"AND THE PUBLICAN STANDING AFAR OFF, WOULD NOT LIFT UP SO MUCH AS HIS EYES UNTO HEAVEN."
Second, We are now come to another of his postures. "He would not, [says the text] so much as lift up his eyes to heaven." Here therefore was another gesture added to that which went before; and a gesture that a great while before had been condemned by the Holy Ghost himself. "Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush." (Isa 58:5)
But why condemned then, and smiled upon now? Why! Because done in hypocrisy then, and in sincerity now. Hypocrisy and a spirit of error will so besmut God's ordinances, that he shall take no pleasure in them: but sincerity, and honesty in duties, will make even those circumstances that in themselves are indifferent, at least comely in the sight of men. May I not say before God? the Rechabites were not commanded of God, but of their father, to do as they did; but, because they were sincere in their obedience thereto, even God himself maketh use of what they did to condemn the disobedience of the Jews; and moreover doth tell the Rechabites, at last, that they should not want a man to stand before him for ever. "And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you; therefore, thus saith the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever." (Jer 35:18,19)
"He would not life up his eyes to heaven." Why? Surely because shame had covered his face. Shame will make a man blush and hang his head like a bulrush. Shame for sin is a virtue, a comely thing; yea, a beauty-spot in the face of a sinner that cometh to God for mercy.
God complains of the house of Israel, that they could sin, and that without shame; yea, and threateneth them too with sore and repeated judgments, "because they were not ashamed," it is in Jeremiah 8:12. Their crimes in general were, they turned every one to his course, as the horse runneth into the battle. In particular, they were such as rejected God's word, they loved this world, and set themselves against the prophet's crying peace, peace, peace, when they cried judgment, judgment: "Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination: nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord." Oh! to stand, or sit, or lie, or kneel, or walk before God in prayer, with blushing cheeks for sin, is one of the excellentest sights that can be seen in the world. Wherefore the church taketh some kind of heart to herself in that she could lie down in her shame; yea, and makes that a kind of an argument with God, to prove that her prayers did come from her heart, and also that he would hear them. (Jer 3:25)
Shame for sin argueth sense of sin, yea, a right sense of sin, a godly sense of sin; Ephraim pleads this when under the hand of God: "I was," saith he, "ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." But what follows? "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." (Jer 31:19,20)
I know that there is a shame that is not the spirit of an honest heart; but that rather floweth from sudden surprisal, when the sinner is unawares taken in the act, in the very manner. And thus sometimes the house of Israel was taken, and then when they blushed, their shame is compared to the shame of a thief. "As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes and their priests, and their prophets."
But where were they taken, or about what were they found? Why they were found "saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth." (Jer 2:26,27) God catched them thus doing, and this made them ashamed, even as the thief is ashamed when the owner doth catch him stealing of his horse.
But this was not the Publican's shame; this shame brings not a man into the temple to pray, to stand willingly, and to take shame before God in prayer. This shame makes one rather to fly from his face, and to count one's self most at ease when they get farthest off from God.
The Publican's shame therefore, which he demonstrateth that he had, even by hanging down of his head, was godly and holy, and much like that of the prodigal, when he said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." (Luke 15:21) I suppose that his postures were much the same with the Publican's, as were his prayers, for the substance of them. O however grace did work in both to the same end, they were both of them, after a godly manner ashamed of their sins.
He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.
It saith not he could not, but he would not; which yet more fully makes it appear that it was shame, not guilt, not guilt only or chiefly, though it is manifest enough that he had guilt also by his crying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I say, guilt was not the chief cause of hanging down his head, because it saith, he would not; for when guilt is the cause of stooping, it lieth not in the will, or in the power thereof, to help one up.
David tells us, that when he was under guilt, his iniquities were gone over his head: "As an heavy burden they are too heavy for me." (Psa 38:4) And that with them he was bowed down greatly. Or, as he says in another place, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up" (Psa 40:12); I am not ABLE to do it; guilt disableth the understanding and conscience, shame makes all willingly fall and bare at the feet of Christ.
