THE PUBLICAN'S PRAYER.
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.
That this Publican was, I have shewed you, both with respect to his nation, office, and disposition. Wherefore I shall not here trouble the reader as to that, with a second rehearsal of these things; we now therefore come to his repentance in the whole and in the parts of it; concerning which I shall take notice of several things, some more remote, and some more near to the matter and life of it.
But first let us see how thwart and cross the Pharisee and the Publican did lie in the temple one to another, while they both were presenting of their prayers to God.
First, The Pharisee he goes in boldly, fears nothing, but trusteth in himself that his state is good, that God loves him, and that there was no doubt to be made but of his good speed in this his religious enterprize. But alas! poor Publican, he sneaks, he leers, he is hardly able to crawl into the temple, and when he comes there, stands behind, aloof off, as one not worthy to approach the divine presence.
Second, The Pharisee at his approach hath his mouth full of something, yea of many fine things, whereby he strokes himself over the head, and in effect calls himself, and that in his presence, one of God's white boys, that always kept close to his will, abode with him; or as the prodigal's brother said, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment" (Luke 15:29); But alas! poor Publican thy guilt, as to these pleas, stops thy mouth, thou hast not one good thing to say of thyself, not one rag of righteousness; thy conversation tells thee so, thy conscience tells thee so; yea, and if thou shouldest now attempt to set a good face on it, and for thy credit say something after the Pharisee in way of thine own commendations, yet here is God on the one side, the Pharisee on the other, together with thine own heart to give thee check, to rebuke thee, to condemn thee, and to lay thee even with the ground for thy insolency.
Third, The Pharisee in his approach to God, wipes his fingers of the Publican's enormities, will not come nigh him, lest he should defile him with his beastly rags: "I am not as other men are, - or even as this Publican." But the poor Publican, alas for him, his fingers are not clean, nor can he tell how to make them so; besides, he meekly and quietly puts up this reflection of the Pharisee upon him, and by silent behaviour, justifies the severe sentence of that self-righteous man, concluding with him, that for his part, he is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and not worthy to come nigh, or to stand by, so good, so virtuous, so holy, and so deserving a man as our spangling Pharisee is.
Fourth, The Pharisee, as at feasts and synagogues, chose the chief and first place for his person, and for his prayer, counting that the Publican was not meet, ought not to presume to let his stinking breath once come out of his polluted lips in the temple, till he had made his holy prayer. And poor Publican, how dost thou hear and put up this with all other affronts, counting even as the Pharisee counted of thee, that thou wast but a dog in comparison of him, and therefore not fit to go before, but to come as in chains, behind, and forbear to present thy mournful and debrorous supplication to the holy God, till he had presented him with his, in his own conceit, brave, gay, and fine oration.
Fifth, The Pharisee, as he is numerous in his repeating of his good deeds, so is stiff in standing to them, bearing up himself, that he hath now sufficient foundation on which to bear up his soul against all the attempts of the law, the devil, sin and hell. But alas, poor Publican! Thou standest naked; nay, worse than naked; for thou art clothed with filthy garments, thy sins cover thy face with shame: nor hast thou in, from, or of thyself, any defence from, or shelter against the attempts, assaults, and censures of thy ghostly enemies, but art now in thine own eyes, though in the temple, cast forth into the open field stark naked, to the loathing of thy person, as in the day that thou was born, and there ready to be devoured or torn in pieces for thy transgressions against thy God.
What wilt thou do Publican! What wilt thou do! Come, let's see, which way wilt thou begin to address thyself to God; bethink thyself man, has thou any thing to say, speak out man, the Pharisee by this time has done, and received his sentence. Make an O yes; let all the world be silent; yea, let the angels of heaven come near and listen; for the Publican is come to have to do with God! Yea, is come from the receipt of custom into the temple to pray to him.
"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." And is this thy way poor Publican! O cunning sinner! O crafty Publican! thy wisdom has outdone the Pharisee, for it is better to apply ourselves to God's mercy, than to trust to ourselves that we are righteous. But that the Publican did hit the mark, yea, get nearer unto, and more into the heart of God and his Son than did the Pharisee, the sequel of the matter will make manifest.
Take notice then of this profound speech of the Publican, every word is heavier than the earth, and has more argument in it, than has ten thousand Pharisaical prayers. "God be merciful to me a sinner." Yea, the Son of God was so delighted with this prayer, that for the sake of it, he, even as a limner, draweth out the Publican in his manner of standing, behaviour, gestures, &c. while he makes this prayer to God: Wherefore we will take notice both of the one and of the other; for surely his gestures put lustre unto his prayer and repentance.
FIRST, His prayer you see is this, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
SECOND, His gestures in his prayer were in general three.
First, He stood afar off.
Second, He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.
Third, He smote upon his breast, with his fist, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
FIRST, To begin first with is prayer. In his prayer we have two things to consider of. First, His confession: I am a sinner. Second, His imploring of help against this malady: "God be merciful to me a sinner."
First, In his confession divers things are to be taken notice of. As,
1. The fairness and simplicity of his confession: A sinner: I am a sinner; "God be merciful to me a sinner." This indeed he was, and this indeed confesses; and this, I say, he doth of godly simplicity. For, for a man to confess himself a sinner, it is to speak all against himself that can be spoken. And man, as degenerate, is too much an hypocrite, and too much a self- flatterer, thus to confess against himself, unless made simple and honest about the thing through the power of conviction upon his heart. And it is yet worth your noting, that he doth not say he was, or had been, but that at that time his state was such, to wit, a sinner. "God be merciful to me a sinner," or who am, and now stand before thee a sinner, or, in my sins.
Now a little to shew you what it is to be a sinner; for every one that sinneth may not in a proper sense be called a sinner. Saints, the sanctified in Christ Jesus, do often sin, but it is not proper to call them sinners: But here the Publican calls himself a sinner; and therefore in effect, calls himself an evil tree, one that hath neither good nature, nor that beareth good fruit: one whose body and soul is polluted, whose mind and conscience is defiled: one who hath "walked according to the course of this world, and after the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." They having their minds at enmity with or against God, and are taken captive by the devil at his will. A sinner, one whose trade hath been in and about sin, and the works of Satan all his days.
Thus he waves all pleas, and shews of pleas, and stoops his neck immediately to the block. Though he was a base man, yet he might have had pleas; pleas, I say, as well as the Pharisee, though not so many, yet as good. He was of the stock of Abraham, a Jew, an Israelite of the Israelites, and so a privileged man in the things and religion of the Jews, else what doth he do in the temple? Yea, why did not the Pharisee, if he was a heathen, lay that to his charge while he stood before God? but the truth is, he could not; for the Publican was a Jew as well as the Pharisee, and consequently might, had he been so disposed, have pleaded that before God. But that he would not, he could not, for his conscience was under convictions, the awakenings of God were upon him; wherefore his privileges melt away like grease, and fly from him like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor, which the wind taketh up and scattereth as the dust; he therefore lets all privileges fall, and pleads only that he is "a sinner."
