Part 3 out of 3
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 prone to do; 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 hearts, but as
it were feignedly." "They spake not aright, saying, What have I
done?" "They flatter him with their mouth, 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
To right confession of sin, several things must go: as,
1. There must be sound 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." And again,
"I had not known lust, unless the law had said, Thou shalt not
covet;" Rom. vii. 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;" Rom. vii.; 1
Cor. xv. 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 a 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 on 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! it is easy for men to entertain such apprehensions of God as
shall please their own humours, to bear up under the sense of sin,
and that shall make their confession rather facile and fantastical,
than solid and heartbreaking. The sight and knowledge of the great
God is, to sinful man, the most dreadful thing in the world; which
makes confession of sin so rare. Most men confess their sins behind
God's back, but few to his face; and you know there is ofttimes a
vast difference in thus doing among men.
3. To the right confession of sin, there must be a deep conviction
of the 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, where there is
no sense of a day of judgment, and of our giving unto God an account
for it? Matth. iii. 7; Luke iii. 7.
I say, therefore, to 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 xvii. 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 acknowledgement of it, and strong
cries for a deliverance from it. For thus will the soul argue that
expecteth the judgment-day, and that believes that it must count for
all. 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
manifest the counsels of the heart. If it must be so then, to what
end will it be now to seek to dissemble? 1 Cor. iv. 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." So again, "God shall bring every work
into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether
it be evil," Eccles. xi. 9; xii. 12, 14.
The certainty of this, I say, must go to the producing of sincere
confession of sin; and this is intimated by the Publican, who within
his confession, addeth, "God be merciful to me a sinner." As if he
should say, If thou art not merciful to me, thy judgment shall
swallow me 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 of the terribleness, of
the day of judgment: wherefore the apostle, to put men on
repentance, which is sincere confession of sin, saith, "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. v. 10, 11. The terror of the Lord, as we
see here, he makes use of, to persuade men to confession of sin, and
repentance to God for mercy.
And I am persuaded, that one reason that this day doth so swarm with
wanton professors, is, because they have not sound conviction for,
nor go to God with sincere confession of, sin: and one cause of that
has been, that they did never seriously fall in with, nor yet 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 a coming to him for mercy.
"Mountains, fall upon us, and cover us, and hide us from the face of
him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for
the great day of his wrath is come, and who is 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 his 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. xx. Here is terror; and this is
revealed in the word of God, that sinners might hear 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. i. 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. xiii. 50.
The terror of the Lord, how will it appear, while the angels at his
command shall gather the wicked 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 together out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them
that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, where
there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth;" Matt. xiii. 40-42.
Who can conceive this terror! 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 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
Secondly, And now the second follows: and that is, some private
leaning to some goodness a man shall conceit that he hath done
before, or is doing now, or that he purposeth to prevail with God for
the pardon of 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 transgressions, as that it would break the
back of all the angels of heaven should the great God 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 true confession consisteth in
the general, in a man's taking to himself his transgressions, with
the acknowledgment of them to be his, and that he cannot stir from
under them, nor do anything 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 stood before God 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 Jeremiah bids; to wit,
only to acknowledge our iniquities, to acknowledge them at the
terrible bar of God's justice, until mercy takes them out of the way;
not by doing, or promising to do, either this or that good work. And
the reason of this kind of confession is,
(1.) Because this carrieth in it the true nature of confession; to
confess, and plead for mercy under the crimes confessed, without
shifts and evasions, is the only real simple way of confession. "I
said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord;" and what then?
"and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Mark, nothing comes in
betwixt confession and forgiveness of sin, Psalm xxxii. 5; 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 heightens and aggravates it. That is the
(2.) A second reason is, Because God doth expect that the penitent
confessors should not only confess, but bear their shame on them:
yea, saith God, "Be thou confounded also, and bear thine own shame:"
when God takes away thine iniquity, thou shalt "be confounded, and
never open thy mouth more, because of thy shame;" Ezek. xvi. 52, 54,
62, 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 piece paper, wherein their transgressions are inserted,
that they may not only confess, but bear their own shame. At the
penitential confession of sinners God has something 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 xv.
(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
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 the 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 in the sinner himself, and then
there will be in his forgiveness a magnifying of mercy.
