Where will you find the best expression of the essence of Pharisaic piety?
It lies in what Jesus says about the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. (Lk. 18:11-12)It is a prayer that makes the wrong comparison because it looks upon a fellow sinner with a sense of elevation. It is a prayer that makes the wrong appeal because it imagines a sense of righteousness that comes from being free from certain sinful acts committed by others. It is a prayer that compounds that wrong appeal by placing confidence in works-righteousness.
But it is still a prayer.
And it discloses the very essence of Pharisaic piety. It makes it's boast not only by a wrong comparison, not only by a wrong appeal, but in the presence of the Holy and Righteous God. Its unseemly piety is expressed coram deo.
It is said that Pelagius taught the following prayer:
Thou knowest, O Lord, how holy, how innocent, how pure from all deceit and rapine, are the hands which I stretch forth unto thee; how just, how unspotted with evil, how free from lying, are those lips wherewith I pour forth prayers unto thee, that thou wouldst have mercy on me.In that prayer you can hear the same cadences of Pharisaic piety that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18.
The atmosphere of true piety is found in the words of the tac collector: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
That same atmosphere can be found in the pastoral counsel of Anselm:
Put all thy confidence in this death alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself wholly with this alone...
And if God would judge thee say 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy judgment...'
And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins; and I offer no merits of my own, which I should have, and have not'
If he say that he is angry with thee, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger'.Elsewhere Anselm wrote:
My conscience hath deserved damnation, and my repentance is not sufficient for satisfaction; but most certain it is that thy mercy aboundeth above all offence.Ambrose also gave expression to the essence of true piety when he wrote these words:
Let no man arrogate anything unto himself, let no man glory in his own merits or good deeds, let no man boast of his power: let us all hope to find mercy by our Lord Jesus; for we shall all stand before his judgment-seat.
Of him I will beg pardon...what other hope is there for sinners?