First Sort. I come first to those who upon the trial are cast—whose consciences, after examination, condemn as hypocrites. Evidence comes in so clear and strong against them, that their conscience cannot hold, but tells them plainly, ‘if these be the marks of sincerity, then they are hypocrites.’ The improvement I would make of this trial for your sakes, is to give a word of counsel—what in this case you are to do that you may become sincere.
- Direction. Get thy heart deeply affected with thy present dismal state. No hope of cure till thou beest chased into some sense and feeling of thy deplored condition. Physic cannot be given so long as the patient is asleep; and it is the nature of this disease to make the soul heavy-eyed, and dispose it to a kind of slumber of conscience, by reason of the flattering thoughts the hypocrite hath of himself, from some formalities he performs above others in religion, which fume up from his deceived heart, like so many pleasing vapours from the stomach to the head, and bind up his spiritual senses into a kind of stupidity, yea, cause many pleasing dreams to entertain him with vain hopes and false joys, which vanish as soon as he wakes and comes to himself. The Pharisees, the most notorious hypocrites of their age, how fast asleep were they in pride and carnal confidence, despising all the world in comparison of themselves —not afraid to commend themselves to God, yea, prefer themselves before others: ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not like this publican’—as if they would tell God, they did look to find some more respect from him than others, so far beneath them, had at his hand! Therefore Christ, in his dealing with this proud generation of men, useth an unusual strain of speech. His voice, which to others was till and soft, is heard like thunder breaking out of the clouds, when he speaks to them. How many dreadful claps have we almost together in the same chapter fall on their heads, out of the mouth of our meek and sweet Saviour. ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,’ Matt. 23. No less than eight woes doth Christ discharge upon them, as so many case-shot together, that by multiplying the woes, he might show not only the certainty of the hypocrite’s damnation, but precedency also; and yet how many of that rank do we read of to be awakened and converted by these rousing sermons? Some few there were indeed, that the disease might not appear incurable; but very few, that we may tremble the more of falling into it, or letting it grow upon us.
Peter learned of his master how to handle the hypocrite. Having to do with one far gone in this disease, Simon Magus, he steeps his words, as it were, in vinegar and gall. ‘Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God,’ Acts 8:21. There he lays the weight of his charge, that he carried a hypocritical heart in his bosom, which was a thousand times worse than his simoniacal fact, though that was foul enough. It was not barely that fact, but, proceeding from a heart inwardly rotten and false—which God gave Peter an extraordinary spirit to discern—that proved him to be ‘in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity;’ only in this better on it than the damned souls in hell, that they were in the fire, he in the bond of iniquity, like a faggot bound up, fit for it, but not cast in; they past hope, and he with so much left as might amount to a ‘perhaps if the thought of his heart might be forgiven.’
To give but one instance more, and that of a whole church, hypocritical Laodicea. The Spirit of God takes her up more sharply than all the rest, which, though he charged with some particular miscarriages, yet he finds something among them he own and commends; but in her, because she was conceited already as this leaven of hypocrisy naturally puffs up, he mentions nothing that was good in her, lest it should feed that humour that did so abound already, and take away the smartness of the reproof, which was the only probable means left of recovering her. All that inclines to sleep is deadly to a lethargic; and all that is soothing and cockering, dangerous to hypocrites. Some say the surest way to cure a lethargy, is to turn it into a fever. To be sure, the safest way to deal with the hypocrite, is to bring him from his false peace to a deep sense of his true misery. Let this then be thy first work. Aggravate thy sin and put thy soul into mourning for it. When a person who was, but the priest—who was to judge in cases of leprosy—pronounced unclean, the leper thus convicted was to rend his clothes, go bare-headed, and put a covering upon his upper lip—all ceremonies used by mourners—and to cry ‘Unclean, unclean,’ Lev. 13:45. Thus do thou, as a true mourner, sit down and lament this plague of thy heart. Cry out bitterly, ‘Unclean, unclean I am,’ Eze. 15:17. Thou art not fit, by reason of thy hypocritical heart, to come near God or his saints, but to be, like the leper, separate from both. If thou hadst such a loathsome disease reigning on thee as did pollute the very seat thou sittest on, bed thou liest in, and as would drop such filthiness on everything thou comest near—even into the meat thou eatest, and cup thou drinkest from—that should make all abandon thy nasty company; how great would thy sorrow be, as thou didst sit desolate and musing alone of thy doleful condition! Such a state thy hypocrisy puts thee into. A plague it is, more offensive to God than such a disease could make thee to men. It runs like a filthy sore through all the duties and goodly coverings that you can put over it, and defiles them and thee so, that God will take an offering out of the devil’s hand as soon as out of thine, while thou continuest a hypocrite. Further, did the saints of God, with whom thou hast, may be, so much credit as to be admitted to join with them at present, know thee, they would make as much from thee, as from him on whom they should see the plague-tokens. But shouldst not thy disease be known till thou art dead, and so keep thy reputation with them, yea, possibly by them be thought, when thou diest, a saint—will this give thee any content in hell, that they are speaking well of thee on earth? ‘O poor Aristotle,’ said one, ‘thou art praised where thou art not, and burned where thou art!’ He meant it was poor comfort to that great heathen philosopher to be admired by men of learning, that have kept up his fame from generation to generation, if he all the while be miserable in the other world. So here, O poor hypocrite, that art ranked among saints on earth, but punished among devils in hell.