"He would not." He knew what he was, what he had been, and should be, if God had not mercy upon him: Yea, he knew also that God knew what he was, had been, and would be, if mercy prevented not; wherefore thought he, Wherefore should I lift up the head? I am no righteous man, no godly man; I have not
served God, but Satan; this I know, this God knows, this angels know, wherefore I will not "lift up the head." It is as much as to say, I will not be an hypocrite, like the Pharisee; for lifting up of the head signifies innocency and harmlessness of life, or good conscience, and the testimony thereof, under, and in the midst of all accusations. Wherefore this was the counsel of Zophar to Job: "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands towards him; If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear." (Job 11:13-15)
This was not the Publican's state, he had lived in lewdness and villany all his days; nor had he prepared his heart to seek the Lord God of his fathers, he had not cleansed his heart nor hands from violence, nor done that which was lawful and right. He only had been convinced of his evil ways, and was come into the temple as he was, all foul, and in his filthy garments, and amidst his pollutions; how then could he be innocent, holy or without spot? And consequently how could he lift up his face unto God? I remember what Abner said to Asahel, "Turn thee aside, from following me; wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?" (2 Sam 2:22)
As if he had said, if I kill thee, I shall blush, be ashamed, and hang my head like a bulrush, the next time I come into the company of thy brother.
This was the Publican's case, he was guilty, he had sinned, he had committed a trespass, and now being come into the temple, into the presence of that God whose laws he had broken, and against whom he had sinned, how could he lift up his head? how could he bear the face to do it? No, it better became him to take his shame, and to hang his head in token of guilt; and indeed he did, and did it to purpose too, for he would not lift up, no, not so much as his eyes to heaven.
True, some would have done it, the Pharisee did it; though if he had considered, that hypocrisy, and leaning to his own righteousness had been sin, he would have found as little cause to have done it, as did the Publican himself. But, I say, he did it, and sped thereafter; he went down to his house as he came up into the temple, a poor unjustified Pharisee, whose person and prayers were both rejected, because, like the whore of whom we read in the Proverbs, after he had practised all manner of hypocrisy, he comes into the temple "and wipes his mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness." (Prov 30:20) He lifts up his head, his face, his eyes to heaven; he struts, he vaunts himself; he swaggers, he vapours, and cries up himself, saying, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are."
True, had he come and stood before a stock or a stone, he might have said thus, and not have been reprehended; for such are gods that see not, nor hear, neither do they understand. But to come before the true God, the living God, the God that fills heaven and earth by his presence, and that knows the things that come into the mind of man, even every one of them, I say, to come into his house, to stand before him, and thus to lift up his head and eyes in such hypocrisy before him: this was abominable, this was to tempt God, and to prove him; yea, to challenge him to know what was in man if he could even as those did who said, "How doth God [see] know? can he judge through the dark cloud?" (Job 22:13, Psa 73:11)
But the Publican, no the Publican could not, durst not, would not do thus: He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. As who should say, O Lord, I have been against thee, a traitor and a rebel, and like a traitor and rebel before thee will I stand. I will bear my shame before thee in the presence of the holy angels; yea, I will prevent thy judging of me by judging myself in thy sight, and will stand as condemned before thee, before thou passest sentence upon me.
This is now for a sinner to go to the end of things. For what is God's design in the work of conviction for sin, and in his awakening of the conscience about it? What is his end I say, but to make the sinner sensible of what he hath done, and that he might unfeignedly judge himself for the same. Now this our Publican doth; his will therefore is now subject to the word of God, and he justifies him in all his ways and works towards him. Blessed be God for any experience of these things.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven." He knew by his deeds and deservings that he had no portion there; nor would he divert his mind from the remembering, and from being affected with the evil of his ways.
Some men when they are under the guilt and conviction of their evil life, will do what they can to look any ways, and that on purpose to divert their minds, and to call them off from thinking on what they have done; and by their thus doing, they bring many evils more upon their own souls: for this is a kind of striving with God, and a shewing a dislike to his ways. Would not you think, if when you are shewing your son or your servant his faults, if he should do what he could to divert and take off is mind from what you are saying, that he striveth against you, and sheweth dislike of your doings. What else means the complaints of masters and of fathers in this matter? I have a servant, I have a son, that doth contrary to my will. O but why do you not chide them for it: The answer is, so I do; but they do not regard my words; they do what they can, even while I am speaking, to divert their minds from my words and counsels. Why, all men will cry out this is base, this is worthy of great rebuke; such a son, such a servant deserveth to be shut out of doors, and so made to learn better breeding by want and hardship.
But the Publican would not divert his mind from what at present God was about to make him sensible of, no, not by a look on the choicest object, he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. They are but bad scholars, whose eyes, when their master is teaching of them, are wandering off of their books.
