PRAY WITHOUT CEASING, AND HUMBLY
--LUKE 18:1-14.--AUGUST 19.--
"God be merciful to me a sinner."
AGAIN we have a lesson on Prayer, from various standpoints. The disciples needed to learn certain lessons respecting prayers, and our Lord gave the instruction through two interesting parables. The first lesson was respecting persistency: that they should continue to pray and not faint, nor grow disheartened and discouraged because of the delay in the answer. They were to be assured of the real character of our God, of his willingness to hear their petitions and to give them all necessary good things in the proper manner and at the proper time. The delay of the answer was to work out for them a blessing of increasing faith and trust.
THE UNJUST JUDGE
The parable illustrating this represents a judge in an oriental country, void of reverence for either God or man-- ready to defy divine commands and to violate public opinion in the attainment of his selfish ends. Judges in Christian lands we believe to be honorable and trustworthy: we recognize this as the rule and anything else as the exception; but in oriental lands it is often regarded as a matter of course that officials will indulge in graft of every kind, and that whoever is in office is there for personal benefit and profit. In olden times, indeed until within the last century, judges were to a large degree lawmakers as well as executives. Today in civilized lands these functions are separate, the lawmaking or legislative department of the government being entirely separate from the judicial and executive departments, much to the advantage of the public and to the forwarding of the ends of justice.
Before the unrighteous judge of the parable came a widow who was suffering from certain indignities and injustices from which she desired to be relieved by the judge. Since she was not wealthy and could not bribe him, since she had little influence, her demands for redress and justice were ignored. However, she was persistent until finally the judge, admitting to himself that it was not love of justice on his part but merely selfish desire to avoid further trouble, took up her case and granted her the necessary assistance and justice.
GOD NOT UNJUST THOUGH HE DELAY
The parable does not compare this unjust judge with our heavenly Father, and thus imply that the latter is an unjust judge. On the contrary it contrasts the two and gives us the thought, the lesson, that if an unjust judge would finally grant relief simply from selfish motives, surely our heavenly Father, who is neither unjust nor unloving nor careless of the interests of his people, will heed their prayers. If, therefore, a matter be one that in our judgment is very importune, demanding our earnest prayers, and if the answer to those prayers be not quickly forthcoming, we can neither conclude that God is an unjust judge who cares not for us because we cannot bribe him nor otherwise advantage him, nor are we to think of him as selfishly careless of our interests except as we would bother him; but we are to think of him as our loving heavenly parent, whose arm is not shortened that he cannot assist us, whose love for us is not deficient but strong, who loveth us as a father pitieth his children, and, on the strength of our knowledge of God's character and trust in his faithfulness, we are to have patience, and to trust the fulfilment of our petitions to his wisdom, love and power, knowing that all things shall be made to work together for good to them that love God, to the called ones according to his purpose.
Our Lord in applying the parable says, "And shall not [R3841 : page 265] God avenge his elect which cry to him day and night?" though he manifest no special haste in the matter. The lesson is that we are to have confidence in God and in his promise that eventually the right shall triumph. This confidence is to amount to an absolute faith which will grasp the promises, never doubting but merely waiting. Those who thus come to God in faith and trust may come repeatedly and be refreshed at every coming, because they come not with a hope of changing the Almighty, altering any of his plans and arrangements, which they recognize as righteous altogether: but, on the contrary, they come because they believe his promises and because they desire to rest and comfort their hearts by communion with him, by assuring their hearts in prayer that the Father himself loveth us and that he has a due time for the deliverance of those who are his from the bondage of the Adversary, of sin and death. The time may seem long, but if the proper faith be exercised a blessing will come with every step of the delay that will more than compensate.
Our Lord concludes this parable by saying, "I tell you that he will avenge them speedily." This may mean that when the Lord's time shall come for the delivering of his people he will make a short work with the great Adversary and all the machinery of unrighteousness which, under the prince of this world, has come to occupy so prominent a place in the affairs of life--in opposing truth, righteousness, etc. Or on the other hand it might be understood to mean that the Lord will really not long delay in bringing in his Kingdom of righteousness. From the human standpoint the more than eighteen centuries from the time our Lord redeemed the world until now, the time for the setting up of his Kingdom, seems a long time: How could it be spoken of as "speedily"? We reply that "a day with the Lord is as a thousand years": hence from this standpoint the whole period would be less than two days. What we need today is to take the Lord's standpoint in viewing matters. Both views are Scriptural, and therefore we need not dispute as to which one the Lord intended. Possibly he meant that we should take both.
SHALL HE FIND THE FAITH?
