Again, If they are made righteous by this righteousness, then also they are passive as to their first privilege by it; for they are made righteous by it; they do not make themselves righteous by it.
Imputation is also the act of God. "Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness." The righteousness then is a work of Christ, his own obedience to his Father's law; the making of it ours is the act of the Father, and of his infinite grace: "For of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness." "For God hath made Jim to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." And both these things God shewed to our first parents, when he acted in grace towards them after the fall.
There it is said, the Lord God made unto Adam, and unto his wife, coats of skins, and clothed them; Gen. iii. 21.
(1.) That Adam and his wife were naked, both in God's eye and in their own, verses 10, 11.
(2.) That the Lord God made coats of skins.
(3.) That in his making of them, he had respect to Adam and to his wife, that is, he made them.
(4.) That when he had made them, he also clothed them therewith.
They made not the coats, nor did God bid them make them; but God did make them himself to cover their nakedness with. Yea, when he had made them, he did not bid them put them on, but he himself did clothe them with them: for thus runs the text; "Unto Adam also, and to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them." O it was the Lord God that made this coat with which a poor sinner is made righteous! And it is also the Lord God that putteth it upon us. But this our Pharisee understandeth not.
But now, if a man is not righteous before he is made so, before the Lord God has by the righteousness of another made him so; then whether this righteousness comes first or last, the man is not righteous until it cometh; and if he be not righteous until it cometh, then what works soever are done before it comes, they are not the works of a righteous man, nor the fruits of a good tree, but of a bad. And so again, this righteousness must first come before a man be righteous, and before a man does righteousness. Make the tree good, and its fruit will be good.
Now, since a man must be made righteous before he can do righteousness, it is manifest his works of righteousness do not make him righteous, no more than the fig makes its own tree a fig-tree, or than the grape doth make its own vine a vine. Hence those acts of righteousness that Christian men do perform, are called the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God; Phil. i. 11.
The fruits of righteousness they are by Jesus Christ, as the fruits of the tree are by the tree itself; for the truth is, that principle of righteousness, of which mention has been made before, and concerning which I have said it comes in in the second place; it is also originally to be found for us nowhere but in Christ.
Hence it is said to be by Jesus Christ; and again, "Of his fulness have we all received, and grace for grace;" John i. 16. A man must then be united to Christ first, and so being united, he partaketh of this benefit, to wit, a principle that is supernatural, spiritual, and heavenly. Now, his being united to Christ, is not of or from himself, but of and from the Father, who, as to this work, is the husbandman; even as the twig that is grafted into the tree officiateth not, that is, grafteth not itself thereunto, but is grafted in by some other, itself being utterly passive as to that. Now, being united unto Christ, the soul is first made partaker of justification, or of justifying righteousness, and now no longer beareth the name of an ungodly man; for he is made righteous by the obedience of Christ; he being also united to Christ, partaketh of the root and fatness of Christ; the root, that is, his divine nature; the fatness, that is, the fulness of grace that is laid up in him to be communicated unto us, even as the branch that is grafted into the olive-tree partaketh of the root and fatness of the olive-tree. Now partaking thereof, it quickeneth, it groweth, it buddeth, and yieldeth fruit to the praise and glory of God; Rom. xi. 17.
But these things, as I have often said, the poor Pharisee was ignorant of, when so swaggeringly he, with his "God, I thank thee," came into the temple to pray. And, indeed, in that which hath been said is something of the mystery of God's will in his way with his elect; and such a mystery it is, that it lieth hid for ever to nature and natural men; for they think of nothing less than of this, nor of nothing more, when they think of their souls and of salvation, than that something must be done by themselves to reconcile them to God. Yea, if through some common convictions their understandings should be swayed to a consenting to that, that justification is of grace by Christ, and not of works by men; yet conscience, reason, and the law of nature, not being as yet subdued by the power and glory of grace unto the obedience of Christ, will rise up in rebellion against this doctrine, and will over-rule and bow down the soul again to the law and works thereof for life.
4. Righteousness by imputation must be first, because, else faith, which is a part, yea, a greater part of that which is called a principle of grace in the soul, will have nothing to fix itself upon, nor a motive to work by. Let this therefore be considered by those that are on the contrary side.
1. Faith, so soon as it has a being in the soul, is like the child that has a being in the mother's lap; it must have something to feed upon; not something at a distance, afar off, to be purchased (I speak now as to justification from the curse), but something by promise made over of grace to the soul; something to feed upon to support from the fears of perishing by the curse for sin. Nor can it rest content with all duties and performances that other graces shall put the soul upon; nor with any of its own works, until it reaches and takes hold of the righteousness of Christ. Faith is like the dove, which found no rest any where until it returned to Noah into the ark. But this our Pharisee understandeth not.
Perhaps some may object, that from this way of reasoning it is apparent, that sanctification is first; since the soul may have faith, and so a principle of grace in it, and yet, as yet it cannot find Christ to feed and refresh the soul withal.
Answ. From this way of reasoning it is not at all apparent that sanctification, or a principle of grace, is in the soul before righteousness is imputed and the soul made perfectly righteous thereby. And for the clearing up of this, let me propose a few things.
1. Justifying righteousness, to wit, the obedience of that one man, Christ, is imputed to the sinner, to justify him in God's sight; for his law calls for perfect righteousness, and before that be come to, and put upon the poor sinner, God cannot bestow other spiritual blessings upon him; because by the law he has pronounced him accursed; by the which curse he is also so holden, until a righteousness shall be found upon the sinner, that the law and divine justice can approve of, and be contented within. So then, as to the justification of the sinner, there must be a righteousness for God; I say, for the sinner, and for God: for the sinner to be clothed within, and for God to look upon, that he may, for the sake thereof in a way of justice, bless the sinner with forgiveness of sins: for forgiveness of sins is the next thing that followeth upon the appearance of the sinner before God in the righteousness of Christ; Rom. iv. 6, 7.
