« PreviousContinue »
ducees and Herodians, Scribes and Pharisees, and Disciples or Believers : On these are grounded almost all the Precepts and Reproofs there given, which in many Cases cannot be rightly applied, or clearly understood, without understanding these Characters. What our Lord said unto the Persons of that Age, he said unto all under the like Circumstances. Neither can we readily think of any present Circumstance we can fall under, but what we shall find a Parallel to, in the History of the Gospel ; scarce any indeed, buc what the Characters before recited will take in and comprehend.
The Observation, which our blessed Lord makes in the Words of che Text, leads me to consider two of these Characters, that of the Pharisee, and the Publican, which I shall now enter into more at large; compare them together, and shew that the Case of the Publican must, upon many Ac
counts, be far preferable to that of the Pharisee.
The Publican, who represents the Despised, was indeed a very despicable Character: Our Lord himself joins together, as Persons of a like Rank and Condition, the Publican, the Sinner, the Harlot, and the Heathen. The Jews thought it not lawful to converse with them, and it was imputed as a great Crime to our Lord and his Disciples, that they are with Publicans and Sinners: The Account of him in the Parable itself is, that he durst not so much as lift up his Eyes unto Heaven.
On the other hand, the Pharisee, who is introduced to personate those, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, bore a Character which seems as capable as any to support such a Trust. They were the strictest Sect in the Jewish Religion, the most scrupulous Observers of the Law: They
were much in Devotion, frequent in Fastings, extremely exact in paying their Tithes and Oblations, so nice in keeping the Sabbath, that they thought the healing a diseased Person, or che plucking an Ear of Corn on that Day, Violations of it. They sat in Moses's Seat, and Jesus Christ commands his Disciples to do whatsoever they bade them. They were in the highest Esteem with the People for their Righteousness and Learning. St. Paul himself makes it a frequent Matter of Boasting, that he was touching the Law a Pharisee, and the Son of a Pharisee.
It may seem strange to us, that this Publican, this vile and self-condemned Sinner, who is thus ranged with Harlots and Heathens, should be by our Lord pronounced in a better Stare, and justify'd rather than the Pharisee, the Successor of Moses, the most devout and zealous Observer of the Law
in içs most severe and expensive Institutions. And it may be fairly questioned, whether there has been any People, in any Age or Nation of the World, who would not have concurred with the Jews in their Behaviour under the like Circumstance. What Persons are there, who, if they were to see the most learned Teachers and zealous Patrons of their Religion, postpond to scandalous and profligate Sinners, but would, as the Jews did, have thought such a Sentence injurious to their Law and their Temple, and pronounced the Man who had given it, a Friend to Publicans and Sinners, and treated him as such?
Now to state this Case with all the Clearness and Impartiality that I can, and to do both Characters equal Justice, I shall consider them under the three great Branches of Dury, to themselves, their Neighbour, and to God.
The Pharisees, notwithstanding all their Zeal for the Law and the Temple, are by our Lord charged with the grossest Immoralities ; nay, with making a Shew of Religion, only to gain the Esteem of Men, and to commit their Villanies with more Security. We are not bound to take the Pharisee's Word in the Parable, that he was not an Extortioner, unjust, or an Adulterer. Men who devoured Widows Houses, and for a Pretence made long Prayers, may fairly be presumed to be capable of any kind and Degree of Dissimulation. This loud and pompous Address to God might be a meer Pretext, designed only to gain the Esteem of the By-standers; and the Pharisee at last might be guilty of all those Crimes, which, in lo solemn a manner he disclaims in the Temple before God and Men. This, I say, may very well consist with their general Character. And if we admit this Vol. I.