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those infamous debaucheries, which infect the body, and throw whole families into a state of putrefaction? It is saying too little to affirm that this woman ought to shed bitter tears at the recollection of her scandalous and dissolute life. The priests and magistrates, and people of Nain ought to have covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes, for having tolerated such a house, for not having one spark of the zeal of " Phinehas the son of Eleazar," Numb. xxv. 11. For having left one stone upon another as a monument of the profligacy of the city, and for not having rased the very foundations of such a house, though they, who were employed in the business, had been buried in the ruins. One such a house suffered in a city is enough to draw down the curse of heaven on a whole province, a whole kingdom.
woman in the attire of a harlot, who is subtle of heart, loud and stubborn, her feet abiding not in her house, now without, now in the streets, lying in wait at every corner, and saying to such among the youth as are void of understanding, "I have peace-offerings with me, this day have I paid my vows. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love, for the good man is not at home, he is gone a long journey, and will not come home till the day appointed," Prov. vii. 5, &c. Is it necessary, think you, my brethren, to alter many of these descriptive expressions to give a likeness of the manners of our times?
Are not modern dissipations described in the perpetual motion of this " strange woman, Rome, what a fair opportunity have I now whose feet abide not in her house, who is now to confound thee! Am I not able to produce without in the country, then in the streets, in the sight of the whole world full proof of thy and at every corner?" What are some curious, shame and infamy? Do not a part of thy reve- elegant, and fashionable dresses, but the "atnues proceed from a tax on prostitution? Are tire of a harlot?" Are not the continual artinot prostitutes of both sexes thy "nursing fa- fices, and accumulated dissimulations, which thers and nursing mothers?" Is not the holy some people use to conceal future designs, or see in part supported, to use the language of to cover past crimes, are not these features of Scripture, by the hire of a whore, and the this "subtle woman?" What are those pains price of a dog?" Deut. xxxii. 18. But alas! I taken to form certain parties of pleasure, but should leave thee too much reason to retort. features of this woman, who says, "I have I should fear, you would oppose our excesses peace-offerings with me, I have this day paid against your excesses. I should have too much my vows, come, let us solace ourselves with reason to fear a wound by the dart shot at thee. loves?" What are certain moments expected I should tremble lest thou shouldst draw it with impatience, managed with industry, and smoking from thine own unclean heart, and employed with avidity, but features of this lodge it in ours. O God! "teach my hands to- woman, who says "to fools among the youth, day to war, and my fingers to fight." My the good man is not at home, nor will he brethren, should access to this pulpit be for ever come home till the day appointed?"-I stopforbidden to us in future; though I were sure if the unchaste woman in the text, had been this discourse would be considered as a torch guilty of adultery, she had defiled the most of sedition intended to set all these provinces in sacred and inviolable of all connexions. She a flame; and should a part of the punishment had kindled discord in the family of him who due to the fomenters of the crime fall upon the was the object of her criminal regard. She head of him who has the courage to reprove it, had given an example of impurity and perfidy I do, and I will declare, that the prosperity of to her children and her domestics, to the world these provinces can never, no never, be well and to the church. She had affronted in the established, while such affronts are publicly most cruel and fatal manner the man, to whom offered to the majesty of that God, "who is of she owed the tenderest attachment, and the purer eyes than to behold evil," Hab. i. 13. most profound respect. She had covered her Ah! proclaim no more fasts, convoke no more parents with disgrace, and provoked such as solemn assemblies, appoint no more public pray- knew her debauchery to inquire from which ers to avert the anger of heaven. "Let not of her ancestors she had received such impure the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep be- and tainted blood. She had divided her heart tween the porch and the altar, let them not say, and her bed with the most implacable enemy spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine of her family. She had hazarded the legitiheritage to reproach," Joel ii. 17. All this ex-macy of her children, and confounded the lawterior of devotion will be useless, while there ful heir with a spurious offspring. Are any tears are amongst us places publicly set apart for too bitter to expiate such an odious complicaimpurity. The filthy vapour that proceeds from tion of crimes? Is any quantity too great to them will ascend, and form a thick cloud be- shed, to wash away such guilt as this? tween us and the throne of grace, a cloud which the most ardent prayers cannot pierce through. Perhaps our penitent had been guilty of adultery. What idea must a woman form of herself, if she has committed this crime, and considers it in its true point of light? Let her attentively observe the dangerous condition into which she has plunged herself, and that to which she is yet exposed. She has taken for her model the woman described by Solomon, and who has had too many copies in latter ages, that "strange
But we will not take pains to blacken the reputation of this penitent: we may suppose her unchaste, as the evangelist leads us to do, without supposing her an adulteress or a prostitute. She might have fallen once, and only once. Her sin, however, even in this case, must have become a perpetual source of sorrow: thousands and thousands of sad reflections must have pierced her heart. Was this the only fruit of my education? Is this all I have learned from the many lessons, that have been given me from my cradle, and which seem so proper to guard me for ever against
* See Sermon xviii. in the note.