Now, upon this forgiveness follows the second blessing. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; and so, consequently, hath obtained for us the forgiveness of sins: for he that is delivered from the curse hath received forgiveness of sins, or rather is made partaker thereof. Now, being made a partaker thereof, the second blessing immediately follows, to wit, the blessing of Abraham, that is, the promise of the Spirit through faith; Gal. iii. 13. 14. But this our Pharisee understandeth not.
But now, although it be of absolute necessity that imputed righteousness be first, to the soul; that is, that perfect righteousness be found upon the sinner first by God, that he may bestow other blessings in a way of justice:
Let God then put the righteousness of his Son upon me; and by virtue of that, let the second blessing of God come into me; and by virtue of that, let me be made to see myself a sinner, and Christ's righteousness, and my need of it, in the doctrine of it, as it is revealed in the scriptures of truth. Let me then believe this doctrine to be true, and be brought by my belief to repentance for my sins, to hungering and thirsting vehemently after this righteousness: for this is the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. Yea, let me pray, and cry, and sigh, and groan, day and night, to the God of this righteousness, that he will of grace make me a partaker. And let me thus be prostrate before my God, all the time that in wisdom he shall think fit; and in his own time he shall shew me that I am a justified person, a pardoned person, a person in whom the Spirit of God hath dwelt for some time, though I knew it not.
So then, justification before God is one thing, and justification in mine own eyes is another; not that these are two justifications, but the same righteousness by which I stand justified before God, may be seen of God, when I am ignorant of it: yea, for the sake of it I may be received, pardoned, and accounted righteous of him, and yet I may not understand it. Yea, further, he may proceed in the way of blessing to bless me with additional blessings, and yet I be ignorant of it.
So that the question is not, Do I find that I am righteous? but, Am I so? Doth God find me so, when he seeth that the righteousness of his Son is upon me, being made over to me by an act of his grace? For I am justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; Rom. iii. 24. But this our Pharisee understandeth not.
I am then made righteous first by the righteousness of another; and because I am thus righteous, God accepteth of my person as such, and bestoweth upon me his grace; the which, at first, for want of skill and experience in the word of righteousness, I make use of but poorly, and have need to be certified that I am made righteous, and that I have eternal life; not by faith first and immediately, but by the written word which is called "the word of faith;" which word declareth unto me (to whom grace, and so faith in the seed of it, is given), that I have eternal life, and that I should with boldness, in peace and joy, believe on the Son of God; Heb. v. 13; Rom. xv. 13; 1 John v. 13. But,
Again, I, in the first acts of my faith, when I come at Christ, do not accept of him, because I know I am righteous, either with imputed righteousness, or with that which is inherent. Both these, as to my present privilege in them, may be hidden from mine eyes, and I only put upon taking of encouragement to close with Christ for life and righteousness, as he is set forth to be a propitiation before mine eyes, in the word of the truth of the gospel; to which word I adhere as, or because I find, I want peace with God in my soul, and because I am convinced that the means of peace is not to be found any where but in Jesus Christ. Now, by my thus adhering to him, I find stay for my soul, and peace to my conscience, because the word doth ascertain to me, that he that believeth on him hath remission of sins, hath eternal life, and shall be saved from the wrath to come.
But, alas! who knows (the many straits, and as I may say, the stress of weather, I mean) the cold blasts of hell, with which the poor soul is assaulted, betwixt its receiving of grace, and its sensible closing with Jesus Christ? None, I dare say, but it and its fellows. "The heart knows its own bitterness; and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy;" Prov. xiv. 10. No sooner doth Satan perceive what God is doing with the soul, in a way of grace and mercy, but he endeavoureth what he may to make the renewing thereof bitter and wearisome work to the sinner. O what mists, what mountains, what clouds, what darkness, what objections, what false apprehensions of God, of Christ, of grace, of the word, and of the soul's condition, doth he now lay before it, and haunt it with; whereby he dejecteth, casteth down, daunteth, distresseth, and almost driveth it quite into despair! Now, by the reason of these things, faith (and all the grace that is in the soul) is hard put to it to come at the promise, and by the promise of Christ; as it is said, when the tempest and great danger of shipwreck lay upon the vessel in which Paul was, they had "much work to come by the boat;" Acts xxvii. 16. For Satan's design is, if he cannot keep the soul from Christ, to make his coming to him, and closing with him, as hard, as difficult and troublesome, as he by his devices can. But faith, true justifying faith, is a grace, is not weary by all that Satan can do; but meditateth upon the word, and taketh stomach, and courage, fighteth and crieth, and by crying and fighting, by help from heaven, its way is made through all the oppositions that appear so mighty, and draweth up at last to Jesus Christ, into whose bosom it putteth the soul, where, for the time, it sweetly resteth, after its marvellous tossings to and fro.
And besides what hath been said, let me yet illustrate this truth unto you by this familiar similitude.
Suppose a man, a traitor, that by the law should die for his sin, is yet such an one that the king has exceeding kindness for; may not the king pardon this man of his clemency; yea, order that his pardon should be drawn up and sealed, and so in every sense be made sure; and yet, for the present, keep all this close enough from the ears or the knowledge of the person therein concerned? Yea, may not the king after all leave this person, with others under the same transgression, to sue for and obtain this pardon with great expense and difficulty, with many tears and heart-achings, with many fears and dubious cogitations?
Why, this is the case between God and the soul that he saveth; he saveth him, pardoneth him, and secureth him from the curse and death that is due unto sin, but yet doth not tell him so; but he ascends in his great suit unto God for it. Only this difference we must make between God and the potentates of this world; God cannot pardon before the sinner stands before him righteous by the righteousness of Christ; because he has in judgment, and justice, and righteousness, threatened and concluded, that he that wants righteousness shall die.
And I say again, because this righteousness is God's and at God's disposal only, it is God that must make a man righteous before he can forgive him his sins, or bestow upon him of his secondary blessings; to wit, his Spirit, and the graces thereof. And I say again, it must be this righteousness; for it can be no other that justifies a sinner from sin in the sight of God, and from the sentence of the law.
