9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (LUKE XVIII. 9-14.)
The repentant sinner is in a better spiritual condition than the self-righteous boaster. A moral outward life may be united with an evil heart. The parable is not figurative, but practical; its lessons are not taught by allegory, but by examples, We are told that the parable is given as a rebuke to self-righteousness.
The Pharisees were a sect of the Jews, very strict in outward forms and ceremonies of religion; but many of them were self-righteous, despising others, and holding themselves ,aloof from others, as holier. They represent minds of the same character, very scrupulous in externals, but inwardly evil. The Lord’s characterization of them is found, especially, in Matthew xxiii., where He speaks of “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”
Publicans were collectors of the Roman tax, levied upon the Jews by their conquerors. These publicans, generally Jews, were held in great contempt, and regarded as apostates and traitors. In the text, the humble publican represents a humble state of mind, in which the man does not exalt himself
TEMPLE. PRAYER, ETC.
Going up to the temple, to pray, is, spiritually, speaking to the Lord, in our hearts. Prayer is the opening of our inward mind to the Lord. The Pharisee stood by himself, and prayed. He felt superior to others, and so, practically, and in act, and sometimes, even in word, he said to others, “Stand by thyself: come not near to me, for I am holier than thou.” Mentally, he chose the chief seat for himself. Under the pretence of thanking the Lord, he boasted of his own supposed goodness, and he despised others.
EVILS IN THE HEART.
But the Lord teaches us that evils are in the will, or heart; and that a man may be a great sinner even while he has no opportunity to express his evils in outward acts of wrongdoing. “He flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.”
If a good man is forced to see that he has some advantages that many others have not, he does not exalt himself on this account; but he exalts the Lord : and he tries to let his light so shine that men will see his good works, and be led to the Lord, by them. The Pharisee boasts of his character, and of his pious acts. He imagines that he is strictly religious: and yet, while he piously pays tithes of outward things, Jesus tells us that the Pharisees omit to pay “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”
THE PHARISEE’S PRAYER.
The character of the Pharisee’s prayer is remarkable : it contains no acknowledgment of sin, and no supplication for help. He does not feel any need of repentance, or of Divine assistance. He is very self-complacent. But, while he sees no evil in himself he has a keen eye for the sins of others. And he seeks to exalt himself by depreciating others.
The noble soul believes in noble men : but the crafty man always suspicious of the motives of others. The corrupt woman never believes in the virtue of any man. Thus, in our estimate of others, we very often reflect the quality of our own motives. The Pharisees regarded Jesus as corrupt because He associated with sinners. They had no appreciation of the quality of His love, or of His motives, in dealing with men. We comprehend the Lord as we approach Him in character.
And, if a man is a sinner, we need to pity and to help him, and not to separate ourselves from him, in contempt. Every man is capable of regeneration: and he needs aid towards this end. Perhaps, before he fell into sin, he resisted more evil tendencies than we would have resisted, if we had been as severely tempted. Self-righteousness is one of the most malignant forms of evil, and one of the most difficult to overcome. Those who selfishly imagine themselves to be saints, and who expect to claim a higher position in heaven, will find themselves utterly unable to appreciate a heavenly condition of life, and utterly unwilling to live in heaven.
Whenever you find a man despising others, you find a man essentially evil. And, if he seems to be righteous, his righteousness is outward and superficial, and not in the heart. The good man hates evil, especially in himself; but he does not hate the sinner, nor despise him, He separates the sinner from his sin. But the external and self-exalting man does not separate the sinner from his sin; and he despises evils in others, but not in himself.
How different the condition of the publican. Accustomed to being despised and ill-treated, he stands afar off from the inner temple, and feels unworthy to draw nearer. He takes a timid and humble position. And he will “not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.” He feels humbled by a sense of his guilt and unworthiness.
Spiritually, the publican represents a mind that is not well instructed in truth, and which feels unprepared to elevate the understanding to high views of truth; but which acknowledges its unfaithfulness to the Divine commandments. “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up.” “O Lord, righteousness belonged unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces.”
SMITING HIS BREAST.
The publican “smote upon his breast,” to indicate the origin of his evils, in his own heart; and his condemnation of these evils: as well as his intended opposition to them. He made no boast of any goodness, but freely acknowledged himself to be a sinner. And he offered no excuse, and attempted no justification. And he censured no one else. He simply exclaimed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner;” thus acknowledging his dependence upon the Lord, He abases himself and exalts the Lord. The self-righteous Pharisee exalts himself and does not feel his need of any further aid from the Lord. But the repentant publican feels the spirit of the prayer, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” “Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give; Thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”
And so our Lord tells us, “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” The house of the mind is the will. As evils begin in the will, so, if we set our will against our natural evils, and determine to seek regeneration, we shall finally be “justified,” or made just, or righteous, in heart and in life. A man goes down from the temple to his house, when he comes down from his inward spirit to his natural mind, where, practically, his work is to be done. In contrast, a man’s inward will is the house of God, and his natural will is the man’s own house, on earth.