wrecked? I have renounced the decency of my
the rocks where my feeble virtue has been ship- | error, and acknowledged the Redeemer of
Thus might our mourner think; but to refer all her grief to motives of this kind would be to insult her repentance. She has other motives more worthy of a penitent. This heart, the heart that my God demanded with so much condescension and love, I have denied him, and given up to voluptuousness. This body, which should have been a "temple of the Holy Ghost," is become the den of an impure passion. The time and pains I should have employed in the work of my salvation, I have spent in robbing Jesus Christ of his conquests. I have disputed with my Saviour the souls he redeemed with his blood, and what he came to save I have endeavoured to sink in perdition. I am become the cause of the remorse of my accomplice in sin, he considers me with horror, he reproaches me with the very temptations, to which he exposed me, and when our eyes meet in a religious assembly, or in the performance of a ceremony of devotion, he tacitly tells me, that I made him unworthy to be there. I shall be his executioner on his deathbed, perhaps I shall be so through all eternity. I have exposed myself to a thousand dangers, from which nothing but the grace of God has protected me, to a thousand perils and dreadful consequences, the sad and horrible examples which stain all history. Such are the causes "She stood at of the tears of this penitent. the feet of Jesus Christ, weeping, and washed his feet with tears." This is the first character of true repentance, it consists in part in keen
The third character of the repentance of this sinner is love. It should seem, Jesus Christ would have us consider all her actions as evidences of love, rather than as marks of repentance; "she hath loved much." These things are not incompatible. Though "perfect love casteth out fear," yet it does not cast out grief, for the pardon of sin received by an elect soul, far from diminishing the regret which it feels for committing it, contributes to augment it. The more we love God, the greater the pain felt for offending him. Yea, this love that makes the happiness of angels, this love that inflames seraphim, this love that supports the believers under the most cruel torments, this love is the greatest punishment of a penitent. To have offended the God we love, a God rendered amiable by infinite perfections, a God so tender, so compassionate as to pardon the very sins we lament; this love excites in a soul such emotions of repentance as we should labour in vain to express, unless your hearts, in concert with our mouths, feel in proportion as we describe.
Repentance must be wise in its application. Our sinner did not go to the foot of Mount Sinai to seek for absolution under pretence of her own righteousness, and to demand justification as a reward due to her works. She was afraid, as she had reason to be, that the language of that dreadful mountain proceeding from the mouth of divine justice would pierce her through. Nor did she endeavour to ward off the blows of justice by covering herself with superstitious practices. She did not say, "wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of oil Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Micah vi. 7. She did not even require priests and Levites to offer propitiatory sacrifices for her. She discerned the sophisms of
Courage is the fourth character of the reyou will, the love of this wopentance, or, She does not say, What will they say of man. me? Ah, my brethren, how often has this single consideration, What will they say of me? been an obstacle to repentance! How many penitents have been discouraged, if not prevented by it! To say all in one word, how many souls has it plunged into perdition! Persons affected by this, though urged by their consciences to renounce the world and its pleasures, have not been able to get over a fear of the opinions of mankind concerning their conversion. Is any one persuaded of the necessity of living retired? This consideration, What will be said of me? terrifies him. It will be said, that I choose to be singular, that I affect to distinguish myself from other men, that I am an enemy to social pleasure. Does any one desire to be exact in the performance of Divine worship? This one consideration, What will they say of me? terrifies. They will say, I affect to set myself off for a religious and pious person, I want to impose on the church by a specious outside; they will say, I am a weak man, full of fancies and phantoms. Our penitent breaks through every worldly consideration. "She goes," says a modern author, "into a strange house, without being invited, to disturb the pleasures of a festival, by an ill
THE REPENTANCE OF