Secondly, This is, and must be the way of God with the sinner, that faith may not only have an object to work upon, but a motive to work by.
(1.) Here, as I said, faith hath an object to work upon, and that in the person of Christ, and that personal righteousness of his, which he in the days of his flesh did finish to justify sinners withal. This is, I say, the object of faith for justification, whereunto the soul by it doth continually resort. Hence David saith to Christ, "Be thou my strong habitation (or as you have it in the margin, Be thou to me a rock of habitation) whereunto I may continually resort;" Psalm lxxi. 3. And two things he infers by so saying.
The first is, That the Christian is a man under continual exercises, sometimes one way, and sometimes another; but all his exercises have a tendency in them more or less to spoil him; therefore he is rather for flying to Christ than for grappling with them in and by his own power.
The second is, that Christ is of God our shelter as to this very thing. Hence his name is said to be "a strong tower," and that the righteous run into it, and are safe, Prov. xviii. 10. That also of David in the fifty-sixth Psalm is very pregnant to this purpose; "Mine enemies," saith he, "would daily swallow me up; for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most High." And what then? Why, saith he, "I will trust in thee." Thus you see, faith hath an object to work upon to carry the soul unto, and to secure the soul in times of difficulty, and that object is Jesus Christ and his righteousness. But,
(2.) Again, as faith hath an object to work upon, so it hath a motive to work by; and that is the love of God in giving of Christ to the soul for righteousness. Nor is there any profession, religion, or duty and performance, that is at all regarded, where this faith, which by such means can work, is wanting. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love" (so Gal. v. 6) acteth lovely; or, by faith whose fruit is love (though true faith hath love for its offspring) but faith which worketh by love, that is true, saving, justifying faith, as it beholdeth the righteousness of Christ as made over to the soul for justification; so it beholdeth love, love to be the cause of its so being made over.
It beholdeth love in the Father, in giving of his Son, and love in the Son, in giving of himself to be made soul-saving righteousness for me. And seeing it worketh by it, that is, it is stirred up to an holy boldness of venturing all eternal concerns upon Christ, and also to an holy, endeared, affecting love of him, for his sweet and blessed redeeming love. Hence the apostle saith, "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again," 2 Cor. v. 14, 15.
Thus then is the heart united in affection and love to the Father and the Son, for the love that they have shewed to the poor sinner in their thus delivering him from the wrath to come. For by this love faith worketh, in sweet passions and pangs of love, to all that are thus reconciled, as this sinner seeth he is. The motive then, whereby faith worketh, both as to justification and sanctification, the great motive to them, I say, is love, the love of God, and the love of Christ: "We love him, because he first loved us." That is, when our faith hath told us so; for so are the words above, "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us." And then, "We love him, because he first loved us." And then, "This commandment have we from him, that he that loveth God, loveth his brother also," 1 John iv. 16-21. But this our poor Pharisee understandeth not. But,
5. Righteousness by imputation must be first, to cut off boasting from the heart, conceit, and lips of men. Wherefore he saith, as before, that we are justified freely by the grace of God, not through, or for the sake of an holy gospel-principle in us; but "through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ," &c. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith." And this is the law of faith, by which we are justified as before; Rom. iii. 27, 28.
Nor can any man propound such an essential way to cut off boasting as this, which is of God's providing: For what is man here to boast of? No righteousness, nor yet of the application of it to his soul. The righteousness is Christ's, not the sinner's. The imputation is God's, not the sinner's. The cause of imputation is God's grace and love, not the sinner's works of righteousness. The time of God's imputing righteousness is when the sinner was a sinner, wrapped up in ignorance, and wallowing in his vanity; not when he was good, or when he was seeking of it; for his inward gospel-goodness is a fruit of the imputation of justifying righteousness. Where is boasting then? Where is our Pharisee then, with his brags of not being as other men are? It is excluded, and he with it, and the poor Publican taken into favour, that boasting might be cut off. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." There is no trust to be put in men; those that seem most humble, and that to appearance, and farthest off from pride, it is natural to them to boast; yea, now they have no cause to boast; for by grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. "Not of works, lest any man should boast."
But if man is so prone to boast, when yet there is no pound of boasting in him, nor yet in what he doth; how would he have boasted had he been permitted by the God of heaven to have done something, though that something had been but a very little something, towards his justification? But God has prevented boasting by doing as he has done; Eph. ii. 8, 9. Nay, the apostle addeth further (lest any man should boast), that as to good works, "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them; ver. 10. Can the tree boast, since it was God that made it such? Where is boasting then? "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord;" 1 Cor. i. 30, 31. Where is boasting then? Where is our Pharisee then, with all his works of righteousness, and with his boasts of being better than his neighbours?
It may be said, If we should be justified for the sake of our inherent righteousness, since that righteousness is the gift of God, will it not follow that boasting is, in the occasion thereof, cut off?
Answ. No; for although the principle of inherent righteousness be the gift of God, yet it bringeth forth fruits by man, and through man; and so man having a hand therein, though he should have ever so little, he has an occasion offered him to boast. Yea, if a man should be justified before God by the grace, or the working of the grace of faith in him, he would have ground of occasion to boast; because faith, though it be the gift of God, yet as it acteth in man, takes man along with it in its so acting; yea, the acting of faith is as often attributed to the man by whom it is acted, and oftener, than to the grace itself. How then can it be, but that man must have a hand therein, and so a ground therein, or thereof to boast?
But now, since justification from the curse of the law before God lieth only and wholly in God's imputing of Christ's righteousness to a man, and that too, while the man to whom it is imputed is in himself wicked and ungodly, there is no room left for boasting before God, for that is the boasting intended; but rather an occasion given to shame and confusion of face, and to stop the mouth for ever, since justification comes in a way so far above him, so vastly without him, his skill, help, or what else soever; Ezek. xvi. 61-63.
