How then could the Publican do otherwise (than what he did) than stand afar off if he either thought of God or himself? Indeed the people afore named, before they saw God in his terrible majesty, could scarcely be kept off from the mount with words and bounds, as it is now the case of many: their blindness gives them boldness; their rudeness gives them confidence; but when they shall see what the Publican saw, and felt, and understood, as he, they will pray and stand afar off even as these people did. They removed and stood afar off, and then fell to praying of Moses, that this dreadful sight and sound might be taken from them. And what if I should say, he stood afar off for fear of a blow, though he came for mercy, as it is said of them, "They stood afar off for fear of her torments;" Rev. xviii. 10, 18.
I know what it is to go to God for mercy, and stand all that while through fear afar off; being possessed with this, will not God now smite me at once to the ground for my sins? David thought something when he said as he prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me;" Psalm li. 11.
There is none knows, but those that have them, what turns and returns, what coming on and going off, there is in the spirit of a man that indeed is awakened, and that stands awakened before the glorious Majesty in prayer. The prodigal also made his prayer to his Father intentionally, while he was yet a great way off. And so did the lepers too: "And as he entered into a certain village there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us;" Luke xvii. 12, 13.
See here, it has been the custom of praying men to keep their distance, and not to be rudely bold in rushing into the presence of the holy and heavenly Majesty, especially if they have been sensible of their own vileness and sins, as the prodigal, the lepers, and our poor Publican was. Yea, Peter himself, when upon a time he perceived more than commonly he did of the majesty of Jesus his Lord, what doth he do? "When Simon Peter saw it (says the text), he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord;" Luke v. 3-8. Oh! when men see God and themselves, it fills them with holy fear of the greatness of the majesty of God, as well as with love to, and desire after, his mercy.
Besides, by his standing afar off, it might be to intimate that he now had in mind, and with great weight upon his conscience, the infinite distance that was betwixt God and him. Men should know that, and tremble in the thoughts of it, when they are about to approach the omnipotent presence.
What is poor sorry man, poor dust and ashes, that he should crowd it up, and go jostlingly into the presence of the great God—especially since it is apparent the disproportion that is betwixt God and him? Esther, when she went to supplicate the king her husband for her people, made use neither of her beauty nor relation, nor the privileges of which she might have had temptation to make use of, especially at such a time, and in such exigencies, as then did compass her about; but, I say, she made not use of them to thrust herself into his presence, but knew, and kept her distance, standing in the inward court of his palace until he held out the golden sceptre to her; then Esther drew near, and touched the top thereof; Esth. v. 1, 2.
Men, also, when they come into the presence of God, should know their distance; yea, and shew that they know it too, by such gestures, and carriages, and behaviour, that are seemly. A remarkable saying is that of Solomon, "Keep thy foot," saith he, "when thou goest into the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil." And as they should keep their foot, so also he adds, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few;" Eccles. v. 1, 2.
Three things the Holy Ghost exhorteth to in this text.
The one is, That we look to our feet, and not be forward to crowd into God's presence.
Another is, That we should also look well to our tongues, that they be not rash in uttering any thing before God.
And the third is, Because of the infinite distance that is betwixt God and us, which is intimated by these words, "For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth."
The Publican therefore shewed great wisdom, holy shame, and humility, in this brave gesture of his, namely, in his standing afar off when he went up into the temple to pray. But this is not all.
Secondly, The Publican, in standing afar off, left room for an Advocate and high-priest, a Day's-man, to come betwixt, to make peace between God and his poor creature. Moses, the great mediator of the Old Testament, was to go nigher to God than the rest of the elders, or those of the people; Exod. xx. 21. Yea, the rest of the people were expressly commanded to worship, "standing afar off." No man of the sons of Aaron that had a blemish was to come nigh. "No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire. He shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God;" Lev. xxi. 21.
