George Whitefield Sermon 34

The Pharisee and Publican

Luke 18:14, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather

than the other: For every one that exalteth himself, shall be abased; and

he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted."

Though there be some who dare to deny the Lord Jesus, and disbelieve

the revelation he has been pleased to give us, and thereby bring upon

themselves swift destruction; yet I would charitably hope there are but few

if any such among you, to whom I am now to preach the kingdom of God. Was I

to ask you, how you expect to be justified in the sight of an offended God?

I suppose you would answer, only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But, was I to come more home to your consciences, I fear that most would

make the Lord Jesus but in part their Savior, and go about, as it were, to

establish a righteousness of their own. And this is not thinking contrary

to the rules of Christian charity: for we are all self-righteous by nature;

it is as natural for us to turn to a covenant of works, as for the sparks

to fly upwards. We have had so many legal and so few free-grace preachers,

for these many years, that most professors now seem to be settled upon

their lees [residue, remains, grounds, settlings], and rather deserve the

title of Pharisees than Christians.

Thus it was with the generality of the people during the time of our

Lord's public ministration: and therefore, in almost all his discourses, he

preached the gospel to poor sinners, and denounced terrible woes against

proud self-justiciaries. The parable, to which the words of the text

belong, looks both these ways: For the evangelist informs us (ver. 9) that

our Lord "spake it unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were

righteous, and despised others." And a notable parable it is; a parable

worthy of your most serious attention. "He that hath ears to hear, let him

hear," what Jesus Christ speaks to all visible professors in it.

Ver. 10. "Two men went up to the temple to pray (and never two men of

more opposite characters) the one a Pharisee and the other a Publican." The

Pharisees were the strictest sect among the Jews. "I was of the strictest

sect, of the Pharisees," says Paul. They prayed often; not only so, but

they made long prayers; and, that they might appear extraordinary devout,

they would pray at the corners of the street, where two ways met, that

people going or coming, both ways, might see them. "They made broad (as our

Lord informs us) the borders of their phylacteries," they had pieces of

parchment sown to their long robes, on which some parts of the Scripture

were written, that people might from thence infer, that they were lovers of

the law of God. They were so very punctual and exact in outward

purifications, that they washed at their going out and coming in. They held

the washing of pots, brazen vessels and tables, and many other such-like

things they did. They were very zealous for the traditions of the fathers,

and for the observation of the rites and ceremonies of the church,

notwithstanding they frequently made void the law of God by their

traditions. And they were so exceedingly exact in the outward observation

of the Sabbath, that they condemned our Lord for making a little clay with

his spittle; and called him a sinner, and said, he was not of God, because

he had given sight to a man born blind, on the Sabbath-day. For these

reasons they were had in high veneration among the people, who were sadly

misled by these blind guides: they had the uppermost places in the

synagogues, and greetings in the market-places (which they loved dearly)

and were called of men, Rabbi; in short, they had such a reputation for

piety, that it became a proverb among the Jews, that, if there were but two

men saved, the one of them must be a Pharisee.

As for the Publicans, it was not so with them. It seems they were

sometimes Jews, or at least proselytes of the gate; for we find one here

coming up to the temple; but for the generality, I am apt to think they

were Gentiles; for they were gatherers of the Roman taxes, and used to

amass much wealth (as appears by the confession of Zaccheus, one of the

chief of them) by wronging men with false accusations. They were so

universally infamous, that our Lord himself tells his disciples, "the

excommunicated man should be to them as a heathen man, or a Publican." And

the Pharisees thought it a sufficient impeachment of our Lord's character,

that he was a friend to Publicans and sinners, and went to sit down with

them at meat.

But, however they disagreed in other things, they agreed in this, that

public worship is a duty incumbent upon all: for they both came up to the

temple. The very heathens were observers of temple-worship. We have very

early notice of men's sacrificing to, and calling upon the name of the

Lord, in the Old Testament; and I find it no where contradicted in the New.