6. Righteousness by imputation must be first, that justification may not be of debt, but of mercy and grace. This is evident from reason. It is meet that God should therefore justify us by a righteousness of his own, not of his own prescribing; for that he may do, and yet the righteousness be ours; but of his own providing, that the righteousness may be his. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt;" Rom. iv. 2-4. If I work for justifying righteousness, and that way get righteousness, my justification is not of grace, but of debt. God giveth it not unto me, but he oweth it unto me; so then it is no longer his, but mine: mine, not of grace, but of debt. And if so, then I thank him not for his remission of sins, nor for the kingdom of heaven, nor for eternal life; for if justifying righteousness is of debt, then when I have it, and what dependeth thereon, I have but mine own; that which God oweth to me.
Nor will it help at all to say, But I obtain it by God's grace in me; because that doth not cut off my works, nor prevent my having of a hand in my justifying righteousness.
Suppose I give a man materials, even all materials that are necessary to the completing of such or such a thing; yet if he worketh, though the materials be mine, I am to him a debtor, and he deserveth a reward. Thou sayst, God has given thee his Spirit, his grace, and all other things that are necessary for the working up of a complete righteousness. Well, but is thy work required to the finishing of this righteousness? If so, this is not the righteousness that justifieth; because it is such as has thy hand, thy workmanship therein, and so obtains a reward. And observe it, righteousness, justifying righteousness, consisteth not in a principle of righteousness, but in works of righteousness; that is, in good duties, in obedience, in a walking in the law to the pleasing of the law, and the content of the justice of God.
I suppose again, that thou shalt conclude with me, that justifying righteousness, I mean that which justifies from the curse of the law, resideth only in the obedience of the Son of God; and that the principle of grace that is in thee is none of that righteousness, no, not then when thou hast to the utmost walked with God according to thy gift and grace; yet if thou concludest that this principle must be in thee, and these works done by thee, before this justifying righteousness is imputed to thee for justification, thou layest in a caveat against justification by grace; and also concludest, that though thou art not justified by thy righteousness, but by Christ, yet thou art justified by Christ's righteousness for the sake of thine own, and so makest justification to be still a debt. But here the scripture doth also cut thee off: "Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess the land" (which was but a type of heaven); and if our righteousness cannot give us, by its excellency, a share in the type, be sure that for it we shall never be sharers in the anti-type itself. "Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people;" Deut. ix. 5, 6.
Gospel-performances, therefore, are not first; that was first, for the sake of which God did receive these people into favour with himself, and that was a covenant-righteousness; and where could that covenant-righteousness be found, but in the Prince, Mediator, and High Priest of the covenant? For it was he, and he only, that was appointed of God, nor could any but himself bring in everlasting righteousness; Dan. ix. 24, 25. This is evident from these texts last mentioned; it was not for their righteousness that they possessed the land.
Again, As it was not for their righteousness that they were made possessors of the land, so it was not for the sake of their righteousness that they were made partakers of such a righteousness that did make them possess the land. This is plain to reason; for personal righteousness, when by us performed, is of no worth to obtain of God a justifying righteousness. But if it be of no worth to obtain a justifying righteousness, then, it seems, it is more commodious to both parties than justifying righteousness. First, it is more commodious to him that worketh it; and, secondly, it is more commodious unto him that receiveth it, else why doth he for it give us a due debt, and so put upon us the everlasting justifying righteousness?
Perhaps it will be objected, That God doth all this of grace; but I answer, That these are but fallacious words, spoken by the tongue of the crafty. For we are not now discoursing of what rewards God can give to the operations of his own grace in us, but whether he can in a way of justice (or how he will) bestow any spiritual blessing upon sinful creatures, against whom, for sin, he has pronounced the curse of the law, before he hath found them in a righteousness, that is proved to be as good justice and righteousness, as is the justice and righteousness of the law, with which we have to do.
I assert he cannot, because he cannot lie, because he cannot deny himself: for if he should first threaten the transgression of the law with death, and yet afterwards receive the transgressor to grace, without a plenary satisfaction, what is this but to lie, and to diminish his truth, righteousness, and faithfulness; yea, and also to overthrow the sanction and perfect holiness of his law? His mercy, therefore, must act so towards the sinner that justice may be satisfied, and that can never be without a justifying righteousness.
Now what this justifying righteousness should be, and when imputed, that is the question. I say, it is the righteousness, or obedience of the Son of God in the flesh, which he assumed, and so his own, and the righteousness of no body else otherwise than by imputation.
I say again, that this righteousness must be imputed first, that the sinner may stand just in God's sight from the curse, that God might deal with him both in a way of justice as well as mercy, and yet do the sinner no harm.
But you may ask, how did God deal with sinners before his righteousness was actually in being?
I answer, He did then deal with sinners even as he dealeth with them now; he justified them by it, by virtue of the suretyship of him that was to bring it in. Christ became surety for us, and by his suretyship laid himself under an obligation for those for whom he became a surety to bring in this everlasting and justifying righteousness, and by virtue of this, those of his elect that came into and went out of the world before he came to perform his work were saved though the forbearance of God. Wherefore, before the Lord came, they were saved for the Lord's sake, and for the sake of his name. And they that were spiritually wise understood it, and pleaded it as their necessities required, and the Lord accepted them; Heb. vii. 22; Rom. iv. 24; Dan. ix. 17; Psalm xxv. 11.
7. Righteousness by imputation must be first, that justification may be certain; "Therefore it is of faith (of the righteousness that faith layeth hold on), that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;" Rom. iv. 16. "That the promise,"—What promise? The promise of remission of sins, &c., might be sure.