The Publican durst not be his own mediator; he knew he had a blemish, and was infirm, and therefore he stands back; for he knew that it was none of him that his God had chosen to come near unto him, to offer "the fat and the blood;" Ezek. xliv. 13-15. The Publican, therefore, was thus far right; he took not up the room himself, neither with his person nor his performances, but stood back, and gave place to the High-priest that was to be intercessor.
We read, that when Zacharias went into the temple to burn incense, as at the time his lot was, "The whole multitude of the people were praying without;" Luke i. 9, 10. They left him where he was, near to God, between God and them, mediating for them; for the offering of incense by the chief-priest was a figurative making of intercession for the people, and they maintained their distance.
It is a great matter in praying to God, not to go too far, nor come too short, in that duty, I mean in the duty of prayer; and a man is very apt to do one or the other. The Pharisee went so far; he was too bold; he came into the temple making such a ruffle with his own excellencies, that there was in his thoughts no need of a Mediator. He also went up so nigh to God, that he took up the room and place of the Mediator himself; but this poor Publican, he knows his distance, and keeps it, and leaves room for the High-priest to come and intercede for him with God. He stood afar off: not too far off; for that is the room and place of unbelievers; and in that sense this saying is true, "For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish;" Psalm lxxiii. 27; that is, they whose unbelief hath set their hearts and affections more upon their idols, and that have been made to cast God behind their backs, to follow and go a-whoring after them.
Hitherto, therefore, it appears, that though the Pharisee had more righteousness than the Publican, yet the Publican had more spiritual righteousness than the Pharisee; and that though the Publican had a baser and more ugly outside than the Pharisee, yet the Publican knew how to prevail with God for mercy better than he.
As for the Publican's posture of standing in prayer, it is excusable, and that by the very Father of the faithful himself: for Abraham stood praying when he made intercession for Sodom; Gen. xviii. 22, 23. Christ also alloweth it, where he saith, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses;" Mark xi. 25. Indeed there is no stinted order prescribed for our thus behaving of ourselves in prayer, whether kneeling, or standing, or walking, or lying, or sitting; for all these postures have been used by the godly. Paul "kneeled down and prayed;" Acts xx. 36. Abraham and the Publican stood and prayed. David prayed as he walked; 2 Sam. xv. 30, 31. Abraham prayed lying upon his face; Gen. xvii. 17,18. Moses prayed sitting; Exod. xvii. 12. And indeed prayer, effectual fervent prayer, may be, and often is, made unto God under all these circumstances of behaviour: for God has not tied us up to any of them; and he that shall tie himself, or his people, to any of these, doth more than he hath warrant for from God: and let such take care of innovating; it is the next way to make men hypocrites and dissemblers in those duties in which they should be sincere.
True, which of those soever a man shall choose to himself for the present, to perform this solemn duty in, it is required of him, and God expects it, that he should pray to him in truth, and with desire, affection, and hunger, after those things that with his tongue he maketh mention of before the throne of God. And indeed without this, all is nothing. But alas! how few be there in the world whose heart and mouth in prayer shall go together? Dost thou, when thou askest for the Spirit, or faith, or love to God, to holiness, to saints, to the word, and the like, ask for them with love to them, desire of them, hungering after them? Oh! this is a mighty thing! and yet prayer is no more before God, than as it is seasoned with these blessed qualifications. Wherefore it is said, that while men are praying, God is searching of the heart, to see what is the meaning of the Spirit (or whether there be the Spirit and his meaning in all that the mouth hath uttered, either by words, sighs, or groans), because it is by him, and through his help only, that any make prayers according to the will of God; Rom. viii. 26, 27. Whatever thy posture therefore shall be, see that thy prayers be pertinent and fervent, not mocking of thine own soul with words, while thou wantest, and art an utter stranger to, the very vital and living spirit of prayer.
Now, our Publican had and did exercise the very spirit of prayer in prayer. He prayed sensibly, seriously, affectionately, hungering, thirsting, and with longing after that for which with his mouth he implored the God of heaven; his heart and soul was in his words, and it was that which made his prayer PRAYER; even because he prayed in PRAYER; he prayed inwardly as well as outwardly.