Our Lord, and his apostles, went up to the temple; and we are commanded by

the apostle, "not to forsake the assembling ourselves together," as the

manner of too many is in our days; and such too, as would have us think

well of them, though they seldom or never tread the courts of the Lord's

house. But, though our devotions begin in our closets, they must not end

there. And, if people never show their devotions abroad, I must suspect

they have little or none at home. "Two men went up to the temple." And what

went they thither for? Not (as multitudes amongst us do) to make the house

of God a house of merchandise, or turn it into a den of thieves; much less

to ridicule the preacher, or disturb the congregation; no, they came to the

temple, says our Lord, "to pray." Thither should the tribes of God's

spiritual Israel go up, to talk with, and pour out their hearts before the

mighty God of Jacob.

"Two men went up to the temple to pray." I fear one of them forgot his

errand. I have often been at a loss what to call the Pharisee's address; it

certainly does not deserve the name of a prayer: he may rather be said to

come to the temple to boast, than to pray; for I do not find one word of

confession of his original guilt; not one single petition for pardon of his

past actual sins, or for grace to help and assist him for the time to come:

he only brings to God, as it were, a reckoning of his performances; and

does that, which no flesh can justly do, I mean, glory in his presence.

Ver. 11. "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."

Our Lord first takes notice of his posture; "the Pharisee STOOD," he

is not to be condemned for that; for standing, as well as kneeling, is a

proper posture for prayer. "When you stand praying," says our Lord; though

sometimes our Lord kneeled, nay, lay flat on his face upon the ground; his

apostles also kneeled, as we read in the Acts, which has made me wonder at

some, who are so bigoted to standing in family, as well as public prayer,

that they will not kneel, notwithstanding all kneel that are around them. I

fear there is something of the Pharisee in this conduct. Kneeling and

standing are indifferent, if the knee of the soul be bent, and the heart

upright towards God. We should study not to be particular in indifferent

things, lest we offend weak minds. What the Pharisee is remarked for, is

his "standing by himself:" for the words may be rendered, he stood by

himself, upon some eminent place, at the upper part of the temple, near the

Holy of holies, that the congregation might see what a devout man he was:

or it may be understood as we read it, he prayed by himself, or of himself,

out of his own heart; he did not pray by form; it was an extempore prayer:

for there are many Pharisees that pray and preach too, extempore. I do not

see why these may not be acquired, as well as other arts and sciences. A

man, with a good elocution [articulation, oratory, speech], ready turn of

thought, and good memory, may repeat his own or other men's sermons, and,

by the help of Wilkins or Henry,, may pray seemingly excellently well, and

yet not have the least grain of true grace in his heart; I speak this, not

to cry down extempore prayer, or to discourage those dear souls who really

pray by the spirit; I only would hereby give a word of reproof to those who

are so bigoted to extempore prayer, that they condemn, as least judge, all

that use forms, as though not so holy and heavenly, as others who pray

without them. Alas! this is wrong. Not every one that prays extempore is a

spiritual, nor every one that prays with a form, a formal man. Let us not

judge one another; let not him that uses a form, judge him that prays

extempore, on that account; and let not him that prays extempore, despise

him who uses a form.

"The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus by himself." Which may signify

also praying inwardly in his heart; for there is a way (and that an

excellent one too) of praying when we cannot speak; thus Anna prayed, when

she spoke not aloud, only her lips moved. Thus God says to Moses, "Why

criest thou?" when, it is plain, he did not speak a word. This is what the

apostle means by the "spirit making intercession (for believers) with

groanings which cannot be uttered." For there are times when the soul is

too big to speak; when God fills it as it were, and overshadows it with his

presence, so that it can only fall down, worship, adore, and lie in the

dust before the Lord. Again, there is a time when the soul is benumbed,

barren and dry, and the believer has not a word to say to his heavenly

Father; and then the heart only can speak. And I mention this for the

encouragement of weak Christians, who think they never are accepted but

when they have a flow of words, and fancy they do not please God at the

bottom, for no other reason but because they do not please themselves. Such

would do well to consider, that God knows the language of the heart, and

the mind of the spirit; and that we make use of words, not to inform God,

but to affect ourselves. Whenever therefore any of you find yourselves in

such a frame, be not discouraged: offer yourselves up in silence before

God, as clay in the hands of the potter, for him t write and stamp his own

divine image upon your souls. But I believe the Pharisee knew nothing of

this way of prayer: he was self-righteous, a stranger to the divine life;