Now a promise of remission of sins supposeth a righteousness going before; for there is no forgiveness of sins, nor promise of forgiveness, for the sake of righteousness that shall be by us, but that already found in Christ as head, and so imputed to the elect for their remission. "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you," Eph. iv. 32; For Christ's sake; that this, for the sake of the righteousness of Christ. Imputed righteousness must be first; yea, it must be before forgiveness, and forgiveness is extended by God then when we lie in our blood, though to us it is manifested afterwards. Therefore it is OF faith; he saith not BY it, respecting the act of faith, but of, respecting the doctrine or word which presenteth me with this blessed imputed righteousness: they that are of faith are the children of faithful Abraham. They that are of the doctrine of faith, for all the elect are the sons of that doctrine in which is this righteousness of Christ contained; yea, they are begotten by it of God to this inheritance, to their comfortable enjoyment of the comfort of it by faith.
That the promise might be sure to all the seed, to all them wrapped up in the promise, and so begotten and born. That it might be sure, implying that there is no certain way of salvation for the elect but this; because God can never by other means reconcile us to himself, for his heavenly eyes perceive, yea, they spy faults in the best of our gospel performances; yea, our faith is faulty, and also imperfect: how then should remission be extended to us for the sake of that? But now the righteousness of Christ is perfect, perpetual and stable as the great mountains; wherefore he is called the rock of our salvation, because a man may as soon tumble the mountains before him, as sin can make invalid the righteousness of Christ, when, and unto whom, God shall impute it for justice; Psalm xxxvi. In the margin it is said to be like the mountain of God; to wit, called Mount Zion, or that Moriah on which the temple was built, and upon which it stood; all other bottoms are fickle, all other righteousnesses are so feeble, short, narrow, yea, so full of imperfections; for what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, Christ did for us in the similitude of sinful- flesh. But what could not the law do? Why, it could not give us righteousness, nor strengthen us to perform it. It could not give us any certain, solid, well-grounded hope of remission of sin and salvation.
Wherefore this righteousness being imputed, justice findeth no fault therewith, but consenteth to the extending to the sinner those blessings that tend to perfect his happiness in the heavens.
8. Righteousness by imputation must be first, that in all things Christ may have the pre-eminence. Christ is head of the church, and therefore let him have the highest honour in the soul; but how can he have that, if any precede as to justification before his perfect righteousness be imputed? If it be said, grace may be in the soul, though the soul doth not act it until the moment that justifying righteousness shall be imputed:
I ask, What should it do there before, or to what purpose is it there, if it be not acted? And again, how came it thither, how got the soul possession of it while it was unjustified? or, How could God in justice give it to a person, that by the law stood condemned, before they were acquitted from that condemnation? And I say, nothing can set the soul free from that curse but the perfect obedience of Christ; nor that either, if it be not imputed for that end to the sinner by the grace of God.
Imputed, that is, reckoned or accounted to him. And why should it not be accounted to him for righteousness? What did Christ bring it into the world for? for the righteous or for sinners? No doubt for sinners. And how must it be reckoned to them? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision; not as righteous, but as sinners. And how are they to consider of themselves, even then when they first are apprehensive of their need of this righteousness? Are they to think that they are righteous, or sinners?
And again, How are they to believe concerning themselves, then when they put forth the first act of faith towards this righteousness for justification? Are they to think that they are righteous, or sinners? Sinners, doubtless, they are to reckon themselves, and as such to reckon themselves justified by this righteousness. And this is according to the sentence of God, as appeareth by such sayings.
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
"For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son," &c., Rom. v.
Out of these words I gather these three things.
1. That Christ by God's appointment died for us.
2. That by his death he reconciled us to God.
3. That even then, when the very act of reconciliation was in performing, and also when performed, we were ungodly, sinners, enemies.
Now, the act by which we are said to be reconciled to God, while ungodly, while sinners, and while enemies, was Christ's offering himself a sacrifice for us, which is, in the words above mentioned, called his death. Christ died for the ungodly; Christ died for us while sinners; Christ reconciled us to God by his death. And as Christ is said to die for us, so the Father is said to impute righteousness to us; to wit, as we are without works, as we are ungodly. "Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." He worketh not, but is ungodly, when this gracious act of God, in imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, is extended; when he shall believe, his faith is counted to him for righteousness. And why should we not have the benefit of the righteousness, since it was completed for us while we were yet ungodly? Yea, we have the benefit of it: "For when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."
When I say the benefit, I mean that benefit that we are capable of, and that is justification before God; for that a man may be capable of while he is in himself ungodly, because this comes to him by the righteousness of another. True, were it to be his own righteousness by which he was to be justified, he could not: but the righteousness is Christ's, and that imputed by God, not as a reward for work, or of debt, but freely by his grace; and therefore may be, and is so, while the person concerned is without works, ungodly, and a sinner.
And he that denieth that we are capable of this benefit while we are sinners and ungodly, may with the like reason deny that we are created beings: for that which is done for a man without him, may be done for him at any time which they that do it shall appoint. While a man is a beggar, may not I make him worth ten thousand a-year, if I can and will: and yet he may not know thereof in that moment that I make him so? yet the revenue of that estate shall really be his from the moment that I make him so, and he shall know it too at the rent- day.
This is the case: we are sinners and ungodly; there is a righteousness wrought out by Jesus Christ which God hath designed we shall be made righteous by: and by it, if he will impute it to us, we shall be righteous in his sight; even then when we are yet ungodly in ourselves: for he justifies the ungodly.
Now, though it is irregular and blameworthy in man to justify the wicked, because he cannot provide and clothe him with a justifying righteousness, yet it is glorious, and for ever worthy of praise, for God to do it: because it is in his power, not only to forgive, but to make a man righteous, even then when he is a sinner, and to justify him while he is ungodly.
But it may be yet objected, that though God has received satisfaction for sin, and so sufficient terms of reconciliation by the obedience and death of his Son, yet he imputeth it not unto us, but upon condition of our becoming good.
Ans. This must not be admitted: For,
1. The scripture saith not so; but that we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son, and justified too, and that while or when we are sinners and ungodly.