David tells us, that God heard the voice of his supplication, the voice of his cry, the voice of his tears, and the voice of his roaring. For indeed are all these acceptable. Affection and fervent desire make them sound well in the ears of God. Tears, supplications, prayers, cries, may be all of them done in formality, hypocrisy, and from other causes, and to other ends, than that which is honest and right in God's sight: for God would search and look after the voice of his tears, supplications, roarings, prayers, and cries.
And if men had less care to please men, and more to please God, in the matter and manner of praying, the world would be at a better pass than it is. But this is not in man's power to help and to amend. When the Holy Ghost comes upon men with great conviction of their state and condition, and of the use and excellency of the grace of sincerity and humility in prayer, then, and not till then, will the grace of prayer be more prized, and the specious, flounting, complimentary lips of flatterers, be more laid aside. I have said it already, and will say it again, that there is now-a-days a great deal of wickedness committed in the very duty of prayer; by words of which men have no sense by reaching after such conclusion and clenshes therein, as make their persons be admired; by studying for, and labouring after, such enlargements as the spirit accompanieth not the heart in. O Lord God, make our hearts upright in us, as in all points and parts of our profession, so in this solemn appointment of God! "If I regard iniquity in my heart," said David, "the Lord will not hear my prayer." But if I be truly sincere, he will; and then it is no matter whether I kneel, or stand, or sit, or lie, or walk; for I shall do none of these, nor put up my prayers under any of these circumstances, lightly, foolishly, and idly, but to beautify this gesture with the inward working of my mind and spirit in prayer; that whether I stand or sit, walk or lie down, grace and gravity, humility and sincerity, shall make my prayer profitable, and my outward behaviour comely in his eyes, with whom (in prayer) I now have to do.
And had not our Publican been inwardly seasoned with these, Christ would have taken but little pleasure in his modes and outward behaviour: but being so honest inwardly, and in the matter of his prayer, his gestures by that were made beauteous also; and therefore it is that our Lord so delightfully delateth upon them, and draweth them out at length before the eyes of others.
I have often observed, that which is natural and so comely in one, looks odiously when imitated by another. I speak as to gestures and actions in preaching and prayer. Many, I doubt not, but will imitate the Publican, and that both in the prayer and gestures of the Publican, whose persons and actions will yet stink in the nostrils of him that is holy and just, and that searcheth the heart and the reins.
Well, the Publican stood and prayed; he stood afar off, and prayed, and his prayers came even to the ears of God.
"And the Publican standing afar off would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven," &c.
We are now come to another of his postures. He would not, says the text, so much as lift up his eyes to heaven. Here, therefore, was another gesture added to that which went before; and a gesture that a great while before had been condemned by the Holy Ghost himself. "Is it such a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush?" Isa. lviii. 5.
But why condemned then, and smiled upon now? Why? Because done in hypocrisy then, and in sincerity now. Hypocrisy, and a spirit of error, that he shall take no pleasure in them; but sincerity, and honesty in duties, will make even them comely in the sight of men— may I not say before God? The Rechabites were not commanded of God, but of their father, to do as they did; but, because they were sincere in their obedience thereto, even God himself maketh use of what they did, to condemn the disobedience of the Jews; and, moreover, doth tell the Rechabites at last, that they should not want a man to stand before him for ever. "And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you; therefore, thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not want a man to stand before me for ever."
He would not lift up his eyes to heaven. Why? Surely because shame had covered his face. Shame will make a man blush and hang his head like a bulrush; shame for sin is a virtue, a comely thing; yea, a beauty-spot in the face of a sinner that cometh to God for mercy.
God complains of the house of Israel, that they could sin, and that without shame; yea, and threateneth them too with sore repeated judgments, because they were not ashamed; it is in Jer. viii. Their crimes in general were, they turned every one to his course, as the horse runneth into the battle. In particular, they were such as rejected God's word; they loved this world, and set themselves against the prophets, crying, "Peace, peace," when they cried, "Judgment, judgment!" And were not ashamed when they had committed abomination; "Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush; therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord;" ver. 12. Oh! to stand, or sit, or lie, or kneel, or walk before God in prayer, with blushing cheeks for sin, is one of the most excellent sights that can be seen in the world.