(4.) A fourth reason is, for else God cannot be justified in his
sayings, nor overcome when he is judged; Psalm li.; Rom. iii. 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 righteousness
is no better than filthy rags. God's word has also told us, that sin
is forgiven us freely by grace, and not for the sake of our
amendments: and all this God shews, not only in the acts of his
mercy toward, but even in the humiliations and confessions of, the
penitent; for God will have his mercy to be displayed even there
where the sinner hath taken his first step toward him: "That as sin
hath reigned unto death, even so grace might reign through
righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord;" Rom. v.
(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 not to cloud and cover it with lessening of sin.
For what will such say when sin begins to appear to 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 of God? That God is infinitely merciful to those or to
such as in truth stand in need of mercy. Also, that he sheweth mercy
of his own good pleasure, nothing moving him thereto.
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 to us-ward (or toward
us) through Christ Jesus;" Eph. ii. 4-7. You may also see that 1
Tim. i. 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; it ravishes the soul; puts joy into the thoughts of salvation
from sin, and deliverance from wrath to come. Now they "return, and
comb to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they
shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee
away;" Isa. xxxv. 10. Indeed, the belief of this makes joy and
(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 inability to do any thing towards satisfaction), to engage the
heart of a rebel to love his prince, and to submit to his laws?
When Elisha had taken the Syrian 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 vi. 13-23; 2 Cor. v. 14.
Many other things might possibly be urged, but at present let these
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.
First, That a man's help against sin 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, nothwithstanding 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.
viii. 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 had 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. Blessed is
the man unto whom the Lord will not impute sin;" Psalm xxxii.; Rom.
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--to illustrate my matter.
There can be no 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 better, and more
to be preferred and sought after, than all other things; yea, it is
the highest 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 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,
craves help of pardon; for he knew that all other things, if he
remained 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 so much as that they are not as other
men, not unjust, no adulterer, no extortioner, nor even as this
Publican; and thus miss of the forgiveness of sin; and if they have
missed 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 inquire 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.
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 hypocrites
with argument to allure you with their silly and deceitful tongues
from this wholesome doctrine. Remember that you are sinners as
abominable as the Publican, wherefore do you, as you have him for
your pattern, go to God, confess, in all simple, honest, and self-
abasing, your 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 none but God can help
you against, nor keep you from, the damnation and misery that comes
Secondly, As the Publican imploreth help, so notwithstanding the
sentence of the law that is gone out against him, 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
now 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; or, What have we spoken so much against thee? No, he is
none of these murmurs or complainers, but fairly falls before the
law, witnesses, judge, and jury, and consenteth to the verdict,
sentence, and testimony of each of them; Jer. ii. 36; Mal. ii. 13.
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
confesseth the indictment, 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 were 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 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; Psalm li. When Shemaiah the prophet
pronounced God's judgments against the princes of Judah for their
sin, they said, "The Lord is righteous." When the church in the
Lamentations had reckoned up several of her grievous afflictions
wherewith she had been chastised, 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." So Daniel, after he had enumerated the evils that
befel 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 doth: for we obeyed not his voice;" 2 Chron. xii. 6, Lam. i. 18;
Dan. ix. 14.
And this is 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; 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
would have men do 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 conversion. 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 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. 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 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 our 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
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 twofold 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 v. But our Publican here proves the
emptiness and vanity of any 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 sheweth 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 excellencies that this world can afford: Hos. xiv.
2. He takes the ready way to please God: for God takes more delight
in shewing of mercy than in any thing that we can do; Hos. vi. 6;
Matt. ix. 13; xii. 7. Yea, and that also is the man that pleaseth
him, even he that hopes in his mercy; Psalm cxlvii. 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 filthy
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. And,
3. The Publican, in his thus putting himself upon mercy, sheweth,
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 laborious work.
Cain could not do thus for his heart, no, nor Saul; nor Judas either.
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 on this bottom with other the saints and servants
of God, leaving 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
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."
Thus having 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 hath 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 a custom, and a formality among the Jews in those days; for
it is 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 in religious matters men were to imitate and
take their examples at the hands of the best, not at the hands of the
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, and distinctly
repeat it, as that which made his prayer the more weighty, also to be
taken notice of. Yea, in my opinion, the Lord Jesus committed it to
record, for that he liked it, and for that it will 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 to heaven, but smote upon his breast," &c.
Three things, as I told you already, we may perceive in these words,
by which his publican posture or gestures are set forth.
