BY contrast with the arrogant and egotistical boast of the Pharisee, and on the score of its natural modesty, this prayer of the Publican wins the respect of all classes of people. But to enter into the anxious and burdened feeling out of which such a cry of sorrow must have sprung, and to make that feeling our own, is not so much a matter of course. This requires some thing of those more earnest exercises of the interior life, and that deeper discipline, which involve the very presence and power of the renewing Spirit.

This man, standing here before God, afar off from his fellow-men, the very image of depression, not so much as his eyes lifted, pronounces himself a sinner. And this expression of conscious unworthiness is not made as a piece of information to heaven or earth. It is simply the irrepressible confession of sincerity, pressed out of the soul by a longing for forgiveness ; short, because so terribly sincere. The straitened spirit in its anguish has no room for prolix particulars. The very sound of the words, the downcast look, the withdrawn


* Preached at the beginning of Lent, 1859.



position, the agonized gesture, as well as the character Christ puts upon these things, betray the reality of his repentance. The thing they expose to us is human sin, its self-conviction, its wretchedness, its way of relief. It is with this disease of the moral nature as it is with some sorts of physical disorder ; the sight of it is repulsive and forbidding, till the malady is acknowl edged in our own body. Then for the first time, when the pain throbs along our nerves, we are willing to contemplate it without impatience. It is a spectacle of ugliness and humiliation, from which men are eager to turn away their eyes, till they feel its hurt and peril pressing into the organs of their own frames. The prosperous and self-satisfied and unawakened say, Why talk to us of sin ?

One reason why, is that it is a fact pervading the


world. Another is, that it is the greatest of evils, and the malignant source of all evils that exist, being the sting of death itself. Another, that it is, or will be, incomparably the greatest of miseries, a misery that only a knowledge and a feeling of sin like the publican s can prevent. Still another reason is, that Christ and his religion continually refer to it, having it for their express object to take man out from its control and give him the mastery over it. So that it has come about, as the divine order for us, taken as we are, that a quickened individual conviction of sin is the first step in passing into a new and Christian life.

An individual conviction. After all, what probably goes far to make all human discoursing about sin both unwelcome and ineffectual, is that so* much of it is a rebuke of man by man rather than the humble confession of a common wrong. We must acknowledge, also, that


in our public and formal treatment of it, we are apt to fall into cool, customary, unfelt language. That is, there is too much of the Pharisaic method in our judg


ment and speech about the world s depravity ; too much vagueness, and verbal repetition, and tacit complacency ; not enough of the sadness and sincere solemnity of the publican. Let us at least try to feel what we say, and put ourselves in with those that we rebuke, not to make out a bad case against mankind, but to help each other into God s way of delivering us from the bad case we are actually in. Observe, in all his intercourse with men, Christ displayed the utmost tenderness to those who had found out that they were sinners, all that ran and knelt to him in penitence. His woes and threatenings and judgments were for those that were sinners without confessing it.

The sinning man is here presented to us as having given personal offence to his Maker. He implores for giveness of the Father he has offended. All our evil, in act, or word, or wish, or thought, is a direct wrong against the God of all goodness and purity, himself. When we offend, it is not merely ourselves, not merely other men, not merely public opinion and social conven tions, that we offend. Ah, this notion that there is no other iniquity for man than a transgression of the natu ral laws of his own constitution, and that no hurt is inflicted biit on his own or some human sensibility, is not at all the doctrine of Christ or of the Bible. There


is grief with God himself. A wound is given to the infinite and loving heart. A jar is sent not only through the air of this world, and across the chords of humanity, but up to the ear of heaven and into the Spirit of pa rental tenderness on high. Man is responsible to some-


thing beyond his own organization. Remorse is not merely the after-thought of a mistaken self-interest, the reconsideration of a hasty policy. Doubtless the wrong is double, and the suffering is on both sides. " He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul." But mark the first clause, " Sinneth against me." As the blessing of truth is alike to heaven and earth, giving health and light, so are the curse and the pain of sin felt all along the immortal and sympathetic ranks of being. As godliness is profitable both to the life that now is and the life that is to come, so is wickedness a blight and a sorrow. And of both of these lives, and of all the worlds, God is a judge who must be just, and a ruler who must uphold the right, as well as a feeling Father who sorrows and pities. Those who have the dimmest sense of God have


the dullest perception of what is opposite to God. Pan theism knows nothing of sin. As prayer is something more than a placid meditation on the beauty of the world or a gallery of art, Christian faith something more than confidence in our own powers to accom plish what we undertake, and religion something more than the tranquil balance of cultivated faculties, so is sin a personal affront, whose bitter consequences only the forgiveness of God himself can remove, and toward which, with the publican, we must implore him to be merciful. It does not read, " Nature be merciful," nor " Laws of my constitution be merciful," nor " So ciety be merciful," nor, " I will be merciful to myself," but, " GOD be merciful ; " nor yet, " God be merciful to sin in general," but " to me a sinner."

Men of the ripest attainments, deepest experience, and clearest insight in the Christian life, have been


those who have gone through this sharp conflict; not men of easy views of the Divine requirements ; not men too fastidious to accept the stringent action of God s


law ; not men disposed to palliate their own faults, or to narrow down or reason away the irreconcilable oppo sition between a principle of self-seeking and the prin ciple of holy obedience. Indeed, in proportion as the religious character grows positive and fervent, the soul grows sensitive ; and while charity for others is larger and kindlier, for the very reason that the heart has so heavy a record to return of its own weaknesses and errors, at the same time a strict personal doctrine of sin seems more reasonable and right; for sin itself is only more and more dreadful. Conscience, stricken with shame, confesses to the reproof; while the soul, rising in aspiration, and gathering itself into closer communion with the purity of the heart of Christ, re pudiates with intenser disgust every unhallowed in clination.

We may contrive many plausible coverings and apol ogies ; for the sophistry of sin is as old as its pride. We may maintain that we are no worse than our neigh bors. One man extenuates his guilt ; another denies it altogether, and counts the charge of it an insult, not remembering who brings the charge with most searching severity and with the most fearful authority. We may admit the offence, but plead the violence of the temp tation, the treacherous opportunity, the customs of


society, the necessities of business. The first man that sinned cried, " The woman tempted me, and I did eat," and the tens of thousands of his descendants who sinned yesterday protested that they did not sin willingly ; they only did not see how they should "get along in the


world " without doing as they did. But whoso world ? and " get along " towards what ? Or, we sometimes think it quite hard that an amiable disposition, popular manners, punctual payments, and an occasional alms giving, are not suffered to stand for our excusing, if our Father in Heaven is forgotten or profaned. Yet all the while we know these to be poor, pitiful pretences, which never wholly satisfy the minds that make them. Deeper down, in some spot of your nature which the gracious Spirit has not yet permitted to be hardened and perverted utterly, is there not another verdict, rendered at another plea ? a voice that is ready sometimes to cry, " God be merciful to me a sinner " ?

So profoundly rooted is this religious instinct, the feeling that any thorough and effectual religious life


must be born through the pains of penitence, that you will probably have heard some persons deploring their feeble sense of sin. They say they are not pierced, or borne down, as they know they ought to be, with a keen and overwhelming conviction of their alienation and transgression. This is one of the common and most sincere confessions in the beginnings of religious concern. Men under moral conviction at once lament that they are insensible to their bad state, and yet show a lively sense of it in this very regret. They grieve because their grief is so small, and their condition con tradicts itself. It seems like a tangled knot in the mind. Is not the true explanation of it simply that there is a conflict, or an inequality, between the moral judgment and the spiritual emotions ? Conscience pronounces it our duty to realize and acknowledge our ingratitude and disobedience ; it says ought. But habit has made the heart dead. The feelings do not come up properly to


their part of the work. An apathy is on the soul ; legalism holds her in its bondage ; and till the subduing sight of the cross unseals the fountains of holy emotion,


there is only self-accusation, but no peace. Repentance has stung the conscience, but has not reached, renewed, and comforted the heart.

The three scriptural words that are most frequently employed to express the special effect of Christianity all convey the meaning that the soul is somehow, in every case, if left to itself, out of its right line of life, on a wrong course, looking the wrong way. These are Redemption, Salvation, Reconciliation. Redemption ; but why redeemed, except the soul has involved itself so helplessly in a false state, that this divine force must be interposed for its rescue ? Salvation ; but saved from what, if not from a peril and a misery incurred by a wicked will, and escaped only by the new principle of faith that comes of Christ ? Reconciliation ; but why reconciled, except there has been alienation ; and where the Father of goodness on the one side and his child on the other are estranged, where is it possible the occasion of alienation should be but in some perversity of the child ? In the same way, the words conversion, renew al, regeneration, repentance, words made familiar as the household speech of the church, unless we utterly discharge them of all honest meaning, impress it upon us that every one of us is out of his innocent subjection to God s will, sinning.


The whole machinery of heathen worship has been a device for ending man s controversy with his Ma ker. Under Christianity, the same idea only takes a more refined shape and a higher sanction. The heart comes to Christ because it carries its burden of sin to



every other system, philosophy, and teacher, only to bring- it back heavier and more galling than before.

The world over, in its serious hours the heart longs, sighs, groans, and travails with sorrows that cannot be uttered, to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death. The Scripture has no other doctrine of the matter, on any of its pages ; and scarcely one page where this is not. Read the burning confessions of the fifty-first Psalm, and of many another before and after it, where the fire of remorse, which is only the lurid re flection of sin, almost visibly scorches the Psalmist s heart ; read the terrible descriptions of that state of man


without his Redeemer written by Paul to the Romans ; or the tragic picture of Paul s own fearful struggles with the law of his members ; or the awful prophecies of a society forgetting its Lord, given in Jude. Re call the narratives of depravity in Scripture history, and the denunciations upon it by prophets, and the thrilling exhortations against it by apostles. Remember that the Bible begins with the first inroad of sin, and finishes with warnings of its punishments. Above all, remember that the first word of the new dispensation was 4; Re pent," and its consummation was the cross built on Calvary to assure forgiveness to " repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ ; " and you will hardly need to multiply these convincing tokens that all the ministrations of our religion to the human soul presuppose that we all have sinned, are sinners still. If any of you are disposed to complain that there is too much preaching against sin, apply your criticism to the Bible. The Christ whom we preach came to be a Saviour from sin, did he not ? How much better to think and feel thoroughly what sin is now, than when



the i: space for repentance " is exchanged for the deter minations of the judgment !

Suppose, then, any one of us to be conscious that he ought to hare a more living sense of his evils, assured that by that way only can he hope to come to a strong and pure religious character, how is that penitential frame to be produced ?

It must be by setting up a contrast : a contrast either between our own character and the character of God, or between our character as it is, and as it should be under the perfect Christian rule of duty and the in spiration of Christian faith.

To the character of God as expressed to us primarily in revelation, and less directly in nature and history, we ascribe the perfection of holiness. But this sentence is only a repetition of words ; and what we want is to get beyond this stale formality. TTe are to quicken in ourselves the true, right feeling of the publican, by reviving and strengthening, in every possible way. the impression of our Father s goodness. Could we only once break through this deadening influence of regu larity, where the very love of God is hidden in its own constancy ; could we see and feel that we are


indeed utterly, and always, and afresh every instant, at our Maker s disposal and dependent on his will, every fibre of the body kept in place by his care, and every breath inspired by him, and the whole spirit sub ject and amenable to him ; could we then begin to con sider his patience and recount his gifts, his patience with us from the cradle, and with the race from Eden, his gifts, as many as the organs, inlets, faculties, tissues, powers, of all our complex being multiplied by all the seconds of our life ; could we then rise from



this to some worthy conception of his own Infinite Life, boundless, fathomless, endless, yet all intensest life, the majesty, the might, the dominion, the purity, the pity, the wisdom, the love ; God forbearing with all this impious and disgusting folly, God enduring all this


abhorrent selfishness, God upholding all these unprofit able and unthankful creatures, if so be that possibly something may yet be recovered of their self-destruc tion, and the well-beloved Son dying for that ; and could we at last put in contrast with Him our lives, so mean, so weak, so bad, then should we not be ready to exclaim, with something more than a mere recitation of the memory, " Lord ! what is man that thou art mindful of him ? God be merciful to me a sinner ! "

Turn to the Scriptures. Another line of contrast is presented in the express standard of character set be fore us there. You take any of those great summa ries of obligation, which are gathered up here and there in the Scriptures like waymarks to the genera tions, easiest for the mind to hold, and oftenest re peated : let it be the ten Hebrew commands, interpreting them not only in the letter but the spirit, from that first and awful one, its rigor not superannuated by three thousand years, its vitality not outlawed because we have moved from the neighborhood of the Canaanites and our heathenism has changed its name and its garments, which declares, " Thou shalt have no other gods before me," prohibiting all our idols, self, friends, family, fame, property, down to that last of the ten,


which cuts so closely into our daily and hidden habits when it says, " Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor s." Or let it be the preacher s short but


difficult compendium, " the conclusion of the whole matter," "Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." Or let it be the prophet s persuasive generalization, putting it as so rea sonable, but still keeping it so far beyond us, " What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God " ? Or observe the wonderful blending of simplicity and power in the Be atitudes, pausing to think on what hearts, and what only, each " blessing " can descend. Or let it be the Saviour s double precept, more unattainable than all, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neigh bor as thyself." Or listen to that grand and stirring roll-call of the disciple s duties in Paul s twelfth chapter to the Romans. Or, finally, ponder that plain, brief definition of the practical James : " Pure religion, before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and


the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself un spotted from the world ! " weighing well the meas ure of that Christian cleanliness demanded in the latter clause, "to keep himself unspotted from the world." Let any of these or all of them be the statutes of the law and the will of your God. Remember all are without abatement, without exception, without qualifying clause, or proviso, or partiality, or respect of persons, the unrepealable command of the righteous Ruler of all ages and all worlds, not to be evaded, because he is Omniscient, and not to be broken, because the good of all would then be betrayed. And then, having these for the rule and requirement, let us lay them down, syllable after syllable, side by side, with our outer and inner life for a week, or a day, and behold the contradiction.


Place them beside the spiritual indifference and the moral obliquities ; the earth-bound attachments and the broken resolutions ; the obstinate self-will and the swerving aspirations ; the irritable temper and the inflated vanity ; the cunning calculations of self-ad vancement and the impulsive fires of passion. Watch


the conversation of a single company, its direct or insinuated slander, its envious or conceited judgments, its delight in censure and in the discovery of weakness, ill-disguised by moral protestations, its enormous pre ponderance of blame, its excesses of supply to admi ration or to appetite. Consider what a thing actual full-toned justice would be in the transactions and speech of society ; what a Christ-like mercy would do ; and how the splendor of an absolutely spotless soul would shine among us. Think what it must be to love God with all the heart, and to walk humbly with him. Reflect how full the world is of those precautions, safe guards, defences, which argue, from experience, a con stant expectation that men will do wrong, overreach and deceive, if they can. Let all this work of individual com parison be done honestly, fearlessly, faithfully, and with a prayer that even He who seeth in secret may be satis fied. And surely the argument will come to an end. It will break into the publican s prayer, " God be merci ful to me a sinner ! "

But let us not fail to take one step more. The actual impression of human sin which the Scriptures give, which the Saviour himself in this passage and elsewhere gives, is not made by specifying particular detailed acts of wrong, but by referring to the one great pervading sin


of an unbelieving, unrepenting, unconsecrated heart. This is the fatal thing, the depravity that is unto


death. You notice, and it seems to me a very striking fact, that while the Pharisee enumerates his merits, what he thinks his positive and negative virtues, his abstinences and proprieties and almsgivings, the Publi can does not pretend to enumerate his offences. Now, goodness that can be measured and counted off is not enough. Goodness is a principle, and that is measure less. Christ would show this publican as knowing that down underneath all particular sins there lies the one worse sin of a wrong soul, from which all the little ones spring and take their energy of mischief, the parent-sin of Satanic self-love that brings the whole vile progeny forth. It is not so much sins as sin that we have to confess and deplore. Some acts of evil will ever remain to be renounced. But the state of sin, nothing but a Christian renewal or a regeneration from the Spirit of God in the cross of Christ will change that. A mere indifference to the right, a mere imfilial forgetfulness of God, the mere coldness of disregard to Christ s com


passion, makes up that godless condition. The Fath er asks a filial spirit in his child ; the Saviour asks a disciple s affection. We cannot veil that deep gulf which stretches always between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not with any brilliant mist of kindly instincts or graceful accomplishments. This is life eternal, to know thec and thy Christ ! " Thou shalt love thy God."

My friends, we all shrink from the Pharisaic reputa-^ tion. Yet this must be true ; that if any of us are not penitent with the publican, the prodigal, the woman at the Redeemer s feet; if any of us are going on with habitual self-satisfaction, with no burning uneasiness, no bitter accusations, no sad shame within ; if the days


pass over us and bring no feeling with them that we are far from where we ought to be and might be, and far from what our Saviour has come to make us to be ; if we have not frequent hours of sorrowful self-scrutiny ; no solitary struggles with ourselves, and none of that secret pleading on our . knees for forgiveness which is


the only way any holy soul ever found to the kingdom of God, we may be sure that, though we should lack the effrontery to stand up and repeat the very inso lence of the Pharisee, yet we are with him in spirit, and shall go down to our houses to-day no more justified than he.

Finally, recall the truth, written in those common expectations of mankind which Paul well describes as a "certain fearful looking for of judgment" almost as clearly as in the volume of the Book, that an irre sistible power, mightier than any of our passions, and penetrating below our delusions, will dispel every mistake, bring all that is dark to light, and make every soul stand face to face with its sins. What wisdom in us to anticipate these disclosures and their retribu tion ! How reasonable that, seizing on all helps to wards reckoning the departures of our transgression, we should see what is the sin that most easily besets us!

No generalities here can adequately unveil our pri vate hearts. Pursue this salutary search, therefore, in the secrecy of your several retirements. Dismiss all concealments ; we may well dismiss them before the God who sees beneath them. Reject those too nattering


constructions which pride and self-excuse are always so ready to suggest, to quiet the disturbances of con science. Give penitence free way, for it cleanses while


it burns. Rebuke the whisper that says, " Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Plunge down into the darkest corners, not only among sins of the tongue and the street, of society and business, of the house and the hand, of the market and the Church, but among sins of forbidden desires, of subtle indulgence, of the temper and the imagination, sins that ally them selves, if they can, with noble impulses and warm affec tions, with the intellect and with honor. This will be a worthy sacrifice, an acceptable lenten service, such a fast as God hath chosen. And it will be a new wonder, if, at the end of that solemn scrutiny, we do not all im plore, with no need of exhortation from each other, " God be merciful to me a sinner ! "


In the Castle of Despair, Christian found the key of promise in his bosom. And this is the promise : " If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteous ness." " Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."




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