Wherefore the church taketh some kind of heart to herself in that she could lie down in her shame; yea, and makes that a kind of an argument with God to prove that her prayers did come from her heart, and also that he would hear them; Jer. iii. 22-25.
Shame for sin argueth sense of sin, yea, a right sense of sin, a godly sense of sin. Ephraim pleads this when under the hand of God: I was (saith he) "ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." But what follows? "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord;" Jer. xxxi. 19, 20.
I know that there is a shame that is not the spirit of an honest heart, but that rather floweth from sudden surprisal, when the sinner is unawares taken in the act—in the very manner. And thus sometimes the house of Israel were taken: and then, when they blushed, their shame is compared to the shame of a thief. "As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets."
But where were they taken, or about what were they found? Why, they were found "saying to a stock, Thou art my father, and to a stone, thou hast brought me forth." God catched them thus doing; and this made them ashamed, even as the thief is ashamed when the owner doth catch him stealing his horse.
But this was not the Publican's shame. This shame brings not a man into the temple to pray, to stand willingly, and to take shame before God in prayer. This shame makes one rather to fly from his face, and to count one's self most at ease when farthest off from God; Jer. ii. 26, 27.
The Publican's shame, therefore, which he demonstrated by hanging down his head, was godly and holy, and much like that of the prodigal, when he said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;" Luke xv. 21. I suppose that his postures were much the same with the Publican's, as were his prayers, for the substance of them. O however grace did work in both to the same end! they were both of them, after a godly manner, ashamed of their sins.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven."
He could not, he would not: which yet more fully makes it appear, that it was shame, not guilt only, or chiefly, though it is manifest enough that he had guilt; by his crying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." I say, guilt was not the chief cause of hanging down his head, because it saith, he WOULD not; for when guilt is the cause of stooping, it lieth not in the will, or in the power thereof, to help one up.
David tells us, that when he was under guilt, his iniquities were gone over his head: as an heavy burden, they were too heavy for him; and that with them he was bowed down greatly. Or, as he says in another place, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up;" Psalm xxxviii.; xl. I am not able to do it: guilt disableth the understanding, and conscience; shame makes all willingly fall at the feet of Christ.
He would not. He knew what he was, what he had been, and should be, if God had not mercy upon him; yea, he knew also that God knew what he was, had been, and would be, if mercy prevented not; wherefore, thought he, Wherefore should I lift up the head? I am no righteous man, no godly man, I have not served God, but Satan; this I know, this God knows, this angels know, wherefore I will not lift up the head. It is as much as to say, I will not be an hypocrite, like the Pharisee: for lifting up of the head signifies innocency and harmlessness of life, or good conscience, and the testimony thereof, under and in the midst of all accusations. Wherefore this was the counsel of Zophar to Job—"If," saith he, "thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hand towards him; if iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear;" Job xi. 13-15.
This was not the Publican's state: he had lived in lewdness and villany all his days; nor had he prepared his heart to seek the Lord God of his fathers; he had not cleansed his heart nor hands from violence, nor done that which was lawful and right. He only had been convinced of his evil ways, and was come into the temple as he was, all foul, and in his filthy garments, and amidst his pollutions; how then could he be innocent, holy, or without spot? and, consequently, how could he lift up his face to God? I remember what Abner said to Asahel, "Turn thee aside (said he) from following me, wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab, thy brother?" 2 Sam. ii. 22.
As if he had said, If I kill thee, I shall blush, be ashamed, and hang my head like a bulrush the next time I come into the company of thy brother.
This was the Publican's case: he was guilty, he had sinned, he had committed a trespass; and now being come into the temple, into the presence of that God whose laws he had broken, and against whom he had sinned, how could he lift up his head? how could he do it? No, it better became him to take his shame, and to hang his head in token of guilt; and indeed he did, and did it to purpose too, for he would not lift up, no not so much as his eyes to heaven.
