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THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN.
Sr. LUKE xviii. 14, I tell you that this man went down to his house justified
rather than the other:. For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The parable of which these words form the conclusion, was spoken by our Saviour, as the Holy Scripture itself tells us, in reproof of certain persons who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others;" and of the persons, accordingly, whom He sets before us, the first is of a class of men who, more than all others among the Jews, enjoyed the reputation of a strict and scrupulous piety; while the second was from a description of persons, many of whom were, really, of depraved and infamous behaviour, and all of whom, from the prejudices of their countrymen, were regarded, whether justly so or 80, as depraved and infamous.
“ Two men,” are our Lord's words, “ went up into the temple to pray; the one a pharisee, and the other a publican."
The pharisees, it may be here necessary to observe, were a party among the Jewish nation whose name is taken from a Hebrew word signifying division or separation, because they had divided themselves in many circum
stances of dress and manners and society from the generality of their brother Israelites, and of those who worshipped the same God with them in the same temple, on pretence of superior holiness, and of keeping themselves altogether unspotted by the company, the amusements, and even the touch of carnal and worldly persons. They were famous among their countrymen for their dislike of all diversions, however innocent, for the length of their prayers, and of their graces both before and after meat, for their rigid observance of the Sabbath and fasting days appointed by the law of Moses, and by the zeal which they showed for not only the slightest observances recommended in that law, but for many other additional rules and restrictions which, though the law said nothing of them, they professed to have received from the tradition of the elders. Thus the law respecting the Sabbath, in itself strict, they straiténed still more by forbidding men so much as to heal the sick on that day, to take physic them. selves, or to give physic to others. On fasting days they not only refused to eat all food before the appointed hour, but if they took a draught of water took care to strain it through a cloth, lest any thing solid might lurk in it, and be accidentally swallowed. The blue fringe which it was the custom of the Jews in general to wear on their clothes, the pharisees wore twice as large as other men, in order
prove that they were not ashamed of their religion; and their wrists and foreheads were usually bound round with strips of parchment written over with texts of Scripture, "to keep," as they said, “the law of God before their eyes, and to prevent its ever escaping from their memories.'
On the whole, as their manners and appearance were formal, grave, and melancholy, so they chiefly lived among their own members, calling themselves in their books and in their general conversation, “the godly,” “the elect,” “the wise,” and the “disciples of the elders ;" and shunning not only the company, but the touch and the neighbourhood of those who did not belong to their own little circle, and of whom they therefore spoke as the
"..the unclean," and "the vulgar," or enlightened.”
With all these pretences to piety, many grievous crimes, as it appears from Scripture, prevailed among them. Many of them were extremely covetous; and even made their outward piety a means of obtaining wealth and legacies from their countrymen; “ devouring widows' houses under the pretence of long prayers ;” and “making clean the outside of the cup and the platter, while the inward part was full of ravening and wickedness."*
But though such faults were but too common among them, and though our Saviour, therefore, reproves them perhaps more sharply, and certainly more frequently than any other party among the Jews, (possibly because from their numbers they oftener fell in His way; and possibly because, with all their faults, they were more within the ordinary reach of grace than their wicked and godless rivals the Sadducees,) yet they had, when compared with these last, many favourable circumstances in their character, and many among them were really good and godly men, who when their prejudices were once remo
noved, became sincere and humble followers of the Messiah. They had kept entire the ancient and true doctrine of a resurrection from the dead, which the Sadducees ventured to deny; they were really zealous, though not according unto knowledge, for the honour of God's name and the observance of His Sabbaths; they were commendably anxious in spreading a knowledge of the law of Moses among the heathen and their own ignorant countrymen; and they were accordingly held in great reverence by the common people; and the scribes or teachers of the law of Moses, as well as the rulers or elders of the people, were most frequently of their number.
Of the publicans it is enough to say that they were collectors of taxes for the Romans, who, some time before, had conquered the Jews and held them in the same state of subjection, though of a far less just and gentle kind, than that in which the English now hold the inhabitants
• St. Matt. xxiii. 25. St. Luke xi. 39.
of India. And it is easy to suppose not only that any
Jew who undertook such an office would be extremely unpopular among his countrymen; but that, in fact, the more respectable Jews would, generally speaking, be slow to hold an office which at the same time made them hated by their own brethren, and exposed them to lose caste by living and eating with their heathen masters.
When, therefore, our Lord fixed on two persons of these different descriptions as going together to the House of God to pray, He fixed on characters the most different that His countrymen had seen, the most popular and respected and the least esteemed, the most outwardly carefül of their religious interests and the most outwardly and generally neglectful of them; the class who were supposed in general to be most dear to God (and who certainly supposed themselves so) and those who were considered the greatest strangers to Him. And if we ourselves had been, with the same feelings and prejudices, among the number of our Saviour's hearers, and had been asked by Him, which of these two persons was in our opinion most likely to obtain a favourable answer to his prayers, and to conciliate the mercy of Heaven, we should have probably supposed, as the Jews no doubt supposed, that the advantage was decidedly with the pharisee.
6. The pharisee, (however, the story then proceeds,) the pharisee stood and prayed thus with himse if, God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner! I tell you,” adds our Lord, " that this. man went down to his house justified rather than the other !"
Whạt, then, is the cause of this difference? What of the pharisee being rejected, what of the publican being, in comparison, preferred by the Almighty searcher of hearts? Was the pharisee a hypocrite, who laid claim to virtuous habits to which he had no pretension? Was it untrue that he was really strict beyond most of his countrymen in the
mortification of his appetites, and the payment of a part of his substance to the service of God and the ceremonies of religion? That it would be hard to believe, nor have we any reason to believe it from the words of Scripture. He was, it will be observed, praying, and praying in words which nobody heard——" he prayed thus with himself." But no man is weak enough to believe that he can tell a lie to God; no man, who is not a madman, can dare to insult his Maker by laying claim, when that Maker only hears, to virtuous actions which he knows to be imaginary. Or is God indifferent whether our actions be good or evil ? are prayers, or fastings, or a careful concern for the decencies of religion offensive to Him, or worthless in His eyes ? On the contrary, our Saviour Himself has laid down rules for His disciples when they fast; He has Himself set us an example of religious fasting; and He has Himself said, when blaming the pharisees for their neglect of the weightier matters of the law, that, while they sinned greatly in leaving these undone, it behoved them also by no means to neglect the others.*
Or was the publican in reality, a person of exemplary conduct who afflicted himself unnecessarily on account of his spiritual state, and was, in truth, already a saint while he condemned himself as the worst of sinners ? Neither of this is there any appearance. The pharisee, who seems to have known him, probably spoke the truth when he described him as a man of bad character. And it is remarkable, that neither does our Lord, notwithstanding his expressions of repentance, speak of him as of one, at present and absolutely in a justified state, but only that he was justified rather than the other, that his character, with all its faults, was less displeasing to God than the vain selfpraise and uncharitable censure of the pharisee. The publican might be, and probably was, a real sinner; the publican might be, and probably was, of a character offensive to God; and yet the pharisee might, in God's eyes, be still less accepted and acceptable. What then was his fault? He trusted in himself that he was righteous and
* St. Matt. xxiii. 23.