« السابقةمتابعة »
THE REPENTANCE OF THE UNCHASTE WOMAN.
LUKE vii. 36-50.
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him, saw it, he spake within himself, saying, 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. And Jesus answering, said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the 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 loveth much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him, began to say within themselves, who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
"LET me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great: but let me not fall into the hand of man," 2 Sam. xxiv. 14. This was the request that David made in the most unhappy moment of his life. A prophet sent by an avenging God came to bring him a choice of afflictions, "I offer thee three things, choose one of them, that I may do it unto thee. Shall three years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days pestilence in thy land? Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me," ver. 12, &c.
that he had chosen the worst? you have chosen had you been in his place, my brethren? Would you have determined for war? Could you have borne the bare idea of it? Could you have endured to see the once victorious armies of Israel led in triumph by an enemy, the ark of the Lord a captive, a cruel and barbarous soldiery reducing a kingdom to ashes, rasing fortresses, ravaging a harvest, and destroying in a moment the crop of a whole year? Would you have determined for famine? Would you have chosen to have the heaven become as iron, and the earth brass, the seed dying in the earth, or the corn burning before it was ripe? "The locust eating what the palmer worm had left, and the canker worm eating what the locust had left," Joel i. 4; men snatching bread from one another's hands, struggling between life and death, and starving till food would af ford no nourishment? Would you have chosen mortality? Could you have reconciled yourselves to the terrible times in which contagion on the wings of the wind carries its deadly poison with the rapidity of lightning from city to city, from house to house; a time in which social living is at an end, when each is wholly employed in guarding himself from danger, and has no opportunity to take care of others; when the father flees from the sight of the son, the son from that of the father, the wife avoids the husband, the husband the wife; when each dreads the sight of the person he most esteems, and receives, and communicates poisonous and deadly infection? These are the dreadful punishinents out of which God required guilty David to choose one. These he was to weigh in a balance, while he agitated the mournful question, which of the three shall I choose for my lot? However, he determines, "Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great: but let me not fall into the hand of man." He thought, that immediate strokes from the hand of a God, merciful though displeased, would be most tolerable. He could conceive nothing more terrible than to see between God and himself, men who would intercept his looks, and would prevent his access to the throne of grace.
My brethren, the wish of David under his consternation may direct ours in regard to all the spots that have defiled our lives. True, the eyes of God are infinitely more pure than those of men. He indeed discovers frailties in our lives which have escaped our notice, and "if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart." It is true, he hath punishments to inflict on us infinitely more dreadful than any mankind can invent, and if men can "kill the body, God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." However, this Almighty God, this terrible, this avenging God, is a merciful God, "great are his tender mercies;" but men, men are cruel; yea, the very men who allow themselves to live in the most shameful licentious
What a proposal was this to a man accus-ness, men who have the most need of the patomed to consider Heaven as a source of benedictions and favours! Henceforth he was to consider it only as a cavern of thunder and lightning, flashing and rolling, and ready to strike him dead! which of these punishments would he choose? Which of them could he choose without reproaching himself in future
tience of others, men who themselves deserve the most rigorous punishments, these very men are usually void of all pity for their fellows. Behold a striking example. The unchaste woman in the text experienced both, and by turns made trial of the judgment of God, and the judginent of men. But she met with a very
different treatment. In Jesus Christ she found a very severe legislator, who left her awhile to shed tears, and very bitter tears; a legislator, who left her awhile to her own grief, and sat and saw her hair dishevelled, and her features distorted; but who soon took care to dry up her tears, and to address this comfortable language to her, "Go in peace." On the contrary, in the hands of men she found nothing but barbarity and cruelty. She heard a supercilious Pharisee endeavour to arm against her the Redeemer of mankind, try to persuade him to denounce on her sentence of death, even while she was repenting of her sin, and to do his utmost to cause condemnation to flow from the very fountain of grace and mercy.
It is this instructive, this comfortable history, that we set before you to-day, and which presents three very different objects to our meditation, the conduct of the incontinent woman, that of the Pharisee, and that of Jesus Christ. In the conduct of the woman, prostrate at the feet of our Saviour, you see the principal characters of repentance. In that of the Pharisee you may observe the venom which not unfrequently infects the judgments which mankind make of one another. And in that of Jesus Christ you may behold free and generous emotions of pity, mercy, and compassion. Let us enter into the matter.