2. In this confession he judges and condemns himself: For, for a man to say, "I am a sinner," is as much as to say, I am contrary to the holiness of God, a transgressor of his law, and consequently an object of the curse, and an heir of hell. The Publican therefore goeth very far in this his confession, but this is not all; for, for a man to confess that he is a sinner, is in the
3. Third place, to confess, that there is nothing in him, done, or can be done by him, that should allure, or prevail with God to do any thing for him. For a sinner cannot do good; no, nor work up his heart unto one good thought: no, though he should have heaven itself, if he could; or was sure to burn in hell fire for ever and ever if he could not. For sin, where it is in possession and bears rule, as it doth in every one that we may properly call a sinner, there it hath the mastery of the man, hath bound up his senses in cords and chains, and made nothing so odious to the soul as are the things that be of the Spirit of God. Wherefore it is said of such, that they are enemies in their minds; that the carnal mind is enmity to God, and that wickedness proceedeth of the wicked; and that the Ethiopian may as well change his skin, or the leopard his spots, as they that are accustomed to do evil may learn to do well. (Eph 2, Rom 8, 1 Sam 24:13, Jer 13:23)
4. In this confession, he implicitly acknowledgeth, that sin is the worst of things, forasmuch as it layeth the soul without the reach of all remedy that can be found under heaven. Nothing below, or short of the mercy of God, can deliver a poor soul from this fearful malady. This the Pharisee did not see. Doubtless he did conclude, that at some time or other he had sinned; but he never in all his life did arrive to a sight of what sin was: His knowledge of it was but false and counterfeit, as is manifest by his cure; to wit, his own righteousness. For take this for a truth undeniable, that he that thinks himself better before God, because of his reformations, never yet had the true knowledge of his sin: But the poor Publican he had it, he had it in truth, as is manifest, because it drives him to the only sovereign remedy. For indeed, the right knowledge of sin, in the guilt and filth, and damning power thereof, makes a man to understand, that not any thing but grace and mercy by Christ, can secure him from the hellish ruins thereof.
Suppose a man sick of an apoplexy unto death, and should for his remedy make use only of those things that are good against the second ague, would not this demonstrate that this man was not sensible of the nature and danger of this disease. The same may be said of every sinner, that shall make use only of those means to justify him before God, that can hardly make him go for a good Christian before judicious men. But the poor Publican, he knew the nature of his disease, the danger of his disease; and knew also, that nothing but mercy, infinite mercy could cure him thereof.
5. This confession of the Publican, declareth that he himself was born up now, by an almighty, though invisible hand. For sin, when seen in its colours, and when appearing in its monstrous shape and hue, frighteth all mortals out of their wits, away from God; and if he stops them not, also out of the world. This is manifest by Cain, Judas, Saul, and others, who could not stand up before God under the sense and appearance of their sin, but fly before him, one to one fruit of despair, and one to another. But now this Publican, though he apprehends his sin, and that himself was one that was a sinner, yet he beareth up, cometh into the temple, approaches the presence of an holy and sin-revenging God, stands before him, and confesses that he is that ugly man, that man that sin had defiled, and that had brought himself into the danger of damnation thereby.
This therefore was a mighty act of the Publican. He went against the voice of conscience, against sense and feeling, against the curse and condemning verdict of the law; he went, as I may say, upon hot burning coals to one, that to sin and sinners is nothing but consuming fire.
Now then, did the Publican this of his own head, or from his now mind? No verily, there was some supernatural power within that did secretly prompt him on, and strengthen him to this most noble venture. True, there is nothing more common among wicked men, than to tick and toy, and play with this saying of the Publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner"; not at all being sensible either what sin is, or of their need of mercy. And such sinners shall find their speed in the Publican's prayer, far otherwise than the Publican sped himself; it will happen unto them much as it happened unto the vagabond Jews, exorcists, who took upon them to call over them that had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus; that were beaten by that spirit and made fly out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16) Poor sinner, dead sinner, thou wilt say the Publican's prayer, and make the Publican's confession, and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner." But hold, dost thou do it with the Publican's heart, sense, dread and simplicity? If not, thou dost but abuse the Publican and his prayer, and thyself, and his God; and shalt find God rejecting of thee and thy prayers, saying, The Publican I know, his prayers, and tears, and godly tears I know; but who or what art thou? And will send thee away naked and wounded. They are the hungry that he filleth with good things, but the rich and the senseless, he sendeth empty away.
For my part, I find it one of the hardest things that I can put my soul upon, even to come to God, when warmly sensible that I am a sinner, for a share in grace and mercy. Oh! methinks it seems to me as if the whole face of the heavens were set against me. Yea, the very thought of God strikes me through, I cannot bear up, I cannot stand before him, I cannot but with a thousand tears say, "God be merciful to me a sinner." (Ezra 9:15) At another time when my heart is more hard and stupid, and when his terror doth not make me afraid, then I can come before him and talk of my sins, and ask mercy at his hand, and scarce be sensible of sin or grace, or that indeed I am before God: But above all, they are the rare times, when I can go to God as the Publican, sensible of his glorious majesty, sensible of my misery, and bear up, and affectionately cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
But again, the Publican by his confession, showeth a piece of the highest wisdom that a mortal man can show; because by so doing, he engageth as well as imploreth the grace and mercy of God to save him. You see by the text he imploreth it; and now I will shew you that he engageth it, and makes himself a sharer in it.
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." (Prov 28:13) And again, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
[He engageth it.] In the promise of pardon, He shall find mercy; he shall have his sins forgiven. As also Solomon prays, that God will forgive them that know their own sore, and they are indeed, such as are sensible of the plague of their own heart. (2 Chron 6:29,30, 1 Kings 8:37,38) And the reason is, because the sinner is now driven to the farthest point; for confession is the farthest point, and the utmost bound unto which God has appointed the Publican to go, with reference to his work. As it is said of Saul to David, when he was about to give him Micah his daughter to wife, "The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies." (1 Same 18:25)
So says God in this matter, I desire no sacrifices, nor legal righteousness to make thee acceptable to me, only acknowledge and confess thine iniquity that thou hast transgressed against me. (Jer 3:12,13) And though this by some may be thought to be a very easy way to come at, and partake of, the mercy of God; yet let the sensible sinner try it, and he shall find it one of the hardest things in the world. And there are two things, to which man is prone, that makes confession hard.