God saith unto men, when he is a teaching them to know the evil of their ways, as the angel said to the prophet, when he came to shew him the pattern of the temple; "Son of man," says he, "behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee, art thou brought hither." (Eze 40:4) So to the intent that God might shew to the Publican the evil of his ways, therefore was he brought under the power of convictions, and the terrors of the law; and he also like a good learner gave good heed unto that lesson that now he was learning of God; for he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.
Looking downwards doth ofttimes bespeak men very ponderous and deep in their cogitations; also that the matter about which in their minds they are now concerned, hath taken great hold of their spirits. The Publican hath now new things, great things, and long-lived things, to concern himself about: His sins, the curse, with death, and hell, began now to stare him in the face; Wherefore it was no time now to let his heart, or his eyes, or his cogitations wander, but to be fixed, and to be vehemently applying of himself as a sinner, to the God of heaven for mercies.
Few know the weight of sin, and how, when the guilt thereof takes hold of the conscience, it commands homewards all the faculties of the soul. No man can go out or off now. Now he is wind-bound, or as Paul says, caught. Now he is made to possess bitter days, bitter nights, bitter hours, bitter thoughts; nor can he shift them, for his sin is ever before him. As David said, "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me," in mine eye, and sticketh fast in every one of my thoughts. (Psa 51:3)
He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. THIRD, BUT SMOTE UPON HIS BREAST. This was the third and last of his gestures. He smote upon his breast; to wit, with his hand, or with his fist. I read of several gestures with the hand and foot, according to the working and passions of the mind. 'Tis said Balak smote his hands together, being angry because that Balaam had blessed and not cursed for him the children of Israel. (Num 24:10)
God says also, that he had smitten his hands together, at the sins of the children of Israel. (Eze 22:13) God also bids the prophet stamp with his feet, and smite with his hand upon his thigh, upon sundry occasions, and at several enormities, but the Publican here is said to smite upon his breast. (Chron 6:11, 21:12) And,
1. Smiting upon the breast betokeneth sorrow for something done, this is an experiment common among men. And indeed, therefore as I take it, doth our Lord Jesus put him under this gesture in the act and exercise of his repentance, because it is that which doth most lively set it forth.
Suppose a man comes to great damage for some folly that he has wrought, and he be made sorrowful for being and doing such folly: There is nothing more common than for such a man, if he may, to walk to and fro in the room where he is, with head hung down, fetching ever and anon a bitter sigh: and smiting himself upon the breast in his dejected condition; "But smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
2. Smiting upon the breast is sometimes a token of indignation and abhorrence of something thought upon. I read in Luke, that when Christ was crucified, those spectators that stood to behold the barbarous usage that he endured at the hands of his enemies, "smote their breasts and returned." "And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned." (Luke 23:48) Smote their breasts; that is, in token of indignation against, and abhorrence of their cruelty, that so grievously used the Son of God.
Here also we have our Publican smiting upon his
breast, in token of indignation against, and abhorrence of his former
life. And indeed without indignation against, and abhorrence of his
former life, his repentance had not been good. Wherefore the apostle
doth make indignation against sin, and against ourselves for that, one
sign of true repentance (2 Cor 7:11), and his indignation against sin in
general, and against his former life in particular, was manifested by
his smiting upon the breast. Even as Ephraim's smiting upon the thigh
was a sign and token of his: "Surely," says he, "after that I was
turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my
thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the
reproach of my youth." (Jer 31:19) Man when he vehemently dislikes a
thing, is very apt to shew that dislike that to that thing he hath, by
this or another outward gesture: as in putting the branch to the
nose, in snuffing or snorting at it (Eze 8:17, Mal 1:13); or in
deriding; or, as some say, in blowing of their noses at it. (Luke 16:14)
But the Publican here chooseth rather to use this most solemn posture;
for smiting upon the breast, seems to imply a more serious, solemn,
grave way or manner of dislike, than any of those last mentioned do.
3. Smiting upon the breast, seems to intimate a quarrel with the heart for beguiling, deluding, flattering, seducing, and enticing of him to sin: For as conviction for sin begets in man, I mean if it be thorough, a sense of the sore and plague of the heart. So repentance, if it be right, begets in the man an outcry against the heart; for as much as by that light, by which repentance takes occasion, the sinner is made to see, that the heart is the fountain, and well-spring of sin. "For from within, out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, - covetousness," &c. (Mark 7:21,22) And hence it is, that commonly young converts do complain so of their hearts, calling them wicked, treacherous, deceitful, desperate ones.
Indeed one difference between true and false repentance lieth in this. The man that truly repents crieth out of his heart; but the other, as Eve, upon the serpent, or something else. And that the Publican perceived his heart to be naught I conclude, by his smiting upon his breast.
4. Smiting upon the breast, seems to intimate one apprehensive of some new, sudden, strange and amazing thing: As when a man sees some strange sight in the air, or heareth some sudden or dismal sound in the clouds: Why, as he is struck into a deep damp in his mind, so 'tis a wonder if he can keep or hold back from smiting upon his breast.
Now ofttimes a sight of God and sense of sin, comes to the sinner like a flash of lightning, not for short continuance, but for suddenness, and so for surprisal; so that the sinner is struck, taken and captivated to his own amazement, with what so unexpectedly is come upon him. It is said of Paul at his conversion, that when conviction of his bad life took fast hold of his conscience, he trembled, and was astonished. (Acts 9:6) And although we read not of any particular circumstance of his behaviour under his conviction outwardly, yet it is almost impossibly but he must have some, and those of the most solid sort. For there is such a sympathy betwixt the soul and the body, that the one cannot be in distress or comfort, but the other must partake of, and also signify the same. If it be comfort, then 'tis shewn; If comfort of mind, then by leaping, skipping, cheerfulness of the countenance, or some other outward gesture. If it be sorrow or heaviness of spirit, then that is shewed by the body, in weeping, sighing, groaning, softly-going, shaking of the head, a lowering countenance, stamping, smiting upon the thigh or breast as here the Publican did, or somewhat.
We must not therefore look upon these outward actions or gestures of the Publican, to be empty insignificant things; but to be such, that in truth did express and shew the temper, frame, and present complexion of his soul. For Christ, the wisdom of God, hath mentioned them to that very end, that in and by them, might be held forth, and that men might see, as in a glass, the very emblem of a converted, and truly penitent sinner. "He smote upon his breast."
5. Smiting upon the breast, is sometimes to signify a mixture of distrust, joined with hope. And indeed in young converts, hope and distrust, or a degree of despair, do work and answer one another, as doth the noise of the balance of the watch in the pocket. Life and death, life and death is always the motion of the mind then, and this noise continues until faith is stronger grown, and until the soul is better acquainted with the methods and ways of God with a sinner. Yea, was but a carnal man in a convert's heart, and could see, he should discern these two, to wit, hope and fear, to have a continual motion in the soul: wrestling and opposing one another, as doth light and darkness, in striving for the victory.
And hence it is that you find such people so fickle and uncertain in their spirits; Now on the mount, then in the valleys; now in the sunshine, then in the shade; now warm, then frozen; now bonny and blithe, then in a moment pensive and sad; as thinking of a portion nowhere but in hell. This will cause smiting on the breast; nor can I imagine that the Publican was as yet farther than thus far in the Christian's progress, since yet he was smiting upon his breast.
6. Smiting upon the breast, seems to intimate, that the party so doing is very apprehensive of some great loss that he has sustained; either by negligence, carelessness, foolishness, or the like, and this is the way in which men do lose their souls. Now to lose a thing, a great thing, the only choice thing that a man has, negligently, carelessly, foolishly, or the like, why it puts aggravations into the thoughts of the loss that the man has sustained; and aggravations in the thoughts of them go out of the soul, and come in upon a sudden, even as the bailiff, or the king's sergeant at arms, and at every appearance of them makes the soul start; and starting, it smites upon the breast.
I might multiply particulars; but to be brief, we have before us a sensible soul, a sorrowful soul, a penitent soul: one that prays indeed, that prays sensibly, affectionately, effectually. One that sees his loss, that fears and trembleth before God in consideration of it, and one that knows no way, but the right way, to secure himself from perishing, to wit, by having humble and hearty recourse to the God of heaven for mercy.
I should now come to speak something by way of use and application; but before I do that, I will briefly draw up, and present you with a few conclusions that in my judgment do naturally flow from the text, therefore in this place I will read over the text again.
"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 is breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
From these words I gather these several conclusions, with these inferences.
