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Written by J.H. Oliphant   


“And he spake this parable unto certain-which trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself; God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican; I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke xviii. 9-14.

“He spoke this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Do we trust in ourselves that we are righteous? and do we despise others as unworthy of our notice? If so, then this parable is ours and against us.

The Christian does not boast; “boasting is excluded.” The most devout Christian laments his imperfections—his hard heart and his wandering mind. He esteems others better than himself. The true attitude of the Christian is not that of a claimant, but that of a criminal.

“God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” He thought there was a vast difference between himself and the publican. He boasted about the difference.

While there is a great difference between the Christian and the “dead in sin,” yet he does not boast about it; he knows the Lord made the difference. The Christian differs from the world in many ways, but does not boast of it. This difference has come about in such a way as to exclude boasting, and to nourish humility.

The Pharisee looked down on the true servants of God, despising them for their ignorance, supposing them to know nothing of truth, and that wisdom was all their own; when in fact the boasting Pharisee knew nothing and the publican was blessed with wisdom. “Extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” Men may do all the things that are good, and yet not have the new birth— the kernel of the matter. The true, lowly spirit of devotion without the form is better than the form without the spirit. The Pharisee boasted of the form, but was proud and self-trusting. The publican had the spirit of the matter.

We are not to trust in external virtues as of so much importance as a new creature.” We may “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” The Pharisees complained of the disciples, “They wash not their hands when they eat bread.” It is good to keep the hands clean, but to trust in such things is a sin. If we boast of our duties done, we are Pharisees. When we do all we can, we are unprofitable servants.

“I fast twice in the week.” This was perhaps more fasting than was required. The proud Pharisee obeyed the tradition of the elders, and paraded this before God as a around for his claim of superiority.

“I give tithes of all that I possess.” He was scrupulously exact in some things, and trusted in his exactness, and thus was an offense to God.

“And the publican, standing afar off.” They both stood to pray; the difference in the two men was not in this. We read of men praying acceptably standing, and kneeling. I always loved to see men kneel in prayer, or it looks good to see men stand to pray. But to make no change in. the position of the body during prayer does not seem to agree with the solemnity of prayer. The publican standing “afar off” denotes that he was “far off” in his own estimation. He may have gone to the farthest corner of the room, feeling himself to be the poorest and most needy of all; esteeming others as better than himself.

“Would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.” As to what was going on in his heart, what his thoughts and feeling were we may glean from his gestures. No doubt he felt unworthy to look up to God, “but smote upon his breast.” The gestures of a suffering child may tell us where the pain is; he smote upon his breast. Watts says:  “Here on my heart the burden lies,  And past offenses pain my eyes.”

There was no pride in him, no boasting— no trusting in self. It was— “Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

Let us consider this man who stands -afar off with down-cast look, and smiting on his breast. What a clear view he has of his sins; no claim of being better than others; no mention of his duties and virtues. He looks for help from only one source—the mercy of God. No hope in duties he had done, no word about the faults of others.

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” What a wonderful plea is here put up! “a sinner.” Not one plea on the ground of duties done— “a sinner.” David said, “I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.” “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” “Have mercy on me, for thy mercies are very great.”

To come before God with no plea, only his mercy; come confessing our sins, is the true way. Lord, I have sinned, and all my sins are open to thee. I cast myself on the mercy of God. If I am saved it is mercy, and if I am damned it is jut. “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me whole.

“Should sudden vengeance, seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death.
Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord,
Whose hope still hovering round thy word,
Would light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.”

Which of these two men are you like? Do you recount duties done as ground of your hope, or is all your plea the mercy of God? Does it suit your feelings to stand “afar off” and plead nothing but the mercy of God?

"Can Jesus hear a sinner pray,
And suffer him to die?
No, he is full of love and grace,
And never will permit,
A soul that glad would see his face,
To perish at his feet."

“No sinner will ever be empty sent back,
Who comes seeking mercy for Jesus’ sake.”

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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