2. If this objection carrieth truth in it, then it follows that the Holy Ghost, faith, and so all grace, may be given to us, and we may have it dwelling in us, yea, acting in us, before we stand righteous in the judgment of the law before God (for nothing can make us stand just before God in the judgment of the law, but the obedience of the Son of God without us.) And if the Holy Ghost, faith, and so, consequently, the habit of every grace, may be in us, acting in us, before Christ's righteousness be by God imputed to us, then we are not justified as sinners and ungodly, but as persons inherently holy and righteous before.
But I have shewed you that this cannot be, therefore righteousness for justification must be imputed first. And here let me present the reader with two or three things.
1. That justification before God is one thing, and justification to the understanding and conscience is another. Now, I am treating of justification before God, not of it as to man's understanding and conscience: and I say, a man may be justified before God, even then when himself knoweth nothing thereof; Isa. xl. 2; Mark ii. 5; and while he hath not faith about it, but is ungodly.
2. There is justification by faith, by faith's applying of that righteousness to the understanding and conscience, which God hath of his grace imputed for righteousness to the soul for justification in his sight. And this is that by which we, as to sense and feeling, have peace with God "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ;" Rom. v. 1. And these two the apostle keepeth distinct in the 10th verse: that "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." He addeth, "And not only so, but we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement," verse 11. Here you see, that to be reconciled to God by the death of his Son is one thing, and for us actually to receive by faith this reconciliation is another: and not only so, but we have "received the atonement."
3. Men do not gather their justification from God's single act of imputing of righteousness, that we might stand clear in his sight from the curse and judgment of the law; but from the word of God, which they understand not till it is brought to their understanding by the light and glory of the Holy Ghost.
We are not, therefore, in the ministry of the word to pronounce any man justified, from a supposition that God has imputed righteousness to him (since that act is not known to us), until the fruits that follow thereupon do break out before our eyes; to wit, the signs and effects of the Holy Ghost indwelling in our souls. And then we may conclude it, that is, that such a one stands justified before God, yet not for the sake of his inherent righteousness, nor yet for the fruits thereof, and so not for the sake of the act of faith, but for the sake of Jesus Christ his doing and suffering for us.
Nor will it avail to object, that if at first we stand justified before God by his imputing of Christ's righteousness unto us, though faith be not in us to act, we may always stand justified so; and so what need of faith? for therefore are we justified, first, by the imputation of God, as we are ungodly, that thereby we may be made capable of receiving the Holy Ghost and his graces in a way of righteousness and justice. Besides, God will have those that he shall justify by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ to have the Holy Ghost, and so faith, that they may know and believe the things not only that shall be, but that already are freely given to us of God. "Now," says Paul, "we have received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God;" 1 Cor. ii. 12. To know, that is, to believe: it is given to you to believe, who believe according to the working of his mighty power; "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us," preceding to our believing; John iv. 16. He then that is justified by God's imputation, shall believe by the power of the Holy Ghost; for that must come, and work faith, and strengthen the soul to act it, because imputed righteousness has gone before. He then that believeth shall be saved; for his believing is a sign, not a cause, of his being made righteous before God by imputation; and he that believeth not shall be damned.
AND THUS MUCH FOR THE PHARISEE, AND FOR HIS INFORMATION. AND NOW I COME TO THAT PART OF THE TEXT WHICH REMAINS, AND WHICH RESPECTETH THE PUBLICAN.
"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."
What this Publican was, I have shewed you, both with respect to nation, office, and disposition. Wherefore I shall not here trouble the reader as to that. We now, therefore, come to his repentance in the whole and in the parts of it; concerning which I shall take notice of several things, some more remote, and some more near to the matter and life of it.
But, first, let us see how cross the Pharisee and the Publican did lie in the temple one to another, while they both were presenting of their prayers to God.
1. The Pharisee he goes in boldly, fears nothing, but trusteth in himself that his state is good, that God loves him, and that there was no doubt to be made but of his good speed in this his religious enterprise. But, alas! poor Publican, he sneaks, crawls into the temple, and when he comes there, stands behind, aloof, off; as one not worthy to approach the divine presence.
2. The Pharisee at his approach hath his mouth full of many fine things, whereby he strokes himself over the head, and in effect calls himself one of God's dear sons, that always kept close to his will, abode with him, or, as the prodigal's brother said, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee; neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment;" Luke xv. 29. But alas! poor Publican, thy guilt, as to these pleas, stops thy mouth; thou hast not one good thing to say of thyself, not one rag of righteousness; thy conscience tells thee so; yea, and if thou shouldst now attempt to set a good face on it, and for thy credit say something after the Pharisee in way of thine own commendations, yet here is God on the one side, the Pharisee on the other, together with thine own heart, to give thee a check, to rebuke thee, to condemn thee, and to lay thee even to the ground for thy insolence.
3. The Pharisee in his approach to God, wipes his fingers of the Publican's enormities, will not come nigh him, lest he should defile himself with his beastly rags: "I am not as other men are, nor yet as this Publican." But the poor Publican, alas for him! his fingers are not clean, nor can he tell how to make them so; besides, he meekly and quietly puts up with this reflection of the Pharisee upon him, and by silent behaviour justifies the severe sentence of that self-righteous man, concluding with him, that for his part he is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and not worthy to come nigh, or to stand by, so good, so virtuous, so holy, and so deserving a man as our sparkling Pharisee is.
4. The Pharisee, as at feasts and synagogues, chose the chief and first place for his person, and for his prayer, counting that the Publican was not meet, ought not to presume to let his foul breath once come out of his polluted lips in the temple, till HE had made his holy prayer. And, poor Publican, how dost thou hear and put up this with all other affronts, counting even as the Pharisee counted of thee, that thou wast but a dog in comparison of him, and therefore not fit to go before, but to come as in chains, behind, and forbear to present thy mournful supplication to the holy God, till he had presented his, in his own conceit, brave, gay, and fine oration?
