THE PHARISEE'S PRAYER.
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."
In these words many things are worth the noting. As,
FIRST. THE PHARISEE'S DEFINITION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS; the which standeth in two things: 1. In negatives. 2. In positives.
In negatives; to wit, what a man that is righteous must not be: I am no extortioner, no unjust man, no adulterer, nor yet as this Publican.
In positives; to wit, what a man that is righteous must be: I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess, &c.
That righteousness standeth in negative and positive holiness is true; but that the Pharisee's definition is, notwithstanding, false, will be manifest by and by. But I will first treat of righteousness in the general, because the text leadeth me to it.
First then, A Man that is righteous, must have negative holiness; that is, he must not live in actual transgressions: He must not be an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer, or, as the Publican was. And this the apostle intends, when he saith, "Flee fornication (2 Tim 2:22), flee also youthful lusts (1 Cor 6:18), flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14), and "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) For it is a vain thing to talk of righteousness, and that ourselves are righteous, when every observer shall find us in actual transgression. Yea, though a man shall mix his want of negative holiness, with some good actions, that will not make him a righteous man. As suppose, a man that is a swearer, a drunkard, an adulterer, or the like, should, notwithstanding this, be open handed to the poor, be a greater executor of justice in his place, be exact in his buying, selling, keep touch with his promise and with his friend, or the like. These things, yea, many more such, cannot make him a righteous man; for the beginning of righteousness is yet wanting in him, which is this negative holiness: For except a man shall leave off to do evil he cannot be a righteous man. Negative holiness is therefore of absolute necessity to make one in one's self a righteous man. This therefore condemns them, that count it sufficient if a man have some actions that in themselves, and by virtue of the command are good, to make him a righteous man, though negative holiness is wanting. This is as saying to the wicked, Thou art righteous, and a perverting of the right way of the Lord. Negative holiness therefore must be in a man before he can be accounted righteous.
Second. As negative holiness is required to declare one a righteous man; so also positive holiness must be joined therewith, or the man is unrighteous still. For it is not what a man is not, but what a man does, that declares him a righteous man. Suppose a man be no thief, no liar, no unjust man; or, as the Pharisee saith, no extortioner, no adulterer, &c., this will not make him a righteous man. But there must be joined to these, holy and good actions, before he can be declared a righteous man. Wherefore, as the apostle, when he pressed the Christians to righteousness, did put them first upon negative holiness, so he joineth thereto an exhortation to positive holiness; knowing, that where positive holiness is wanting, all the negative holiness in the whole world cannot declare a man a righteous man. When therefore he had said, "But thou, O man of God, flee these things," (sins and wickedness) he adds, "and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." (1 Tim 6:11) Here Timothy is exhorted to negative holiness, when he is bid to flee sin. Here also he is exhorted to positive holiness, when he is bid to follow after righteousness, &c., for righteousness can neither stand in negative nor positive holiness, as severed one from another. That man then, and that man only, is, as to actions a righteous man, that hath left off to do evil, and hath learnt to do well (Isa 1:16,17), that hath cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Flee also youthful lusts, (said Paul,) but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim 2:22)
The Pharisee therefore, as to the general description of righteousness, made his definition right; but as to his person and personal righteousness, he made his definition wrong. I do not mean, he defined his own righteousness wrong; but I mean, his definition of true righteousness, which standeth in negative and positive holiness, he made to stoop to justify his own righteousness, and therein he played the hypocrite in his prayer: For although it is true righteousness, that standeth in negative and positive holiness; yet that is not true righteousness, that standeth but in some pieces and ragged remnants of negative and positive righteousness. If then the Pharisee would in his definition of personal righteousness, have proved his own righteousness to be good, he must have proved, that both his negative and positive holiness had been universal: to wit, that he had left off to act in any wickedness, and that he had given up himself to the duty enjoined in every commandment. For so the righteous man is described (Job 1:8), As it is also said of Zacharias and Elizabeth his wife, "they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." (Luke 1:6) Here the perfection, that is, the universality of their negative holiness is implied, and the universality of their positive holiness is expressed: They walked in all the commandments of the Lord; but that they could not do, if they had lived in any unrighteous thing or way. They walked in all blamelessly, that is, sincerely with upright hearts. The Pharisee's righteousness therefore, even by his own implied definition of righteousness, was not good, as is manifest these two ways.