I. There is a great incidency in us to be partial, and not thorough and plain in our confessions. We are apt to make half confessions; to confess some, and hide some; or else to make feigned confessions, flattering both ourselves, and also God, while we make confession unto him; or else to confess sin as our own fancies apprehend, and not as the word descries them. These things we are very incident to: Men can confess little sins, while they hide great ones. Men can feign themselves sorry for sin, when they are not, or else in their confessions forget to judge of sin by the word. Hence it is said, They turned to God, not with their whole heart, but as it were feignedly. They spake not aright, saying, what have I done? They flatter him with their lips, and lie unto him with their tongues, and do their wickedness in the dark, and sin against him with a high hand, and then come to him and cover the altar with their tears. These things therefore, demonstrate the difficulty of sincere confession of sin; and that to do it as it should, is no such easy thing.
To right confession of sin, several things must go. As,
1. There must be found conviction for sin upon the spirit: for before a man shall be convinced of the nature, aggravation, and evil of sin, how shall he make godly confession of it? Now to convince the soul of sin, the law must be set home upon the conscience by the Spirit of God; "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20) And again, "I had not known sin except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." (Rom 7:7) This law, now, when it effectually ministereth conviction of sin to the conscience, doth it by putting of life, and strength, and terror into sin. By its working on the conscience, it makes sin revive, "and the strength of sin is the law." (1 Cor 15:56) It also increaseth and multiplieth sin, both by the revelation of God's anger against the soul; and also by mustering up, and calling to view sins committed, and forgotten time out of mind. Sin seen in the glass of the law is a terrible thing, no man can behold it and live. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died"; when it came from God to my conscience, as managed by an almighty arm, "then it slew me." And now is the time to confess sin, because now a soul knows what it is, and sees what it is, both in the nature and consequence of it.
2. To right confession of sin, there must be sound knowledge of God, especially as to his justice, holiness, righteousness, and purity; wherefore the Publican here begins his confession by calling upon, or by the acknowledgement of his majesty: "God be merciful to me a sinner." As if he should say, God, O God, O great God, O sin-revenging God, I have sinned against thee, I have broken thy law, I have opposed thy holiness, thy justice, thy law, and thy righteous will. O consuming fire! for our God is a consuming fire, I have justly provoked thee to wrath, and to take vengeance of me for my transgressions. But, alas! how few, that make confession of sin, have right apprehension of God, unto whom confession of sin doth belong! Alas, 'tis easy for men to entertain such apprehensions of God as shall please their own humours, and as will admit them without dying, to bear up under their sense of sin, and that shall make their confession rather facile, and fantastical, than solid and heart- breaking. The sight and knowledge of the great God is to the sinful man the most dreadful thing in the world; and is that which makes confession of sin so rare and wonderful a thing. Most men confess their sins behind God's back, but few to his face; and you know there is ofttimes a vast difference in one thus doing among men.
3. To right confession of sin, there must be a deep conviction of the certainty and terribleness of the day of judgment. This John the Baptist inserts, where he insinuates, that the Pharisees' want of sense of, and the true confession of sin, was because they had not been warned, or had not taken the alarm, to flee from the wrath to come. What dread, terror, or frightful apprehension can there be put into a revelation of sin, where there is no sense of a day of judgment, and of our giving there unto God an account for it. (Matt 3:7, Luke 3:7)
I say therefore, to right confession of sin there must be,
(1.) A deep conviction of the certainty of the day of judgment; namely, that such a day is coming, that such a day shall be. This the apostle insinuates, where he saith, "God commandeth all men every where to repent; Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:30,31)
This will give a sense of what the soul must expect at that day for sin, and so will drive to an hearty acknowledgment of it, and strong cries for deliverance from it. For thus will the soul argue that expecteth the judgment day, and that believes that he must count for all there. O my heart! It is in vain now to dissemble, or to hide, or to lessen transgressions; for there is a judgment to come, a day in which God will judge "the secrets of men by his Son," and at that day he will bring to light "the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsel of the heart." If it must be so then, to what boot will it be now to seek to dissemble, or to lessen in this matter. (1 Cor 4:5) This also is in the Old Testament urged as an argument to cause youth, and persons of all sizes to recall themselves to sobriety, and so to confession of their sin to God; where the Holy Ghost saith ironically, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." (Eccl 11:9) So again, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good, or whether evil." (Eccl 12:14)
The certainty of this, I say, must go to the producing of a sincere confession of sin, and this is intimated by the Publican, who, with his confession, addeth a hearty crave for mercy, "God be merciful to me a sinner." As if he should say, if thou art not merciful to me, by thy judgment when thou comest I shall be swallowed up; without thy mercy I shall not stand, but fall by the judgment which thou hast appointed.
(2.) As there must be, for the producing of sincere confession of sin, a deep conviction of the certainty, so there must also be of the terribleness of the day of judgment. Wherefore the apostle, makes use of the first, so of this to put men upon repentance, an ingredient of which is sincere confession of sin. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Cor 5:10,11) The terror of the Lord, as we see here, he makes use of that, to persuade men to come by confession of sin, and repentance, to God for mercy.
And I am persuaded, that it will be found a truth one day that one reason that this day doth so swarm with wanton professors, is, because they have not begun at sound conviction for, nor gone to God at first with sincere confession of sin. And one cause of that has been, for that they did never seriously fall in with, nor yet in heart sink under, either the certainty or terribleness of the day of judgment.
O! the terrors of the Lord! the amazing face that will be put upon all things before the tribunal of God. Yea, the terror that will then be read in the face of God, of Christ, of saints and angels, against the ungodly; whoso believes and understands it, cannot live without confession of sin to God, and coming to him for mercy.
Mountains, mountains fall upon us, and cover us, will then the cry of the ungodly be, and "hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" This terror is also signified where it is said, "and I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the [very] earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev 20) Here is terror, and this terror is revealed afore-hand in the word of the truth of God, that sinners might hear and read and consider it, and so come and confess, and implore God's mercy.
The terror of the Lord, how will it appear, when he "shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess 1:7-9)
The terror of the Lord, how will it appear, when his wrath shall burn and flame out like an oven, or a fiery furnace before him, while the wicked stand in his sight. (Matt 13:50)
The terror of the Lord, how will it appear, while the angels at his commandment shall gather the wicked in bundles to burn them! "As - the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 13:40-42) Who can conceive of this terror to its full with his mind? Wherefore much more unable are men to express it with tongue or pen; yet the truly penitent and sin- confessing Publican, hath apprehension so far thereof, by the word of the testimony, that it driveth him to God, with a confession of sin for an interest in God's mercy. But,
4. To right and sincere confession of sin, there must be a good conviction of a probability of mercy. This also is intimated by the Publican in his confession; "God [saith he] be merciful to me a sinner." He had some glimmerings of mercy, some conviction of a probability of mercy, or that he might obtain mercy for his pardon, if he went, and with unfeigned lips did confess his sins to God.
