ON THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN, LUKE xviii.
Consider first, how our Lord spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others. ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a Pharisee and the other a publican. This Pharisee standing prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner! I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ O my soul, beware of this unhappy disposition; dread these two most pernicious evils of trusting in thyself as just, and of despising others. Those that are truly just, are far from thinking themselves so. They are far from glorying in themselves, far from attributing anything of good to themselves, or preferring themselves before any one living. In the judgment they make of themselves, they always sit down, according to the rule of their great master, in the lowest place of all. Their eyes are ever open to their own defects, and shut to those of others; at least where their duty does not require their inspection or correction of them. They are convinced that they have nothing in themselves that they can trust to; and that it is only owing to God’s great mercy that they have not been guilty of the most enormous crimes that any poor wretch has ever committed; and therefore they never presume to despise anyone, not even the most scandalous sinner, lest they should be found worse than him in the sight of God, through their pride and self-conceit; crimes which they know to be always an abomination to the Lord. See, my soul, if these be thy sentiments.
Consider 2ndly, that it was this pride and self-conceit that is here condemned in the Pharisee, and which was the cause of his condemnation. He was of the number of those that trusted in themselves as just, and despised all others. He was full of himself. In his prayer he neither craved mercy nor grace of God; he asked for nothing, because he took himself to be rich and wealthy, and not to stand in need of anything; whereas, indeed, through his pride he was ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,’ Apoc. iii. 17. His whole prayer was only an enumeration of his own good works, with a censure upon the rest of men, and condemnation of the poor publican. And as he asked for nothing, so he obtained nothing, but only carried home with him his own condemnation. See, my soul, the sad consequences of pride, and its particular opposition to the spirit of prayer; and learn to detest with all thy power, and to drive far from thee, an evil that is so detestable in the sight of God – whom it sacrilegiously robs of his glory – and so pernicious to the souls of men, whom it transforms into devils, and condemns to hell.
Consider 3rdly, the lessons we are to learn from the example of the publican set before us by our Lord in this parable for our imitation. he had a true sense of his sins, and of what he had deserved for his sins; and therefore he condemned himself as unworthy to lift up his eyes to heaven, or to come near to the altar of God; but standing afar off, with his countenance humbly cast down upon the ground, he struck his breast, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’ Now this profound humility, this great sense of sorrow and contrition for his sins which accompanied his prayer, was that which procured him a favourable audience and a ready discharge from all his sins. His prayer was heard because it was presented and recommended by a contrite and humbled heart, and by the efficacy of it he went home justified; whilst the proud Pharisee, who was so full of the conceit of his own good works, met with nothing but his condemnation. O let us learn these great lessons of humility and of perfect contrition for our sins; let us, as often as we go up to the temple of God to pray, carry with us this sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, and we shall not fail of meeting with the like mercy as the publican did.
Conclude to study well these lessons, so much recommended and so frequently inculcated by our Lord in the gospel. Oh! ever remember that humility and contrition of heart bring us to God; but pride and self-conceit carry us far away from him. For ‘He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble,’ St. James iv. 16.