1. His negative holiness was not universal.
2. His positive holiness was rather criminal than moral.
1. His negative holiness was not universal. He saith indeed, he was not an extortioner, nor unjust, no adulterer, nor yet as this Publican: but now of these expressions apart, nor all, if put together, do prove him to be perfect as to negative holiness; that is, they do not prove him, should it be granted, that he was as holy with this kind of holiness, as himself of himself had testified. For, (1.) What though he was no extortioner, he might yet be a covetous man. (Luke 16:14)
(2.) What though, as to dealing, he was not unjust to others, yet he wanted honesty to do justice to his own soul. (Luke 16:15)
(3.) What, though he was free from the act of adultery, he might yet be made guilty by an adulterous eye, against which the Pharisee did not watch, of which the Pharisee did not take cognizance. (Matt 5:28)
(4.) What, though he was not like the Publican, yet he was like, yea, was a downright hypocrite; he wanted in those things wherein he boasted himself, sincerity; but without sincerity no action can be good, or accounted of God as righteous. The Pharisee therefore, notwithstanding his boasts, was deficient in his righteousness, though he would fain have shrouded it under the right definition thereof.
2. Nor doth his positive holiness help him at all, forasmuch as it is grounded mostly, if not altogether, in ceremonial holiness. Nay, I will recollect myself, it was grounded partly in ceremonial, and partly in superstitious holiness, if there be such a thing as superstitious holiness in the world, this paying of tithes was ceremonial, such as came in and went out with the typical priesthood. But what is that to positive holiness, when it was but a small pittance by the by. Had the Pharisee argued plainly and honestly; I mean, had he so dealt with that law, by which now he sought to be justified, he should have brought forth positive righteousness in morals, and should have said and proved it too, that, as he was no wicked man with reference to the act of wickedness, he was indeed a righteous man in acts of moral virtues. He should, I say, have proved himself a true lover of God, no superstitious one, but a sincere worshipper of him; for this is contained in the first table (Exo 20), and is so in sum expounded by the Lord Christ himself. (Mark 12:30) He should also in the next place have proved himself truly kind, compassionate, liberal, and full of love and charity to his neighbour; for that is the sum of the second table, as our Lord also doth expound it, saying, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Mark 12:31)
True, he says, he did them no hurt; but did he do them good? To do no hurt is one thing; and to do good, is another; and it is possible for a man to do neither hurt nor good to his neighbour. What then, Is he a righteous man because he hath done him no hurt? No verily; unless, to his power, he hath also done him good.
It is therefore a very fallacious and deceitful arguing of the Pharisee, thus to speak before God in his prayer: I am righteous, because I have not hurt my neighbour, and because I have acted in ceremonial duties. Nor will that help him at all to say, he gave TITHES of all that he possessed. It had been more modest to say, that he had paid them; for they, being commanded, were a due debt; nor could they go before God for a free gift, because by the commandment they were made a payment; but proud men and hypocrites, love so to word it both with God and man, as at least to imply, that they are more forward to do, than God's commandment is to require them to do.
The second part of his positive holiness was superstitious; for God hath appointed no such set fasts, neither more nor less, but just twice a week: I fast twice a week. Ay, but who did command thee to do so; commanded to fast when occasion required if thou wast, but that thou shouldest have any occasion to do so as thou doest, other than by thy being put upon it by a superstitious and erroneous conscience, doth not, nor canst thou make to appear. This part therefore of this positive righteousness, was positive superstition, an abuse of God's law, and a gratification of thy own erroneous conscience. Hitherto therefore, thou art defective in thy so seemingly brave and glorious righteousness.
Yet this let me say in commendation of the Pharisee: In my conscience he was better than many of our English Christians; for many of them are so far off from being at all partakers of positive righteousness, that all their ministers, bibles, good books, good sermons, nor yet God's judgments, can persuade them to become so much as negatively holy, that is, to leave off evil.