1. He stands "afar off."
2. He "would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven."
3. He "smote upon his breast," &c.
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
First, 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 awe upon his spirit; he saw whither, to whom, and for
what, he was now approaching the temple. It is said in the 20th of
Exodus, that when the people saw the thunderings and 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;" Exod. xx. 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 scarcely 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 fear of her torments;" Rev. xviii.
I know what it is to go to God for mercy, and stand all that while
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;" Psalm li. 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 lifted
up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us;" Luke
xvii. 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
poor 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 v. 3-8. 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 into the presence of the great God--especially
since it is apparent the disproportion that is betwixt God and him?
Esther, when she went to supplicate the king her husband for her
people, made use neither of her beauty nor relation, nor the
privileges of which she might have had temptation to make use of,
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 thereof;
Esth. v. 1, 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 behaviour, that are seemly. A remarkable saying is
that of Solomon, "Keep thy foot," saith he, "when thou goest into 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;"
Eccles. v. 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 any thing before God.
And the third is, Because of the infinite distance that is betwixt
God and us, which is intimated by these 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.
Secondly, The Publican, in standing afar off, left room for an
Advocate and high-priest, a Day's-man, to come betwixt, to make peace
between God and his poor creature. Moses, the great mediator of the
Old Testament, was to go nigher to God than the rest of the elders,
or those of the people; Exod. xx. 21. Yea, the rest of the people
were expressly commanded to worship, "standing afar off." No man of
the sons of Aaron that had 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. xxi. 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;" Ezek. xliv. 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 the time his lot was, "The whole multitude of the people were
praying without;" Luke i. 9, 10. They left him where he was, near to
God, between God and them, mediating for 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
excellencies, that 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 keeps 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 that sense this
saying is true, "For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish;"
Psalm lxxiii. 27; that is, they whose unbelief hath set 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. xviii. 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 xi. 25.
Indeed there is no stinted order prescribed for our 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 xx. 36. Abraham and the
Publican stood and prayed. David prayed as he walked; 2 Sam. xv. 30,
31. Abraham prayed lying upon his face; Gen. xvii. 17,18. Moses
prayed sitting; Exod. xvii. 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 up to any of
them; and he that shall tie himself, or his people, to any 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 choose 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
blessed 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. viii. 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 exercise 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 was in his words, and
it was that which made his prayer 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 are all these acceptable. 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 would search and look
after the voice of his tears, supplications, roarings, prayers, and
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 amend.
When the Holy Ghost comes upon men with great 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 specious, flounting,
complimentary lips of flatterers, be more laid aside. I have said it
already, and 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 conclusion and clenshes
therein, as make their persons be admired; by studying for, and
labouring after, such enlargements as the spirit accompanieth not the
heart in. 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 my prayer." But if I be truly sincere, he will; and then it
is no matter 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, grace 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 delateth upon them, and draweth
them out at length before the eyes of others.
I have often observed, 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 in the nostrils of
him that is holy and just, and that searcheth the heart and the
Well, the Publican stood and prayed; he stood afar off, and prayed,
and his prayers came even to the ears of God.
"And the Publican standing afar off would not lift up so much as his
eyes to heaven," &c.
We are now come to another of his postures. He would not, says the
text, so much as lift up his eyes to heaven. Here, therefore, was
another gesture added to that which went before; and a gesture that a
great while before had been condemned by the Holy Ghost himself. "Is
it such a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his
soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush?" Isa. lviii. 5.
But why condemned then, and smiled upon now? Why? Because done in
hypocrisy then, and in sincerity now. Hypocrisy, and a spirit of
error, that he shall take no pleasure in them; but sincerity, and
honesty in duties, will make even them comely in the sight of men--
may I not say before God? The Rechabites were not commanded of God,
but of their father, to do as they did; but, because they were
sincere in their obedience thereto, even God himself maketh use of
what they did, to condemn the disobedience of the Jews; and,
moreover, doth tell the Rechabites at last, that they should not want
a man to stand before him for ever. "And Jeremiah said unto the
house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of
Israel, because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your
father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that
he hath commanded you; therefore, thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the
God of Israel, Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not want a man to
stand before me for ever."
He would not lift up his eyes to heaven. Why? Surely because shame
had covered his face. Shame will make a man blush and hang his head
like a bulrush; shame for sin is a virtue, a comely thing; yea, a
beauty-spot in the face of a sinner that cometh to God for mercy.
God complains of the house of Israel, that they could sin, and that
without shame; yea, and threateneth them too with sore repeated
judgments, because they were not ashamed; it is in Jer. viii. Their
crimes in general were, they turned every one to his course, as the
horse runneth into the battle. In particular, they were such as
rejected God's word; they loved this world, and set themselves
against the prophets, crying, "Peace, peace," when they cried,
"Judgment, judgment!" And were not ashamed when they had committed
abomination; "Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they
blush; therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time
of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord;" ver.
12. Oh! to stand, or sit, or lie, or kneel, or walk before God in
prayer, with blushing cheeks for sin, is one of the most excellent
sights that can be seen in the world.
Wherefore the church taketh some kind of heart to herself in that she
could lie down in her shame; yea, and makes that a kind of an
argument with God to prove that her prayers did come from her heart,
and also that he would hear them; Jer. iii. 22-25.
Shame for sin argueth sense of sin, yea, a right sense of sin, a
godly sense of sin. Ephraim pleads this when under the hand of God:
I was (saith he) "ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear
the reproach of my youth." But what follows? "Is Ephraim my dear
son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do
earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for
him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord;" Jer. xxxi.
I know that there is a shame that is not the spirit of an honest
heart, but that rather floweth from sudden surprisal, when the sinner
is unawares taken in the act--in the very manner. And thus sometimes
the house of Israel were taken: and then, when they blushed, their
shame is compared to the shame of a thief. "As the thief is ashamed
when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their
kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets."
But where were they taken, or about what were they found? Why, they
were found "saying to a stock, Thou art my father, and to a stone,
thou hast brought me forth." God catched them thus doing; and this
made them ashamed, even as the thief is ashamed when the owner doth
catch him stealing his horse.
But this was not the Publican's shame. This shame brings not a man
into the temple to pray, to stand willingly, and to take shame before
God in prayer. This shame makes one rather to fly from his face, and
to count one's self most at ease when farthest off from God; Jer. ii.
The Publican's shame, therefore, which he demonstrated by hanging
down his head, was godly and holy, and much like that of the
prodigal, when he said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in
thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;" Luke xv. 21.
I suppose that his postures were much the same with the Publican's,
as were his prayers, for the substance of them. O however grace did
work in both to the same end! they were both of them, after a godly
manner, ashamed of their sins.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven."
He could not, he would not: which yet more fully makes it appear,
that it was shame, not guilt only, or chiefly, though it is manifest
enough that he had guilt; by his crying, "God be merciful to me a
sinner." I say, guilt was not the chief cause of hanging down his
head, because it saith, he WOULD not; for when guilt is the cause of
stooping, it lieth not in the will, or in the power thereof, to help
David tells us, that when he was under guilt, his iniquities were
gone over his head: as an heavy burden, they were too heavy for him;
and that with them he was bowed down greatly. Or, as he says in
another place, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am
not able to look up;" Psalm xxxviii.; xl. I am not able to do it:
guilt disableth the understanding, and conscience; shame makes all
willingly fall at the feet of Christ.
He would not. He knew what he was, what he had been, and should be,
if God had not mercy upon him; yea, he knew also that God knew what
he was, had been, and would be, if mercy prevented not; wherefore,
thought he, Wherefore should I lift up the head? I am no righteous
man, no godly man, I have not served God, but Satan; this I know,
this God knows, this angels know, wherefore I will not lift up the
head. It is as much as to say, I will not be an hypocrite, like the
Pharisee: for lifting up of the head signifies innocency and
harmlessness of life, or good conscience, and the testimony thereof,
under and in the midst of all accusations. Wherefore this was the
counsel of Zophar to Job--"If," saith he, "thou prepare thine heart,
and stretch out thine hand towards him; if iniquity be in thine hand,
put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.
For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be
steadfast, and shalt not fear;" Job xi. 13-15.
This was not the Publican's state: he had lived in lewdness and
villany all his days; nor had he prepared his heart to seek the Lord
God of his fathers; he had not cleansed his heart nor hands from
violence, nor done that which was lawful and right. He only had been
convinced of his evil ways, and was come into the temple as he was,
all foul, and in his filthy garments, and amidst his pollutions; how
then could he be innocent, holy, or without spot? and, consequently,
how could he lift up his face to God? I remember what Abner said to
Asahel, "Turn thee aside (said he) from following me, wherefore
should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face
to Joab, thy brother?" 2 Sam. ii. 22.
