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And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves
that they were righteous, and despised others, &-c. &c.
We have, in a preceding discourse, illustrated the difference between the prayer of the pharisee, and that of the publican, and shewn their different success. What I now propose is to make some remarks
I. Our Saviour, on a particular occasion, observed, that the publicans went into the kingdom of God before the pharisees. Hence some have inferred that the most vicious and profligate stand fairer for converting grace, than sinners who are more sober and correct in their morals--that the prayers and endeavors of the unrenewed are so far from bringing them nearer to the kingdom of heaven, that they place them at a greater distance from it. But the parable under consideration shews this inference to be unjust, and unfounded. It justifies an inference quite the re-. verse; for the pharisees were most immoral of the two.
This parable, and other discourses of our Saviour, describe the pharisees, in general, as men abandoned to wickedness. If they
assumed an appearance of rectitude in their manners, it was only to cover a base and infamous design. They neglected justice, mercy, truth and piety. They were full of extortion, uneleanness and iniquity. They devoured widows' houses, corrupted the law of God and indulged all manner of wickedness in their hearts, and practised it when they could find a cloak under which to conceal it. They observed trivial ceremonies of their own invention, but disregarded the weighty matters which God's law enjoined. If they prayed, it was only in pretence of piety, that they might oppress the widow with less suspicion. The good which they did, had no goodness in it, for it was done to be seen of men. They were, in their morals, much more depraved than the publicans; for these, however depraved they might be, are never accused of abusing religion to cover their sins.
With respect to such men as the pharisees, who make an ostentation of piety, that they may sin with more secresy and security, it is doubtless true, that they are far from the kingdom of heaven. But we quite mistake the case, if we thence infer, that all the prayers, strivings and watchings of awakened sinners, who are seeking their salvation, not the applause of men, are of the same kind, and that therefore the most vicious and profligate are more likely to obtain conversion, than they. Such an inference cannot follow. The contrary is the just conclusion.
The sacrifice and the prayer of the wicked is abomination, when he offers it with a wicked mind, as the pharisee did—that is, with a heart full of pride, hypocrisy, malice, and contempt of others, and without any resolutions against sin—any conviction of guilt, or desire of pardon. They receive not, who ask amiss, that they may consume it on their lusts. It will not from hence follow, that all the prayers and endeavors of awakened sinners, before they are actually in a state of conversion, are equally amiss, and are equally abomination in the sight of God. Such a construction would lay a grievous burden on tender consciences, and prove a constant discouragement in the way of duty.
The scripture directs christians to pass the time of their so. journing in fear—to fear lest they come short of the promised
rest—to give diligence to the full assurance of hope to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
Such directions evidently suppose, that the exact point, and precise time of real, saving conversion may be uncertain to the subjects of it; and that many true converts may be in painful doubts concerning their character. Now if all the prayers of the unconverted are abomination, what shall these doubting christians do? Plainly they must live without prayer. For no man may do that which he doubts his right to do. He that doubts his right to do an action, is condemned if he does it. In this sense, the apostle says, “ Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Whatsoever is done without a belief that it may be done, is sin in him who does it.
To know whether you have a right to pray in a particular case, and may hope for an answer to your prayer, enquire whether the thing which you ask be good,—be what you ought to seek and desire; and whether you really desire it. If you have a desire, you may direct this desire to God, and may hope that he will hear and answer you.
II. Our subject teaches us, that men may make a show of religion before others, when they have no religion in heart.
The pharisee was one who went up to the temple to pray. He fasted often and paid tythes punctually; and, if we may take his word, he abstained from adultery, injustice and extortion. If he did all this, it was more than most of his brethren did; Saviour says, they were full of uncleanness, extortion and iniquity. The truth is, they had so corrupted the law of God, that it had become of little effect. In their estimation, nothing was adultery, but the outward act—nothing was oppression, but downright violence-nothing was injustice, but barefaced injury. Inward lusting, secret fraud, studied revenge, were not forbidden. As they had the art to cover their crimes from men, so they had the subtilty to conceal them from themselves. Hence we see, that men may abstain from many of the outward acts of iniquity, and
, shew a great zeal for the worship of God, while they are full of spiritual pride, luxury, avarice, malice and envy. It is not abstaining from a few vices in the external act, nor is it making a noise about modes of worship and articles of speculative faith,
that constitute one a saint, or give him a claim to heaven. He must become a new creature-must renounce all known sin in heart and life. He must make conscience of all known duty, as
. it respects the inward and outward man. He must have a faith which purifies the heart, and quickens him to works of righteous
III. We see that men sometimes grossly impose on themselves and entertain a high opinion of their own religious character, when their real character is odious in the sight of God.
The pharisee was vain, proud, ostentatious, uncharitable, censorious; yet he trusted in himself, that he was righteous. He seemed to himself to be religious, when all his religion was vain. It is a caution given us in scripture: Be not deceived. We are afraid of being deceived by others in our secular concerns. Let us rather fear lest we deceive ourselves in our spiritual concerns. The latter deception is probably more common-certainly more dangerous, than the former. Examine yourselves, says the apostle; prove your own selves. The example of the Psalmist deserves our attention; “Search me, O God, and know my heart; prove me, and know my thoughts ; see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Who can understand his errors ? -Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
IV. We here learn, for our caution, some of the ways in which hypocrites deceive themselves. We will attend to them particularly.
1. Self-deceit often takes its rise from an intention to deceive others. This was evidently the case with the pharisees. They did many good deeds to be seen of men. They made prayers
. and bestowed alms in a publick manner, that their pretended piety and charity might be known to the world, and regarded as real and sincere. Their great aim was to establish a reputation
a of uncommon benevolence and sanctity. In subservience to this end they managed all their religion. With a view to deceive others they did so much, and did it with such address, that they ultimately deceived themselves, and trusted that they were righteous. Like some men of whom it has been said, that having asserted a known untruth, they repeat it so often, and insist upon it so long, in order to make others believe it, that they really believe it themselves.
2. Men sometimes deceive themselves by mutilating the rules of duty, and corrupting the precepts of religion. Thus did the pharisees. Finding the law too severe upon their lusts, and broader than their obedience could fill, they debased, relaxed, contracted it by their corrupt interpretations and false traditions, till they reduced it to the standard of their own carnal minds. They made it quite another thing; but just such a thing as they wished it to be. According to their loose construction, they must not commit adultery, but might indulge inward lusts—must love their neighbor, but might hate their enemy_must not do an injury, but might revenge one-must perform their oaths to the Lord ; but might swear by the throne of God, by the gift on the altar, or by their head, without bringing themselves under any obligation. They must not kill, but might revile their brethren and indulge wrath in their breasts. They must honor their parents; but might leave them in the day of impotence, to starve, by consecrating to some holy use the necessary means of their maintenance.
When they had brought the law of God to a level with their own lusts, they fancied themselves righteous, because the law, as they explained it, did not condemn them. Whereas in truth they had explained away all the better part, and nothing remained, which could be a safe rule of common conduct.
3. It is not uncommon, that men lay the principal weight of religion on the smaller parts of it; and place the whole of it in things which are only the means and instruments of it. The pharisee valued himself on his frequent fastings ; on his punctual payment of tythes, and on his abstinence from some of the grosser forms of vice. But he ought to have considered, that the external ceremonies of worship were but the means of religion, and were of no worth, when they failed of their end-that purity of heart and truth in the inward parts are as strictly required, as decency
of behavior—that virtue is not merely negative, but positive—that we must do good as we have opportunity, as well as forbear to do evil.