“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.” Luke 18:13
Suggested Further Reading: 1 John 1:5-2:2
The Greek explains more to us than the English does; and the original word here might be translated—“God be propitiated to me a sinner.” There is in the Greek word a distinct reference to the doctrine of atonement. It is not the Unitarian’s prayer—“God be merciful to me;” it is more than that—it is the Christian’s prayer, “God be propitiated towards me, a sinner.” There is, I repeat it, a distinct appeal to the atonement and the mercy-seat in this short prayer. Friends, if we would come before God with our confessions we must take care that we plead the blood of Christ. There is no hope for a poor sinner apart from the cross of Jesus. We may cry, “God be merciful to me,” but the prayer can never be answered apart from the victim offered, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. When thou hast thine eye upon the mercy-seat, take care to have thine eye upon the cross too. Remember that the cross is, after all, the mercy-seat; that mercy never was enthroned, until she hung upon the cross crowned with thorns. If thou wouldst find pardon, go to dark Gethsemane, and see thy Redeemer sweating blood in deep anguish. If thou wouldst have peace of conscience, go to Gabbatha, the pavement, and see thy Saviour’s back flooded with a stream of blood. If thou wouldst have the last best rest to thy conscience, go to Golgotha; see the murdered victim as he hangs upon the cross, with hands and feet and side all pierced, as every wound is gaping wide with misery extreme. There can be no hope for mercy apart from the victim offered—even Jesus Christ the Son of God. Oh, come; let us one and all approach the mercy-seat, and plead the blood.
For meditation: Confession of sins is a totally useless practice unless we go straight to God, the only one who can forgive us, pleading Christ crucified, the only valid reason for us to be forgiven. But when we come in God’s way, we can come to him confidently (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Sermon no. 216
3 October (1858)