As if he had said, If I kill thee, I shall blush, be ashamed, and
hang my head like a bulrush the next time I come into the company of
This was the Publican's case: he was guilty, he had sinned, he had
committed a trespass; and now being come into the temple, into the
presence of that God whose laws he had broken, and against whom he
had sinned, how could he lift up his head? how could he do it? No,
it better became him to take his shame, and to hang his head in token
of guilt; and indeed he did, and did it to purpose too, for he would
not lift up, no not so much as his eyes to heaven.
True, some would have done it; the Pharisee did it; though if he had
considered that hypocrisy and the leaning to his own righteousness
had been a sin, he would have found as little cause to have done it
as did the Publican himself. But, I say he did it, and sped therein;
he went down to his house, as he came up into the temple, a poor
unjustified Pharisee, whose person and prayer were both rejected;
because, like the whore of whom we read in the Proverbs, after he had
practised all manner of hypocrisy, he comes into the temple and wipes
his mouth, and saith, "I have done no wickedness;" Prov. xxx. 20. He
lifts up his head, his face, his eyes, to heaven; he struts, he
vaunts himself; he swaggers, he vapours, and cries up himself,
saying, "God I thank thee that I am not as other men are."
True, had he come and stood before a stock or stone, he might have
said thus, and not have been reprehended; for such are gods that see
not, nor hear, neither do they understand. But to come before the
true God, the living God, the God that fills heaven and earth by his
presence, and that knows the things that come into the mind of man,
even every one of them; I say, to come into his house, to stand
before him, and thus to lift up his head and eyes in such hypocrisy
before him, this was abominable, this was to tempt God, and to prove
him, yea, to challenge him to know what was in man, if he could, even
as those who said, "How doth God (see) know? can he judge through the
dark cloud?" Job xxii. 13; Psalm lxxiii. 11.
But the Publican--no--he would not do this; he would not lift up so
much as his eyes to heaven. As who should say, O Lord, I have been
against thee a traitor and a rebel, and like a traitor and a rebel
before thee will I stand. I will bear my shame before thee in the
presence of the holy angels; yea, I will prevent thy judging of me by
judging myself in thy sight, and will stand as condemned before thee
before thou passest sentence upon me.
This is now for a sinner to go to the end of things. For what is
God's design in the work of conviction for sin, and in his awakening
of the conscience about it? What is his end, I say, but to make the
sinner sensible of what he hath done, and that he might unfeignedly
judge himself for the same. Now this our Publican doth; his will
therefore is now subjected to the word of God, and he justifies him
in all his ways and works towards him. Blessed be God for any
experience of these things.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven." He knew by his
deeds and deservings that he had no portion there; nor would he
divert his mind from the remembering, and from being affected with
the evil of his ways.
Some men, when they are under the guilt and conviction of their evil
life, will do what they can to look any way, and that on purpose to
divert their minds, and to call them off from thinking on what they
have done; and by their thus doing, they bring many evils more upon
their souls; for this is a kind of striving with God, and a shewing a
dislike to his ways. Would not you think, if when you are shewing
your son or your servant his faults, if he should do what he could to
divert and take off his mind from what you are saying, that he
striveth against you, and sheweth dislike of your doings? What else
mean the complaints of masters and of fathers in this matter? "I
have a servant, I have a son, that doth contrary to my will." "O but
why do you not chide them for it?" The answer is, "So I do; but they
do not regard my words; they do what they can, even while I am
speaking, to divert their minds from my words and counsels." Why,
all men will cry out, "This is base; this is worthy of great rebuke;
such a son, such a servant, deserveth to be shut out of doors, and so
made to learn better breeding by want and hardship."
But the Publican would not divert his mind from what at present God
was about to make him sensible of, no, not by a look on the choicest
object; he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. They are
but bad scholars whose eyes, when their master is teaching of them,
are wandering off their books.
God saith unto men, when he is teaching them to know the evil of
their ways, as the angel said to the prophet when he came to shew him
the pattern of the temple, "Son of man," says he, "behold with thine
eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I
shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee
art thou brought hither;" Ezek. xl. 4. So to the intent that God
might shew to the Publican the evil of his ways, therefore was he
brought under the power of convictions, and the terrors of the law;
and he also, like a good learner, gave good heed unto that lesson
that now he was learning of God; for he would not lift up so much as
his eyes to heaven.