5. The Pharisee, as he is numerous in his repeating his good deeds, so is he stiff in standing to them, bearing up himself, that he hath now sufficient foundation on which to bear up his soul against all the attempts of the law, the devil, sin, and hell. But, alas, poor Publican! thou standest naked, nay, worse than naked; for thou art clothed with filthy garments, thy sins cover thy face with shame: nor hast thou in, or of thyself, any defence from, or shelter against, the attempts, assaults, and censures of thy spiritual enemies, but art now in thine own eyes (though in the temple) cast forth into thine open field stark-naked, to the loathing of thy person, as in the day that thou wast born, and there ready to be devoured and torn in pieces for thy transgressions against thy God.
What wilt thou do, Publican? What wilt thou do? Come, let us see; which way wilt thou begin to address thyself to God? Bethink thyself: hast thou any thing to say? speak out, man: the Pharisee by this time has done, and received his sentence: make an "O yes;" let all the world be silent; yea, let the angels of heaven draw near and listen; for the Publican is come to have to do with God! yea, is come from the receipt of custom into the temple to pray to him.
"And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." And is this thy way, poor Publican! O cunning sinner! O crafty Publican! thy wisdom has outdone the Pharisee; for it is better to apply ourselves to God's mercy than to trust to ourselves that we are righteous. But that the Publican did hit the mark, yea, get nearer unto, and more in the heart of God and his Son than the Pharisee, the sequel will make manifest.
Take notice then of this profound speech of the Publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Yea, the Son of God was so delighted with this prayer, that for the sake of it, he even as a limner draweth out the Publican in his manner of standing, behaviour, gestures, &c., while he makes this prayer to God: wherefore we will take notice both of the one and of the other; for surely his gestures put lustre into his prayer and repentance.
1. His prayer you see is this, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
His gestures in his prayer were in general three.
1. He "stood afar off."
2. He "would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven."
3. He "smote upon his breast," with his fist, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
To begin first with his prayer. In this prayer we have two things to consider of.
1. His confession: I am a sinner.
2. His imploring of help against this malady: "God be merciful to me a sinner."
In his confession divers things are to be taken notice of. As -
1. The fairness and simplicity of his confession; "A sinner:" I am a sinner; "God be merciful to me a sinner." This indeed he was, and this indeed he confesses; and this, I say, he doth of godly simplicity. For a man to confess himself a sinner, it is to speak all against himself that can be spoken. And man, as degenerate, is too much an hypocrite, and too much a self-flatterer, thus to confess against himself, unless made simple and honest through the power of conviction upon his heart. And it is worth your noting, that he doth not say he was, or had been, but that at that time his state was such, to wit, a sinner. "God be merciful to me a sinner," or who am, and now stand before thee a sinner, in my sins.
Now, a little to shew you what it is to be a sinner; for every one that sinneth may not in a proper sense be called a sinner. Saints, the sanctified in Christ Jesus, do often sin, but it is not proper to call them sinners: but here the Publican calls himself a sinner; and therefore in effect calls himself an evil tree, one that beareth no good fruit; one whose body and soul is polluted, whose mind and conscience is defiled; one who hath walked according to the course of this world, and after the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: they having their minds at enmity against God, and are taken captive by the devil at his will; a sinner, one whose trade hath been in sin, and the works of Satan all his days.
Thus he waives all pleas, and stoops his neck immediately to the block. Though he was a base man, yet he might have had pleas; pleas, I say, as well as the Pharisee, though not so many, yet as good. He was of the stock of Abraham, a Jew, an Israelite of the Israelites, and so a privileged man in the religion of the Jews, else what doth he do in the temple? Yea, why did not the Pharisee, if he was a heathen, lay that to his charge while he stood before God? But the truth is, he could not; for the Publican was a Jew as well as the Pharisee, and consequently might, had he been so disposed, have pleaded that before God. But he would not, he could not, for his conscience was under convictions, the awakenings of God were upon him; wherefore his privileges melt away like grease, and fly from him like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor, which the wind taketh up and scattereth as the dust; he therefore lets all privileges fall, and pleads only that he us a sinner.
2. In this confession he judges and condemns himself: For a man to say, I am a sinner, is as much as to say, I am contrary to the holiness of God, a transgressor of the law, and consequently an object of the curse, and an heir of hell. The Publican, therefore, goeth very far in this his confession; For,
3. In the third place, To confess that there is nothing in him, done or can be done by him, that should allure, or prevail with God to do any thing for him: for a sinner cannot do good; no, not work up his heart unto one good thought: no, though he should have heaven itself if he could, or was sure to burn in hell-fire for ever and ever if he could not. For sin, where it is in possession, and bears rule, as it doth in every one that we may properly call a sinner, there it hath the mastery of the man, hath bound up his senses in cords and chains, and made nothing so odious to the soul as the things that are of the Spirit of God. Wherefore it is said of such, that they are "Enemies in their minds;" that "The carnal mind is enmity against God," and that "Wickedness proceedeth of the wicked;" and that the Ethiopian may as well change his skin, or the leopard his spots, as they that are accustomed to do evil may learn to do well; Col. i.; Rom. viii.; 1 Sam. xxiv. 13; Jer. xiii. 23.
4. In this confession he implicitly acknowledgeth that sin is the worst of things, forasmuch as it layeth the soul out of the reach of all remedy that can be found under heaven. Nothing below or short of the mercy of God can deliver a poor soul from this fearful malady. This the Pharisee did not see. Doubtless he did conclude, that at some time or other he had sinned; but he never in all his life did arrive to a sight of what sin was: his knowledge of it was but false and counterfeit, as is manifest by his cure; to wit, his own righteousness. For take this for a truth undeniable, that he that thinks himself better before God, because of his reformations, never yet had the true knowledge of his sin: But the poor Publican he had it, he had it in truth, as is manifest, because it drives him to the only sovereign remedy. For indeed, the right knowledge of sin, in the filth, and guilt, and damning power thereof, makes a man to understand, that not any thing but grace and mercy by Christ can secure him from the hellish ruins thereof.
