The Pharisee and the Publican
Luke 18:9-14
And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:…

The scene indicated by our Lord's opening sentences is easily realized. We readily picture to our minds the place and the two persons in whom we are interested - the haughty Pharisee and the humble-minded publican. We readily imagine their demeanor as they enter, their posture as they pray, their reception as they pass through the courts going and returning. But we ask how and why was it that the Pharisee was rejected and the publican accepted. And in reply we say:

1. In some respects the two men stood on the same ground. Both were free from the taint of idolatry and were worshipping God; both appreciated the privilege of prayer; both came to the same building, and, using the same invocation, each uttered the uppermost thought in his mind.

2. In some aspects the Pharisee seemed to have the advantage.

(1) He had the respect of the public, the good and God-fearing public, of the respectable people of his day;

(2) he had lived the worthiest life in all social and political relations;

(3) he was much the more "religious ' of the two, in the sense that his habit of life Was devout and charitable, while that of the publican had been godless and avaricious.

3. The terms of their respective prayers are not decisive of their acceptableness in the sight of God.

(1) A truly humble man might speak to God in the strain, though not in the spirit, of the Pharisee. It is quite right to thank God for being preserved from presumptuous sins and being kept in the path of rectitude and devotion (see Psalm 41:12, 13).

(2) A thoroughly formal worshipper might present the petition of the publican. How often, since then, have these or very similar words been used by "penitents" who have been impenitent, by those who have taken the language of humility on their lip while they "have regarded iniquity in their heart"! A modern writer (T. T. Lynch) represents these two men as going up again to the temple; but this time the Pharisee, adopting the publican's form of words in hope of acceptance, is again rejected; while the publican, giving thanks to God for his reconciliation and renewal, is again accepted -

"For sometimes tears and sometimes thanks,
But only truth can please." How, then, do we explain the fact that "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other"?

I. THE PHARISEE HAD FORMED A RADICALLY FALSE ESTIMATE of his own character, and the publican a true one of his. The Pharisee thought he was everything God wished him to be, and was miserably wrong in his estimate; he was reckoning that God cared chiefly if not exclusively for the outside in religion, that his favour was secured by ceremonies, by proprieties, by punctualities, by utterances of prescribed forms. He failed to understand that this was only the shell and not the kernel, and that the shell of correct behaviour is nothing without the kernel of a reverent and loving spirit. The publican, on the other hand, believed that he was very far from right with God; that he had been living a guilty life, and was condemned of God for so doing; and his thought was true.

II. THE PHARISEE'S FALSE ESTIMATE LED HIM INTO SELF-FLATTERY; the publican's true estimate into frank, penitential acknowledgment. Under the cover of gratitude, the one man paid himself handsome compliments, and held on high his great meritoriousness, thus confirming in his own mind the delusion that he was a favourite of Heaven; the other, moved by a deep sense of personal unworthiness, made honest confession of sin, and sought the mercy he knew he needed.

III. GOD HATES THE PROUD, AND HONOURS THE HUMBLE-HEARTED. Old and New Testaments may be said to be full of this truth. God has said and has repeated, he has most plainly and emphatically declared, that pride is odious and unpardonable in his sight; but that humility shall live before him (ver. 14; see also Psalm 32:5; Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 5:3; 1 Peter 5:6; 1 John 1:8, 9). Here is:

1. A message of solemn warning. It concerns those who are the spiritual descendants of the Pharisee; who are satisfied with their spiritual condition but have no right to be so; who are building the hope of their hearts on things which are external, but in whom the love of God does not dwell. And here is:

2. A message of gracious encouragement. It concerns those who are burdened with a sense of sin and need not remain so. The way of mercy is open to every penitent soul. Jesus Christ is the "Propitiation for the sins of the whole world," and the grace of God in him far more than suffices for every guilty heart. In him we have forgiveness of sins; in him we have peace and hope and joy, even eternal life. - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

WEB: He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others.

The Pharisee and the Publican
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