THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS FLOW FROM THIS PRAYER OF THE PHARISEE, THAT ARE WORTH OUR OBSERVATION. As,
First, That the Pharisees and hypocrites, do not love to count themselves sinners, when they stand before God. They choose rather to commend themselves before him for virtuous and holy persons, sometimes saying, and oftener thinking, that they are more righteous than others. Yea, it seems by the word, to be natural, hereditary, and so common for hypocrites to trust to themselves that they are righteous, and then to condemn others; this is the foundation upon which this very parable is built: "He spake this parable, [saith Luke] unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous"; or that they were so, "and despised others." (verse 9)
I say, hypocrites love not to think of their sins, when they stand in the presence of God; but rather to muster up, and to present him with their several good deeds, and to venture a standing or falling by them.
Second, This carriage of the Pharisee before God informs us, that moral virtues, and the ground of them, which is the law, if trusted to, blinds the mind of man, that he cannot for them perceive the way to happiness. While Moses is read, and his law, and the righteousness thereof trusted to, the vail is upon their heart. "For until this day, [said Paul] remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament, which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart." (2 Cor 3:14,15) And this is the reason that so many moral men, that are adorned with civil and moral righteousness, are yet so ignorant of themselves, and the way of life by Christ.
The law of works, and the righteousness of the flesh, which is
the righteousness of the law, blinds their minds, shuts up their eyes, and causeth them to miss of the righteousness that they are so hotly in the pursuit of. Their minds were blinded, saith the text: Whose minds? Why those that adhered to, that stood by, and that sought righteousness of the law. Now,
The Pharisee was such an one, he rested in the law, he made his boasts of God, and trusted to himself that he was righteous; And all this proceeded of that blindness and ignorance that the law had possessed his mind withal; for it is not granted to the law to be the ministration of life and light, but to be the ministration of death, when it speaks; and of darkness, when trusted unto, that the Son of God might have the pre-eminence in all things: Therefore 'tis said, "When the heart shall turn to him, the vail shall be taken away." (2 Cor 3:16)
Third, We may see by this prayer, the strength of vain confidence; it will embolden a man to stand in a lie before God; it will embolden a man to trust to himself and to what he hath done; yea, to plead his own goodness instead of God's mercy before him. For the Pharisee was not only a man that justified himself before men, but one that justified himself before God. And what was the cause of his so justifying of himself before God; but that vain confidence that he had in himself and his works, which were both a cheat and a lie to himself. But, I say, the boldness of the man was wonderful, for he stood to the lie that was in his right hand, and pleaded the goodness of it before him. But, besides these things, there are four things more that are couched in this prayer of the Pharisee.
Fourth, By this prayer the Pharisee doth appropriate to himself conversion, he challengeth it to himself and to his fellows. I am not, saith he, as other men; that is, in unconversion, in a state of sin, wrath, and death. And this must be his meaning; for the religion of the Pharisee was not grounded upon any particular natural privilege. I mean not singly, not only upon that, but upon a falling in with those principles, notions, opinions, decrees, traditions, and doctrines that they taught distinct from the true and holy doctrines of the prophets. And they made to themselves disciples by such doctrine, men, that they could captivate by those principles, laws, doctrines, and traditions: And therefore such are said to be of the sect of the Pharisees; that is, the scholars, and disciples of them, converted to them and to their doctrine. Oh! it is easy for souls to appropriate conversion to themselves, that know not what conversion is. It is easy, I say, for men to lay conversion to God, on a legal, or ceremonial, or delusive bottom, on such a bottom that will sink under the burden that is laid upon it; on such a bottom that will not stand when it is brought under the touch-stone of God, nor against the rain, wind, and floods that are ordained to put it to the trial, whether it is true or false. The Pharisee here stands upon a supposed conversion to God; "I am not as other men"; but both he, and his conversion are rejected by the sequel of the parable: "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15) That is, that conversion, that men, as men, flatter themselves that they have, is such. But the Pharisee will be a converted man, he will have more to shew for heaven than his neighbour, "I am not as other men are"; to wit, in a state of sin and condemnation, but in a state of conversion and salvation. But see how grievously this sect, this religion beguiled men. It made them two-fold worse the children of hell than they were before: And than their teachers were (Matt 23:15), that is, their doctrine begat such blindness, such vain confidence, and groundless boldness in their disciples, as to involve them in that conceit of conversion that was false, and so if trusted to, damnable.