The penitent publican, having, in his inward will, met the Lord, and acknowledged his evils, can afterwards go down into his natural mind and life, and carry an abiding sense of the Lord’s mercy and truth, which shall make his conduct just; for, after a time, it shall be said that, in him, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” He will be justified in the Lord’s sight, although he may not be so in his own sight; for he will carry, at the same time, an abiding sense of his own unworthiness. He will ascribe to the Lord all the good he does.
But the Pharisee, not admitting any need of reformation, will not be justified, or made just; because he will make no effort to put-away his secret evils. He will regard himself as first; and yet, really, he will be last, in the estimation of heaven. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ” Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which, indeed, appear beautiful outwardly, but, within, are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but, within, ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” In the beginning of our journey of regeneration, we have both the Pharisee and the publican in our own mind; both the self-righteousness and the humility, And the work of regeneration expels the former, and develops the latter.
The parable is summed up in the practical statement of a principle: “For everyone who exalteth himself shall be abased; and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.” It is meant, of course, that he shall feel humble, and not that he shall outwardly humble himself for the purpose of being exalted hereafter. He who exalts himself sets his own will, and understanding, and prudence, above, or equal to, the Lord’s good, and truth, and providence. And, in doing this, he actually abases himself, or sinks himself into a spiritually low condition.
The Lord does not put him down, as a penalty for sin, but he puts himself down, in character. He adopts a low standard of character. But he who subjects his own will and understanding to the Divine will, and to the Divine Truth, and who lives by the Lord’s commandments, adopts a high spiritual standard of life; and he becomes exalted in character. Sins that we do not confess and repent of, remain with us: but the sins that we sincerely confess, and repent of and cease to do, fall from us, as we journey away from the state of character in which they were committed. There is no evil more vigorously condemned by the Lord than the spirit of self-exaltation. And, to show the spirit of humility, the Lord said to His self-seeking disciples, “Whosoever shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
There is a Persian story, which illustrates the two principles of self-exaltation and humility, According to this story, “Jesus, while on earth, was once entertained in the cell of a monk of eminent reputation for sanctity, In the same city dwelt a youth, sunk in every sin … He, appearing before the cell of the monk, as smitten by the very presence of the Divine Prophet, began to lament deeply the wickedness of his past life; and shedding abundant tears, to implore pardon and grace. The monk indignantly interrupted him, demanding how he dared to appear in his presence, and in that of God’s holy prophet; assured him that, for him, it was in vain to seek forgiveness. And, in proof of how he (the monk) considered the sinner’s lot was inexorably fixed for hell, he exclaimed.” My God, grant me but one thing, that I may stand far from this man on the judgment-day.” On this Jesus spoke : ‘It shall be even so ; the prayer of each is granted. The sinner has sought mercy and grace, and has not sought them in vain; his sins are forgiven; his place shall be in heaven, at the last day. But this monk has prayed that he may never stand near this sinner; his prayer, too, is granted; hell shall be his place;’ for there this sinner shall never come.'”
THE DIVINE HELP.
Of himself a man is powerless to break off from evil; but repentance opens his mind to the Divine help, which the self-exalting man will not seek. What a man does from himself is not genuine good; it is tainted with self-merit, Angels acknowledge themselves incapable of any good, without the help and guidance of the Lord; but devils are unwilling to receive any heavenly good. And thus, when a man exalts himself he practically abases himself, as an inevitable result of the laws of human life.
We can clearly see how these laws operate. As a man draws his life from the Lord, through the heavens, he must be kept in connection with the Lord. And the more full and open this connection is, the more full and perfect is the man’s life. Every interruption of this connection is an obstruction of the inflow of Divine blessings. Everything in the man that looks to self incapacitates him for receiving heavenly life, and corrupts the character of the life that comes to him. The man is simply a vessel, receptive of life from the Lord. But he is a conscious vessel, with ability to receive in its integrity or to corrupt, the inflowing life.
Every man has his characteristic quality, or character, from his ruling-love. That quality pervades the whole man, and projects itself from the man, in all his activities. It surrounds, or encompasses him, with a sort of atmosphere, which we call his sphere. So the rose, and the noxious weed, have their characteristic spheres, by which we know them. The dog follows his master by the master’s sphere, as made known to the dog’s acute sense of smell. Our spheres are both spiritual and natural. Everything that approaches a man meets his sphere. When the Lord sends the very life of heaven to a man, that life cannot enter into the man , except by passing through the man’s own sphere. And that sphere influences the quality of the inflowing stream, as the corrupt dead body of a beast changes the quality of the pure rain that falls into it.
RECEPTION OF LIFE.
Thus, though the same quality of heavenly life flows from the Lord, to all men, yet no two men receive that life alike; each, in receiving it, changes it to his own quality. A devil, filled and encompassed with the sphere of the hells, changes the Lord’s blessings into curses, by corrupting good into evil. Yet, that life, which, in the devils, becomes infernal, was heavenly when the Lord sent it forth. What the Lord gives in purity, the man absorbs into his own impurity. Hence, the Lord cannot give heaven to the devils, because they will not receive it, as heaven; the dense sphere of their own evils suffocates and corrupts all good and truth, as the noxious gases of a pit corrupt the quality of the purest atmosphere that seeks to descend into it. “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you.”
The Lord cannot dwell in our evils, but only in His own good and truth, received by us. The Lord says, “I dwell in the high and holy, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” But self-exaltation creates a dense sphere of selfishness and evil, which no heavenly principle, as such, can penetrate. But humility softens a man’s sphere, and lets in the Divine sunlight, carrying the influences of heaven to the hungering and thirsting soul. And then the humble man realizes the fact that he does not do good and know truth, from any power inherent in himself but by the inflowing Divine life, momentarily sustaining him. The penitent and humble man sees tile difference between his own character and the Lord’s character.
SINNING NOT NECESSARY.
We do not mean that it is better for a man to sin, so that he can repent, and be humble. It is best never to sin. And any man who recognizes the character of his own hereditary tendencies, will have abundant occasion to repent of his evil feelings, and his false thoughts, even if he resists them, and does not allow them to break out into sins of action. But a man who has sinned, and repented, and reformed, is in better spiritual condition than if he had inwardly cherished evils, and had lived an outwardly moral life, and had never seen the need of repentance. For there is no man who does not need to repent, at some time. Salvation is not by works nor by faith alone, but by and in love, faith and good works, done in the name of the Lord.
Sometimes, the Lord permits a man to fall into gross sins, because, otherwise, he will not see his evils, and will not repent. The penitent sinner is painfully conscious of his need of Divine help; and so he seeks it, and opens his heart to it. But the self-righteous man feels no need of the Lord’s aid, and so he does not open himself to it. Humility sets up, in the man’s mind, a Jacob’s ladder, reaching up to the heavens and to the Lord, and enabling the ministering angels, as messengers from the Lord, to come down, and to lead the man, step by step, to higher conditions. Of such men it may be said, “They go from strength to strength: everyone of them appeareth before God in Zion.”
When a man boasts of his own goodness, and denies that he has any evils, he adopts his evils as his own, and identifies them with himself and thus there is no way in which his evils can be separated from him. But the humble man, confessing his sins, separates himself from them, repudiates them, and hates them. Thus, the Lord can approach him, and lead him away from his confessed sins. While the self-exalting man is boasting of his goodness, and calling his evils good, the humble man is crying, ” Search me, O God, and know m heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me : and lead me in the way everlasting.” “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”
EXTERNAL HUMILITY. GOOD WORKS.
Evidence of a man’s humility is not to be found in his mere manner, but in his life. Hypocrites assume humility, to hide their purposes. Pious externals are not, in themselves, religious: they are only the proper external expression of corresponding inward principles: and, without the inward principles, the outward forms are dead.
But, although man’s works are not good, except when done in the love and acknowledgment of the Lord, we must beware of going to the other extreme, in supposing that good works are not essential to salvation. Works alone will not save a man, but neither will faith alone: he must show his love and his faith in his good works, which are the working out of good principles. Repentance, alone, does not save a man, but it turns him away from evil, and leads to good. The publican was not justified suddenly, or by his faith, but gradually, as he lived in love, faith and obedience to the Lord.
A man in a raging fever often feels very strong, but his strength is that of disease. And when the fever abates the patient feels weaker; but he is in better condition, and nearer recovery, than when in the false strength of the fever. So, the man who is in the spiritual fever of self-exalting strength is in worse condition than the man whose spiritual fever has left him, and who feels weak in his helplessness.
And, on this subject, there is need of another warning; viz., not to mistake external culture for regeneration. The most moral and elegant men may be the worst of men. Few things can compare with the serpent, in gracefulness of form and of motion; and yet it is cold-blooded and low. It represents the life of the natural senses. The modt gorgeously clad birds often have the most disagreeable voices; while birds of plainest plumage often have sweetest songs. So, merely outward culture of the senses often covers a character spiritually low and evil. Babylon, with all its vices, was the centre of culture.
One especial danger of external culture is its tendency to despise others, who are without such culture. But “God looketh upon the heart.” The self-exalting spirit, feeling rich in its self-love, struts through the world, in miserable pride, deeming nothing too good for it, as “fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.” And yet it misses the best opportunities for spiritual life. But the humble soul, recognizing its own hereditary tendencies, and the mercy of the Lord, finds, even in the hardest circumstances, opportunity to grow in regeneration; as the seed that falls upon a barren rock, where death seems to be inevitable, yet finds some little foothold for its first roots, and then sends forth longer and stronger roots, over the sides of the huge old rock, and taps the rich soil below : and, from this source of life, it flourishes like a cedar of Lebanon, even on a spot where a lichen would scarcely find a foothold. Truly,” No good will [the Lord] withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887