Looking downwards doth ofttimes bespeak men very ponderous and deep
in their cogitations; also that the matter about which in their minds
they are now concerned hath taken great hold of their spirits. The
Publican hath now new things, great things, and long-lived things, to
concern himself about: his sins, the curse, with death, and hell,
began now to stare him in the face: wherefore it was no time now to
let his heart, or his eyes, or his cogitations, wander, but to be
fixed, and to be vehemently applying of himself (as a sinner) to the
God of heaven for mercy.
Few know the weight of sin. When the guilt thereof takes hold of the
conscience, it commands homewards all the faculties of the soul. No
man can go out or off now: now he is wind-bound, or, as Paul says,
"caught:" now he is made to possess bitter days, bitter nights,
bitter hours, bitter thoughts; nor can he shift them, for his sin is
ever before him. As David said, "For I acknowledge my
transgressions: and my sin is ever before me,"--in my eye, and
sticketh fast in every one of my thoughts; Psalm li. 3.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon
his breast." This was the third and last of his gestures; he "Smote
upon his breast," to wit, with his hand, or with his fist. I read of
several gestures with the hand and foot, according to the working and
passions of the mind. It is said, "Balak smote his hands together,"
being angry because that Balaam had blessed and not cursed for him
the children of Israel.
God says also, that he had smitten his hands together at the sins of
the children of Israel. God also bids the prophet stamp with his
feet, and smite with his hand upon his thigh (Num. xxiv. 10; Ezek.
xxii. 13; vi. 11; xxi. 12), upon sundry occasions, and at several
enormities; but the Publican here is said to smite upon his breast.
1. Smiting upon the breast betokeneth sorrow for something done.
This is an experiment common among men; and indeed, therefore (as I
take it), doth our Lord Jesus put him under this gesture in the act
and exercise of his repentance, because it is that which doth most
lively set it forth.
Suppose a man comes to great damage for some folly that he has
wrought, and he be made sorrowful for (being and) doing such folly,
there is nothing more common than for such a man (if he may) to walk
to and fro in the room where he is, with head hung down, fetching
ever and anon a bitter sigh, and smiting himself upon the breast in
his dejected condition: "But smote upon his breast, saying, God be
merciful to me a sinner."
2. Smiting upon the breast is sometimes a token of indignation and
abhorrence of something thought upon. I read in Luke, that when
Christ was crucified, those spectators that stood to behold the
barbarous usage that he endured at the hands of his enemies, smote
their breasts and returned. "And all the people (says Luke) that
came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done,
smote their breasts and returned;" Luke xxiii. 48. Smote their
breasts; that is, in token of indignation against, and abhorrence of,
the cruelty that was used to the Son of God.
Here also we have our Publican smiting upon his breast in token of
indignation against, and abhorrence of, his former life; and indeed,
without indignation against, and abhorrence of, his former life, his
repentance had not been good. Wherefore the apostle doth make
indignation against sin, and against ourselves, one of the signs of
true repentance; 2 Cor. vii. 11; and his indignation against sin in
general, and against his former life in particular, was manifested by
his smiting upon the breast, even as Ephraim's smiting upon the thigh
was a sign and token of his: "Surely (says he), after that I was
turned, I repented: and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my
thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the
reproach of my youth;" Jer. xxxi. 19. Man, when he vehemently
dislikes a thing, is very apt to shew a dislike to that thing by this
or another outward gesture; as in snuffing or snorting at it, or in
deriding; or, as some say, in blowing of their noses at it; Ezek.
viii. 17; Mal. i. 13. But the Publican here chooseth rather to use
this most solemn posture; for smiting upon the breast seems to imply
a more serious, solemn, grave way or manner of dislike, than any of
those last mentioned do.
3. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate a quarrel with the
heart, for beguiling, deluding, flattering, seducing, and enticing of
him to sin; for as conviction for sin begets in man (I mean if it be
thorough) a sense of the sore and plague of the heart, so repentance
(if it be right) begets in man an outcry against the heart; forasmuch
as by that light, by which repentance takes occasion, the sinner is
made to see that the heart is the fountain and well-spring of sin.