Suppose a man sick of an apoplexy unto death, and should for his remedy make use only of those things that are good against the second ague, would not this demonstrate that this man was not sensible of the nature and danger of this disease? The same may be said of every sinner that shall make use only of those means to justify him before God, that can hardly make him go for a good Christian before judicious men. But the poor Publican, he knew the nature and the danger of his disease; and knew also, that nothing but mercy, infinite mercy, could cure him thereof.
5. This confession of the Publican declareth, that he himself was borne up now by an almighty though invisible hand. For sin, when seen in its colours, and when appearing in its monstrous shape, frighteth all away from God. This is manifest by Cain, Judas, Saul, and others, who could not stand up before God under the sense and appearance of their sin, but fled before him, one to one fruit of despair, and one to another. But now this Publican, though he apprehends his sin, that himself was one that was a sinner, yet he beareth up, cometh into the temple, approaches the presence of an holy and sin-revenging God, stands before him, and confesses that he is that man that sin had defiled, and that had brought him into the danger of damnation thereby.
This therefore was a mighty act of the Publican. He went against the voice of conscience, against sense and feeling, against the curse and condemning verdict of the law: he went, as I may say, upon hot burning coals to one that to sin and sinners is a consuming fire.
Now then, did the Publican this of his own head, or from his own mind? No, verily; there was some super-natural power within that did secretly prompt him on, and strengthen him to this more noble venture. True, there is nothing more common among wicked men, than to trick and toy, and play with this saying of the Publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner:" not at all being sensible either what sin is, or of their need of mercy. And such sinners shall find their speed in the Publican's prayer far otherwise than the Publican sped himself; it will happen unto them much as it happened unto the vagabond Jews, exorcists, who took upon them to call over them that had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus; that were beaten by that spirit, and made fly out of that house naked and wounded, Acts xix. 13. Poor sinner, thou wilt say the Publican's prayer, and make the Publican's confession, and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner." But hold; dost thou do it with the Publican's heart, sense, dread, and simplicity? If not, thou dost but abuse the Publican and his prayer, and thyself and his God; and shalt find God rejecting of thee and thy prayers, saying, The Publican I know; his prayers and godly tears I know; but who or what art thou? and will send thee away naked. They are the hungry that he filleth with good things, but the rich (and the senseless) he sendeth empty away.
For my part, I find it one of the hardest things that I can put my soul upon, even to come to God, when warmly sensible that I am a sinner, for a share in grace and mercy. Oh! methinks it seems to me as if the whole face of the heavens were set against me. Yea, the very thought of God strikes me through; I cannot bear up, I cannot stand before him; I cannot but with a thousand tears say, "God be merciful to me a sinner;" Ezra ix. 15.
At another time, when my heart is more hard and stupid, and when his terror doth not make me afraid, then I can come before him, and ask mercy at his hand, and scarce be sensible of sin or grace, or that indeed I am before God. But above all, they are the rare times, when I can go to God as the Publican, sensible of his glorious majesty, sensible of my misery, and bear up, and affectionately cry, "God me merciful to me a sinner."
But again, the Publican, by his confession, sheweth a piece of the highest wisdom that a mortal man can shew; because; by so doing, he engageth as well as imploreth the grace and mercy of God to save him. You see by the text he imploreth it; and now I will shew you that he engageth it, and makes himself a sharer in it.
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." And again, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;" Prov. xxviii. 13; 1 John. i. 9.
First, In the promise of pardon, "he shall have mercy;" he shall have his sins forgiven. As also Solomon prays, that God will forgive them that know their own sores; and they are indeed such as are sensible of the plague of their own heart, 2 Chron. vi. 29, 30; 1 Kings viii. 37, 38. And the reason is, because the sinner is now driven to the farthest point, for confession is the farthest point, and the utmost bound unto which God has appointed the Publican to go, with reference to his work; as it is said of Saul to David, when he was about to give him Michal his daughter to wife, "I desire not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies."
So says God in this matter, I desire no sacrifices, nor legal righteousness to make thee acceptable to me: "Only acknowledge and confess thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against me," 1 Sam. xviii. 25; Jer. iii. 12, 13. And though this by some may be thought to be a very easy way to come at, and partake of the mercy of God; yet let the sensible sinner try it, and he shall find it one of the hardest things in the world. And there are two things to which man is prone, that makes confession hard:
First, There is a great proneness in us to be partial, and not thorough and plain in our confessions. We are apt to make half confessions; to confess some, and hide some; or else to make feigned confessions, flattering both ourselves, and also God, while we make confession unto him; or else to confess sin, as our own fancies apprehend, and not as the word descries them. These things we are very 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 easy thing.
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 touched upon.
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 first reason.
(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 offence.
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. 21.
(5.) A fifth reason is, because God would have by the Publican's conversion others affected with the displays and discoveries of wonderful grace, but 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 gladness endless.
(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 be sufficient.
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. iv.
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 by sin.
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 for mercy!
Mercy, with most, is rather a compliment, I mean while they plead it with God, than a matter of absolute necessity; they have not awfully, and in judgment and conscience, fallen under the sentence, nor put themselves out of all plea but the plea of mercy; indeed, thus to do is the effect of the proof of the vanity and emptiness of all experiments made use of before.
Now, there is a 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. 1-3.
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 hath appointed.
In the mean time, pray God awaken us as he did the Publican; pray God enlighten us as he did the Publican; pray God grant us boldness to come to him as the Publican did; and also in that trembling spirit as he did, when he cried in the temple before him, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
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 worst.
The Publican's gestures then were properly his own; caused by the guilt of sin, and by that dread of the majesty of God that was upon his spirit. And a comely posture it was, else Christ Jesus, the Son of God, would never have taken that particular notice thereof as he did, nor have smiled upon it so much as to take, 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 several things.
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?