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And, first, of his demeanour. It was that of a man of a truly humble and contrite heart—of one who felt that his iniquities had increased over his head, and his trespass had grown up unto the heavens, and who yet could not rest till he had unburdened himself of his misery before God. And so he stood-standing being the usual posture with the Jews in prayer, as kneeling is with ourselves — and afar off-at a distance from the sacred enclosure where God's altar was reared ; as one ashamed-nor would he lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but he smote upon his breast,-betraying by these outward expressions of sorrow, the agony that he felt within— the agony of a soul torn and vexed by the remembrance of its sin.
And, brethren, we may well desire that a like humbleness, and like contrition were more often found among God's worshippers now. Surely we may learn from this Publican something of the spirit in which to approach our God. Surely it were well, if each time that we come into these courts-each time that we seek the Lord in family or private prayer, we were to come, bowed down in heart, with an awful sense of the majesty of God, and a deep consciousness of our utter unworthiness—for so would our worship be more likely to bring us good-so would it prove more acceptable in His sight, who resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble !
And then, in the second place, consider the language of the Publican's prayer—God be merciful to me a sinner ! It has never been excelled either for shortness, or for force. It is the simplest, and at the same time the completest of all penitential prayers. What this Publican most had need of was mercy, what most preyed upon his mind was his sin—the knowledge that he had offended God, and deserved His anger to have that sin forgiven him, to be at peace with God, once again restored to His favour, was the thing he most required. And he took the one way to obtain it. He acknowledged his guilt-he confessed himself to be a sinner, or rather the sinner-for so it should be translated—as if he of all men was the most deserving of the name--and as the sinner, the most guilty, the most in need of pardon, he cast himself on God's great mercy. He made that mercy his one plea. He did not go about to seek for excuses. He did not try to deceive God, or to deceive himself by representing matters as other than they were.—He was speaking to the God of truth, and he would say nothing but the truth. In one short sentence he laid open his misery, and fastened on the only remedy for it—God be merciful to me, a sinner!
We know that he did not plead in vain-we have our Lord's word for it, His sublime I tell you that this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. He went down to his house conscious that he was accepted. There was a still small voice within which whispered to him, “God hath looked upon thy adversity and misery, and hath forgiven thee all thy sin !"
Let the remembrance of his successful prayer be often with us for our comfort! Let those of you, brethren, who, like this Publican, have been pierced by your sin, who, like him, have done evil, and sorrowed for that evil, lay it especially to heart! The door which admitted him into peace is open to you as well. For you too, if truly penitent, pardon is ready, without money and without price-on you, as on him, confessing and renouncing your sins, doubt it not, God will have mercy !
Yes—and let us all lay to heart this truth-that salvation is a matter of grace, not of merit: that God forgives, not because we deserve His forgiveness, but because He is a God of love, and has reconciled us unto Himself, in Christ Jesus. When all is done that we could, to atone for past iniquity, all would be too little, all would be as nought, were it not for the offering of His dear Son once for all !
Never let us depart from this belief. Let us cling to it in the darkest hour.-Ever when tormented by the recollection of our guilt, let this be our refuge. Let us look to Christ, and Him crucified.—Let us hold up our sinking spirit with this sustaining thought—Thou art He that blotteth out as a thick cloud my transgression, and as a cloud my sins! Thou hast redeemed me! And let us join always with it this other thought-Thou hast redeemed me
- Thou hast broken my bonds asunder, and loosed me out of the enemy's hand—and why ?—that I may henceforth be Thy servant, and walk in Thy way, and dwell in Thy house, and be telling of Thy salvation from day to day!
TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
THE PRODIGAL AND HIS BROTHER.
Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again ; and was lost, and is found.
THE parable of the Prodigal Son, of which these words are a part, has stamped itself deep on our memories. No portion of our Lord's teaching comes more forcibly home to us—no page in all the Gospel is more rich in consolation. The impression which it leaves on our minds is this, that God is greatly to be loved—loved for His mercy, for His tenderness, for His quickness to forgive, for His fatherly affection and great pity.
Whatever dark views we might have had before of God, however slow to believe in His love: however inclined to paint Him in our thoughts, as a punisher, One extreme to mark what we do amiss, and extreme in exacting penalty—when we have read this parable, with the two resembling it, in the same chapter, all these
false views are dispelled—we cease to think so unworthily of God—the old feeling that made us afraid of Him, and urged us to hide out of His sight, no more remains—and in its place there rises up a new feeling, a desire to draw nigh to this good and gracious God; and to know Him better, and to serve Him benceforth from the heart, not as slaves, but as sons.
It is one evidence, out of many, how this parable is valued, that if we open a poor man's Bible, it opens in our hand at this very place. And another proof is afforded, by the interest which it never fails to excite in all who hear it. Go, for example, into a sick room, where lies some stricken fellow-creature whose life is ebbing from him, but who has yet strength to listen to spiritual counsel—and if you would be sure to fix his attention, read to him the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel-read to him the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost piece of money, and of the prodigal son-and mark the pleasure he has and the interest he takes in it.
-Mark how the languid eye kindles, and the dull ear hearkens, as first under one figure, and then under another, now as a shepherd seeking his stray sheep, now as a woman anxiously searching for her lost treasure, now as a father running to meet his repentant child, welcoming him with a feast, making holiday in all his house—he has put before him the great patience, and unspeakable kindness of God is shewn, as in a glass, the joy that there is in heaven over one sinner that repenteth!
And of these three parables, the one we are concerned with to-day, is the last—the parable of the Prodigal Son