Despair of mercy, shuts up the mouth, makes the heart hard, and drives a man away from God; as is manifest in the case of Adam and the fallen angels. But the least intimation of mercy, if the heart can but touch, feel, taste, or have the least probability of it, that will open the mouth, tend to soften the heart, and to make a very Publican come up to God into the temple and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
There must then be this holy mixture of things in the heart of a truly confessing Publican. There must be sound sense of sin, sound knowledge of God: deep conviction of the certainty and terribleness of the day of judgment, as also of the probability of obtaining mercy.
But to come to that which remains; I told you that there were two things that did make unfeigned confession hard. The first I have touched upon.
II. And now the second follows: And that is, some private, close leaning to some piece or parcel of goodness, that a man shall conceit that he hath done before, or is doing now, or that he purposeth in his deceitful heart that he will do one of these days, with which he hopes to prevail with God for the pardon of his sins. This man to be sure knows not sin in the nature and evil of it, only he has some false apprehensions about it. For where the right knowledge of sin is in the heart, that man sees so much evil in the least transgression, as that it would, even any one sin, break the backs of all the angels of heaven, should the great God but impute it to them. And he that sees this is far enough off from thinking of doing to mitigate, or assuage the rigour of the law, or to make pardonable his own transgressions thereby. But he that sees not this, cannot confess his transgressions aright; for the confession consisteth in the general, in a man's taking to himself his transgressions, and standing in them, with the acknowledgement of them to be his, and that he cannot stir from under them, nor do any thing to make amends for them, or to palliate the rigour of justice against the soul. And this the Publican did when he cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
He made his sins his own, he took them to him, he stood before in them, accounting that he was surely undone for ever if God did not extend forgiveness unto him. And this is to do as the prophet Jeremy bids; to wit, "only to acknowledge our iniquities," to acknowledge them and to stand in them at the terrible bar of God's justice, until mercy takes them out of the way; not shifting our shoulders or conscience of them, by doing, or promising to do, either this or that good work, only acknowledge, acknowledge only. And the reason of this kind of confession is,
1. Because this carrieth in it the true nature of confession, to confess, and to abide under the crimes confessed, without shifts and evasions, is the only real simple way of confessions. "I said I would confess my transgressions unto the Lord"; and what then, "and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." (Psa 32:5) Mark, nothing comes in betwixt confession and forgiveness of sin, nothing of works of righteousness, nothing of legal amendments, nothing but an outcry for mercy; and that act is so far off from lessening the offence, that it greatly heighteneth and aggravates it. That is the first reason.
2. A second reason is, because God doth expect that the penitent confessors should for the time that his wisdom shall think meet, not only confess, but bear their shame upon them; yea, saith God, "be thou confounded also and bear thy shame," when God takes away thine iniquity, thou shalt be confounded and never open thy mouth more because of thy shame. (Eze 16:52,63) We count it convenient that men, when their crimes and transgressions are to be manifested, that they be set in some open place, with a paper, wherein their transgressions are inserted, pinned upon their back or their forehead, that they may not only confess, but bear their own shame. And at the penitential confession of sinners, God has something of this kind to do; if not before men, yet before angels, that they may behold, and be affected, and rejoice when they shall see, after the revelation of sin, the sinner taken into the favour and abundant mercy of God. (Luke 15)
3. A third reason is, For that God will in the forgiveness of sin, magnify the riches of his mercy; but this cannot be, if God shall suffer, or accept of such confession of sin, as is yet intermixed with those things that will darken the heinousness of the offence, and that will be darkened either by a partial, feigned, or overly confession: or by a joining with the confession any of the sinners pretended good deeds.
That God in the salvation, and so in the confession of the sinner, designs the magnifying of his mercy, is apparent enough from the whole current of scripture, and that any of the things now mentioned will, if suffered to be done, darken and eclipse this thing, is evident to reason itself.
Suppose a man stand indicted for treason, yet shall so order the matter, that it shall ring in the country, that his offences are but petty crimes; though the king shall forgive this man, much glory shall not thereby redound to the riches and greatness of his mercy. But let all things lie naked, let nothing lie hid or covered, let sin be seen, shewn, and confessed, as it is with and in the sinner himself, and then there will be in his forgiveness a magnifying of mercy.
4. A fourth reason is, for that else God cannot be justified in his sayings, nor overcome when he is judged. (Psa 51, Rom 3) God's word hath told us what sin is, both as to its nature and evil effects. God's word hath told us, that the best of our righteousnesses are not better than filthy rags. God's word has also told us, that sin is forgiven us freely by grace, and to for the sake of our amendments: and all this God will have shewn, not only in the acts of his mercy towards, but even in the humiliations and confessions of the penitent: For God will have his mercy begin to be displayed even there where the sinner hath taken his first step toward him: "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom 5:21)
5. A fifth reason is, because God would have by the Publican's conversion, others affected with the displays and discoveries of wonderful grace; but to cloud and cover it with lessening of sin, and the sinful righteousness of man, is not the way to do this. Wherefore the sinner's confession must be such as is full, nor must anything of his to lessen sin come in betwixt confession and mercy; and this is the way to affect others [who are] as bad as Publicans and sinners, and to make them come in to God for mercy.
For what will such say when sin begins to appear to the conscience, and when the law shall follow it with a voice of words, each one like a clap of thunder? I say, what will such say when they shall read that the Publican did only acknowledge his iniquity, and found grace and favour at the hand of God? But that God is infinitely merciful; merciful indeed, and that to those, or to such, as do in truth stand in need of mercy. Also that he sheweth mercy of his own good pleasure, nothing moving him thereto but the bounty of his own goodness and the misery of his creature.
I say, this is the way to make others be affected with mercy; as he saith, by the apostle Paul, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, [by grace ye are saved] and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:4-7) You may also see that: 1 Timothy 1:15, 16. 6. Another reason of this is, because this is the way to heighten the comfort and consolation of the soul; and that both here and hereafter. What tendeth more to this, than for sinners to see, and with guilt and amazement to confess what sin is, and so to have pardon extended from God to the sinner as such? This fills the heart; this ravishes the soul! this puts a whole heaven of joy into every one of the thoughts of salvation from sin, and deliverance from wrath to come. "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isa 35:10) Indeed the belief of this makes joy and gladness endless: I say, it will make it begin here, and make that it shall never have consummation in heaven.
7. Besides, it layeth upon the soul the greatest obligations to holiness; what like the apprehension of free forgiveness, and that apprehension must come in through a sight of the greatness of sin, and of my inability to do anything towards satisfaction, to engage the heart of a rebel and traitor to love his prince, and to submit to his laws.
When Elisha had taken the Syrians captives, some were for using severities towards them; but he said, "Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master"; and they did so. And what follows, "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." He conquered their malice with his compassion. And it is the love of Christ that constraineth to live to him. (2 Kings 6:22,23, 2 Cor 5:14)
Many other things might possibly be urged, but at present let these be sufficient.
[His imploring of mercy.]
Second. The second thing that we made mention of in the Publican's prayer was, an imploring of help against this malady; GOD BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER. In which petition I shall take notice of several things.
I. That a man's help against sins, doth not so absolutely lie in his personal conquest, as in the pardon of them. I suppose a conquest, though there can indeed by man be none, so long as he liveth in this world; I mean, a complete conquest and annihilation of sin.
The Publican, and so every graciously awakened sinner, is doubtless for the subduing of sin; but yet he looketh that the chief help against it doth lie in the pardon of it. Suppose a man should stab his neighbour with his knife, and afterwards burn his knife to nothing in the fire, would this give him help against his murder? No verily, notwithstanding this, his neck is obnoxious to the halter, yea, and his soul to hell fire. But a pardon gives him absolute help: "It is God that justifies, who shall condemn." (Rom 8) Suppose a man should live many days in rebellion against God, and after that leave off to live any longer so rebelliously, would this help him against the guilt which he contracted before? No verily, without remission there is no help, but the rebel is undone. Wherefore the first blessedness, yea, and that without which all other things cannot make one blessed, it lies in pardon. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." (Psa 32:1) "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Rom 4:8)
Suppose a man greatly sanctified and made holy; I say, suppose it; yet if the sins, before committed by him, be not pardoned, he cannot be a blessed man.
Yet again, Suppose a man should be caught up to heaven, not having his sins pardoned, heaven itself cannot make him a blessed man. I suppose these things, not that they can be, but to illustrate my matter. There can be not blessedness upon any man who yet remaineth unforgiven. You see therefore here, that there was much of the wisdom of the Holy Ghost in this prayer of the Publican. He was directed the right, the only, the next way to shelter, where blessedness begins even to mercy for the pardon of his sins. Alas! What would it advantage a traitor to be taken up into the king's coach, to be clothed with the king's royal robe, to have put upon his finger the king's gold ring, and to be made to wear, for the present, a chain of gold about his neck, if after all this the king should say unto him, but I will not pardon thy rebellion; thou shalt die for thy treason? Pardon then, to him that loves life, is chiefest, is better, and more to be preferred and sought after, than all other things; yea, it is the highest point of wisdom in any sinner to seek after that first.
This therefore confuteth the blindness of some, and the hypocrisy of others. Some are so silly, and so blind, as quite to forget and look over the pardon of sin, and to lay their happiness in some external amendments; when alas poor wretches, as they are, they abide still under the wrath of God. Or if they be not quite so foolish as utterly to forget the forgiveness of sin, yet they think of it, but in the second place; they are for setting of sanctification before justification, and so seek to confound the order of God; and that which is worse unto them, they by so doing, do what they can to keep themselves indeed from being sharers in that great blessing of forgiveness of sins by grace.
But the Publican here was guided by the wisdom of heaven: He comes into the temple, he confesseth himself a sinner, and forthwith, without any delay, before he removeth his foot from where he stands, craveth help of pardon; for he knew that all other things, if yet he remained as involved in guilt, would not help him against that damnation that belonged to a vile and unforgiven sinner.
This also confuteth the hypocrites, such as is our Pharisee here in the text, that glory in nothing more, or so much, as that they are "not as other men, - - unjust, adulterers, extortioners, or even as this Publican"; for these men have missed of the beginning of good which is the forgiveness of sin; and if they have missed of the first, of the beginning good, they shall never, as so standing, receive the second, or the third: Justification, sanctification, glorification, they are the three things, but the order of God must not be perverted. Justification must be first, because that comes to man while he is ungodly and a sinner.
Justification cannot be where God has not passed a pardon. A pardon then is the first thing to be looked after by the sinner; this the Pharisee did not, therefore he went down to his house unjustified; he set the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face when he went to enquire of the Lord; and as he neglected, slighted, scorned, because he thought that he had no need of pardon; therefore it was given to the poor, needy, and miserable Publican, and he went away with the blessing of it.
PUBLICANS, since this is so weighty a point, let me exhort you that you do not forget this prayer of your wise and elder brother, to wit, the Publican, that went up into the temple to pray. I say, forget it not, neither suffer any vain-glorious or self- conceited hypocrite to beat you with arguments, or to allure you with their silly and deceitful tongues, from this most wholesome doctrine. Remember that you are sinners, equal to, or as abominable as are the Publicans, wherefore do you, as you have him for your pattern, go to God, and to him confess in all simple, honest, and self-abasing-wise your great, numerous, and abominable sins; and be sure that in the very next place you forget not to ask for pardon, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." And remember that heaven itself cannot help you against, nor keep you from, the damnation and misery that comes by sin, if 'twas possible you should go thither, if you miss of pardon and forgiveness.
II. As the Publican imploreth help, so withal he closely approveth, notwithstanding, of the sentence of the law that was gone out against him. This is manifest, for he saith to God, "be merciful to me"; and also in that he concludes himself "a sinner." I say, he justifieth, he approveth of the sentence of the law, that was gone out against him, and by which he now stood condemned in his own conscience before the tribunal of God's justice. He saith not as the hypocrite, "Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me" (Jer 2:35); or "What have we spoken so much against thee?" (Mal 3:13) No, he is none of these murmurers or complainers, but fairly falls before the law, witnesses, judge and jury, and consenteth to the verdict, sentence, and testimony of each of them.
To illustrate this a little, suppose a malefactor should be arraigned before a judge, and that after the witnesses, jury, and judge, have all condemned him to death for his fact, the judge again should ask him what he can say for himself why sentence of death should not pass upon him? Now if he saith, nothing, but good, my lord, mercy; he in sum confesseth the indictment, justifieth the witnesses, approveth of the verdict of the jury, and consenteth to the judgment of the judge.
The Publican therefore in crying mercy, justifieth the sentence of the law that was gone out against his sins: He wrangleth not with the law, saying, that was too severe, though many men do thus, saying, God forbid, for then woe be to us. He wrangleth not with the witness, which was his own conscience, though some will buffet, smite, and stop its mouth, or command it to be silent. He wrangleth not with the jury, which was the prophets and apostles, though some men cannot abide to hear all that they say. He wrangleth not with the judge, nor sheweth himself irreverently before him, but in all humble-wise, with all manner of gestures that could bespeak him acquiescing with the sentence, he flieth to mercy for relief.