True, some would have done it; the Pharisee did it; though if he had considered that hypocrisy and the leaning to his own righteousness had been a sin, he would have found as little cause to have done it as did the Publican himself. But, I say he did it, and sped therein; he went down to his house, as he came up into the temple, a poor unjustified Pharisee, whose person and prayer were both rejected; because, like the whore of whom we read in the Proverbs, after he had practised all manner of hypocrisy, he comes into the temple and wipes his mouth, and saith, "I have done no wickedness;" Prov. xxx. 20. He lifts up his head, his face, his eyes, to heaven; he struts, he vaunts himself; he swaggers, he vapours, and cries up himself, saying, "God I thank thee that I am not as other men are."
True, had he come and stood before a stock or stone, he might have said thus, and not have been reprehended; for such are gods that see not, nor hear, neither do they understand. But to come before the true God, the living God, the God that fills heaven and earth by his presence, and that knows the things that come into the mind of man, even every one of them; I say, to come into his house, to stand before him, and thus to lift up his head and eyes in such hypocrisy before him, this was abominable, this was to tempt God, and to prove him, yea, to challenge him to know what was in man, if he could, even as those who said, "How doth God (see) know? can he judge through the dark cloud?" Job xxii. 13; Psalm lxxiii. 11.
But the Publican—no—he would not do this; he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. As who should say, O Lord, I have been against thee a traitor and a rebel, and like a traitor and a rebel before thee will I stand. I will bear my shame before thee in the presence of the holy angels; yea, I will prevent thy judging of me by judging myself in thy sight, and will stand as condemned before thee before thou passest sentence upon me.
This is now for a sinner to go to the end of things. For what is God's design in the work of conviction for sin, and in his awakening of the conscience about it? What is his end, I say, but to make the sinner sensible of what he hath done, and that he might unfeignedly judge himself for the same. Now this our Publican doth; his will therefore is now subjected to the word of God, and he justifies him in all his ways and works towards him. Blessed be God for any experience of these things.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven." He knew by his deeds and deservings that he had no portion there; nor would he divert his mind from the remembering, and from being affected with the evil of his ways.
Some men, when they are under the guilt and conviction of their evil life, will do what they can to look any way, and that on purpose to divert their minds, and to call them off from thinking on what they have done; and by their thus doing, they bring many evils more upon their souls; for this is a kind of striving with God, and a shewing a dislike to his ways. Would not you think, if when you are shewing your son or your servant his faults, if he should do what he could to divert and take off his mind from what you are saying, that he striveth against you, and sheweth dislike of your doings? What else mean the complaints of masters and of fathers in this matter? "I have a servant, I have a son, that doth contrary to my will." "O but why do you not chide them for it?" The answer is, "So I do; but they do not regard my words; they do what they can, even while I am speaking, to divert their minds from my words and counsels." Why, all men will cry out, "This is base; this is worthy of great rebuke; such a son, such a servant, deserveth to be shut out of doors, and so made to learn better breeding by want and hardship."
But the Publican would not divert his mind from what at present God was about to make him sensible of, no, not by a look on the choicest object; he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. They are but bad scholars whose eyes, when their master is teaching of them, are wandering off their books.
God saith unto men, when he is teaching them to know the evil of their ways, as the angel said to the prophet when he came to shew him the pattern of the temple, "Son of man," says he, "behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither;" Ezek. xl. 4. So to the intent that God might shew to the Publican the evil of his ways, therefore was he brought under the power of convictions, and the terrors of the law; and he also, like a good learner, gave good heed unto that lesson that now he was learning of God; for he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.
Looking downwards doth ofttimes bespeak men very ponderous and deep in their cogitations; also that the matter about which in their minds they are now concerned hath taken great hold of their spirits. The Publican hath now new things, great things, and long-lived things, to concern himself about: his sins, the curse, with death, and hell, began now to stare him in the face: wherefore it was no time now to let his heart, or his eyes, or his cogitations, wander, but to be fixed, and to be vehemently applying of himself (as a sinner) to the God of heaven for mercy.
