The Pharisee and the Publican

Sermon Notes of
Reverend Harvey Alford Matney
(1868 – 1951)
March 26, 1911 – Chappell Hill, Texas


When you attend church, what is your motivation? Is it a social event? Is it to “keep up appearances” or to prove your own righteousness to your neighbors? Or is your primary motivation to be entertained; maybe hear a nice message?

It was these types of attitudes that the parable of the Publican and Pharisee exposed. The Pharisee with all confidence proudly proclaims all the acts that “prove” he is a righteous man. He even goes so far to contrast himself to the lowly Publican.

The Publican took a completely opposite approach. He knew he was a sinner. And he knew that only God could make him righteous. He humbly asked for mercy, to ashamed to even lift his eyes to heaven. Jesus tells us that only the Publican went home justified that day.

When Jesus chased the merchants out of the Temple he quoted Isaiah by saying that his house is a “house of prayer.” If Jesus walked into your church today, what would he find? Would it be a house of prayer, or a den of thieves?

In this sermon, my grandfather uses the parable of the Pharisee and Publican to examine the most important aspect of worship. — Harrison Woodard

Luke 18:9-14 KJV

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 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. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The Pharisee and the Publican

We have seen the kingdom of God as a working force, with the working habit, as a field of action and conquest for its subjects, as a gift of priceless value to men. Now let us look at it as a kingdom of grace, setting aside all precedent in its dealing with offenders and the guilty.

This fact makes it fit to be a worldwide kingdom, a gospel for everyone. For everyone may enter such a kingdom, embrace such a gospel on the same condition and that condition only, the gospel of salvation by grace.

In this parable is found a background for Paul’s: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost”


This Parable is preeminently practical and true to life

It was spoken to certain who trusted they were religious, and yet despised others. The Pharisee was a real person with distinct characteristics and so was the Publican. They represent two opposite classes: The Pharisees were the wealthiest, most influential, most learned and were thought to be the most religious. The Publicans were regarded as the lowest of the race in vice. They were tax-gatherers and most thoroughly hated. They both went at the appointed time to the appointed place to pray. They both stood for that was the usual posture for prayer. An old divine once said, “I will either stand as a servant before my master or kneel as a supplicant to my king, but I will not sit as an equal.


The prayer of the Pharisee

It is the substance and fiber of his religion. He is not as other men are, for God made him different. Unchasity and dishonesty he put away, he pays tithes etc. He thanks God for making him thus. He was a divine product, but finished. His standard of religion was social. Here is a clean life, a praying man, a believer in God; but coupled with it is such spiritual vanity that its possessor has no sense of the need of sacrifice for sin on his account. This parable lays bare the egotism that was eating the heart out of religion. No system of theology, or religious ethics can remove the necessity for real prayer and worship.



The temple at Jerusalem served and the house of God today serves many useful purposes in the worship of God’s people. Primary among these ranks prayer. We come not only to hear and enjoy the preaching or listen to the music or for social gathering, though all of these enter into the service and should. We mainly come for prayer. Did we thus come this morning – to pray?

Notwithstanding the difference in social standing, the Pharisee and the Publican both went and prayed. Jesus knew they both prayed. Oh! That we were all moved by this good impulse when we come into the house of Divine worship. There would be an end of uninteresting services. Whose fault is it that the services sometimes, yea so often drag?


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