SECOND.–The second thing that I take notice of in this prayer of the Pharisee, is, HIS MANNER OF DELIVERY, as he stood praying in the temple. "God, I thank thee [said he] that I am not as other men are." He seemed to be at this time, in more than an ordinary frame, while now he stood in the presence of the divine majesty: for a prayer made up of praise, is a prayer of the highest order, and is most like the way of them that are now in a state beyond prayer. Praise is the work of heaven; but we see here, that an hypocrite may get into that vein, even while an hypocrite, and while on earth below. Nor do I think that this prayer of his was a premeditated stinted form, but a prayer extempore, made on a sudden, according to what he felt, thought, or understood of himself.
Here therefore, we may see, that even prayer, as well as other acts of religious worship, may be performed in great hypocrisy; although, I think, that to perform prayer in hypocrisy, is one of the most daring sins that are committed by the sons of men. For by prayer, above all duties, is our most direct, and immediate personal approach into the presence of God: and as there is an uttering of things before him, especially a giving of him thanks for things received, or a begging, that such and such things might be bestowed upon me. But now to do these things in hypocrisy, and 'tis easy to do them so, when we go up into the temple to pray, must needs be intolerable wickedness, and it argueth infinite patience in God, that he should let such as do so, arise alive from their knees, or that he should suffer them to go away from the place where they stand, without some token or mark of his wrath upon them. I also observe, That this extempore prayer of the Pharisee, was performed by himself, or in the strength of his own natural parts; for so the text implieth, "The Pharisee," saith the text, "stood and prayed thus with himself," with himself, or by himself, and may signify, either that he spoke softly, or that he made this prayer by reason of his natural parts. "I will pray with the Spirit," said Paul. (1 Cor 14:15) The Pharisee prayed with himself, said Christ. It is at this day wonderful common, for men to pray extempore also. To pray by a book, by a premeditated set form, is now out of fashion. He is counted no body now, that cannot at any time, at a minute's warning, make a prayer of half an hour long.
I am not against extempore prayer, for I believe it to be the best kind of praying; but yet I am jealous, that there are a great many such prayers made, especially in pulpits and public meetings, without the breathing of the Holy Ghost in them: For if a Pharisee of old could do so, Why may not a Pharisee do the same now? Wit, and reason, and notion is now screwed up to a very great height; nor do men want words, or fancies, or pride, to make them do this thing. Great is the formality of religion this day, and little the power thereof. Now where there is a great form and little power, and such there was also among the Jews, in the time of our Saviour Jesus Christ, there men are most strangely under the temptation to be hypocrites; for nothing doth so properly and directly oppose hypocrisy, as the power and glory of the things we profess. And so on the contrary, nothing is a greater temptation to hypocrisy, than a form of knowledge of things without the savour thereof. Nor can much of the power and savour of the things of the gospel be seen at this day upon professors, I speak not now of all, if their notions and conversations be compared together. How proud, how covetous, how like the world in garb and guise, in words and actions, are most of the great professors of this our day! But when they come to divine worship, especially to pray, by their words and carriages there, one would almost judge them to be angels in heaven. But such things must be done in hypocrisy, as also the Pharisee's were.
The Pharisee stood and prayed THUS WITH HIMSELF.
And, in that it is said, "he prayed with himself"; it may signify, that he went in his prayer no further than his sense and reason, feeling and carnal apprehensions went. True, Christian prayer ofttimes leaves sense and reason, feeling, and carnal apprehensions behind it, and it goeth forth with faith, hope, and desires to know what at present we are ignorant of, and that unto which our sense, feeling, reason, &c., are strangers. The apostle indeed doth say, "I will pray with the understanding" (1 Cor 14:15), but then it must be taken for an understanding spiritually enlightened. I say, it must be so understood, because the natural understanding, properly as such, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God when offered, and therefore cannot pray for them; for they to such, are foolish things. (1 Cor 2:14)
Now a spiritually enlightened understanding may be officious in prayer these ways.
1. As it has received conviction of the truth of the being of the things that are of the Spirit of God; For to receive conviction of the truth and being of such things, comes from the Spirit of God, not from the law, sense, or reason. (1 Cor 2:10-12) Now the understanding having, by the Holy Ghost, received conviction of the truth of the being of such things, draweth out the heart to cry in prayer to God for them. Therefore he saith, he would pray with the understanding.
