Some excerpts from:
*** w80 5/1 p. 5 Learning from an Experiment That Failed ***
Learning from an Experiment That Failed
THROUGHOUT history there have been numerous attempts to influence people toward a more righteous way of life. One such experiment was made by the Pharisees, a group that receives considerable attention in the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures. Their experiment failed.
Determination to avoid transgressing God’s law, even in minute details, caused the Pharisees to go yet farther. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus writes: “The Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses.”
What was the purpose of so many rules of conduct? Some insight on this matter can be gained from a statement uttered by Jewish religious leaders before the Common Era: “Be deliberate in judgement, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Law.” The “fence” means traditions that supposedly would restrain persons from transgressing the written law of God. According to theory, if a person did not cross the fence, he would never be guilty of violating an actual Biblical decree.
Did that experiment succeed? Did the massive body of oral traditions make better people out of the Israelites and the Pharisees in particular?
Seeking God’s Favor Through Deeds
Excessive attention to minute regulations had a harmful effect. It led to the belief that becoming righteous in God’s eyes was merely a matter of carrying out prescribed religious and charitable deeds. Each good deed was believed to earn “merit” with God, whereas every bad act would incur “debt.” Supposedly, God would one day make a tally of the record of merits and debts to determine whether a person was righteous or wicked.
The teaching about earning merit and favor with God by good deeds caused many Pharisees to become self-righteous and condemnatory of others.
By the time the Son of God began his earthly ministry, the Pharisees had been around for about two centuries. That was plenty of time to see whether their experiment at promoting righteousness through good works would succeed. It did not. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared: “If your righteousness does not abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens.”
No amount of ritual washings or other pious deeds can cleanse away defilement due to sin. Only repentance and the putting of faith in God’s arrangement for canceling sins through Jesus Christ can achieve forgiveness and salvation. (Acts 4:12) That is why Zechariah, father of John the Baptizer, prophesied that God was about to “give knowledge of salvation to his people,” not by freeing them from an enemy nation but “by forgiveness of their sins.”—Luke 1:77.
The Pharisees did not like that message, since they ‘trusted in themselves that they were righteous and considered the rest as nothing.’ (Luke 18:9, 10) But theirs was merely an external, superficial piety. It did not root out inward filthiness
Historical facts are plentiful to show that the Pharisees’ experiment to promote righteousness by their way of observing religious precepts and performing charitable deeds was a failure. It neither influenced the majority toward godliness nor helped the Pharisees themselves to become better people. Instead, it influenced them to commit the worst crime in all history, the murder of the Son of God.
However, the experiment was not altogether without usefulness. It set the stage for Jesus before his death to give the powerful message concerning human sinfulness and the need to seek salvation, not through works but as a free gift on the basis of repentance and faith in the sin-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.