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Formalist and Hypocrisy

Look! There, on the left side of the road, two shadowy figures tumbling over the wall into the narrow way! Not skulking, either – their maneuver is not furtive, but open and public. They readily identify themselves: Formalist and Hypocrisy, close relatives form the independent nation of Vainglory. Where headed? Naturally, to Mount Zion; and they are quick to say why – for praise! You know whose. They are never caught without a sophisticated answer to anything, not even to the warning: He that cometh not in by the Door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. They’re doing the talking; let’s listen. We of our nation know all about short-cuts. Modern men do not take the long way around. Repentance, conversion and a life of faith? Man, you lost me! That stuff went out with the demand for a pound of flesh! Besides, it destroys the very principle by which we live – vainglory. Man, we live in new times! Used to be, climbing up some other way made you a thief and a robber. Today it makes you a hero. Get with it, man, we have new values today, new customs. The custom, the circumstance vindicate an action taken. The situation provides its moral defensibility. If it’s custom, and the situation warrants it, as is often the case in this age of new-found freedom, then it’s socially acceptable. Why, to the view of all normal-minded people, custom ought to have the protection of law and the sanction of every accredited institution.
The world is going places with the new breed. Our big trouble, off hand, is that we came from a generation painfully puritanical. Nearer to hand, our trouble is that we were brought up by our parents. Being brought up by your parents creates a “generation gap.” Each generation ought to be free to evolve out of its own cocoon, establish its own solidarity, choose its own religion and its own destiny. If you are not satisfied with us the way we are, don’t blame us; it’s our parents’ fault. They made us memorize catechism, scripture and psalms. They taught us by rod and rote, rarely making effort to help us understand our forced, prescribed answers, so laboriously extracted from us. Family worship – perish the thought – was invariably the same, rigid, stereotyped boredom. Father took up his usual, plain, unmarked Bible, read at the usual place where he had left off previously, droned through the usual chapter, no matter how lengthy, and closed with his usual pious incantation. Never did he reveal that he understood or felt a word he read. This, too, was all the Bible reading that ever occurred in our home. With that ritual performed, the family circle disbanded without an idea in their heads or a warm glow in their hearts. It was no better in church. It’s the minister’s fault that we are what we are. He always spoke his usual time. The people say dully, as usual, in their usual places. The usual number of psalms were sung, with the usual number of stanzas. So it went, until the order of the day was over. If the preacher pounded on a pulpit one thump louder than usual, that stood out in the memory of the people, and became the topic of their after-sermon conversation, oblivious to the real subject and thread of his discourse. Indeed, those conversations revealed that their minds never really made the take-off from earth. Heavenly heights made them dizzy. They like both feet on the ground; and, yes, like them ole, also their belly, chin and nose.
Look, here, at my fried, Formalist. I used to be like him – a nice kid like him! A little starchy, but cool, a slide rule in a top hat and tuxedo. Yeah, that’s me ten years ago, just a sweet, dumb kid like Formalist. What did he ever know about that dynamite (Rom. 1:16, Gk. – RCH) he always played with? A cute guy, with his hobby of collecting all his nutty, naïve formalisms. Always room for one more in his book! What a peaceful, unruffled dreamer! Look at me, now. Some time back, I was one minute an innocent, un-aroused formalist; the next minute, a conscious, working-at-it hypocrite.
Christian had a hard, sharp discerning eye on the two since they came into sight. He sizes them up as follows. A common hypocrite will not take up the two-handed Goliath-type sword of the spirit, and actually go through the heavy drill prescribed in the King’s manual. The armor that goes with it is too hard to put on, and the blade too painfully heavy to handle. The vulgar hypocrite makes no such attempt. He would never so weary himself. A balsa wood dress-sword, gilded with glitter-paint, suite him fine. Or an exact replica an undetectable (from a distance) papier mache counterfeit, he expertly wields with impressive feints. His portrait, from a distance, appears to portray a monk with pious hands raised in prayer over an open Bible, but closer scrutiny reveals a bar-tender squeezing a lemon into a bowl of punch (Titus 1:16).
So, when Christian, Formalist and Hypocrisy, all walking the same path, meet an identical crisis, each reveals his true mettle, or lack of it. The three come to the hill Difficulty. Christian wisely drank first of the spring at the foot of the hill before attempting his climb. Around the bottom of the hill to the left was a crooked path, called Danger Gulch; to the right was a broad path called Destruction Boulevard. Formalist took the one low road and Hypocrisy the other. The narrow way led straight up the hill. Christian recalled Goodwill’s method of discerning the way. Many ways butt down on this, crooked and wide, the right only being straight and narrow. Christian, taking it, went on singing,
The hill, though high, I covet to ascent;
The difficulty will not me offend,
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart, let’s neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.
The stage, movie, TV and novel best-seller people are but crude, not finished and polished hypocrites (Acts 19:13-15;: Jer. 23:14). The worst hypocrite is the one who so cleverly masks and whitens himself that he deceives himself. Many people have persuaded themselves that they are good, genuine Christians, when they actually have no part nor lot in the matter. Is it not possible to be a hypocrite and hate hypocrisy? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples? Cannot one be a hypocrite and not know it? Lord! Lord! Have we not in Thy name done many wonderful works? My God, we know Thee! Lord! Lord! Open to us! Would they have bothered to go out to buy if they were but crude hypocrites, deceiving only others? No, they would have made pretense of doing even that. The man who is small and petty is not aware of his smallness and pettiness. The man with a pharisaical mind does not know he has a pharisaical mind; if he did, he would not have a pharisaical mind. The coarse hypocrite, never practicing what he preaches, is a profligate in professorial gown, deceiving others, but not at all self-deceived (Matt. 6:2-5). Gradually, the deceiver comes to believe his own deceptions, especially when he develops a more refined, elegant and cultivated self-righteousness. The perfected, thorough-bred hypocrite not only trusts in himself that he is righteous and despises all others, but does not know that he is worse than all others. The space-age hypocrite imagines that the church ought to be a combination U.N.I.C.E.F., H.E.W. and episcopal cathedral. What the real purpose of the church is on the earth, he has no more idea than the man in the moon.
We, Protestant Reformed people, believe we have the truth in the purest manifestation of truth. This we must believe and hold; we cannot deny the truth divinely entrusted to us. But claiming and testifying this, calls for deep humility and mature faith. It requires not only knowledge of and love for the truth, but love for the church and all that know and have known the truth, and to love them in the truth for the truth’s sake. It means then, that we will not love the truth for personal reasons, nor for the sake of self or clique, only to hate and despise our brother, believe and spread all evil report and disbelieve all good concerning our brother.
Formalist and Hypocrisy took those by-paths, the short-cuts. They fell into the depths of the dark mountains, and were seen no more. But Christian kept on his way, singing,
Shall they who wrong begin yet rightly end?
Shall they at all have safety for a friend?
No, no! in headstrong manner they set out,
And headlong they will fall at last, no doubt.

Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 9 January 1971