Nor is this alone the way of the Publican; but of other godly men before his time: When David was condemned, he justified the sentence and the judge, out of whose mouth it proceeded, and so fled for succour to the mercy of God. (Psa 51) When Shemaiah the prophet pronounced God's judgments against the princes of Judah for their sin, they said, "The Lord is righteous." (2 Chron 12:6) When the church in the Lamentations had reckoned up several of her grievous afflictions wherewith she had been chastised of her God, she, instead of complaining, doth justify the Lord, and approve of the sentence that was passed upon her, saying, "The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment." (Lam 1:18) So Daniel, after he had enumerated the evils that befell the church in his day, addeth, "Therefore hath the Lord - brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice." (Dan 9:14)
I know that all these do justify the judgment of God that was gone out against them, as the Publican did the sentence wherewith he was condemned. And I say, that unless a man doth come hither, his confession and cry for mercy is not right, and so according to the scripture, reason, and nature of things as they ought to be; for he that has any other plea, why doth he cry God, Mercy! Surely not because he concludes that what is done, is done justly and righteously against him, but because he is overruled by spite, prejudice, tyranny, or the like.
But this is not the case with our Publican. He has transgressed a law that is holy, just, and good: the witness that accuseth him of this, is God and his conscience; he is also cast by the verdict of holy men of God; and all this he knows, and implicitly confesses, even in that he directs his prayer unto his judge for pardon. And it is one of the excellentest sights in the world to see, or understand a sinner thus honestly receiving the sentence of the law that is gone out against him; to see and hear a Publican thus to justify God. And this God will have done for these reasons.
1. That it might be conspicuous to all that the Publican has need of mercy. This is for the glory of the justice of God, because it vindicates it in its goings out against the Publican. God loveth to do things in justice and righteousness, when he goeth out against men, though it be but such a going out against them as only tendeth to their conviction and conversions. When he dealt with our father Abraham in this matter, he called him to his foot, as here he doth the Publican. And sinner, if ever God counts thee worthy to inherit the throne of glory, he will bring thee hither. But,
2. The Publican, by the power of conviction stoops to, and falleth under the righteous sentence gone forth against him, that it might be also manifest that what afterward he shall receive is of the mere grace and sovereign goodness of God. And indeed there is no way that doth more naturally tend to make this manifest than this. For thus; there is a man proceeded against for life, by the law, and the sentence of death is in conclusion most justly and righteously passed upon him by the judge. Suppose now that after this, this man lives, and is exalted to honour, enjoys great things, and is put into place of trust and power, and that by him that he has offended, even by him that did pass the sentence upon him. What will all say, or what will they conclude, even upon the very first hearing of this story? Will they not say, well, whoever he was that found himself wrapped up in this strange providence, must thank the mercy of a gracious prince; for all these things bespeak grace and favour. But,
3. As the Publican falleth willingly under the sentence, and justifieth the passing of it upon him; so by his flying to mercy for help, he declareth to all that he cannot deliver himself: He putteth help away from himself, or saith, it is not in me.
This, I say, is another thing included in this prayer, and it is a thing distinct from that but now we have been speaking to. For it is possible for a man to justify and fall under the sentence of the judge, and yet retain that with himself that will certainly deliver him from that sentence when it has done its worst. Many have held up their hand, and cried guilty at the bar, and yet have fetched themselves off well enough for all that; but then they have not pleaded mercy, for he that doth so, puts his life altogether into the hands of another, but privilege or good deeds either done or to be done by them. But the Publican in the text puts all out of his own hand; and in effect saith to that God before whom he went up into the temple to pray; Lord, I stand here condemned at the bar of thy justice, and that worthily, for the sentence is good, and hath in righteousness gone out against me; nor can I deliver myself, I heartily and freely confess I cannot; wherefore I betake myself only to thy mercy, and do pray thee to forgive the transgressions of me a sinner. O how few be there of such kind of Publicans! I mean of Publicans thus made sensible, that come unto God for mercy.
Mercy with most, is rather a compliment, I mean, while they plead it with God, than a matter of absolute necessity; they have not awfully, and in judgment and conscience fallen under the sentence, nor put themselves out of all plea but the plea of mercy. Indeed, thus to do, is the effect of the proof of the vanity and emptiness of all experiments made use of before. Now there is a two-fold proof of experiments; the one is, the result of practice; the other is, the result of faith.
The woman with her bloody issue made her proof by practice, when she had spent all that she had upon physicians and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse. (Mark 5:26) But our Publican here proves the emptiness and vanity of all other helps, by one cast of faith upon the contents of the bible, and by another look upon his present state of condemnation; wherefore he presently, without any more ado, condemneth all other helps, ways, modes, or means of deliverance, and betakes himself only to the mercy of God, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
And herein he showeth wonderful wisdom. For,
(1.) By this, He thrusts himself under the shelter and blessing of the promise: and I am sure it is better and safer to do so, than to rely upon the best of excellences that this world can afford. (Hosea 14:1-4)
(2.) He takes the ready way to please God; for God takes more delight in showing of mercy, than in any thing that we can do. (Hosea 6:6, Matt 9:13, 12:7) Yea and that also is the man that pleaseth him, even he that hopes in his mercy. (Psa 147:11) The Publican therefore, whatever the Pharisee might think, stood all this while upon sure ground, and had by far the start of him for heaven. Alas! his dull head could look no further than to the conceit of the pitiful beauty and splendour of his own stinking righteousness. Nor durst he leave that to trust wholly to the mercy of God; but the Publican comes out, though in his sins, yet like an awakened, enlightened, resolved man, and first abases himself, then gives God the glory of his justice, and after that the glory of his mercy, by saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner"; and thus in the ears of the angels he did ring the changes of heaven. Again,
(3.) The Publican, in his thus putting himself upon mercy, showeth, that in his opinion there is more virtue in mercy to save, than there is in the law and sin to condemn. And although this is not counted a great matter to do, while men are far from the law, and while their conscience is asleep within them; yet when the law comes near, and conscience is awake, who so tries it, will find it a laboursome work. Cain could not do thus for his heart, no, nor Saul; nor Judas, neither. This is another kind of thing than most men think it to be, or shall find it, whenever they shall behold God's angry face, and when they shall hear the words of his law.
