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The Nature and Purport of our Lord's Parable of the

Publican and Pharisee.

LUKE xviii. 14.

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. THESE "HESE words are the conclusion of a noted parable, which

our Lord delivered for a just rebuke upon pride and censoriousness. He “spake” it “unto certain” persons, who “ trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised “ others.” The parable itself runs thus : “ 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, extortion“ers, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast twice “ in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." So said the assuming, self-admiring Pharisee. But in the mean while the modest and humble Publican, “ standing afar off, would not lift

up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but sinote upon his “ breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Now our Lord's reflection upon the whole case, after thus comparing the two men and their manners, was ; “ I tell you, this Publican “ went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee : “ for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased ; and he " that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

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The Pharisee, it seems, was a man of a strict, regular life, religious in his deportment towards God, and righteous also in his outward dealings towards men ; but withal he was full of spiritual pride and censoriousness. The Publican was a man of the world, given perhaps to extortions and exactions, (the common vices of his profession,) but modest however, and unpretending, and if not thoroughly penitent, yet in a fair way towards it, in a fit disposition for it. Our Lord does not say, absolutely, that either of the two was justified; but he speaks comparatively, that one

“ rather than the other.” The Publican's loose life, if not thoroughly corrected and reformed, would condemn him; and the Pharisee's pride and censoriousness would condemn him : but still, in the mean season, the Publican's humility before God would de found more acceptable, notwithstanding his otherwise irregular life, than the Pharisee's religious strictness could be, while tarnished with censoriousness, ostentation, and pride of heart: for “ God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the “ humblea." So much in the general. But for our clearer understanding the nature and purport of this parable, and the practical uses to be made of it, I shall proceed to a more distinct view of its several parts, pointing out the doctrinal observations which naturally arise from them.

1. We may take notice, that, be a man's life and conversation otherwise ever so religious and regular; yet, if he is proud and censorious all the time, assuming upon his performances, and reflecting hardly on his neighbour's, that man’s religion and regularity is vain ; he shall not be justified in God's sight. His self-admiration and his contempt of others will more than counterbalance his pretences to virtue, and will cancel, in a manner, all his godliness.

The Pharisee began well ; God, I thank thee:" he should have added, “ if I have any thing praiseworthy in me, or have “ done any thing acceptable in thy sight; for it is all owing to “thy grace, and in myself I am nothing." Such an address to the Divine Majesty might have been modest and becoming ; especially if he had gone on to enumerate his many or great offences, and humbly to implore pardon for them: but instead of this, he says, “ God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men God with accusations in his mouth against other men ; perhaps false and injurious, but most certainly foreign and impertinent ? The sins or failings of other persons was no concern of his in his prayers : but self-accusation or self-humiliation might have come very decently and properly from him, in his supplications to an offended God. He was disposed to dwell only on his imaginary perfections, and to throw a veil over his sins. His self-flattery prompted him to magnify his own services, taking a false estimate of himself from an ill-natured comparison, which could serve only to deceive him, rather than justify him. For what if some others were really worse than he in some certain respects? it would not follow from thence, that he was better than they upon the whole ; much less, that he had any just pretence for boasting before God.

are, extortioners,” &c. What had he to do, to come before

a James iv. 6.

1 Pet. v. 5. Prov. iii. 34.

The Publican, with better colour, (had his modesty permitted,) might have said, “ God, I thank thee, that I am not as some “ men are ; proud, uncharitable, censorious, or even as this Pharisee: I boast not of my own virtues, I confess my transgressions, “and am ready to make all due allowances for the failings of “ others, as much as for my own.” Such a prayer as this (though far from becoming or proper) might as reasonably have been offered up by the Publican, as the other by the Pharisee: but both would have been wrong: for the important question, which every conscientious person has to ask himself, is, not whether his life and conversation be comparatively better, in whole or in part, than what he commonly sees; but whether it be simply and plainly such as the Gospel requires. He may often mistake in thinking himself better than his neighbours, whom he may chance to judge too hardly of : but were he ever so clear and certain in that point, it concerns him little ; because, allowing it to be true, he may still be far from perfect, and may fall very short of the Gospel rule.

