“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.”—Luke 18:13
O wonderful love of heavenly mercy! which sleeps so long, until the day dawns and the daystar arise in the hearts of poor lost sinners. Mercy rains indeed like manna about our tents; but God then gives to His poor believing ones both the hunger and the strength as well, to go forth without the camp of this vain world and of self-righteousness, and there to gather into their lap that heavenly manna and to bear it home with joy; while the water from the rock flows like a stream behind them. And then it is thus: “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them” (Isa. 49:10). How a merciful Christ stands here, even today knocking upon the doors of those who alas! are still bound with the yoke of unbelief upon their jaw bone, and crying: “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). What excuses shall they make if they let their Beloved stand any longer there while His head is filled with dew, and His locks with the drops of the night (Song 5:2). Now that they have seen a Publican going before, unto the throne of grace, shall they remain behind? If even the harlots and the Publicans have gone before them into the Kingdom of Heaven, shall they not now follow? What would then be said of the matter? Let them but read attentively what is written: “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:37-38).
This then is the great and blessed lesson which the Publican teaches us by his prayer: that a true and unfeigned repentance is never present without true faith. Through the one the sinner loses life in himself and through the works of the law, and through the other he finds life everlasting through mercy in Christ. When a sinner is truly penitent, then his heart is wholly laid low through a sense of the heavy burden of his sins and of God’s righteous condemnation and terrifying wrath. This burden presses the poor man as it were down to the earth and he becomes completely exhausted under it. If he could not now have a view by faith of the merciful majesty of God in Christ, and could not with the serpent-bitten Israelites look upon the uplifted brasen serpent, the crucified Son of man, then the miserable and dejected sinner would utterly succumb and perish, for he finds no means whereby his life can be saved and reserved, apart from Christ and mercy. The hypocrite, in his hour of greatest need, when in danger of drowning, is always able to lay hold of a plank of self-righteousness, and on that he floats along until he comes here or there to land at last. But a true penitent who is quite cast down under the burden of sins and God’s anger, can find no salvation in tears or good desires, through sudden joy or vain delusion, nor through anything else. He sees and feels himself for all that, completely and eternally lost. There remains nothing for him than the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and God’s pure mercy, promised freely to truly penitent and despondent sinners in the sacred Gospel. How should he die then, without laying hold on that? Shall the name of the Lord be for us a strong tower, and shall a truly penitent soul who can find no refuge elsewhere, not run into it, and be safe? (Prov. 18:10). Either repentance is not complete, or it must surely lead on to faith, to which it is God’s ordained pathway. For a true repentance can never end in delusion or despair, for then the Holy Spirit’s own work would be in vain, which He has begun solely in order to save poor sinners. In short, he who is once truly dumbfounded and condemned in his own conscience on account of his sins before the throne of righteousness, must without delay in sincere faith appeal thence to the throne of grace if he is to be saved. Thus he must of necessity, whilst in this state of penitence, make one further step and venture with his heart in faith, looking unto the blood-red sufferings of Christ, laying hold thereon as the only complete atonement for his sins. All who are unable to do this can receive no mercy; for God never bestowed mercy upon any out of Christ. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Such then was the Publican’s penitent mouth.
Friday, February 6, 2009
The Publican's Prayer
Theodore Van Der Groe, The Publican’s Prayer: