Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 12, 1970
NUMBER 44, PAGE 6-7a

The Weightier Virtues Of Religion

Vaughn D. Shofner

It is easy to find a host of religionists who neglect the chief virtues of religion, and supply the want of them by ostentatiously performing the least articles of it. On the other hand many persons perform the great duties of religion and scrupulously omit the least.

We can call to mind some who are all swelled with pride and self-righteousness, and who coddle a spirit of bitterness; who are evidently deceived into thinking that grave looks, affected simplicity and persevering diligence in the exercise of public worship prove a person to be of eminent piety. We can think of others who are immersed in worldly cares, whose lives are consumed in pleasures, who purposely neglect public worship; and who seemingly claim the rights of Christianity by merely paying secular debts, by keeping civil engagements, and by remaining faithful to the promises they make to their fellowmen.

The words of our Lord project an entirely different picture, as he shows the fallacy of this kind of evaluation made by the scribes and Pharisees: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, 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" (Mt. 23:23).

These scribes and Pharisees were condemned for punctiliously performing the law of tithes while they violated the more indispensable precepts of morality. However, our Lord does not intend to divert the attention of Christianity from the least duties by enforcing the greatest, for the lessons of the text are as if he had pointedly said, Christianity's principal attention should be directed to equity of judgment, to charitable consideration of those in need of mercy, and to a blameless conversation; but in addition to an attention to these, his disciples should diligently discharge the lesser duty of tithing and such obligations.

Holy Writ plainly teaches that in some respects all our religious responsibilities are equal, because the foundation of our obedience is the same. A person who deliberately and obstinately violates the least important duty of religion is no less guilty than the person who violates the most essential article of it. The deliberate violation of the smallest duty subverts, as far as the violator is concerned, the ground of all responsibilities, great and small. As James says: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). From this aspect, there is no room for distinction between the more and the less important duties of religion. However, inspired writers teach us that some religious failures attack the majesty of God in a more direct and rebellious manner than others, due to the more express and solemn way the majesty of God is displayed.

Responsibilities originating from revealed law which includes the eternal makeup of the intelligent beings to whom these duties are revealed are more important than those that deal only with temporary, environmental circumstances and particular occasions. As examples of weightier responsibilities: a created intelligence directly attacks the majesty of his Creator when he assumes freedom from his Creator's laws. The talents with which we are entrusted by our Maker should not be employed to gratify our caprice, but they ought to be so used that we may give a good account of them in him who entrusted us with them, and prescribed the use of them.

Paul proves that religious virtues which are perpetuated to eternity are more important than those confined to the limits of time. He says, in consideration of miraculous gifts which were given only to cope with temporary circumstances, "Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I show unto you a more excellent way" (I Co. 12:31). Then follows his laudatory discourse on love. "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fall; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" (I Co. 13:8). Then he sets love above all virtues. "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (v. 13). Therefore, responsibilities which are attached to religious principles that are anterior to time, and to them which continue to eternity, are more important than those to which circumstances of time oblige us.

The responsibilities which have great objects are greater than those which have less significant objects. In the time of Christ's physical life, a warmly disputed question was, "Which is the great commandment?" Some of the Rabbis contended that it was that which appointed announcements by broad phylacteries. Others declared it to be the law of circumcision. Still others contended it was that which appointed sacrifices. But our Lord said none of these merited the highest place. "The great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength." This law admits of no dispensation, no limitation.

This law is indispensable, for it binds alike angels and men, and they are only devils who have fallen to the depraved necessity of hating God whose perfections incline him to render them miserable.

Kind reader, these considerations are sufficient to enable us to understand the reasons which induced Jesus to rank the virtues, judgment, mercy and faith, among the weightier matters of the law.

Gentle friend, let us open our eyes and behold that which is to our interest. Let us obey alike the weightier virtues which he has prescribed to us, and those which are least important. May our obedience be without reserve. And may this be so, not only because Christ is our Lord and King, but also because he proposes only that which will render us happy, and because so much as we retrench our duties, just so much we diminish our happiness.

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