However our Publican did it, and ventured his body, soul, and future condition for ever in this bottom, with other the saints and servants of God, leaving of the world to swim over the sea of God's wrath if they will, in their weak and simple vessels of bulrushes, or to lean upon their cobweb-hold, when he shall arise to the judgment that he hath appointed.
In the mean time pray God awaken us as he did the Publican; pray God enlighten us as he did the Publican; pray God grant us boldness to come to him as the Publican did; and also in that trembling spirit as he did, when he cried in the temple before him, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
THIRD. Thus having in brief passed over his prayer, we come in the next place to his gestures; for in my judgment the right understanding of them will give us yet more conviction of the Publican's sense and awakening of spirit under this present action of his.
And I have observed many a poor wretch that has readily had recourse to the Publican's prayer, that never knew what the Publican's GESTURES, in the presence of God, while in prayer before him, did mean. Nor must any man be admitted to think, that those gestures of his were in custom, and a formality among the Jews in those days; for 'tis evident enough by the carriage of the Pharisee, that it was below them and their mode, when they came into the temple, or when they prayed any where else; and they in those days were counted for the best of men, and men too in religious matters they were to imitate and take their examples at the hands of the best, not at the hands of the worst.
The Publican's gestures then, were properly his own, caused by the guilt of sin, and by that dread of the majesty of God that was upon his spirit. And a comely posture it was, else Christ Jesus, the Son of God, would never have taken that particular notice thereof as he did, nor have smiled upon it so much as to take it, and distinctly repeat it as that which made his prayer the more weighty, and the more also to be taken notice of. Yea, in mine opinion, the Lord Jesus has committed it to record, for that he liked it, and for that it shall pass for some kind of touchstone of prayer, that is made in good sense of sin, and of God, and of need of his goodness and mercy. For verily, all these postures signify sense, sight of a lost condition, and a heart in good earnest for mercy.
I know that they may be counterfeited, and Christ Jesus knows who doth so too; but that will not hinder, or make weak or invalid what hath already been spoken about it. But to forbear to make a further prologue, and to come to the handling of particulars.
"And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast."
Three things, as I told you already, we may perceive in these words, by which his Publican posture, or gestures are set forth.
First. He stands afar off. Second. He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. Third. He smote upon his breast. First. For the first of these, "He stood afar off." "And the Publican standing afar off." This is, I say, the first thing, the first posture of his with which we are acquainted, and it informeth us of several things.
1. That he came not with senselessness of the majesty of God when he came to pray, as the Pharisee did, and as sinners commonly do. For this standing back, or afar off, declares that the majesty of God had an awful stroke upon his spirit: He saw whither, to whom, and for what, he was now approaching the temple. It is said in that 20th of Exodus, That when the people saw the thunderings and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, and all these were signs of God's terrible presence, and dreadful majesty, they removed themselves, "and stood afar off." (Exo 20:18) This behaviour therefore of the Publican did well become his present action, especially since, in his own eyes, he was yet an unforgiven sinner. Alas! What is God's majesty to a sinful man, but a consuming fire? And what is a sinful man in himself, or in his approach to God, but as stubble fully dry.
How then could the Publican do otherwise than what he did, than stand afar off, if he either thought of God or himself. Indeed the people afore-named, before they saw God in his terrible majesty, could scarce be kept off from the mount with words and bounds, as it is now the case of many: Their blindness gives them boldness; their rudeness gives them confidence; but when they shall see what the Publican saw, and felt, and understood as he, they will pray, and stand afar off, even as these people did. They removed and stood afar off, and then fell to praying of Moses that this dreadful sight and sound might be taken from them. And what if I should say, he stood afar off for fear of a blow, though he came for mercy, as it is said of them, They stood "afar off for the fear of her torment." (Rev 18:10)
I know what it is to go to God for mercy, and what it is to stand all that while in my spirit through fear afar off, being possessed with this, will not God now smite me at once to the ground for my sins. David thought something when he said as he prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me." (Psa 51:11)
There is none knows, but those that have them, what turns and returns, what coming on and going off, there is in the spirit of a man that indeed is awakened, and that stands awakened before the glorious Majesty in prayer. The prodigal also made his prayer to his Father intentionally, while he was yet a great way off. And so did the lepers too; "And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood AFAR OFF: And they lift up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." (Luke 17:12,13)
See here, it has been the custom of praying men to keep their distance, and not to be rudely bold in rushing into the presence of the holy and heavenly majesty; especially if they have been sensible of their own vileness and sins, as the prodigal, the lepers, and our Publican was. Yea, Peter himself, when upon a time he perceived more than commonly he did of the majesty of Jesus his Lord, what doth he do! "When Simon Peter saw it," says the text, "he fell down at Jesus" knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8) Oh! when men see God and themselves, it fills them with holy fear, of the greatness of the majesty of God, as well as with love to, and desire after his mercy.
Besides, by his standing afar off, it might be to intimate that he now had in mind, and with great weight upon his conscience, the infinite distance that was betwixt God, and him. Men should know that, and tremble in the thoughts of it, when they are about to approach the omnipotent presence.
What is poor sorry man! poor dust and ashes, that he should crowd it up, and go jostlingly in the presence of the great God? especially since it is apparent, that besides the disproportion that is betwixt God and him, he is a filthy, leprous, polluted, nasty, stinking, sinful bit of carrion. Esther, when she went to supplicate the king her husband for her people, made neither use of her beauty, nor relation, nor other privileges of which she might have had temptation to make use, especially at such a time, and in such exigencies, as then did compass her about: But I say, she made not use of them to thrust herself into his presence, but knew, and kept her distance, standing in the inward court of his palace, until he held out the golden sceptre to her; THEN "Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre." (Esth 5:2)
Men also when they come into the presence of God, should know their distance; yea, and shew that they know it too, by such gestures and carriages, and behaviors that are seemly. A remarkable saying is that of Solomon. "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil. [And as they should keep their foot, so also he adds] Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." (Eccl 5:1,2) Three things the Holy Ghost exhorteth to in this text.
The one is, that we look to our feet, and not be forward to crowd into God's presence.
Another is, That we should also look well to our tongues, that they be not rash in uttering anything before God.
And the third is, because of the infinite distance that is betwixt God and us, which is intimated by those words, "For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth."
The Publican therefore shewed great wisdom, holy shame, and humility, in this brave gesture of his, namely, in his standing afar off, when he went up into the temple to pray. But this is not all.