"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts,
adulteries, covetousness," &c.; Mark vii. 21-23. And hence it is
that commonly young converts do complain so of their hearts, calling
them wicked, treacherous, deceitful, desperate ones.
Indeed, one difference between true and false repentance lieth in
this. The man that truly repents crieth out of his heart; but the
other, as Eve, upon the serpent, or something else. And that the
Publican perceived his heart to be naught, I conclude, by his smiting
upon his breast.
4. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate one apprehensive of
some new, sudden, strange, and amazing thing; as when a man sees some
strange sight in the air, or heareth some sudden or dismal sound in
the clouds; why, as he is struck into a deep damp in his mind, so it
is a wonder if he can keep or hold back from smiting upon his breast.
Now, oftentimes a sight of God and sense of sin comes to the sinner
like a flash of lightning (not for short continuance, but) for
suddeness, and so for surprisal; so that the sinner is struck, taken
and captivated to his own amazement, with what so unexpectedly is
come upon him. It is said of Paul at his conversion, that when
conviction of his bad life took fast hold of his conscience, he
trembled, and was astonished (Acts ix. 6); and although we read not
of any particular circumstance of his behaviour under his conviction
outwardly, yet it is almost impossible but he must have had some, and
those of the most solid sort. For there is such a sympathy betwixt
the soul and the body, that the one cannot be in distress or comfort,
but the other must partake of and also signify the same. If it be
comfort, then it is shewn by leaping, skipping, cheerfulness of the
countenance, or some other outward gesture. If it be sorrow or
heaviness of spirit, then that is shewed by the body, in weeping,
sighing, groaning, shaking of the head, a louring countenance,
stamping, smiting upon the thigh or breast, as here the Publican did.
We must not, therefore, look upon these outward actions or gestures
of the Publican to be empty, insignificant things; but to be such,
that in truth did express and shew the temper, frame, and complexion
of his soul. For Christ, the wisdom of God, hath mentioned them to
that very end, that in and by them might be held forth, and that men
might see as in a glass, the very emblem of a converted and truly
penitent sinner. He "smote upon his breast."
5. Smiting upon the breast is sometimes to signify a mixture of
distrust, joined with hope. And, indeed, in young converts, hope and
distrust, or a degree of despair, do work and answer one another, as
doth the noise of the balance of the watch in the pocket. Life and
death is always the motion of the mind then, and this noise continues
until faith is stronger grown, and until the soul is better
acquainted with the methods and ways of God with a sinner. Yea, were
but a carnal man in a convert's heart, and could see, he could
discern these two, to wit, hope and fear, to have continual motion in
the soul; wrestling and opposing one another, as doth light and
darkness in striving for the victory.
And hence it is that you find such people so fickle and uncertain in
their spirits; now on the mount, then in the valleys; now in the
sunshine, then in the shade: now warm, then frozen; now bonny and
blithe, then in a moment pensive and sad, as thinking of a portion
nowhere but in hell. This will cause smiting on the breast; nor can
I imagine that the Publican was as yet farther than thus far in the
6. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate, that the party so
doing is very apprehensive of some great loss that he has sustained,
either by negligence, carelessness, foolishness, or the like. And
this is the way in which men do lose their souls. Now, to lose a
thing, a great thing, the only choice thing that a man has,
negligently, carelessly, foolishly, or the like, why, it puts
aggravations into the thoughts of the loss that the man has
sustained, and aggravations into the thoughts of them go out of the
soul, and come in upon a sudden, even as the bailiff or the king's
serjeant-at-arms, and at every appearance of them, makes the soul
start; and starting, it smites upon the breast.
I might multiply particulars; but to be brief, we have before us a
sensible soul, a sorrowful soul, a penitent soul; one that prays
indeed, that prays sensibly, affectionately, effectually; one that
sees his loss, that fears and trembles before God in consideration of
it, and one that knows no way but the right way, to secure himself
from perishing, to wit, by having humble and hearty recourse to the
God of heaven for mercy.
I should now come to speak something by way of use and application:
but before I do that, I will briefly draw up, and present you with a
few conclusions that in my judgment do naturally flow from the text;
therefore in this place I will read over the text again.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, the
other a Publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,
God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners,
unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast twice in the
week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 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."
From these words I gather these several conclusions, with these
1. It doth not always follow, that they that pray do know God, or
love him, or trust in him. This conclusion is evident by the
Pharisee in the text; he prayed, but he knew not God, he loved not
God, he trusted not in God; that is, he knew him not in his Son, nor
loved, nor trusted in him. He was, though a praying man, far off
Whence it may be inferred, that those that pray not at all cannot be
good, cannot know, love, or trust in God. For if the star, though it
shine, is not the sun, then surely a clod of dirt cannot be the sun.
Why, a praying man doth as far outstrip a non-praying man as a star
outstrips a clod of earth. A non-praying man lives like a beast.
"The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but this man
doth not know, but this man doth not consider;" Isa. i. 3. The
prayerless man is therefore of no religion, except he be an Atheist,
or an Epicurean. Therefore the non-praying man is numbered among the
heathens, and among those that know not God, and is appointed and
designed by the sentence of the word to the fearful wrath of God;
Psal. lxxix. 6; Jer. x. 25.
2. A second conclusion is, That the man that prays, if in his prayer
he pleads for acceptance, either in whole or in part, for his own
good deeds, is in a miserable state. This also is gathered from the
Pharisee here; he prayed, but in this prayer he pleaded his own good
deeds for acceptance, that is, of his person, and therefore went down
to his house unjustified. And he is in this condition that doth
thus. The conclusion is true, forasmuch as the Pharisee mentioned in
the parable is not so spoken of for the sake of that sect of men, but
to caution, forewarn, and bid all men take heed, that they by doing
as he, procure not their rejection of God, and be sent away from his
presence unjustified. I do therefore infer from hence, that if he
that pleadeth his own good doing for personal acceptance with God be
thus miserable, then he that teacheth men so to do is much more
We always conclude, that a ring-leader in an evil way is more blame-
worthy than those that are led of him. This falls hard upon the
leading Socinians and others, who teach that men's works make their
persons accepted of God.
True, they say, through Christ; but that is brought in merely to
delude the simple with, and is an horrible lie; for we read not in
all the word of God as to personal justification in the sight of God
from the curse (and that is the question under consideration), that
it must be by man's righteousness as made prevalent by Christ's, but
contrariwise, by his and his only, without the deeds, works, or
righteousness of the law, which is our righteousness. Wherefore, I
say, the teachers and leaders of this doctrine have the greater sin.
3. A third conclusion is, They that use high and flaunting language
in prayer, their simplicity and godly sincerity is to be questioned
as to the doing of that duty sincerely. This still flows from our
text; the Pharisee greatly used this: for higher and more flaunting
language can hardly be found than in the Pharisee's mouth; nor will
ascribing to God by the same mouth laud and praise help the business
at all: for to be sure, where the effect is base and rotten, the
cause cannot be good.
The Pharisee would hold himself that he was not as other men, and
then gives thanks to God for this: but the conclusion was most
vilely false, and therefore the praise for it could not but be
foolish, vain, and frivolous. Whence I infer, that if to use such
language in prayer is dangerous, then to affect the use thereof is
yet more dangerous. Prayer must be made with humble hearts and
sensible words, and of that we have treated before; wherefore high,
flaunting, swelling words of vanity, become not a sinner's mouth; no,
not at any time; much less when he comes to, and presents himself
before God in that solemn duty of prayer. But, I say, there are some
that so affect the Pharisee's mode, that they cannot be well if in
some sort or other they be not in the practice of it, not knowing
what they say, nor whereof they affirm; but these are greatly
addicted to hypocrisy and desire of vain-glory, especially if the
sound of their words be within the reach of other men's ears.
4. A fourth conclusion is, That reformation and amendment, though
good, and before men, are nothing as to justification with God. This
is manifest by the condition of our Pharisee: he was a reformed man,
a man beyond others for personal righteousness, yet he went out of
the temple from God unjustified; his works came to nothing with God.
Hence I infer, that the man that hath nothing to commend him to God
of his own, yet stands as fair before God for justification, and so
acceptance, as any other man in the world.
5. A fifth conclusion is, It is the sensible sinner, the self-
bemoaning sinner, the self-judging sinner, the self-abhorring sinner,
and the self-condemning sinner, whose prayers prevail with God for
mercy. Hence I infer, that one reason why men make so many prayers,
and prevail no more with God is, because their prayers are rather the
floatings of Pharisaical fancies than the fruits of sound sense of
sin, and sincere desires of enjoying God in mercy, and in the fruits
of the Holy Ghost.