timed sorrow, to cast herself at the feet of the | in regard to their manners, and to distribute [SER. LVIII. Saviour, without fearing what would be said, punishments of sin and rewards of virtue. At either of her past life, or of her present bold- least, when we usurp this right, let us not agness, to make by this extraordinary action a gravate our conduct by the manner in which kind of public confession of her dissoluteness, we exercise the bold imperious usurpation. and to suffer for the first punishment of her Let us not pronounce like bold iniquitous sins, and for a proof of her conversion, such judges on the actions of those sinners, to whom insults as the pride of the Pharisees, and her nature, society, and religion, ought to unite us own ruined reputation would certainly draw in an affectionate manner. Let us procure exupon her." We have seen the behaviour of the act informations of the causes of such crimipenitent; now let us observe the judgment of nals as we summon before our tribunals, and the Pharisee. "If this man were a prophet, he let us not deliver our sentences till we have would have known who, and what manner of weighed in a just balance whatever tends to woman this is that toucheth him, for she is a condemn, or to absolve them. This would woman of bad fame." ed to suspend for a long time our avidity to sobridle our malignity. We should be constrainlicit, and to hasten the death of a sinner. The pleasure of declaring him guilty would be counterbalanced by the pain of trying the examine the whole conduct of the sinner, as cause. Did this Pharisee give himself time to he called her? Did he enter into all the discussions necessary to determine whether she were ther she were reformed, or hardened like a rea penitent sinner, or an obstinate sinner: wheprobate in the practice of sin? No, certainly At the sight of the woman he recollects only the crimes of which she had been guilty; he did not see her, and he did not choose to see her in any other point of light; he pronounced Christ to be as rash as himself; this is a woman her character rashly, and he wanted Jesus of bad fame. Do you not perceive, my brethren, what wicked indolence animated this iniquitous judge, and perverted his judgment?
he judged of the conduct of Christ, in regard The Pharisee sinned by rashness. See how to the woman, and of what the woman ought to expect of Jesus Christ, on supposition his mission had been divine, "this man, if he were manner of woman this is that touched him, a prophet, would have known who and what for she is a sinner." This opinion supposes, that a prophet ought not in any case to have patience with a woman of this sort. As if it were impossible for a prophet to have any design impenetrable to the eye of a Pharisee! As if any one had a right to censure the conduct of a man under the direction of the infinite Spirit! But it is because this man is a prophet, it is because he is more than a profrom which all the prophets derived the superphet, it is because he is the spring, the ocean, natural knowledge of the greatest mysteries of revelation, of predicting events the least likely to come to pass, of seeing into the most distant and impenetrable futurity; it is because of this, that he is capable of forming a just notion of the character of a sinner, and the nature of a sin. Yes, none but God can form such a judgment. ther?" Rom. xiv. 4. "Who art thou, that judgest anopends on so many difficult combinations, that none but an infinite intelligence is capable of Such a judgment demaking it with exactness.
II. The evangelist expressly tells us, that the Pharisee who thus judged, was the person at whose table Jesus Christ was eating. Whether he were a disciple of Jesus Christ, as is very probable, and as his calling Christ Master seems to import, or whether he had invited him for other reasons, are questions of little importance, and we will not now examine them. It is certain, our Saviour did often eat with some Pharisees, who far from being his disciples, were the most implacable enemies of his person and doctrine. If this man were a disciple of Jesus Christ, it should seem very strange that he should doubt the divinity of the mission of Christ, and inwardly refuse him even the quality of a prophet. named Simon; however, nothing obliges us This Pharisee was either to confound Simon the Pharisee with Simon the leper, mentioned in Matthew, and to whose house Jesus Christ retired, or the history of our text with that related in the last mentioned place, for the circumstances are very different, as it would be easy to prove, had we not subjects more important to propose to you. Whosoever this Pharisee might be, he said within himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who, and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner." There are four defects in this judgment a criminal indolence-an extravagant rashness-an intolerable pride-an anti-Christian cruelty. As we cannot help condemning the opinion of the Pharisee for these four defects, so we cannot avoid censuring most of the judgments, that people form on the conduct of their neighbours for the same
A criminal indolence. That disposition of mind, I allow, is very censurable, which inspires a perpetual attention to the actions of our neighbours, and the motive of it is sufficient to make us abhor the practice. We have reason to think, that the more people pry into the conduct of their neighbours, the more they intend to gratify the barbarous pleasure of defaming them: but there is a disposition far more censurable still, and that is to be always ready to form a rigorous judgment, on the least appearances of impropriety, and without taking pains to inquire, whether there be no circumstances that diminish the guilt of an action apparently wrong, nothing that renders it deserving of patience or pity. It does not belong to us to set ourselves up for judges of the actions of our brethren, to become inquisitors
* Flechier, panegyrique de la Magdeleine.