Conclusion First, It doth not always follow, that they that pray do know God, or love him, or trust in him. This conclusion is evident by the Pharisee in the text; he prayed, but he knew not God, he loved not God, he trusted not in God; that is, he knew him not in his Son, nor so loved, nor trusted in him. He was, though a praying man, far off from this. Whence it may be inferred, that those that pray not at all cannot be good, cannot know, love, or trust in God. For if the star, though it shines, is not the sun, then surely a clod of dirt cannot be the sun. Why, a praying man doth as far outstrip a non-praying man, as a star outstrips a clod of earth. A non-praying man lives like a beast, nay worse, and with reference to his station, a more sottish life than he. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but [this man] Israel doth not know, [but this man] my people doth not consider." (Isa 1:3) The prayerless man is therefore of no religion, except he be an Atheist, or an Epicurean. Therefore the non-praying man is numbered among the heathens, and among those that know not God, and is appointed and designed by the sentence of the word to the fearful wrath of God. (Psa 79:6, Jer 10:25)
Conclusion Second, A second conclusion is, That the man that prays, if in his prayer he pleads for acceptance, either in whole or in part, for his own good deeds, is in a miserable state. This also is gathered from the Pharisee here, he prayed, but in his prayer he pleaded his own good deeds for acceptance, that is, of his person, and therefore went down to his house unjustified. Now to be unjustified is the worst condition that a man can be in, and he is in this condition that doth thus. The conclusion is true, forasmuch as the Pharisee mentioned in the parable is not so spoken of, for the only sake of that sect of men, but to caution, forewarn, and bid all men take heed, that they by doing as he, procure not his rejection of God, and be sent away from his presence unjustified. I do therefore infer from hence, that if he that pleadeth his own good doing for personal acceptance with God, be thus miserable; then he that teacheth men so to do, is much more miserable. We always conclude, that a ring-leader in an evil way, is more blame-worthy, than those that are led of him. This falls hard upon the leading Socinians and others, who teach, that men's works make their person accepted of God.
True, they say, through Christ; but that is brought in as a blandation, merely to delude the simple with, and is an horrible lie; for we read not in all the word of God, as to personal justification in the sight of God from the curse, and that is the question under consideration, that it must be by man's righteousness, as made prevalent by Christ's, but contrariwise by his, and his only, without the deeds, works, or righteousness of the law which is our righteousness. Wherefore I say, the teachers and leaders of this doctrine have the greater sin.
Conclusion Third, A third conclusion is. They that use high and flaunting language in prayer, their simplicity and godly sincerity is to be questioned, as to the doing of that duty sincerely. This still flows from our text, the Pharisee greatly used this; for higher and more flaunting language can hardly be found, than in the Pharisee's mouth; nor will ascribing to God by the same mouth laud and praise, help the business at all: For to be sure, where the effect is base and rotten, the cause cannot be good.
The Pharisee would hold himself in hand that he was not as other men, and then gives thanks to God for this: But the conclusion was most vilely false, and therefore the praise for it could not but be foolish, vain, and frivolous. Whence I infer, that if to use such language in prayer is dangerous, then to affect the use thereof is yet more dangerous: Prayer must be made with humble hearts, and sensible words, and of that we have treated before, wherefore high, flaunting, swelling words of vanity becomes not a sinner's mouth, no, not at any time, much less when he comes to, and presents himself before God in that solemn duty of prayer. But, I say, there are some that so affect the Pharisee's mode, that they cannot be well if in some sort or other they be not in the practice of it; not knowing what they say, nor whereof they affirm; but these are greatly addicted to hypocrisy, and to desire of vain-glory, especially if the sound of their words be within the reach of other men's ears.
Conclusion Fourth, A fourth conclusion is, that reformation and amendment, though good, with, and before me, are nothing as to justification with God. This is manifest by the condition of our Pharisee; he was a reformed man, a man beyond others for personal righteousness, yet he went out of the temple from God unjustified, his works, came to nothing with God. Hence I infer, that the man that hath nothing to commend him to God of his own, yet stands as fair before God for justification, and so acceptance, as any other man in the world.
Conclusion Fifth, A fifth conclusion is, it is the sensible sinner, the self-bemoaning sinner, the self-judging sinner, the self-abhorring sinner, and the self-condemning sinner, whose prayers prevail with God for mercy. Hence I infer, that one reason why men make so many prayers, and prevail no more with God, is because their prayers are rather the floatings of Pharisaical fancies, than the fruits of sound sense of sin, and sincere desire of enjoying God in mercy, and in the fruits of the Holy Ghost.
The use and application we must let alone till another time.
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