I. Let us first observe the incontinent woman now become a penitent. The question most controverted by interpreters, and very differently answered by them, is that, which in our opinion is the least important, that is, who was this woman? Not that a perfect knowledge of her person, and the history of her life, would not be very proper, by explaining the nature of her sins, to give us a just idea of her repentance, and so contribute to elucidate the text: but because, though we have taken a great deal of pains, we have found nothing on this article worthy to be proposed to critical hearers, who insist upon being treated as rational men, and who refuse to determine a point without evidence.
I know, some expositors, misled by a resemblance between this anointing of Jesus Christ, and that mentioned in the eleventh chapter of St. John, when our Saviour supped with Lazarus, have supposed that the woman here spoken of was the same Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who paid such a profound attention to the discourse of Jesus Christ, and who, according to the evangelist, "anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair." And
as other parts of the gospel speak of another "Mary called Magdalen," some have thought that Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalen, "out of whom" it is said, Jesus Christ had "cast seven devils," and the woman of our text, were one and the same person.
word signifies a sinner. This term sometimes signifies in Scripture the condition of such as lived out of the covenant, and in this sense it is used in the epistle to the Galatians, where St. Paul calls pagans sinners: but the word is applied in Greek authors to those women who were such as all the circumstances of our history engage us to consider this woman. Though it is easy to determine the sin of this woman in general, yet it is not easy to determine the particular kind, whether it had been adultery, or prostitution, or only some one criminal intrigue. Our reflections will by turns regard each of these conditions. In fine, it is highly probable, both by the discourse of the Pharisee, and by the ointment, with which this woman anointed the feet of Jesus Christ, that she was a person of some fortune. This is all I know on this sort of questions. Should any one require more, I should not blush to avow my ignorance, and to recommend him to guides wiser than any I have the honour of being acquainted with, or to such as possess that, which in my opinion, of all the talents of learned men, seems to me least to be envied, I mean that of having fixed opinions on doubtful subjects unsupported by any solid arguments.
We will confine ourselves to the principal circumstances of the life of this sinner; and to put our observations into a kind of order, we will examine first, her grief-next, the Saviour to whom she applied-then, the love that inflamed her-and lastly, the courage with which she was animated. In these four circumstances we observe four chief characters of repentance, First, Repentance must be lively, and accom-" panied with keen remorse. Our sinner weeps, and her tears speak the language of her heart. Secondly, Repentance must be wise in its application. Our sinner humbles herself at the feet of him, "who is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world," 1 John ii. 2. Thirdly, Repentance must be tender in its exercise, and acts of divine love must take place of the love of sin. Fourthly, Repentance must be bold. Our sinner surmounts all the scruples dictated by false honour, she goes into the house of the Pharisee, and acknowledges her misconduct in the presence of all the guests, and was no more ashamed to disavow her former crimes than she had been to commit them.
We consider, in the repentance of this woman the grief with which she was penetrated. Repentance must be accompanied with keen remorse. It is the chief character of it. In whatever class of unchaste people this woman ought to be placed, whether she had been a common prostitute, or an adulteress, or whether being unmarried she had abandoned herself for once to criminal voluptuousness, she had too much reason to weep and lament. If she had been guilty of prostitution, she could not shed tears too bitter. Can any colours sufficiently describe a woman, who arrived at such a pitch of impurity as to eradicate every degree of modesty; a woman letting herself out to infamy, and giving herself up to the highest bidder; one who publicly devotes herself to the
We do not intend to enter on these discussions. It is sufficient to know, first, that the woman here in question lived in the city of Nain, which sufficiently distinguishes her from Mary the sister of Lazarus, who was at Bethany, and from Mary Magdalen, who probably was so called, because she was born at Magdala, a little town in the tribe of Manasseh. Second-greatest excesses, whose house is a school of ly, the woman of our text was one of a bad life, that is to say, guilty of impurity. The original
abomination, whence proceed those detestable maxims, which poison the minds of men, and
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 legiti heritage to reproach," Joel ii. 17. All this ex-macy of her children, and confounded the lawterior of devotion will be useless, while there are amongst us places publicly set apart for impurity. The filthy vapour that proceeds from them will ascend, and form a thick cloud between 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
* See Sermon xxiii. in the note.
ful heir with a spurious offspring. Are any tears too bitter to expiate such an odious complication of crimes? Is any quantity too great to shed, to wash away such guilt as this?