Few know the weight of sin. When the guilt thereof takes hold of the conscience, it commands homewards all the faculties of the soul. No man can go out or off now: now he is wind-bound, or, as Paul says, "caught:" now he is made to possess bitter days, bitter nights, bitter hours, bitter thoughts; nor can he shift them, for his sin is ever before him. As David said, "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me,"—in my eye, and sticketh fast in every one of my thoughts; Psalm li. 3.
"He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast." This was the third and last of his gestures; he "Smote upon his breast," to wit, with his hand, or with his fist. I read of several gestures with the hand and foot, according to the working and passions of the mind. It is said, "Balak smote his hands together," being angry because that Balaam had blessed and not cursed for him the children of Israel.
God says also, that he had smitten his hands together at the sins of the children of Israel. God also bids the prophet stamp with his feet, and smite with his hand upon his thigh (Num. xxiv. 10; Ezek. xxii. 13; vi. 11; xxi. 12), upon sundry occasions, and at several enormities; but the Publican here is said to smite upon his breast. And,
1. Smiting upon the breast betokeneth sorrow for something done. This is an experiment common among men; and indeed, therefore (as I take it), doth our Lord Jesus put him under this gesture in the act and exercise of his repentance, because it is that which doth most lively set it forth.
Suppose a man comes to great damage for some folly that he has wrought, and he be made sorrowful for (being and) doing such folly, there is nothing more common than for such a man (if he may) to walk to and fro in the room where he is, with head hung down, fetching ever and anon a bitter sigh, and smiting himself upon the breast in his dejected condition: "But smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
2. Smiting upon the breast is sometimes a token of indignation and abhorrence of something thought upon. I read in Luke, that when Christ was crucified, those spectators that stood to behold the barbarous usage that he endured at the hands of his enemies, smote their breasts and returned. "And all the people (says Luke) that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned;" Luke xxiii. 48. Smote their breasts; that is, in token of indignation against, and abhorrence of, the cruelty that was used to the Son of God.
Here also we have our Publican smiting upon his breast in token of indignation against, and abhorrence of, his former life; and indeed, without indignation against, and abhorrence of, his former life, his repentance had not been good. Wherefore the apostle doth make indignation against sin, and against ourselves, one of the signs of true repentance; 2 Cor. vii. 11; and his indignation against sin in general, and against his former life in particular, was manifested by his smiting upon the breast, even as Ephraim's smiting upon the thigh was a sign and token of his: "Surely (says he), after that I was turned, I repented: and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth;" Jer. xxxi. 19. Man, when he vehemently dislikes a thing, is very apt to shew a dislike to that thing by this or another outward gesture; as in snuffing or snorting at it, or in deriding; or, as some say, in blowing of their noses at it; Ezek. viii. 17; Mal. i. 13. But the Publican here chooseth rather to use this most solemn posture; for smiting upon the breast seems to imply a more serious, solemn, grave way or manner of dislike, than any of those last mentioned do.
3. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate a quarrel with the heart, for beguiling, deluding, flattering, seducing, and enticing of him to sin; for as conviction for sin begets in man (I mean if it be thorough) a sense of the sore and plague of the heart, so repentance (if it be right) begets in man an outcry against the heart; forasmuch as by that light, by which repentance takes occasion, the sinner is made to see that the heart is the fountain and well-spring of sin. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, covetousness," &c.; Mark vii. 21-23. And hence it is that commonly young converts do complain so of their hearts, calling them wicked, treacherous, deceitful, desperate ones.
Indeed, one difference between true and false repentance lieth in this. The man that truly repents crieth out of his heart; but the other, as Eve, upon the serpent, or something else. And that the Publican perceived his heart to be naught, I conclude, by his smiting upon his breast.
4. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate one apprehensive of some new, sudden, strange, and amazing thing; as when a man sees some strange sight in the air, or heareth some sudden or dismal sound in the clouds; why, as he is struck into a deep damp in his mind, so it is a wonder if he can keep or hold back from smiting upon his breast.
Now, oftentimes a sight of God and sense of sin comes to the sinner like a flash of lightning (not for short continuance, but) for suddeness, and so for surprisal; so that the sinner is struck, taken and captivated to his own amazement, with what so unexpectedly is come upon him. It is said of Paul at his conversion, that when conviction of his bad life took fast hold of his conscience, he trembled, and was astonished (Acts ix. 6); and although we read not of any particular circumstance of his behaviour under his conviction outwardly, yet it is almost impossible but he must have had some, and those of the most solid sort. For there is such a sympathy betwixt the soul and the body, that the one cannot be in distress or comfort, but the other must partake of and also signify the same. If it be comfort, then it is shewn by leaping, skipping, cheerfulness of the countenance, or some other outward gesture. If it be sorrow or heaviness of spirit, then that is shewed by the body, in weeping, sighing, groaning, shaking of the head, a louring countenance, stamping, smiting upon the thigh or breast, as here the Publican did.
We must not, therefore, look upon these outward actions or gestures of the Publican to be empty, insignificant things; but to be such, that in truth did express and shew the temper, frame, and complexion of his soul. For Christ, the wisdom of God, hath mentioned them to that very end, that in and by them might be held forth, and that men might see as in a glass, the very emblem of a converted and truly penitent sinner. He "smote upon his breast."
5. Smiting upon the breast is sometimes to signify a mixture of distrust, joined with hope. And, indeed, in young converts, hope and distrust, or a degree of despair, do work and answer one another, as doth the noise of the balance of the watch in the pocket. Life and death is always the motion of the mind then, and this noise continues until faith is stronger grown, and until the soul is better acquainted with the methods and ways of God with a sinner. Yea, were but a carnal man in a convert's heart, and could see, he could discern these two, to wit, hope and fear, to have continual motion in the soul; wrestling and opposing one another, as doth light and darkness in striving for the victory.
And hence it is that you find such people so fickle and uncertain in their spirits; now on the mount, then in the valleys; now in the sunshine, then in the shade: now warm, then frozen; now bonny and blithe, then in a moment pensive and sad, as thinking of a portion nowhere but in hell. This will cause smiting on the breast; nor can I imagine that the Publican was as yet farther than thus far in the Christian's progress.
6. Smiting upon the breast seems to intimate, that the party so doing is very apprehensive of some great loss that he has sustained, either by negligence, carelessness, foolishness, or the like. And this is the way in which men do lose their souls. Now, to lose a thing, a great thing, the only choice thing that a man has, negligently, carelessly, foolishly, or the like, why, it puts aggravations into the thoughts of the loss that the man has sustained, and aggravations into the thoughts of them go out of the soul, and come in upon a sudden, even as the bailiff or the king's serjeant-at-arms, and at every appearance of them, makes the soul start; and starting, it smites upon the breast.
I might multiply particulars; but to be brief, we have before us a sensible soul, a sorrowful soul, a penitent soul; one that prays indeed, that prays sensibly, affectionately, effectually; one that sees his loss, that fears and trembles before God in consideration of it, and one that knows no way but the right way, to secure himself from perishing, to wit, by having humble and hearty recourse to the God of heaven for mercy.
I should now come to speak something by way of use and application: but before I do that, I will briefly draw up, and present you with a few conclusions that in my judgment do naturally flow from the text; therefore in this place I will read over the text again.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, the other a Publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the Publican standing afar off would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
From these words I gather these several conclusions, with these inferences.
1. It doth not always follow, that they that pray do know God, or love him, or trust in him. This conclusion is evident by the Pharisee in the text; he prayed, but he knew not God, he loved not God, he trusted not in God; that is, he knew him not in his Son, nor loved, nor trusted in him. He was, though a praying man, far off from this.
