Spiritual Meaning of
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THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR.
And He spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank You, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
According to the sense of the letter, by going up into the temple to pray, is meant the going up into a building of wood and stone consecrated to the service of God, to perform in it sacred worship, such as is acceptable to God; but according to the spiritual idea, by going up into the temple to pray, is meant the retiring within ourselves, or entering into the interior of our own minds, to open our hearts and understandings before the Great and Holy God, according to which sense of the words, man is called a temple, and sometimes a house or habitation of the Almighty. It is also to be noted, that prayer, properly considered, is nothing else but the opening of the interiors of the mind towards God and Heaven, by the exercise of devout affections and thoughts. For without devout affection and thought there can be no prayer, consequently, no opening of the mind towards God and Heaven.
A Pharisee, according to the literal sense of the term, means a person who belongs to a Jewish sect of that name; but according to the spiritual sense of the term, a person who is very exact and correct about the externals of religion, but careless about its internals; in other words, who is scrupulously attentive to forms and ceremonies of piety and divine worship, but utterly regardless of what those forms and ceremonies were intended to represent; or, according to the description given of such a character by Jesus Christ, Who pays tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and omits the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith. In short, a Pharisee is one who is holy without, but unholy within, or, as the Apostle expresses it, who has a form of godliness, but without the power.
According to the literal sense, a tax collector was one who collected the public taxes; and as the character of such a person was very odious and despicable amongst the Jews, therefore a tax collector was one whom the Jews held in the utmost contempt and aversion. But according to the spiritual idea, by a tax collector is to be understood one who is not only despised by others, but also by himself; in other words, who thinks little and meanly of his own spiritual attainments, and on that ground is disposed to exalt others above himself. Thus the tax collector, in this parable, represents the Gentiles, as the Pharisee represents the Jews. Consequently, the tax collector is a figure of those who are not principled in truth and the external forms of worship, but yet are in the earnest desire of being so principled; whilst the Pharisee is a figure of those who are indeed principled in heavenly knowledge and the ceremonies of religious worship, but yet have no desire at all to form their lives according to such knowledge, and in agreement with the purport of such ceremonial observances.
It is said that the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank You, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterous, or even as this tax collector. We have seen that by prayer is to be understood interior thought and affection, when directed towards God and Heaven.
In the case of the Pharisee it is evidently the thought and affection of self-love, by which this deluded man was led to suppose himself better than others, and thus to exalt himself in the superiority of his own fancied virtues, at the same time making a pretence of gratitude to the Almighty for this fancied superiority. His prayer, therefore, had nothing in it but defilement, because it was derived from himself, and not from God, and thus was full of himself more than of God. For the true ground of pure and acceptable prayer is, humility and self-abasement, under a due sense of our wants, our weaknesses, and our defilements before our Heavenly Father, in which case our prayer connects itself with God, and acknowledges Him as its Divine Origin, and is thus filled with the fullness of its origin; whereas a prayer grounded in the idea of superior virtues, separates us more and more from God, by immersing us more and more in the dangerous and defiled idolatry of self-complacency and self-esteem.
The Pharisee makes this further boast concerning himself, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
It appears from these expressions, that spiritual pride, which is here represented by the Pharisee, can mortify itself in a certain degree, or so far as relates to the external things of the body, and that it can also, in a certain degree, make sacrifices to God, but then with all its mortifications and sacrifices it still reserves to itself the vanity of its own self-love and self-esteem, and thus never makes the entire surrender of itself to the God of Heaven. Its mortifications, therefore, and its sacrifices, only tend to separate it further from heaven and eternal life, because they have a tendency to nourish a more dangerous self-love than could otherwise have prevailed.
It is also said of the tax collector, that, standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
From these words we learn that real humility is always attended with a sentiment of its infinite distance from the divine purity, and, therefore, is said to stand afar off. We learn, too, that it is deeply sensible of its own blindness and opposition to the truth of God, and, therefore, it would not lift up its eyes to heaven; in other words, it is afraid of high speculations on heavenly doctrines, from a sense of its own unworthiness, and from a fear, at the same time, lest practice should not keep pace with speculation. We learn, further, that it is always impressed with a consciousness of its natural defilements, signified by beating on the breast. And lastly, we learn, that true humility is always in the act of applying itself to the Divine Mercy to heal the disorders of its blinded understanding and depraved will, signified by the passionate supplication, God be merciful to me a sinner. We discover, therefore, in this character of the humble tax collector, the true temper and disposition of the real Christian, as distinguished from the formal and hypocritical professor of Christianity, and that the real Christian is always abasing himself that he may exalt his God, and that his religion, therefore, consists in a deep-rooted sense of his own ignorance, defilement, and infirmity, and a consequent devout and constant application to the Father of Mercies for wisdom, for purity, and for protection.
Jesus Christ says, I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. When man enters into the interiors of his own mind, which is the true temple where proper and acceptable worship is performed to the Almighty, he is then said to go up, or ascend, because he draws nearer to that Holy Being in himself, who is called the Highest, and is said to dwell in the Highest, for what is inmost, according to the spiritual idea, is called highest according to a natural idea. But when he quits this holy exchange of devout affection with his Maker, and descends again into the exteriors of his thoughts and affections, to exercise them in the discharge of the common duties and engagements of life, he is then said to go down to his house, because exterior thought and affection are properly the house of man, as interior thought and affection are properly the house of God, so that every man has, as it were, two houses; one designed for his communication with God and His angelic kingdom, and the other designed for his communication with men in the exercises of charity and mutual good-will.
By being justified, is meant to be made just; and by his going; down to his house justified, is to be understood that he brought down a principle of justice into all the concerns of his external life, by thinking, speaking, and acting in agreement with such a principle, so that his external man was made just or justice, as well as his internal man. For this is the proper sense and meaning of the term justification, about which the Christian world has been so long and so unhappily divided; some insisting that man is justified by faith alone, some, that he is justified by charity, and some by good works; whereas, the truth is, that man is justified by the Divine Principle of Justice alone, so far as he admits this principle to pre-eminence in his inner man, and suffers it at the same time to control, direct, and govern all the thoughts, words, and works of his outer man. In the original language of the New Testament, therefore, the above passage is thus expressed, he went down justified to his house; in other words, he introduced into his house, or into all the concerns of his external man, a principle of justice, for continual guidance and government.
The parable speaks of his being justified rather than the other. By the other, is here meant the proud Pharisee; and, therefore, by the tax collector being justified rather than the Pharisee, is intended to be expressed, according to the idea of justification, just now suggested, that the Pharisee did not suffer a principle of justice from the Almighty to enter into his mind, and to operate in his life. For such is the nature of spiritual pride, or, what amounts to the same, of a defiled internal man, whilst the external man is occupied in holy things, that in such case the deluded worshipper never thinks of introducing into his life any solid principle, either of justice or equity, from God, to guide and govern him, but is content to think that he is justified by his external acts of piety, such as prayer, attendance at the holy altar, almsgiving, etc., without any regard to the Divine law of justice, which is nothing else but the law of the Divine love and mercy, by the observance of which alone man is restored to the order of heaven, and rendered just in the sight of God and of His angels.
Jesus Christ observes, at the conclusion of this parable, and as a maxim of truth resulting from it, that every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
By man exalting himself is to be understood, that he sets his own will, his own understanding, and his own prudence above the Divine Will, the Divine Understanding, and the Divine, Providence of the Most High; in other words, that he exalts his own reason above the Word of God, or if he acknowledges the Word of God with his understanding; to be a revelation from God, yet he does not acknowledge it in his life and love, and, consequently, is proud and high-minded, despising others in comparison with himself, and serving God for no other end than to gain the favour of men. And by such a one being abased is to be understood, that in thus exalting himself, he departs from the order of God, and makes himself the vilest and lowest of all creatures, by separating himself from all living communication with the mercy, the truth, the greatness and omnipotence of God.
He that humbles himself denotes one who submits his own will, his own understanding, and his own prudence, to the Divine Will, the Divine Understanding, and the Divine Providence of his Heavenly Father, confessing; thus from his heart, that all goodness, all truth, all power, all protection, are from God, and nothing at all from man, only so far as he receives it from God. And by such a one being exalted is to be understood, that in consequence of thus submitting himself to the Divine government and guidance, he rises out of all his sins, his infirmities, his ignorances, and his miseries, to a blessed and eternal conjunction with the Supreme Goodness and the Supreme Truth. Thus he is exalted above himself, above the world, above false joys, and above real sorrows, to a communication with God and heaven, and eternal life and salvation, and all this in proportion to the measure and degree of his humiliation.
We learn from this parable that spiritual pride is most odious in the sight of God, being a symptom of the most defiled and dangerous self-love, and that we ought, therefore, to be particularly on our guard against this infectious evil, especially in contemplating any good actions which we may have performed, or any distinguished excellencies which we may appear to possess. We learn, further, that humility is the best state of the heart of man, and the state most pleasing in the sight of God, because it consists in renouncing our own will and our own wisdom, that we may exalt in ourselves, at all times, and on all occasions, the Divine Will and Divine Wisdom of the Most High. Lastly, we learn, that our justification in the sight of God will depend entirely on our advancement in the grace of humility, or in a due sense of our natural defilements, ignorances, imperfections, and weaknesses, since justification consists in the implantation of a principle of justice and equity from God, in all the thoughts, words, and works of the external man, who principle of justice can never be admitted into our minds until the opposite principle of injustice, which is the inordinate love of ourselves, and of the world, more than of God, and of our neighbour, be removed. Let us resolve, therefore, from now on, through the Divine Grace and Mercy, to hate and abominate all spiritual pride, as a thing most infernal, and to tremble at, and detest the sight of whatever may be called our own excellence, or our own virtue, if it has a tendency at any time to prevent our praying, from the bottom of a broken and a contrite heart, God be merciful to me a sinner. Let us resolve, at the same time, through the Divine grace and mercy, to cherish in our minds the temper of humility, as a temper most heavenly, because most pleasing in the sight of God, and with this blessed view, to renounce, at all times, our own will, wisdom, and prudence, that the will, the wisdom, and providence of our Heavenly Father, may ever be exalted in our minds and lives. Thus may we hope always to be like the man who went down to his house justified, because we shall always carry down along with us the principle of Divine justice into every transaction of life, until we become ourselves heavenly forms of the same justice, both in the inner and outer man, that is to say, in our words and works, as well as in our inmost intentions and thoughts. Amen.