and therefore either of the former explanations may be best put upon these


"He stood, and prayed thus with himself; God, I thank thee that I am

not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterer, or even as this

Publican." Here is some appearance of devotion, but it is only in

appearance. To thank God that we are not extortioners, unjust, adulterers,

and as wicked in our practices as other men are, is certainly meet, right,

and our bounden duty: for whatever degrees of goodness there may be in us,

more than in others, it is owing to God's restraining, preventing, and

assisting grace. We are all equally conceived and born in sin; all are

fallen short of the glory of God, and liable to all the curses and

maledictions of the law; so that "he who glorieth, must glory only in the

Lord." For none of us have any thing which we did not receive; and whatever

we have received, we did not in the least merit it, nor could we lay the

least claim to it on any account whatever: we are wholly indebted to free

grace for all. Had the Pharisee thought thus, when he said, "God, I thank

thee that I am not as other men are," it would have been an excellent

introduction to his prayer: but he was a free-willer, as well as self-

righteous (for he that is one must be the other) and thought by his own

power and strength, he had kept himself from these vices. And yet I do not

see what reason he had to trust in himself that he was righteous, merely

because he had to trust in himself that he was righteous, merely because he

was not an extortioner, unjust, adulterer; for all this while he might be,

as he certainly was (as is also every self-righteous person) as proud as

the devil. But he not only boasts, but lies before God (as all self-

justiciaries will be found liars here or hereafter.) He thanks God that he

was not unjust: but is it not an act of the highest injustice to rob God of

his prerogative? is it not an act of injustice to judge our neighbor? and

yet of both these crimes this self-righteous vaunter is guilty. "Even as

this Publican!" He seems to speak with the untmost disdain; this Publican!

Perhaps he pointed at the poor man, that others might treat him with the

like contempt. Thou proud, confident boaster, what hadst thou to do with

that poor Publican? supposing other Publicans were unjust, and

extortioners, did it therefore follow that he must be so? or, if he had

been such a sinner, how knowest thou but he has repented of those sins? His

coming up to the temple to pray, is one good sign of a reformation at

least. Thou art therefore inexcusable, O Pharisee, who thus judgest the

Publican: for thou that judgest him to be unjust, art, in the very act of

judging, unjust thyself: thy sacrifice is only the sacrifice of a fool.

We have seen what the Pharisee's negative goodness comes to; I think,

nothing at all. Let us see how far his positive goodness extends; for, if

we are truly religious, we shall not only eschew evil, but also do good: "I

fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."