criminal, we must examine the power of the
the education he had, what knowledge he had acquired, what conflicts he endured, what remorse he has felt. An exact comparison ought to be made of his sins with his virtues, in order to determine whether sin prevails over virtue, or whether virtue prevails over sin, and on this confronting of evidence a proper idea of the sinner in question must be formed. It must be examined whether he were seduced by ignorance, or whether he were allured by example, or whether he yielded through weakness, whether dissipation or obstinacy, malice, or contempt of God and his law, confirmed him in sin. On the examination of all these articles depends the truth of the judgment, which we form of a fellow creature. There needs nothing but one circumstance, nothing but one degree of more or less in a moral action to change the nature of it, to render it pardonable or irremissible, deserving compassion or horror. Now who is he, who is the man, that is equ to this combination? Accordingly, nothing more directly violates the laws of benevolence and justice than some decisive opinions, which we think proper to give on the characters of our neighbours. It is indeed the office of judges to punish such crimes as disturb the peace of society; and each individual may say to his brethren, this is the path of virtue, that is the road of vice. We have authority indeed to inform them that "the unrighteous," that is "adulterers, idolaters, and fornicators shall not inherit the kingdom of God," 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. Indeed we ought to apprise them of danger, and to make them tremble at the sight of the bottomless pit, towards which they are advancing at a great pace: but to make such a combination as we have described, and to pronounce such and such people reprobates is rashness, it is to assume all the authority of the sovereign judge.
There is in the opinion of the Pharisee a selfish pride. What is it then that makes this woman deserve his indignation? At what tribunal will she be found more odious than other sinners who insolently lift their heads both in the world and the church? It is at the tribunal of pride. Thou superb Pharisee! Open thine eyes, see, look, examine, there is within the walls, where thy feast is prepared, there is even at thy table a much greater sinner, than this woman, and that sinner is thyself! The sin, of which thou art guilty, and which is more abominable than unchastity, more abominable than adultery, more abominable than prostitution itself, is pride, and above all Pharisaical pride. The sin of pride is always hateful in the eyes of God, whether it be pride of honour, pride of fortune, or pride of power; but pride arising from an opinion of our own righteousness, is a direct crime against the divine Majesty. On what principles, good God! is such a pride founded! What insolence has he, who is animated with it when he presents himself before God? He appears without fear or dread before that terrible throne, in the presence of which seraphim cover their faces, and the heavens themselves are unclean. He ventures to say to himself, I have done all my duty. I have had as much respect for AImighty God as he deserves. I have had as
much zeal and ardour in prayer as the exercise requires. I have so restrained my tongue as to have no word, so directed my mind as to have no thought, so kept my heart as to have no criminal emotion to reproach myself with; or if I have had at any time any frailty, I have so fully made amends for it by my virtue, that I have sufficiently satisfied all the just demands of God. I ask no favour, I want nothing but justice. Let the Judge of the world call me before him. Let devouring fire, and eternal flames glitter in my presence. Let the tribunal of retribution be prepared before me. My arm shall save me, and a recollection of my own righteousness shall support me in beholding all these objects. You sufficiently perceive, my brethren, what makes this disposition so hateful, and we need not enlarge on the subject. Humility is the supplement of the virtues of the greatest saints. What application soever we have made to our duty, we have always fallen short of our obligations. We owe so much homage to God as to acknowledge, that we cannot stand before him, unless we be objects of his mercy; and a crime humbly acknowledged is more tolerable in his eyes, than a virtue set forth with pride and parade.
What above all poisons the judgment of the Pharisee, is that spirit of cruelty which we have observed. He was content, though all the tears of true repentance shed by this woman were shed in vain, and wished, when the woman had recourse to mercy, that God would have assumed in that very instant a shocking character, that is, that he would have "despised the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart," Ps. li. 17. It is delightful, my brethren, to combat such a fatal pretence. There is a high satisfaction in filling one's mind with just and elevated ideas of divine mercy. All we say against the barbarity of the Pharisee will serve to strengthen our faith, when Satan endeavours to drive us to despair, as he endeavoured once to destroy us by security: when he magnifies the sins we have committed, as he diminished them, when he tempted us to commit them.
The mercy of God is not an abstract attribute, discovered with great difficulty through shades and darkness by our weak reason: but it is an attribute issuing from that among his other perfections, of which he has given the most clear and sensible proofs, I mean his goodness. All things preach to us, that God is good. There is no star in the firmament, no wave of the ocean, no production of the earth, no plant in our gardens, no period in our duration, no gifts of his favour, I had almost said no strokes of his anger, which do not contribute to prove this proposition, God is good.