Separate and distinct from the parable the Lord interjects the statement, "Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?" The intimation is that at the second coming of the Lord for the establishment of his Kingdom the true faith would be seriously lacking, almost extinct--just as at the first advent we read, "He came unto his own [people] and his own received him not." So, in the end of this age, our Lord's second presence for the establishment of his Kingdom will similarly try and test nominal spiritual Israel. Again he will come unto his own and his own will receive him not--he will not find the necessary faith in the earth. However, as respects the first advent we read, "But to as many as received him to them gave he liberty," etc. So at the second advent, to as many as have faith and receive him, to these also similarly he will grant a special blessing.
Associating these words with the parable foregoing the implication is that the Church, the very elect, the little flock, throughout the Gospel age will be expected to look to the Lord continually for help and deliverance, but that they will not actually be helped or delivered until the First Resurrection, at the Master's second advent, at the time he will set up his Kingdom. It is in line with this that the Apostle exhorts us saying, "Brethren, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Rom. 12:19.) Hence we find the Scriptures throughout indicating clearly that the second advent of our Lord will be a time of tribulation to the world in general, a day of vengeance, a day of rectifying the wrongs of the people. Thus through the Prophet the Lord declares, "The day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year [time] of my redeemed is come;" and again, "It is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompense for the controversy of Zion."--Isa. 63:4; 34:8.
Taken as a whole, the lesson to the Lord's people through this parable is that we are to have patience, not attempt to render vengeance upon our opposers, but to love our enemies and to do good to them that despitefully use us, and to look to the Lord for such relief as he sees proper to send; and though we find the full measure of relief long deferred, we are to have rest and refreshment through faith that the time is coming when all the gracious promises will be abundantly fulfilled, "According to thy faith be it unto thee."
Those who believe little of the Lord's promises, who trust him little, will pray to him little, will exercise little faith, and will have little joy and blessing in consequence. Those, on the contrary, who have faith, and who go continually to the throne of grace and appreciate the Lord and trust in the glorious outcome of their prayers and labors, will have joy now and fulness of joy by and by.
PRAYERS OF THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS NOT ACCEPTABLE
The Pharisees were a very moral class amongst the Jews, devout, at least outwardly, very exact, though inwardly, the Lord tells us, they were far from right. He alone was competent to make the terrible arraignment that they were like sepulchers, beautifully whitened on the outside but inwardly full of corruption. There is a similar class in Christendom today, who are outwardly moral, very particular, exact, scrupulous, and yet not pleasing to the Lord. They are proud of their righteousness, and seem to fail to realize that if they are naturally less depraved than some others they have nothing therein to boast of, because they are still far from being actually perfect. This parable is intended to show that God would look with more sympathy, [R3842 : page 265] more compassion, upon the more depraved man if he were the more honest and more humble rather than on the morally better but less humble.
The parable pictures two men going up to the Temple according to the Jewish custom to pray: the one was a self-righteous Pharisee, a moral man, in many respects a good man, but very conscious of all his righteous deeds and perfunctory observances of divine rules; the other man was of a lower class and cast, who had more weaknesses and blemishes and who realized his condition. The Pharisee, we are told, stood and prayed with himself: apparently his prayers did not ascend to the Lord, and it would be strictly true, therefore, to say that he prayed with himself, heard [R3842 : page 266] himself pray, congratulated himself in the prayer, and rejoiced in his own self-consciousness generally. His prayer was not the kind which the Father invites, for he seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth; and it seems impossible for any one to come before the Lord in a proper manner who does not appreciate his own weaknesses, imperfections, blemishes, and acknowledges these and seeks the divinely arranged means for covering them.
PRAYER OF THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS
The Pharisee said, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." It is quite true that such a prayer uttered truthfully would imply a compassion of heart for which we might well give thanks to God. All Christians by virtue of their relation to God, the covering of their sins, the begetting of the Spirit, the transforming work progressing in their hearts, have every reason to give thanks to the Lord that they differ from the majority of their fellow-creatures. But they have nothing whereof to boast, for, as the Apostle remarks, What have we that we have not received from the Lord? Who hath made us to differ? (I Cor. 4:7.) If, therefore, the difference between ourselves and others be recognized as of the Lord and his work of grace in us and not of ourselves, this is the proper attitude of heart, and all who have this realization may properly enough give thanks to the Lord that in this respect they are different from others because he hath made us to differ, because by his grace we are what we are.
The difficulty with the Pharisee of the parable was that he prayed with himself, congratulated himself, and merely pretended to give thanks to the Lord for these differences. He did not thank the Lord that he had made him to differ, but thanked the Lord that he had made himself to differ--he was trusting in his own works of the flesh, which could never be acceptable to the Lord, and was, therefore, as a Pharisee, rejecting the imputed righteousness of the Atonement Day sacrifices. The condition would be similar today to us if we boasted in ourselves in any sense or degree. Such a man offering such a prayer should know that it does not go to God, that it was merely self-adulation and that he profiteth nothing by it. We are in the right attitude when we realize that our sufficiency is of God, who has made us to differ and who keeps us by his own power, covers us with the robe of Christ's righteousness and is preparing us for the glory, honor and immortality which he has promised us if we are faithful in obedience to his lessons and guidance.