2. A spiritually enlightened understanding, hath also received by the Holy Ghost, conviction of the excellency and glory of the things that are of the Spirit of God, and so enflameth the heart with more fervent desires in this duty of prayer; for there is a supernatural excellency in the things that are of the Spirit; "But if the ministration of death, [to which the Pharisee adhered] written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious. For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth." (2 Cor 3:7- 10) And the Spirit of God sheweth, at best, some things of that excellent glory of them to the understanding that it enlighteneth. (Eph 1:17-19)
3. The spiritually enlightened understanding hath also thereby received knowledge, that these excellent supernatural things of the Spirit, are given by covenant in Christ to those that love God, that are beloved of him. "Now we have received, [says Paul] not the Spirit of the world, [that the Pharisee had] but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Cor 2:12) And this knowledge, that the things of the Spirit of God are freely given to us of God, puts yet a greater edge, more vigour, and yet further confidence into the heart to ask for what is mine by gift, by a free gift of God in his Son. But all these things the poor Pharisee was an utter stranger to; he knew not the Spirit, nor the things of the Spirit, and therefore must neglect faith, judgment, and the love of God (Matt 23:23, Luke 11:42), and follow himself, and himself only, as to his sense, feeling, reason, and carnal imagination in prayer.
He stood and prayed thus WITH HIMSELF. He prayed thus, talking to himself; for so also it may, I think, be understood. It is said of the unjust judge, "he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man," &c. (Luke 18:4) That is, he said it to himself. So the Pharisee is said to pray with himself. God and the Pharisee were not together, there was only the Pharisee and himself. Paul knew not what to pray for without the Holy Ghost joined himself with him, spake with him and helped him with groans unutterable. But the Pharisee had no need of that, it was enough that HE and HIMSELF were together at this work; for he thought without doubting that he and himself together could do. How many times have I heard ancient men, and ancient women, at it, with themselves, when all alone in some private room, or in some solitary path; and in their chat, they have been sometimes reasoning, sometimes chiding, sometimes pleading, sometimes praying, and sometimes singing; but yet all has been done by themselves when all alone: But yet so done, as one that has not seen them, must needs have concluded, that they were talking, singing, and praying with company, when all that they said, they did it with themselves, and had neither auditor nor regarder.
So the Pharisee was at it with himself, he and himself performed, at this time, the duty of prayer. Now I observe, that usually when men do speak to, or with themselves, they greatly strive to please themselves: Therefore it is said, there is a man, That "flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful." (Psa 36:2) He flattereth himself in his own way, according as his sense and carnal reason dictates to him; and he might do it as well in prayer, as in any other way. Some men will so hear sermons, and apply them that they may please themselves: And some men will pray, but will refuse such words and thoughts in prayer as will not please themselves.
Oh, how many men speak all that they speak in prayer, rather to themselves, or to their auditory, than to God that dwelleth in heaven! And this I take to be the manner, I mean something of the manner of the Pharisee's praying. Indeed, he made mention of God, as also others do; but he prayed with himself to himself, in his own spirit, and to his own pleasing, as the matter of his prayer doth manifest. For was it not pleasant to this hypocrite, think you, to speak thus well of himself at this time? doubtless it was. Also children and fools are of the same temper with hypocrites as to this; they also love without ground, as the Pharisee, to flatter themselves in their own eyes. But not he that commendeth himself is approved.
God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican, &c.
Thus he begins his prayer; and it is, as was hinted before, a prayer of the highest strain. For to make a prayer all of thanksgiving, and to urge in that prayer, the cause of that thanksgiving, is the highest manner of praying, and seems to be done in the strongest faith, &c., in the greatest sense of things. And such was the Pharisee's prayer, only he wanted substantial ground for his thanksgiving; to wit, he wanted proof of that he said, "he was not as other men were," except he had meant, as he did not, that he was even of the worst sort of men: For even the best of men by nature, and the worst, are all alike. "What, then? are we better than they?" said Paul, "No, in no wise." (Rom 3:9) So then, he failed in the ground of his thankfulness, and therefore his thankfulness was grounded on an untruth, and so became feigned, and self-flattering, and could not be acceptable with the God of heaven.
Besides, in this high prayer of the Pharisee, he fathered that upon God which he could by no means own; to wit, that his being so good as he thought himself to be, was through distinguishing love and favour of God, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are." I thank thee, that thou hast made me better than others. I thank thee that my condition is so good, and that I am so far advanced above my neighbour.
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