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|wo men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and 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."l
Grotius, one of the finest scholars in Europe, and withal a Christian, on hearing this parable read as he lay on his death-bed, murmured, "I am that publican I" So have thousands—probably millions—said, or felt. This parable of Jesus has been to them as a mirror which has revealed themselves, and, looking, they have stood confessed—" It is I; I am that publican."
What does a man mean when he thus puts himself in the place of the publican?
He means, I have nothing to say for myself to God . The Pharisee had a great deal to say for himself—a great deal too much; more than was true, though he no doubt was deluded enough to think it was all true. But the publican who heard what the Pharisee said of himself to God, felt he had nothing to say. He was just the sinner the Pharisee had declared he himself was not. The self-righteous man had spoken of him contemptuously to God as "this publican," and he was not disposed to resent it. Unlike his neighbour, he had nothing to say for himself to God or man. He could only appeal to the great, Infinite Heart, and say, "God be merciful to me, the sinner!"
So feels the penitent sinner when first stricken down under a sense of his sin. If a man feels he has anything to say for himself to God, he is not a true penitent, for he does not feel the enormity of his sin—does not feel he has much to repent of. A man who takes a true view of himself before God, feels himself to be a sinner, and without excuse. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is the man who is honest to his own soul and to God, who confesses himself to be a sinner. He may have been as bad as the Pharisee thought the publican to be; or he may have been as good a man, so far as the show of morality is concerned, as the Pharisee himself, or even better. But when the truth concerning his real state and condition of soul flashes upon him, he is speechless before God. His measure of himself is not by "other men" —not even by a publican or a criminal—but by the Law of God, a transcript of which he has within his own heart, written on his conscience. As he goes over the "points" of the law, he confesses that most of them he has violated; and, since " he that offendeth in one point is guilty of all," inasmuch as the law as a whole has been broken by him, so is he "guilty before God." When he goes to pray, therefore, he can only say, without so much as lifting his eyes to heaven, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
1 Luke xviii. 10-13.
And not only the conscience-stricken penitent, but the believer far advanced in the Divine life, often feels that this is the prayer for him. It sometimes happens that such a man discovers his own sinfulness more after, than when first he came back to God. He has set up in his heart the Bible ideal of a man—a man in Christ—and he feels how far he comes short of it. He may detect himself " secretly inclining to Adam the first" He may be conscious of backsliding—in heart, if not in life. Some latent tendency to a particular evil may reveal itself in his heart; or some good thing he has done may, under the burning light of conscience, be seen to have been actuated by unworthy and selfish motives. He may have been beset by a sudden temptation, and yielded to the sin. He may have been surprised into the committal of a sin that formerly was a habit with him. He may have struggled against the inclination to do the evil thing, and been mastered in the strife. And humbled, ashamed, there is but one prayer that rises to his lips, and it is that of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
So also has many a Christian indirectly confessed with the good and holy Grotius, "I am that publican." The review of life, with the keen insight which death seems to quicken, has awakened the conviction of utter sinfulnessThe bright light of Eternity, coming down upon the soul ere it entered it, has revealed dark blots of sin upon the character unsuspected till then; and, self-abased and troubled, the dying saint has felt himself a sinner, and passed into the presence of God praying for mercy.
And truly it may be said that, living or dying, this is the most fitting state of mind in which a man can draw near to God. Jesus says that the publican's was the true state for a man to be in, and his the true prayer. He declared the man who condemned himself to be "justified," rather than the man who justified himself; for, adds the Lord, "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
What a blessing that the mercy of God, to which the conscience-stricken soul appeals, is, like Himself, Infinite! Every true penitent may be sure of finding it. The riches of God's mercy have been revealed in Christ, "whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for our sins—and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Because He came, and by death made the atonement for sin; no sinner, pleading His merits, shall plead with heaven in vain. The man who acknowledges " I am that publican," may be sure that, for Christ's sake, God will be merciful to him the sinner.
Sinful, sighing to be blest;
Bound, and longing to be free;
"God be merciful to me I"
Sinfulness in all I see;
"God be merciful to me I"
[here is a wooden gate not far from my house. This gate, which admits to a pleasant walk a good deal frequented by the townsfolk, has been lately painted white. Its inviting surface has proved too strong a temptation for scribblers, and, consequently, the gate is now almost entirely covered over with writings in pencil. Of these writings, the good are very good; the bad, very bad. The gate has been taken advantage of by the wicked to advertise their own vile thoughts; while, on the other hand, piously-disposed people have tried to counteract the evil by writing texts of Scripture on the gate. The other day, as I laid my hand upon the gate to open it, my eye fell upon words I have often seen similarly written up: "Prepare to meet thy God," and immediately under them, "God is love."
The two texts furnished me with ample subject for meditation duriDg my walk, and it seemed to me that the one threw a very beautiful light upon the other.
The words, " Prepare to meet thy God," sound in the ear with a voice of terror. They are fitted to work conviction within the heart of the sinner. If he thinks of their meaning, and that a time is coming when he must meet God, that thought fills his mind with terror and dismay; for how can he, in his sins, appear before the great judgmentseat of God? But here it is that the sinner often falls into error. When such thoughts of God fill him with discomfort he very naturally seeks to banish them. God to him is a name of terror, and his heart shrinks within itself from One whom it conceives to be its enemy. Yet how different is the truth. "God is love." God is waiting, and willing to be gracious to that sinner. God is ready to bestow upon him the most precious gifts of His love.
The right way to prepare to meet a God of judgment at
last is to go now and meet a God of love. To meet Him
where His love is manifested in His Son Jesus Christ .
To prepare to meet a God of love is to prepare to meet forgiveness, and to meet blessing.
And that preparation is trust. We can trust anything to a wise and faithful and loving friend. Thus are we to trust God. He is wise, He is faithful, He is loving. If it were in the power of a loving mother to forgive all her child's sins against God, and give that child eternal life, the child might with the utmost confidence, and with a perfect assurance that there would be no disappointment, ask the mother for that glorious blessing. No earthly friend can bestow such a blessing; but our Father who is in heaven can. "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him?" The love of a mother to her child is but as a spark from the great central fire of the love of God. Trust God, and meet Him as a God of love in Christ Jesus, and you need have no fear to meet Him at last as the God of judgment. Nothing that loves God can ever perish; for there is eternal life in that love. Fear not, then, only believe, and you will know in your own blessed experience the salvation of our God.
Jfn % Jlfarar of S^mptafioit.
Rhe words of a child are sometimes as nails fastened
in a sure place." Such was the word of a bright
Christian girl once known to me, and whose face
as I think of her shines to me again as in that
vanished year. "What do you do, my child," I asked,
"when the wicked spirit tempts you?" "Think of Jesus,"
was her prompt, wise, and beautiful answer.
"Yes, it is well when tempted to think of Him; for He was tempted, " In all points like as we are, yet without sin." There are Christian people grievously assailed by the Evil One; and they are tempted to consider themselves as not Christians indeed because they are tempted. The holiest