All the Lord's people should be able to assure themselves at the throne of grace that they are not extortioners, not unjust, not adulterers, nor like other men. This is all in harmony with our Lord's declaration, "If ye were of the world the world would love its own: but because ye are not of he world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." We are to be glad if we find these evidences of our separateness from the world, but we are not to boast of them nor to consider that they are of our own institution nor attempt to take credit for them. As already shown, we are what we are by the Lord's grace.
The Pharisee as a part of his boast claimed that he fasted twice in the week, as well as gave tithes of everything that he acquired. In this fasting he was going beyond anything that the Law required, and doubtless felt that he was to be especially commended therefor. But not so from the Lord's standpoint--works can never justify us. If we were to fast, starve ourselves to death, it would not be meritorious; no works can be of value except as based upon proper recognition of our own imperfections and proper acceptance of divine justification, which is granted to us now through faith in Jesus, and which in that day was typically imputed to all the members of the Jewish nation through the typical sacrifices of their Day of Atonement. As for fasting, the Lord's people today will find plenty of things from which they may well fast. Fasting simply signifies self-denial, and self-denials of food are not the greatest nor the most estimable in God's sight, we may be sure. There are other desires of the flesh which all who are the Lord's true followers are to strive to control and diminish and starve out, that they might proportionately flourish and be nourished spiritually and made strong.
BOASTING OF GIVING TITHES
The tithe-giving was proper. God had enjoined, as a mark of respect for him, that one-tenth (or tithe) of all increase of herd or flock or field should be set apart peculiarly to his service: and obedience to this arrangement was nothing to boast of, particularly when it is remembered that the Lord is the bountiful giver of all good. Where then was the room for pride and boasting in connection with such tithe-giving? It showed a self-satisfied condition of heart, unready to make the still greater consecration required of all who would be accepted as members of the house of sons, the followers of Jesus, who are expected to consecrate their all to the Lord, and thenceforth to act as stewards who will be prepared to give an account of the use of every dollar, every talent, every opportunity. Are the saints inclined to boast of their self-denials or services? Let them reckon the matter carefully and see how little the most energetic is able to accomplish, and then doubtless with shame many will confess how little of all they desired to accomplish they have been able to render unto the Lord.
"GOD BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER"
The publican was a sample of those who made no profession of great piety. Humble-minded people, they realized that they did not live up to the grand requirements of God's perfect Law, and, discouraged by the assertions of the Pharisees that they could obey and live up to those requirements, these more humble-minded ones were often in a discouraged attitude, and sometimes in consequence lapsed into carelessness and sinful ways. In the parable the publican stands afar off; he did not approach close to the holy precincts of the Temple; he stood at a goodly distance. He recognized the great difference between God's perfection and his own personal unworthiness, imperfection and sinfulness. He smote upon his breast, upon his heart, as though indicating that he accepted the divine sentence of death as well deserved, merited, yet he appealed for mercy--Lord have mercy upon me, I am a sinner! Although outwardly not as moral nor as good a man as the other, judged by any human standards, inwardly, from God's standpoint, his was the [R3842 : page 267] better heart of the two, the more hopeful. He was not trusting in himself, and was in a better condition, therefore, to receive the grace of God upon the only terms upon which it could be obtained, humble faith. Our Lord indicates that of the two this one--outwardly less noble, less moral--was inwardly more acceptable to the Father, justified rather than the Pharisee. And then, as a lesson based upon this, comes the word,
"EVERYONE THAT EXALTETH HIMSELF SHALL BE ABASED;
AND HE THAT HUMBLETH HIMSELF SHALL BE
Is it not remarkable that so frequently throughout the Scriptures the Lord calls attention to the great necessity for humility, assuring us that without it, whatever may be our conditions, our qualifications, we could by no means enter the Kingdom. In the parable just considered this quality of humility is illustrated in the publican, the lack of it is illustrated in the Pharisee. To reason the matter out we can see that only the humble minded could possibly be prepared to confess themselves sinners and unworthy of divine favor and love, needing justification, forgiveness, provided for us in Christ. Not only so, but even after exercising such humility and coming to the Lord and being accepted of him, if the humility be lost our gracious standing in Christ is forfeited. Pride signifies self-satisfaction, and the corresponding ignoring of the all-sufficiency of our glorious Head, who said to us, "Without me ye can do nothing."--John 15:5.
Alas, that so many of those who have some knowledge of God and of his plan of salvation are hindered from laying hold in a proper manner by a lack of humility and readiness to see their own faults, confess them and to accept divine mercy and grace. Alas, also, that so many, after having exercised faith and been washed from their old sins, are through lack of humility led to haughtiness, high-mindedness, which in one way or another is sure to work injury to us as New Creatures-- sure to blast the prospect for a share in the Kingdom in which only those who humble themselves shall be exalted.