Fifth, By these words, we find the Pharisee, not only appropriating conversion to himself, but rejoicing in that conversion: "God, I thank thee," saith he, "that I am not as other men"; which saying of his, gives us to see that he gloried in his conversion; he made no doubt at all of his state, but lived in the joy of the safety that he supposed his soul by his conversion to be in. Oh! thanks to God, says he, I am not in the state of sin, death, and damnation, as the unjust, and this Publican is. But a strong delusion! to trust to the spider's web, and to think, that a few of the most fine of the works of the flesh, would be sufficient to bear up the soul in, at, and under the judgment of God. "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness." (Prov 30:12) This text can be so fitly applied to none, as to the Pharisee, and to those that tread in the Pharisee's steps, and that are swallowed up with is conceits, and with the glory of his own righteousness.
So again, "There is a way [a way to heaven] which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death," (Prov 14:12) This also is fulfilled in these kind of men; at the end of their way is death and hell, notwithstanding their confidence in the goodness of their state.
Again, "There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing." (Prov 13:7) What can be more plain from all these texts, than that some men, that are out of the way think themselves in it; and that some men think themselves clean that are yet in their filthiness; and that think themselves rich for the next world, and yet are poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked. Thus the poor, blind, naked, hypocritical Pharisee thought of himself, when God threatened to abase him: Yea, he thought himself thus, and joyed therein, when indeed he was going down to the chambers of death.
Sixth, by these words, the Pharisee seems to put the goodness of his condition upon the goodness of God. I am not as other men are, and I thank God for it. God, saith he, I thank thee that I am not as other men are. He thanked God when God had done nothing for him. He thanked God, when the way that he was in was not of Gods prescribing, but of his own inventing. So the persecutor thanks God that he was put into that way of roguery that the devil had put him into, when he fell to rending and tearing of the church of God: "Whose possessors slay them, [saith the prophet,] and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich." (Zech 11:5) I remember that Luther used to say, "In the name of God begins all mischief." All must be fathered upon God: the Pharisee's conversion must be fathered upon God; the right or rather the villany of the outrageous persecution against God's people, must be fathered upon God. God, "I thank thee," and blessed be God, must be the burthen of the heretic's song. So again, the free-willer, he will ascribe all to God; the quaker, the ranter, the socinian, &c. will ascribe all to God. "God, I thank thee," is in every man's mouth, and must be entailed to every error, delusion, and damnable doctrine that is in the world: But the name of God, and their doctrine, worship, and way, hangeth together, much as doth it and the Pharisee's doctrine; that is to say, nothing at all; for God hath not proposed their principles, nor doth he own them, nor hath he commanded them, nor doth he convey by them the least grace or mercy to them; but rather rejecteth them, and holdeth them for his enemies, and for the destroyers of the world.
Seventh, We come in the next place to the ground of all this; and that is, to what the Pharisee had attained. To wit, that he was no extortioner, no unjust man, no adulterer, nor even as this Publican, and for that he fasted twice a week, and paid tithes of all that he possessed. So that you see he pretendeth to a double foundation for his salvation, a moral and a ceremonial one; but both very lean, weak, and feeble: For the first of his foundations, what is it more, if all be true that he saith, but a being removed a few inches from the vilest men in their vilest actions, a very slender matter to build my confidence for heaven upon.
And for the second part of his ground for life, what is it but a couple of ceremonies, if so good. The first is questioned as a thing not founded in God's law; and the second is such, as is of the remotest sort of ceremonies, that teach and preach the Lord Jesus. But suppose them to be the best, and his conformity to them the thoroughest, they never were ordained to get to heaven by, and so are become but a sandy foundation. But anything will serve some men for a foundation and support for their souls, and to build their hopes of heaven upon. I am not a drunkard, says one, nor a liar, nor a swearer, nor a thief, and therefore, I thank God, I have hopes of heaven and glory. I am not an extortioner, nor an adulterer, nor unjust, nor yet as this Publican; and therefore do hope I shall go to heaven. Alas! poor men! will your being furnished with these things, save you from the thundering claps and vehement batteries, that the wrath of God will make upon sin and sinners in the day that shall burn like an oven? No, no, nothing at that day can shroud a man from the hot rebukes of that vengeance, but the very righteousness of God, which is not the righteousness of the law, however christened, named, or garnished with all those gew- gaws that men's heads and fancies can invent, for that is but the righteousness of man.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved