Ellen G. White Writings

<< Back Forward >>

«Back «Prev. Pub. «Article   Article» Next Pub.» Forward»

The Signs of the Times

February 19, 1885

The Pharisee and the Publican

By Mrs. E. G. White

“And he spake this parable unto 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 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.”

In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, Christ teaches one of the most important lessons that we have to learn,—the danger of self-flattery. Two classes of worshipers are here brought to view. The class represented by the Pharisee is regarded as eminent for piety, possessing great excellence of character. The other class, represented by the publican, is much less respectable in the eyes of the world. But is this estimate a correct one? No; it is the exact opposite of truth,—the exact opposite of the estimation in which they are held in Heaven. Both the Pharisee and the publican are under the eye of the heart-searching God, who is no respecter of persons. Wealth and titles, talent and reputation, are no recommendation to his favor. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

The relative estimate which the Pharisee and the publican place upon themselves is as false as that which others place upon them. Both resort to the temple at the hour of public prayer, professedly to worship God; but what a contrast there is in the motives that actuate them, and in their feelings, as expressed in their prayers!

The Pharisee went, not because he felt his great need of God, but because he wanted to be thought a very pious and excellent man. He was perfectly self-satisfied, and thought that others looked upon him with the same complacency with which he regarded himself. He did not present the offering of a broken and contrite heart. He did not come with confession of sins, and with love flowing out in words of gratitude for the great mercy of a covenant-keeping God. He came not to present his needs. He made no supplication; he expressed no want. Standing in the temple of God, he dared to boast of his own goodness, and to measure himself with other men, and claim superiority. He began his self-worship: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” He then proceeded to enumerate some of his own good deeds: “I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess”

The Pharisee went down to his house destitute of the divine blessing; but his self-love and vanity were fed. He was terribly self-deceived. He judged himself according to a human standard, exalted self, and covered his sins from his own sight. But God abhorred him. The publican thought himself a very wicked man, and others looked upon him in the same light; but there was nothing in his life so offensive to Heaven as the self-complacency expressed in the boastful, self-righteous prayer of the Pharisee.

The publican went up to the temple with other worshipers; but he soon separated himself from them, as unworthy to mingle with them in their devotions. Standing afar off, he “would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast” in bitter anguish and self-abhorrence. He thus expressed his sense of his distance from God, and of his unworthiness to come into his presence. He felt that he had offended God, that he was sinful and polluted before him. He could not expect help from those around him; for they looked upon him with undisguised contempt. Feeling that he had no claim on the mercy of God, he looked forward with terrible dread to the Judgment, when every case will be decided. In his great need, he finds voice to cry out earnestly, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

The course taken by the publican is the only one that will secure pardon and peace with God. He did not compare his sins with those of others who were worse than himself. He came before God with his own burden of guilt and shame, as a transgressor of God's law, a sinner in thought, in word, and in act. He acknowledged that should he receive punishment for his sins, it would be just and right. Mercy, mercy, was his only plea. Oh, for the assurance of pardon, giving peace and rest to the sin-sick soul!

The self-abasement manifested by the publican is wholly acceptable to God. To know ourselves is to be humble. Self-knowledge will take away all disposition to entertain the Most High with a recital of our own excellent qualities. Realizing our sins and imperfections, we shall come to the feet of Jesus with earnest supplication, and our petitions will not be passed by unheard. Ezra had the true spirit of prayer. Presenting his petition before God for Israel, when they had sinned grievously in the face of great light and privileges, he exclaimed, “I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.” Ezra remembered the goodness of God in again giving his people a foothold in their native land, and he was overwhelmed with indignation and grief at the thought of their ingratitude in return for the divine favor. His language is that of true humiliation of soul, the contrition that prevails with God in prayer. Only the prayer of the humble enters into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; but the proud he knoweth afar off.” “To this man will I look,” saith the Lord, “even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

The Pharisee expressed his self-commendation in the form of thanksgiving. “God, I thank thee,” he says, “that I am not as other men are.” But there was no real gratitude in his heart. His self-love had excluded every such generous principle. He neither loved God supremely nor his neighbor as himself; yet before God and men he could boast loudly of his own goodness. Thus he insulted God, while he deceived men in regard to his true character.

There are many now who entertain the same feeling of self-congratulation that the Pharisee had. Does this feeling rise in your heart in any degree, dear reader? If so, you may be assured that while you commend yourself, the condemnation of God rests upon you. You may be thought excellent in character. Your name may be registered on the church-book; but it is not written in the Lamb's book of life. If a special work has been done for any of us, it is through the grace of God alone. Man is to take no credit to himself; for he has nothing which he has not received.

Let us examine ourselves, and see how many vain thoughts dwell within our hearts, how much we love praise, how selfishness is shown in our manners, how often we misjudge the character and motives of others, or feel contempt for them because their appearance is not prepossessing. Let us think how our words sound in the ears of God, how our selfish thoughts look in his sight, when we judge and condemn others, who may be better in heart and purpose than ourselves.

From the parable of the Pharisee and the publican we learn that to profess excellence which we do not possess, will exclude us from the grace which alone can make us of value in the sight of God. The teachings of Christ give no countenance to a spirit of self-righteousness which would exalt self over others. Vanity is never the result of virtue and true piety. “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

«Back «Prev. Pub. «Article   Article» Next Pub.» Forward»