The publican, standing afar off - Not because he was a heathen, and dared not approach the holy place; (for it is likely he was a Jew); but because he was a true penitent, and felt himself utterly unworthy to appear before God.
Would not lift up - his eyes - Holding down the head, with the eyes fixed upon the earth, was,
See Ezra 9:6; and Mishna, in Berachoth, chap. v.; and Kypke's note here. So the Pharisee appears to have forgotten one of his own precepts.
But smote upon his breast - Smiting the breast was a token of excessive grief, commonly practised in all nations. It seems to intimate a desire, in the penitent, to punish that heart through the evil propensities of which the sin deplored had been committed. It is still used among the Roman Catholics in their general confessions.
God be merciful to me - Ἱλασθητι μοι - Be propitious toward me through sacrifice - or, let an atonement be made for me. I am a sinner, and cannot be saved but in this way. The Greek word ἱλασκω, or ἱλασκομαι, often signifies to make expiation for sin; and is used by the Septuagint, Psalm 65:4; Psalm 78:38; Psalm 79:9, for כפר kipper, he made an atonement. So ἱλασμος a propitiation, is used by the same, for חטאה chataah, a sacrifice for sin, Ezekiel 44:27; and ἱλαστηριον, the mercy seat, is, in the above version, the translation of כפרת kapporeth, the lid of the ark of the covenant, on and before which the blood of the expiatory victim was sprinkled, on the great day of atonement. The verb is used in exactly the same sense by the best Greek writers. The following from Herodotus, lib. i. p. 19, edit. Gale, is full in point. Θυσιῃσι μεγαλῃσι τον εν Δελφοισι θεον ἹΛΑΣΚΕΤΟ, Croesus appeased, or made an atonement to, the Delphic god by immense sacrifices. We see then, at once, the reason why our blessed Lord said that the tax-gatherer went down to his house justified rather than the other: - he sought for mercy through an atonement for sin, which was the only way in which God had from the beginning purposed to save sinners. As the Pharisee depended on his doing no harm, and observing the ordinances of religion for his acceptance with God, according to the economy of grace and justice, he must be rejected: for as all had sinned and come short of the glory of God, and no man could make an atonement for his sins, so he who did not take refuge in that which God's mercy had provided must be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. This was no new doctrine: it was the doctrine publicly and solemnly preached by every sacrifice offered under the Jewish law. Without shedding of blood there is no remission, was the loud and constant cry of the whole Mosaic economy. From this we may see what it is to have a righteousness superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees. We must humble ourselves before God, which they did not: we must take refuge in the blood of the cross, which they would not; and be meek and humble of heart, which they were not.
Many suppose that the Pharisees thought they could acquire righteousness of themselves, independently of God, and that they did not depend on him for grace or power: but let us not make them worse than they were - for this is disclaimed by the Pharisee in the text, who attributes all the good he had to God: O God, I thank thee, that I am not as others - it is thou who hast made me to differ. But this was not sufficient: restraining grace must not be put in the place of the great atonement. Guilt he had contracted - and this guilt must be blotted out; and that there was no way of doing this, but through an atonement, the whole Jewish law declared. See the note on Matthew 5:20.
Standing afar off - Afar off from the “temple.” The place where prayer was offered in the temple was the court of women. The Pharisee advanced to the side of the court nearest to the temple, or near as he could; the publican stood on the other side of the same court if he was a Jew, or in the court of the Gentiles if he was a pagan, as far as possible from the temple, being conscious of his unworthiness to approach the sacred place where God had his holy habitation.
So much as his eyes - Conscious of his guilt. He felt that he was a sinner, and shame and sorrow prevented his looking up. Men who are conscious of guilt always fix their eyes on the ground.
Smote upon his breast - An expression of grief and anguish in view of his sins. It is a sign of grief among almost all nations.
God be merciful - The prayer of the publican was totally different from that of the Pharisee. He made no boast of his own righteousness toward God or man. He felt that he was a sinner, and, feeling it, was willing to acknowledge it. This is the kind of prayer that will be acceptable to God. When we are willing to confess and forsake our sins, we shall find mercy, Proverbs 28:13. The publican was willing to do this in any place; in the presence of any persons; amid the multitudes of the temple, or alone. He felt most that “God” was a witness of his actions, and he was willing, therefore, to confess his sins before him. While we should not “seek” to do this “publicly,” yet we should be willing at all times to confess our manifold transgressions, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by God‘s infinite goodness and mercy.” It is not dishonorable to make acknowledgment when we have done wrong. No man is so much dishonored as he who is a sinner and is not willing to confess it; as he who has done wrong and yet attempts to “conceal” the fault, thus adding hypocrisy to his other crimes.
We must have more than an intellectual belief in the truth. Many of the Jews were convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, but they were too proud and ambitious to surrender. They decided to resist the truth, and they maintained their opposition. They did not receive into the heart the truth as it is in Jesus. When truth is held as truth only by the conscience, when the heart is not stimulated and made receptive, only the mind is affected. But when the truth is received as truth by the heart, it has passed through the conscience, and has captivated the soul with its pure principles. It is placed in the heart by the Holy Spirit, who reveals its beauty to the mind, that its transforming power may be seen in the character.—The Review and Herald, February 14, 1899. Ev 291.1
Conversion the Result of United Effort—In the recovering of lost, perishing souls, it is not man that effects the work of saving souls, it is God who labors with him. God works and man works. “Ye are laborers together with God.” We must work in different ways and devise different methods, and let God work in us to the revealing of truth and Himself as the sin-pardoning Saviour.—Letter 20, 1893. Ev 291.2
Helping the Sinner Across the Line—Be instant in season and out of season, warning the young, pleading with sinners, with the love for them that Christ has. When there comes from the lips of the sinner the cry, “Oh, my sins, my sins, I fear that they are too grievous to be forgiven,” encourage faith. Hold Jesus up higher and still higher, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” When the cry is heard, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” point the trembling soul to a sin-pardoning Saviour as a refuge.—Manuscript 138, 1897. Ev 291.3Read in context »
The very essence of the gospel is restoration, and the Saviour would have His servants bid the sick, the hopeless, and the afflicted take hold upon His strength. God's servants are the channels of His grace, and through them He desires to exercise His healing power. It is their work to present the sick and suffering to the Saviour in the arms of faith. They should live so near to Him, and so clearly reveal in their lives the working of His truth, that He can make them a means of blessing to those in need of bodily as well as spiritual healing. GW 213.1
It is our privilege to pray with the sick, to help them to grasp the cord of faith. Angels of God are very near to those who thus minister to suffering humanity. The consecrated ambassador of Christ who, when appealed to by the sick, seeks to fasten their attention upon divine realities, is accomplishing a work that will endure throughout eternity. And as he approaches the sick with the comfort of a hope gained through faith in Christ and acceptance of the divine promises, his own experience becomes richer and still richer in spiritual strength. GW 213.2Read in context »
Many who love God and who seek to honor God fear that they have no right to claim His rich promises. They will dwell upon their painful struggles and the darkness which encompasses their path, and in so doing they lose sight of the light of the love that Jesus Christ has shed upon them. They lose sight of the great redemption that has been purchased for them at infinite cost. Many are standing afar off as if they were afraid to touch even the hem of Christ's garment, but His gracious invitation is even extended to them, and He is pleading, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).—Manuscript 61, 1894. 2MCP 812.1Read in context »
It is no degradation for man to bow down before his Maker and confess his sins, and plead for forgiveness through the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. It is noble to acknowledge your wrong before Him whom you have wounded by transgression and rebellion. It lifts you up before men and angels; for “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” But he who kneels before fallen man and opens in confession the secret thoughts and imaginations of his heart is dishonoring himself by debasing his manhood and degrading every noble instinct of his soul. In unfolding the sins of his life to a priest corrupted with wine and licentiousness his standard of character is lowered, and he is defiled in consequence. God is degraded in his thought to the likeness of sinful humanity, for the priest stands as a representative of God. It is this degrading confession of man to fallen man that accounts for much of the increasing evil which is defiling the world and fitting it for final destruction. 5T 638.1
Says the apostle: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” This scripture has been interpreted to sustain the practice of going to the priest for absolution; but it has no such application. Confess your sins to God, who only can forgive them, and your faults to one another. If you have given offense to your friend or neighbor you are to acknowledge your wrong, and it is his duty freely to forgive you. Then you are to seek the forgiveness of God because the brother whom you wounded is the property of God, and in injuring him you sinned against his Creator and Redeemer. The case is not brought before the priest at all, but before the only true mediator, our great High Priest, who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” and who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” and is able to cleanse from every stain of iniquity. 5T 639.1
When David sinned against Uriah and his wife, he pleaded before God for forgiveness. He declares: “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight.” All wrong done to others reaches back from the injured one to God. Therefore David seeks for pardon, not from a priest, but from the Creator of man. He prays: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” 5T 639.2Read in context »