is expected that on the stage no one shall seem to be what he really is. But on the great stage of the world God expects every man to be what he claims to be. If we say thin-s we do not believe, and profess things we do not feel, and lay claim to things which we do not possess, we are tricksters and deceivers, causing mischief and confusion in the world. It was the sincerity of Jesus that drove him into deadly conflict with the hypocrites. A hypocrite and Jesus cannot live together.
It was his constant exhortation that men should speak the truth. The religious leaders of his day had divided oaths into two classes, one class binding, the other not. If an oath contained the name of God, it was binding on the conscience; if for God’s name some other name was substituted, then the conscience might go free. Jesus was disgusted by the reasoning of the bat-eyed pettifoggers. "Do not swear at all," he said. "Let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay." In other words, "If you want to render a thing emphatic, simply say it over again. If men doubt you, then quietly repeat what you have already declared." It was the belief of Jesus that a man’s word ought to be as good as his oath, or as we say as good as his bond. If the world were the kind of world God wants it to be, then all the evidence that would be needed to prove a certain thing true would be that a man had asserted it. If it is necessary now in courts of justice to make use of oaths, that is because of the Evil One who has corrupted many hearts and rendered the ordinary speech of humanity unreliable. In an ideal world all oaths are unnecessary and unthought of.
It was because of Jesus’ incorruptible sincerity that we have from his lips such a remarkable outpouring of plain words. You and I do not like plain words. We dare not use them-at least often. We water our words down. We pull the string out of them. We substitute long Latin words for plain, short, Anglo-Saxon words, for by multiplying the syllables we attenuate the meaning. For instance, we say "prevarication" instead of "lie," because falsehood when expressed pompously loses its blackness and grossness. But Jesus would not use words of velvet when words of velvet flattered and deceived. It was his work to help men see themselves as they were. He characterized them by words that accurately described their character. One day he told a crowd in the city of Jerusalem that they were of their father the devil, and that the lusts of their father they were eager to do. He went on to add that the devil was a murderer and that he abode not in the truth because the truth was not in him. We are shocked by such plainness of speech. We do not like it. Is that because we dare not express things as they are? Have we gotten into the habit of hiding our eyes and trying to make black things seem gray or even white?
Jesus was incorrigibly sincere, and it was sincerity that drove him to tell men the plain truth. He said to these men, "If I should say I do not know God, I should be a liar like you." There was a strong inducement for him to conceal his extraordinary knowledge. A man makes himself odious by claiming to know more than other men, and by asserting that he can do more than anybody else. It would have been easier for Jesus to adopt the language of the professionally humble people who are always saying that they do not know anything and cannot do anything and do not amount to anything. But Jesus was a man of truth. He could not disguise the fact that his knowledge was unique and that his power was unparalleled. Because he was true he could not hold back the fact that he was the Good Shepherd and the Door, the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World. Nothing, but sincerity would ever have driven him to outrage the feelings of his countrymen by assertions so extraordinary. Had he kept silence or pretended to be ignorant on matters on which he possessed full knowledge, he would indeed have been a liar like the very men with whom he was struggling. All these remarkable declarations of his in regard to the nature of his personality and the range of his power were forced from his lips by a heart unswervingly loyal to the truth.
The warnings of Jesus have often aroused criticism and condemnation because of their severity and the frightening words in which they are expressed. He told certain men they were moving onward to perdition and painted their loss and ruin in phrases which have caused the human heart to shudder. How will you account for such vigor of language? It was certainly cruel to speak such words if he did not know the possibilities and doom of sin. If he knew, then he was bound to tell. The awful parables of the New Testament are the product of a heart that was uncompromisingly sincere. To speak soft words to men whose feet are hastening down the road to ruin, how was it possible to do it? His very sincerity drove him into language that to our cold hearts seems exaggerated and needlessly abusive. He called the leaders in Jerusalem liars, blind men, fools, serpents, vipers. If they were not all this, then Jesus stands condemned for making use of such cutting words. But suppose these men were precisely what such words described – then what? Suppose they were in very fact liars and fools and blind men, was it not the duty of Jesus to inform them of their pitiable condition? What else could a sincere friend do? These men supposed they could see and were wise, but if they were mistaken was it not incumbent on an honest man to deliver them if possible from their delusion? If they were venomous, and deadly and treacherous, why should they not be likened to serpents and vipers? There is not a trace of bitterness in Jesus’ language. It is the calm statement of a horrible fact. The Lord of truth must of necessity use words which accurately characterize the persons who are to be instructed and warned.
The inmost heart of Jesus finds utterance in his declaration to Pontius Pilate that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth. That was his work. He never shirked it. He never grew weary in doing it. He was surrounded all his life by men who bore witness to falsehoods. They lied about him in every city in which he worked. They misrepresented his deeds and his words and his motives. They filled all the air with lies. The witnesses who appeared against him at his trial were liars. But in the midst of the despicable set of false-minded, false-hearted maligners, and murderers he stood forth, calm, radiant, the one man in all the world whose lips had never been sullied by a falsehood and whose heart had never been stained by a lie.
In the centuries which have passed since Jesus died, many strange and uncomplimentary things have been said about him; but it is surprising how loath men have been to accuse him of deceit. They have been willing to say he was mistaken, they have called him a visionary, a fanatic, an enthusiast, and dreamer; but no man of sane mind or heart has ever ventured to assert that Jesus of Nazareth was an intentional deceiver. Men have claimed that his apostles were rogues and falsifiers, that they deliberately misrepresented both his person and his teaching; but no one has dared to argue that Jesus himself was capable of a lie. There is something so pure and frank and noble about him that to doubt his sincerity would be like doubting the brightness of the sun.
This unquestioned loyalty to truth gives his words a value that no other words possess. When we listen to the words of other men, we must make subtractions and allowances. No man puts his whole self into his speech. His words reveal him and they also conceal him. There is a discrepancy between the soul and what the mouth declares. Not so with Jesus. He holds back nothing. What he thinks he says, what he feels he declares. He tones down nothing, he exaggerates nothing. He declares all things as they are. He is not swerved by sin within nor cowed by hostile forces from without. His character is revealed in his speech. A Chinese proverb says that words are the sounds of the heart. This is certainly true of the words of Jesus. His words are simply the pulsations of his heart. They are unlike any other words ever spoken. They contain the full-statured spirit of a man. In these words his great soul comes out and stands before us, and in them we behold his glory.
This, then, is the man we want. A man like this can be a refuge in the time of storm. To him we can flee; when sick at heart, because of the deceptions of the world, we cry out in wretchedness, "Who shall show us any good?" When men disappoint us and friends are few, we can come to one who says, "I am the truth." When we are weary and heavy-laden, we can rest our souls upon one who is as certain as the morning and as faithful as the stars. The world is filled with jangling voices and it is hard to know which voice to trust; but his voice has in it something that inspires assurance and quenches uncertainty and doubt. What he teaches about God we can receive. What he says of the soul we can believe. What he declares of sin and the penalty of sin we can accept. What he tells us of the soul we can depend upon. What he asserts concerning the principles of a victorious life we can act upon, never doubting. When he tells us to do a thing we can do it, assured that that is the best thing to do. When he warns us against a course of action we can shun it, knowing that in that direction lie night and death. The path that he exhorts us all to take we can take with boldness, convinced that if we take it we shall arrive safe at home at last. When he says that him that cometh unto him he will in no wise cast off, we are certain that if we come we shall be received. When he says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice and open the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me," we are certain of a heavenly guest if we want him. This, then, is why we feel so calm and satisfied with Jesus: he soothes and heals us by being genuine. The heart is always at peace when it rests upon a heart that is sincere.