The Pharisee is not here condemned for his fasting, for fasting is a

Christian duty; "when you fast," says our Lord, thereby taking it for

granted that his disciples would fast. And "when the bridegroom shall be

taken away, then shall they fast in those days." "In fasting often," says

the apostle. And all that would not be cast-aways, will take care, as their

privilege, without legal constraint, to "keep their bodies under, and bring

them into subjection." The Pharisee is only condemned for making a

righteousness of his fasting, and thinking that God would accept him, or

that he was any better than his neighbors, merely on account of his

fasting, and thinking that God would accept him, or that he was any better

than his neighbors, merely on account of his fasting: this is what he was

blamed for. The Pharisee was not to be discommended for fasting twice in a

week; I wish some Christians would imitate him more in this: but to depend

on fasting in the least, for his justification in the sight of God, was

really abominable. "I give tithes of all that I possess." He might as well

have said, I pay tithes. But self-righteous people (whatever they may say

to the contrary) think they give something to God. "I give tithes of all

that I possess:" I make conscience of giving tithes, not only of all that

the law requires, but of my mint, annise, and cummin, of all things

whatsoever I possess; this was well; but to boast of such things, or of

fasting, is pharisaical and devilish. Now then let us sum up all the

righteousness of this boasting Pharisee, and see what little reason he had

to trust in himself, that he was righteous, or to despise others. He is not

unjust (but we have only his bare word for that, I think I have proved the

contrary;) he is no adulterer, no extortioner; he fasts twice in the week,

and gives tithes of all that he possesses; and all this he might do, and a

great deal more, and yet be a child of the devil: for here is no mention

made of his loving the Lord his God with all his heart, which was the

"first and great commandment of the law;" here is not a single syllable of

inward religion; and he was not a true Jew, who was only one outwardly. It

is only an outside piety at the best; inwardly he is full of pride, self-

justification, free-will and great uncharitableness.

Were not the Pharisees, do you think, highly offended at this

character? for they might easily know it was spoken against them. And

though, perhaps, some of you may be offended at me, yet, out of love, I

must tell you, I fear this parable is spoken against many of you: for are

there not many of you, who go up to the temple to pray, with no better

spirit than this Pharisee did? And because you fast, it may be in the Lent,

or every Friday, and because you do no body any harm, receive the

sacrament, pay tithes, and give an alms now and then; you think that you

are safe, and trust in yourselves that you are righteous, and inwardly

despise those, who do not come up to you in these outward duties? this, I

am persuaded, is the case of many of you, though, alas! it is a desperate

one, as I shall endeavor to show at the close of this discourse.

Let us now take a view of the Publican, ver. 13. "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."

"The Publican standing afar off." Perhaps in the outward court of the

temple, conscious to himself that he was not worthy to approach the Holy of

holies; so conscious and so weighed down with a sense of his own

unworthiness, that he would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven,

which he knew was God's throne. Poor heart! what did he feel at this time!

none but returning publicans, like himself, can tell. Methinks I see him

standing afar off, pensive, oppressed, and even overwhelmed with sorrow;

sometimes he attempts to look up; but then, thinks he, the heavens are

unclean in God's sight, and the very angels are charged with folly; how

then shall such a wretch as I dare to lift up my guilty head! And to show

that his heart was full of holy self-resentment, and that he sorrowed after

a godly sort, he smote upon his breast; the word in the original implies,

that he struck hard upon his breast: he will lay the blame upon none but

his own wicked heart. He will not, like unhumbled Adam, tacitly lay the

fault of his vileness upon God, and say, The passions which thou gavest me,

they deceived me, and I sinned: he is too penitent thus to reproach his

Maker; he smites upon his breast, his treacherous, ungrateful, desperately

wicked breast; a breast now ready to burst: and at length, out of the

abundance of his heart, I doubt not, with many tears, he as last cries out,

"God be merciful to me a sinner." Not, God be merciful to yonder proud

Pharisee: he found enough in himself to vent his resentment against,

without looking abroad upon others. Not, God be merciful to me a saint; for

he knew "all his righteousnesses were but filthy rags." Not, God be

merciful to such or such a one; but, God be merciful to me, even to me a

sinner, a sinner by birth, a sinner in thought, word, and deed; a sinner as

to my person, a sinner as to all my performances; a sinner in whom is no

health, in whom dwelleth no good thing, a sinner, poor, miserable, blind

and naked, from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, full of

wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; a self-accused, self-condemned

sinner. What think you? would this Publican have been offended if any

minister had told him that he deserved to be damned? would he have been

angry, if any one had told him, that by nature he was half a devil and half

a beast? No: he would have confessed a thousand hells to have been his due,

and that he was an earthly, devilish sinner. He felt now what a dreadful

thing it was to depart from the living God: he felt that he was

inexcusable every way; that he could in nowise, upon account of any thing

in himself, be justified in the sight of God; and therefore lays himself at

the feet of sovereign mercy. "God be merciful to me a sinner." Here is no

confidence in the flesh, no plea fetched from fasting, paying tithes, or

the performance of any other duty; here is no boasting that he was not an

extortioner, unjust, or an adulterer. Perhaps he had been guilty of all

these crimes, at least he knew he would have been guilty of all these, had

he been left to follow the devices and desires of his own heart; and

therefore, with a broken and contrite spirit, he cries out, "God be

merciful to me a sinner."