2. The Publican, in standing afar off, left room for an advocate, an high priest, a day's-man to come betwixt, to make peace between God and this poor creature. Moses, the great mediator of the Old Testament, was to go nigher to God than the rest of the leaders, or of the people were. (Exo 20:21) Yea, the rest of the people were expressly commanded to worship, standing afar off. (19:21) No man of the sons of Aaron that hath a blemish was to come nigh. "No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: He shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God." (Lev 21:21)
The Publican durst not be his own mediator, he knew he had a blemish, and was infirm, and therefore he stands back; for he knew that it was none of him that his God had chosen to come near unto him, to offer the fat and the blood. (Eze 44:13-15) The Publican therefore was thus far right: he took not up the room himself, neither with his person, nor his performances, but stood back, and gave place to the high priest that was to be intercessor.
We read, that when Zacharias went into the temple to burn incense, as at that time his lot was, "The whole multitude of the people were praying without." (Luke 1:9,10) They left him where he was, near to God, between God and them, mediating of them; for the offering of incense by the chief priest was a figurative making of intercession for the people, and they maintained their distance.
It is a great matter in praying to God, not to go too far, nor come too short in that duty. I mean in the duty of prayer, and a man is very apt to do one or the other. The Pharisee went so far, he was too bold, he came into the temple making such a ruffle with his own excellences, there was in his thoughts no need of a Mediator. He also went up so nigh to God, that he took up the room and place of the Mediator himself; but this poor Publican, he knows his distance, and kept it, and leaves room for the High Priest to come and intercede for him with God. He stood afar off, not too far off; for that is the room and place of unbelievers, and in this sense that saying is true, "For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish" (Psa 73:27): That is, they whose unbelief hath set them in their hearts and affections more upon their idols, and that have been made to cast God behind their backs, to follow and go a whoring after them.
Hitherto therefore it appears, that though the Pharisee had more righteousness than the Publican, yet the Publican had more spiritual righteousness than the Pharisee: And that though the Publican had a baser, and more ugly outside than the Pharisee, yet the Publican knew how to prevail with God for mercy better than he.
As for the Publican's posture of standing in prayer, it is excusable, and that by the very father of the faithful himself: For Abraham stood praying when he made intercession for Sodom. (Gen 18:22,23) Christ also alloweth it where he saith, "And when ye STAND PRAYING, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25) Indeed there is no stinted order prescribed for our thus or thus behaving of ourselves in prayer, whether kneeling, or standing, or walking or lying, or sitting; for all these postures have been used by the godly. "Paul KNEELED down and prayed." (Acts 20:36) Abraham and the Publican STOOD and prayed. David prayed as he WALKED. (2 Sam 15:30,31) Abraham prayed LYING upon his face. (Gen 17:17,18) Moses prayed SITTING. (Exo 17:12) And indeed prayer, effectual fervent prayer, may be, and often is, made unto God, under all these circumstances of behaviour: for God has not tied us to any of them; and he that shall tie himself, or his people, to any one of these, doth more than he hath warrant for from God; and let such take care of innovating, it is the next way to make men hypocrites and dissemblers in those duties, in which they should be sincere.
True, which of those soever a man shall chose to himself for the present, to perform this solemn duty in, it is required of him, and God expects it, that he should pray to him in truth, and with desire, affection, and hunger, after those things, that with his tongue he maketh mention of before the throne of God. And indeed without this, all is nothing. But alas! how few be there in the world whose heart and mouth in prayer shall go together? Dost thou, when thou askest for the spirit, or faith, or love to God, to holiness, to saints, to the word, and the like, ask for them with love to them, desire of them, hungering after them? Oh! this is a mighty thing! and yet prayer is no more before God, than as it is seasoned with these blesssed qualifications. Wherefore it is said, that while men are praying, God is searching of the heart, to see what is the meaning of the spirit, or whether there be the spirit and his meaning in all that the mouth hath uttered, either by words, sighs, or groans; because it is by him, and through his help only that any make prayers according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26,27) Whatever thy posture therefore shall be, see that thy prayers be pertinent and fervent, not mocking of thine own soul with words, while thou wantest and art an utter stranger to the very vital and living spirit of prayer.
Now our Publican, had, and did exercises, the very spirit of prayer in prayer. He prayed sensibly, seriously, affectionately hungering, thirsting, and with longing after that, for which with his mouth he implored the God of heaven: His heart and soul were in his words, and it was that which made his PRAYER; even because he prayed in PRAYER; he prayed inwardly, as well as outwardly.
David tells us, that God heard the VOICE of his supplication, the voice of his cry, the voice of his tears, and the voice of his roaring. For indeed there are all these without this acceptable sound in them, nor can any thing but sense, and affection, and fervent desire, make them sound well in the ears of God. Tears, supplications, prayers, cries, may be all of them done in formality, hypocrisy, and from other causes, and to other ends than that which is honest and right in God's sight: For God as he had experience of, would search and look after the VOICE of his tears, supplications, roarings, prayers, and cries.
And if men had less care to please men, and more to please God, in the matter and manner of praying, the world would be at a better pass than it is. But this is not in man's power to help, and to amen: When the Holy Ghost comes upon men with greater conviction of their state and condition, and of the use and excellency of the grace of sincerity and humility in prayer, then, and not till then, will the grace of prayer be more prized, and the spacious flouting, complimentary lips of flatterers be more laid aside. I have said it already, and I will say it again, that there is now-a-days a great deal of wickedness committed in the very duty of prayer; by words, of which men have no sense, by reaching after such conclusions and clenches therein, as may make their persons to be admired; by studying for, and labouring after such enlargements as the spirit accompanieth not the heart in. O Lord God, O Lord God, make our hearts upright in us, as in all points and parts of our profession, so in this solemn appointment of God, "If I regard iniquity in my heart," said David, "the Lord will not hear me." But if I be truly sincere he will, and then it is no mater whether I kneel, or stand, or sit, or lie, or walk; for I shall do none of these, nor put up my prayers under any of these circumstances, lightly foolishly, and idly, but to beautify this gesture with the inward working of my mind and spirit in prayer; that whether I stand or sit, walk or lie down, glory and gravity, humility and sincerity shall make my prayer profitable, and my outward behaviour comely in his eyes, with whom in prayer I now have to do.
And had not our Publican been inwardly seasoned with these, Christ would have taken but little pleasure in his modes and outward behaviour: but being so honest inwardly, and in the matter of his prayer, his gestures by that were made beauteous also; and therefore it is that our Lord so delightfully dilateth upon them, and draweth them out at length before the eyes of others.
I have often observed, that that which is natural, and so comely in one, looks odiously when imitated by another, I speak as to gestures and actions in preaching and prayer. Many, I doubt not, but will imitate the Publican, and that both in the prayer and gestures of the Publican, whose persons and actions will yet stink full foully in the nostrils of him that is holy and just, and that searcheth the heart and the reins.
Well, the Publican STOOD and prayed, he stood afar off, and prayed, and his prayers came even to the ears and heart of God.
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