Whence it may be inferred, that those that pray not at all cannot be good, cannot know, love, or trust in God. For if the star, though it shine, is not the sun, then surely a clod of dirt cannot be the sun. Why, a praying man doth as far outstrip a non-praying man as a star outstrips a clod of earth. A non-praying man lives like a beast. "The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but this man doth not know, but this man doth not consider;" Isa. i. 3. The prayerless man is therefore of no religion, except he be an Atheist, or an Epicurean. Therefore the non-praying man is numbered among the heathens, and among those that know not God, and is appointed and designed by the sentence of the word to the fearful wrath of God; Psal. lxxix. 6; Jer. x. 25.
2. A second conclusion is, That the man that prays, if in his prayer he pleads for acceptance, either in whole or in part, for his own good deeds, is in a miserable state. This also is gathered from the Pharisee here; he prayed, but in this prayer he pleaded his own good deeds for acceptance, that is, of his person, and therefore went down to his house unjustified. And he is in this condition that doth thus. The conclusion is true, forasmuch as the Pharisee mentioned in the parable is not so spoken of for the sake of that sect of men, but to caution, forewarn, and bid all men take heed, that they by doing as he, procure not their rejection of God, and be sent away from his presence unjustified. I do therefore infer from hence, that if he that pleadeth his own good doing for personal acceptance with God be thus miserable, then he that teacheth men so to do is much more miserable.
We always conclude, that a ring-leader in an evil way is more blame- worthy than those that are led of him. This falls hard upon the leading Socinians and others, who teach that men's works make their persons accepted of God.
True, they say, through Christ; but that is brought in merely to delude the simple with, and is an horrible lie; for we read not in all the word of God as to personal justification in the sight of God from the curse (and that is the question under consideration), that it must be by man's righteousness as made prevalent by Christ's, but contrariwise, by his and his only, without the deeds, works, or righteousness of the law, which is our righteousness. Wherefore, I say, the teachers and leaders of this doctrine have the greater sin.
3. A third conclusion is, They that use high and flaunting language in prayer, their simplicity and godly sincerity is to be questioned as to the doing of that duty sincerely. This still flows from our text; the Pharisee greatly used this: for higher and more flaunting language can hardly be found than in the Pharisee's mouth; nor will ascribing to God by the same mouth laud and praise help the business at all: for to be sure, where the effect is base and rotten, the cause cannot be good.
The Pharisee would hold himself that he was not as other men, and then gives thanks to God for this: but the conclusion was most vilely false, and therefore the praise for it could not but be foolish, vain, and frivolous. Whence I infer, that if to use such language in prayer is dangerous, then to affect the use thereof is yet more dangerous. Prayer must be made with humble hearts and sensible words, and of that we have treated before; wherefore high, flaunting, swelling words of vanity, become not a sinner's mouth; no, not at any time; much less when he comes to, and presents himself before God in that solemn duty of prayer. But, I say, there are some that so affect the Pharisee's mode, that they cannot be well if in some sort or other they be not in the practice of it, not knowing what they say, nor whereof they affirm; but these are greatly addicted to hypocrisy and desire of vain-glory, especially if the sound of their words be within the reach of other men's ears.
4. A fourth conclusion is, That reformation and amendment, though good, and before men, are nothing as to justification with God. This is manifest by the condition of our Pharisee: he was a reformed man, a man beyond others for personal righteousness, yet he went out of the temple from God unjustified; his works came to nothing with God. Hence I infer, that the man that hath nothing to commend him to God of his own, yet stands as fair before God for justification, and so acceptance, as any other man in the world.
5. A fifth conclusion is, It is the sensible sinner, the self- bemoaning sinner, the self-judging sinner, the self-abhorring sinner, and the self-condemning sinner, whose prayers prevail with God for mercy. Hence I infer, that one reason why men make so many prayers, and prevail no more with God is, because their prayers are rather the floatings of Pharisaical fancies than the fruits of sound sense of sin, and sincere desires of enjoying God in mercy, and in the fruits of the Holy Ghost.