This man came up to the temple to pray, and he prayed indeed. And a

broken and contrite heart God will not despise. "I tell you," says our

Lord, I who lay in the bosom of the Father from all eternity; I who am God,

and therefore know all things; I who can neither deceive, nor be deceived,

whose judgment is according to right; I tell you, whatever you may think of

it, or think of me for telling you so, "this man," this Publican, this

despised, sinful, but broken-hearted man, "went down to his house justified

(acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in the sight of God) rather than

the other."

Let Pharisees take heed that they do not pervert this text: for when

it is said, "This man went down to his house justified rather than the

other," our Lord does not mean that both were justified, and that the

Publican had rather more justification than the Pharisee: but it implies,

either that the Publican was actually justified, but the Pharisee was not;

or, that the Publican was in a better way to receive justification, than

the Pharisee; according to our Lord's saying, "The Publicans and Harlots

enter the kingdom of heaven before you." That the Pharisee was not

justified is certain, for "God resisteth the proud;" and that the Publican

was at this time actually justified (and perhaps went home with a sense of

it in his heart) we have great reason to infer from the latter part of the

text, "For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that

humbleth himself shall be exalted."

The parable therefore now speaks to all who hear me this day: for that

our Lord intended it for our learning, is evident, from his making such a

general application: "For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased,

and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

The parable of the Publican and Pharisee, is but as it were a glass,

wherein we may see the different disposition of all mankind; for all

mankind may be divided into two general classes. Either they trust wholly

in themselves, or in part, that they are righteous, and then they are

Pharisees; or they have no confidence in the flesh, are self-condemned

sinners, and then they come under the character of the Publican just now

described. And we may add also, that the different reception these men meet

with, points out to us in lively colors, the different treatment the self-

justiciary and self-condemned criminal will meet with at the terrible day

of judgment: "Every one that exalts himself shall be abased, but he that

humbleth himself shall be exalted."

"Every one," without exception, young or old, high or low, rich or

poor (for God is no respecter of persons) "every one," whosoever he be,

that exalteth himself, and not free-grace; every one that trusteth in

himself that he is righteous, that rests in his duties, or thinks to join

them with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, for justification in the sight

of God, though he be no adulterer, not extortioner, though he be not

outwardly unjust, nay, though he fast twice in the week, and gives tithes

of all that he possess; yet shall he be abased in the sight of all good men

who know him here, and before men and angels, and God himself, when Jesus

Christ comes to appear in judgment hereafter. How low, none but the

almighty God can tell. He shall be abased to live with devils, and make his

abode in the lowest hell for evermore.

Hear this, all ye self-justiciaries, tremble, and behold your doom! a

dreadful doom, more dreadful than words can express, or thought conceive!

If you refuse to humble yourselves, after hearing this parable, I call

heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that God shall visit you

with all his storms, and pour all the vials of his wrath upon your

rebellious heads; you exalted yourselves here, and God shall abase you

hereafter; you are as proud as the devil, and with devils shall you dwell

to all eternity. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked;" he sees your hearts,

he knows all things. And, notwithstanding you may come up to the temple to

pray, your prayers are turned into sin, and you go down to your houses

unjustified, if you are self-justiciaries; and do you know what it is to be

unjustified? why, if you are unjustified, the wrath of God abideth upon

you; you are in your blood; all the curses of the law belong to you: cursed

are you when you go out, cursed are you when you come in; cursed are your

thoughts, cursed are your words, cursed are your deeds; every thing you do,

say, or think, from morning to night is only one continued series of sin.