Besides, if, instead of looking into his failures, he chooses only to make ostentation of his own real or imaginary advances in godliness ; and if, instead of condemning himself, he affects rather to lay heavy charges upon others ; he may then be certain, that he is proud and censorious : and those black vices of the mind are as odious in God's sight, or perhaps more odious, than any other offences which can be named; being utterly repugnant to the two great commandments, the love of God, and the love of our neighbour.

And there is this further consideration to shew the dangerous nature of those vices; that while they render a man vain and self-confident, they leave him in no disposition to repent, but serve only to buoy him up under a false conceit that he needs no repentance. They who are once swelled with an high opinion of their present attainments will be the last who will ever think of reforming or improving their lives.

This is what our blessed Lord had an eye to, when he said to the chief priests and Pharisees, in the way of solemn rebuke,

Verily I say unto you, that the Publicans and the harlots go into “ the kingdom of God before you b.” Why so? might some ask; what, were those loose and profligate creatures at all worthy to be compared with those devout and religious men, men of strict life and exemplary conversation, to all appearance? Yes, they were worthy so far: because those profligate creatures were sometimes humble enough to repent, and they did repent ; but the other sort, who had faults also, and great ones, (though not so scandalous,) had withal so much pride and high-mindedness, that they imagined it more their business to sit as censors and correctors over all mankind, than to confess their own sins, or to repent of them. In this view, though they were otherwise persons of sober lives, and of great regularity, in the eyes of the world, they were yet the furthest of any from the kingdom of God. Spiritual pride, accompanied with censoriousness and haughty disdain, are vices of so malignant a nature, and so provoking in God's sight, that they effectually cancel all our virtues, if we may call them virtues : in a strict sense, we have no virtue, no religion, no acceptable grace at all, if we are void of humility.

2. I may next take notice, that the Publican's humility before God and man, though joined with an irregular life, was what gave him the preference in our Lord's esteem : not that he could be justified in a loose course of life, but he was in a nearer way to it than the proud Pharisee ; because nearer to repentance and reformation. His faults indeed were great, (extortion perhaps, and such other irregularities as are commonly met with in secular men,) but nevertheless they were faults of such a kind, as did not foreclose all reformation or amendment. While there wa humility yet left in him, and a becoming sense of his own sins and infirmities, and of his need of divine mercy, there was good

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hope of repentance, and some fair advances made towards it. He durst not presume so much as to look up towards heaven, conscious of his own vileness : there was modesty ; there was remorse and profound reverence for God whom he had offended. He had no claims to make, no seroices to boast of, at least not before God: but yet he cast not away all hopes of favour, while he smote upon his breast, and said, “ God be merciful to me a " sniner !” Merciful, first, to give him grace to amend his life; and next, to pardon all his offences duly repented of : for so, as I conceive, we may presume to interpret. We cannot well understand this his humble and modest ejaculation as so many words of course, such as hardened sinners might at times be willing to throw out; for then our Lord would not have said what he has said in his favour: neither, on the other hand, do I see reason sufficient in the text to persuade us, that the Publican had yet changed his sinful course of life ; for what great matter were it to say, that a reformed Publican is a better man than an unreformed Pharisee, a proud, censorious Pharisee? But the truth of the case, and the true purport of the parable, appears to be, (as I have before hinted,) that an humble Publican, disposed towards repentance, is, with all his vices, more acceptable to God, than a proud, censorious Pharisee, with all his strictness, sobriety, and regularity. And the reason of the preference here given resolves into this ; that the one was penitent in part, or in some degree, and was in a fair way to a thorough change of heart and life ; while the other remained altogether impenitent ; so far from correcting or amending his life, that he had not so much as a sense of his being a sinner, or of his needing any repentance.

God has such regard to humility of spirit, even in persons otherwise vicious, that he looks the more favourably upon them on that score; which appeared in the case of king Ahab.

66 Seest “ thou” (said God to Elijah the prophet) “ how Ahab humbleth 66 himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I “ will not bring the evil in his days," &c. Ahab's humiliation was real and sincere, for the time; but it amounted not to a full and perfect repentance. He continued a very bad man in many respects, notwithstanding such his sincere humiliation for the time being : yet, because he did not behave proudly, as some before him had done, after divine sentence passed upon him, but humbled

c i Kings xxi. 29.

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