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
the rocks where my feeble virtue has been ship- | wrecked? I have renounced the decency of my sex, the appurtenances of which always have been timidity, scrupulosity, delicacy, and modesty. I have committed one of those crimes which, whether it were justice or cruelty, mankind never forgive. I have given myself up to the unkindness and contempt of him, to whom I have shamefully sacrificed my honour. I have fixed daggers in the hearts of my parents; I have caused that to be attributed to their negligence, which was occasioned only by my own depravity and folly. I have banished myself for ever from the company of prudent persons. How can I bear their looks? Where can I find a night dark enough to conceal me from their sight?
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 of the tears of this penitent. "She stood at 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
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
error, and acknowledged the Redeemer of mankind, under the veils of infirmity and poverty that covered him. She knew that "the blood of bulls and of goats" could not purify the conscience. She knew that Jesus sitting at table with the Pharisee was the only offering, the only victim of worth sufficient to satisfy the justice of an offended God. She knew that he was "made unto sinners wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption:" that his name was "the only one among men whereby they might be saved." It was to Jesus Christ that she had recourse, bedewing with tears the feet of him who was about to shed his blood for her, and receiving by an anticipated faith the benefit of the death that he was going to suffer, she renounced dependance on every kind of satisfaction except his.
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.
Courage is the fourth character of the repentance, or, if you will, the love of this woman. She does not say, What will they say of 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 I afthey say of me? terrifies. They will say, fect 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
timed sorrow, to cast herself at the feet of the Saviour, without fearing what would be said, either of her past life, or of her present boldness, to make by this extraordinary action a kind of public confession of her dissoluteness, and to suffer for the first punishment of her sins, and for a proof of her conversion, such insults as the pride of the Pharisees, and her own ruined reputation would certainly draw upon her."* We have seen the behaviour of the penitent; now let us observe the judgment of the Pharisee. "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who, and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, for she is a woman of bad fame.".
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. This Pharisee was named Simon; however, nothing obliges us 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.
in regard to their manners, and to distribute punishments of sin and rewards of virtue. At least, when we usurp this right, let us not aggravate our conduct by the manner in which we exercise the bold imperious usurpation. Let us not pronounce like bold iniquitous judges on the actions of those sinners, to whom nature, society, and religion, ought to unite us in an affectionate manner. Let us procure exact informations of the causes of such criminals as we summon before our tribunals, and let us not deliver our sentences till we have weighed in a just balance whatever tends to condemn, or to absolve them. This would bridle our malignity. We should be constrained to suspend for a long time our avidity to solicit, and to hasten the death of a sinner. The pleasure of declaring him guilty would be counterbalanced by the pain of trying the cause. Did this Pharisee give himself time to examine the whole conduct of the sinner, as he called her? Did he enter into all the discussions necessary to determine whether she were a penitent sinner, or an obstinate sinner: whether she were reformed, or hardened like a reprobate 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 her character rashly, and he wanted Jesus Christ to be as rash as himself; this is a woman of bad fame. Do you not perceive, my brethren, what wicked indolence animated this iniquitous judge, and perverted his judgment?
The Pharisee sinned by rashness. See how he judged of the conduct of Christ, in regard 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 a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that touched him, 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 prophet, it is because he is the spring, the ocean, from which all the prophets derived the supernatural 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. "Who art thou, that judgest another?" Rom. xiv. 4. Such a judgment depends on so many difficult combinations, that none but an infinite intelligence is capable of making it with exactness.
In order to judge properly of a crime, and a criminal, we must examine the power of the temptations to which he was exposed, the opportunities given him to avoid it, the force of his natural constitution, the motives that animated him, the resistance he made, the virtues he practised, the talents God gave him,