However highly you may be esteemed in the sight of men, however you may be

honored with the uppermost seats in the synagogues, in the church militant,

you will have no place in the church triumphant. "Humble yourselves

therefore under the mighty hand of God:" pull down every self-righteous

thought, and every proud imagination, that now exalteth itself against the

perfect, personal, imputed righteousness of the dear Lord Jesus: "For he

(and he alone) that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

He that humbleth himself, whatever be he: if, instead of fasting twice

in the week, he has been drunk twice in the week; if, instead of giving

tithes of all that he possesses, he has cheated the minister of his tithes,

and the king of his taxes; notwithstanding he be unjust, an extortioner, an

adulterer, nay, notwithstanding the sins of all mankind center and unite in

him; yet, if through grace, like the Publican, he is enabled to humble

himself, he shall be exalted; not in a temporal manner; for Christians must

rather expect to be abased, and to have their names cast out as evil, and

to lay down their lives for Christ Jesus in this world: but he shall be

exalted in a spiritual sense; he shall be freely justified from all his

sins by the blood of Jesus; he shall have peace with God, a peace which

passeth all understanding; not only peace, but joy in believing; he shall

be translated from the kingdom of Satan, to the kingdom of God's dear Son:

he shall dwell in Christ, and Christ in him: he shall be one with Christ,

and Christ one with him: he shall drink of divine pleasures, as out of a

river: he shall be sanctified throughout in spirit, soul and body; in one

word, he shall be filled with all the fullness of God. Thus shall the man

that humbleth himself be exalted here; but O, how high shall he be exalted

hereafter! as high as the highest heavens, even to the right-hand of God:

there he shall sit, happy both in soul and body, and judge angels; high,

out of the reach of all sin and trouble, eternally secure from all danger

of falling. O sinners, did you but know how highly God intends to exalt

those who humble themselves, and believe in Jesus, surely you would humble

yourselves, at least beg of God to humble you; for it is he that must

strike the rock of your hearts, and cause floods of contrite tears to flow

therefrom. O that God would give this sermon such a commission, as he once

gave to the rod of Moses! I would strike you through and through with the

rod of his word, until each of you was brought to cry out with the poor

Publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner." What pleasant language would

this be in the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth!

Are there no poor sinners among you? what, are you all Pharisees?

Surely, you cannot bear the thoughts of returning home unjustified; can

you? what if a fit of the apoplexy should seize you, and your souls be

hurried away before the awful Judge of quick and dead? what will you do

without Christ's righteousness? if you go out of the world unjustified, you

must remain so for ever. O that you would humble yourselves! then would the

Lord exalt you; it may be, that, whilst I am speaking, the Lord might

justify you freely by his grace. I observed, that perhaps the Publican had

a sense of his justification before he went from the temple, and knew that

his pardon was sealed in heaven: and who knows but you may be thus exalted

before you go home, if you humble yourselves? O what peace, love and joy,

would you then feel in your hearts! you would have a heaven upon earth. O

that I could hear any of you say (as I once heard a poor sinner, under my

preaching, cry out) He is come, He is come! How would you then, like him,

extol a precious, a free-hearted Christ! how would you magnify him for

being such a friend to Publicans and sinners? greater love can no man show,

than to lay down his life for a friend; but Christ laid down his life for

his enemies, even for you, if you are enabled to humble yourselves, as the

Publican did. Sinners, I know not how to leave off talking with you; I

would fill my mouth with arguments, I would plead with you. "Come, let us

reason together;" though your sins be as scarlet, yet, if you humble

yourselves, they shall be as white as snow. One act of true faith in

Christ, justifies you for ever and ever; he has not promised you what he

cannot perform; he is able to exalt you: for God hath exalted, and given

him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee shall

bow; nay, God hath exalted him to be not only a Prince, but a Savior. May

he be a Savior to you! and then I shall have reason to rejoice; in the day

of judgment, that I have not preached in vain, not labored in vain.