An idea of the mercy of God is not particular to some places, to any age, nation, religion, or sect. Although the empire of truth does not depend on the number of those that submit to it, there is always some ground to suspect we are deceived, when we are singular in our opinions, and the whole world contradict us: but here the sentiments of all mankind to a certain point agree with ours. All have acknowledged themselves guilty, and all have professed to worship a merciful God. Though
mankind have entertained different sentiments on the nature of true repentance, yet all have acknowledged the prerogatives of it.
The idea of the mercy of God is not founded merely on human speculations, subject to error: but it is founded on clear revelation; and revelation preaches this mercy far more emphatically than reason. These decisions are not such as are expressed in a vague and obscure manner, so as to leave room for doubt and uncertainty, but they are clear, intelligible, and reiterated.
The decisions of revelation concerning the mercy of God do not leave us to consider it as a doctrine incongruous with the whole of religion, or unconnected with any particular doctrine taught as a part of it: but they establish it as a capital doctrine, and on which the whole system of religion turns. What is our religion? It is a dispensation of mercy. It is a supplement to human frailty. It is a refuge for penitent sinners from the pursuits of divine justice. It is a covenant, in which we engage to give ourselves wholly up to the laws of God, and God condescends to accept our imperfect services, and to pardon our sins, how enormous soever they have been, on our genuine repentance. The promises of mercy made to us in religion are not restrained to sinners of a particular order, nor to sin of a particular kind; but they regard all sinners and all sins of every possible kind. There is no crime so odious, no circumstance so aggravating, no life so obstinately spent in sin, as not to be pitiable and pardonable, when the sinner affectionately and sincerely returns to God. If perseverance in evil, if the sin against the Holy Ghost exclude people from mercy, it is because they render repentance impracticable, not because they render it ineffectual.
The doctrine of divine mercy is not founded on promises to be accomplished at some remote and distant period; but experience has justified these promises. Witness the people of Israel, witness Moses, David, Ahab, Hezekiah, witness Manasseh, Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar. What has not repentance done? By repentance the people of Israel suspended the judgments of God, when they were ready to fall on them and crush them. By repentance Moses "stood in the breach, and turned away the wrath of God." By repentance David recovered the joy of his salvation, after he had committed the crimes of murder and adultery. By repentance even Ahab obtained a reprieve. By repentance Hezekiah enlarged the term of his life fifteen years. By repentance Manasseh saved himself and his people. By repentance Nineveh obtained a revocation of the decree that a prophet had denounced against it. By repentance Nebuchadnezzar recovered his understanding and his excellent majesty. It would be easy to enlarge this list. So many reflections, so many arguments against the cruel pretence of the Pharisee.
other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins which are many are forgiven: for she loved much: but to whom little is given, the same loveth little." This is our third part.
These words have occasioned a famous question. It has been asked whether the pardon granted by Jesus Christ to this woman were an effect of her love to Jesus Christ: or whether her love to Jesus Christ were an effect of the pardon she had received from him. The expressions, and the emblems made use of in the text, seem to countenance both these opinions.
The parable proposed by our Saviour favours the latter opinion, that is, that the woman's love to Jesus Christ was an effect of the pardon that she had received. "A certain creditor had two debtors, when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave the one five hundred pence, and the other fifty. Which of them will love him most?" The answer is, "He, I suppose, to whom he forgave most." Who does not see, that the love of this debtor is an effect of the acquittance from the debt? And as this acquittance here represents the pardon of sin, who does not see that the love of this woman, and of all others in her condition, is here stated as the effect of this pardon? But the application which Jesus Christ makes of this parable, seems to favour the opposite opinion, that is, that the love here spoken of was the cause and not the effect of pardon. "Seest thou this woman?" said Jesus Christ to Simon, "I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins which are many are forgiven; for she loved much." Does it not seem, that the application of this parable proposes the pardon of the sins of this penitent, as being both the cause and the effect of her love?
III. You have seen in our first part the repentance of the immodest woman. In the second you have seen the judgment of the PhariNow it remains to consider the judgment of Jesus Christ concerning them both. "There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the
This question certainly deserves elucidation, because it regards words proceeding from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself, and on that account worthy of being studied with the utmost care: but is the question as important as some have pretended? You may find some interpreters ready to excommunicate one another on account of this question, and to accuse their antagonists of subverting all the foundations of true religion. There have been times (and may such times never return) I say, there were times, in which people thought they distin