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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 equal 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 Almighty 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 | other fifty. And when they had nothing to 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.
III. You have seen in our first part the repentance of the immodest woman. In the second you have seen the judgment of the Phari
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?
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
of it: "a creditor had two debtors, he forgave the one five hundred pence, and the other fifty, the first will love him most." Undoubtedly this love is the effect, and not the cause of the acquittance of the debt. On the contrary, the reason on which the second opinion is founded may be easily answered. It is grounded on this expression, "Her sins are forgiven, for she loved much." The original reading is capable of another sense. Instead of translating "for she loved much," the words may be rendered without any violence to the Greek text, "her sins are forgiven, and because of that," or account of that she loved much." There are many examples of the original term being taken in this sense. We omit quotations and proofs only to avoid prolixity.
guished their zeal by taking as much pains to | version, that can elude the force and evidence envenom controversies, as they ought to have taken to conciliate them; and when they ought to serve true religion by aggravating the errors of opposite religions. On these principles, such as took the words of the text in the first sense taxed the other side with subverting the whole doctrine of free justification; for, said they, if the pardon here granted to the sinner be an effect of her love to Jesus Christ, what become of all the passages of Scripture, which say, that grace, and grace alone, obtains the remission of sin? They of the opposite sentiment accused the others with subverting all the grounds of morality; for, said they, if this woman's love to Jesus Christ be only an effect of pardon, it clearly follows, that she had been pardoned before she exercised love: but if this be the case, what become of all the passages of the gospel, which make loving God a part of the essence of that faith without which there is no forgiveness? Do you not see, my brethren, in this way of disputing, that unhappy spirit of party, which defends the truth with the arms of falsehood; the spirit that has caused so many ravages in the church, and which is one of the strongest objections that the enemy of mankind can oppose against a reunion of religious sentiments, so much desired by all good men? What then, may it not be affirmed in a very sound sense, that we love God before we obtain the pardon of our sins? Have we not declaimed against the doctrine of such divines as have advanced that attrition alone, that is to say, a fear of hell without any degree of love to God was sufficient to open the gates of heaven to a penitent? Recourse to the Saviour of the world, such a recourse as makes the essence of faith, ought it to have no other motive than that of desiring to enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice? Should it not be animated with love to his perfections? But on the other hand, may it not also be said, in a sense most pure, and most evangelically accurate, that true love to God is an effect of the pardon we obtain of him? This love is never more ardent, than when it is kindled at the flame of that which is testified in our absolution. Is our zeal for the service of God ever more fervent than when it is produced by a felt reconciliation to him? Are the praises we sing to his glory ever more pure, than when they rise out of such motives as animate glorified saints, when we can say with them, "unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory, and dominion?" Rev. i. 5. Do different views of this text deserve so much wormwood and gall?
We must then suppose, that the tears now shed by this woman were not the first, which she had shed at the remembrance of her sins. She had already performed several penitential exercises under a sense of forgiveness, and the repetition of these exercises proceeded both from a sense of gratitude for the sentence pronounced in her favour, and from a desire of receiving a ratification of it. On this account we have not assigned the fear of punishment as a cause of the grief of this penitent, as we ought to have done had we supposed that she had not already obtained forgiveness. Our supposition supported by our comment on the words of the text, in my opinion, throw great light on the whole passage. The Pharisee is offended because Jesus Christ suffered a woman of bad character to give him so many tokens of her esteem. Jesus Christ makes at the same time an apology both for himself and for the penitent. He tells the Pharisee, that the great esteem of this woman proceeds from a sense of the great favours, which she had received from him: that the Pharisee thought he had given sufficient proof of his regard for Jesus Christ by receiving him into his house, without any extraordinary demonstrations of zeal, without giving him ". water to wash his feet, oil to anoint his head," or "a kiss" in token of friendship; and that what prevented him from giving greater marks of esteem was his considering himself in the condition of the first debtor, of whom only a little gratitude was required, because he had been released from an obligation to pay only a small and inconsiderable sum: but that this woman considered herself in the condition of the other debtor, who had been forgiven "five hundred pence;" and that therefore she thought herself obliged to give her creditor the highest marks of esteem. "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 she hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven." On this account she hath loved much; and has given me all these proofs of affection which are so far superior to those, which I have received at your table, "for he, to whom little is forgiven, loveth little."
But what is the opinion of the Saviour of the world, and what would he answer to the question proposed? Was the pardon granted to the sinner the cause of her love, or the effect of it? Which of the two ideas ought to prevail in our minds, that in the parable, or that in the application of it? The opinion most generally received in our churches is, that the love of this woman ought to be considered as the effect of her pardon, and this appears to us the most likely, and supported by the best evidence: for the reason on which this opinion is grounded, seems to us unanswerable. There is neither a critical remark, nor a change of VOL. II.-7
At length, Jesus Christ turns himself towards the penitent, and, affected at her weeping afresh, repeats his assurances of forgiveness, and appeases that sorrow, which the remembrance of her crimes excited in her heart, though she no longer dreaded punishment. "Go," says he, "thy sins are forgiven thee. . . Go in peace."
Ye rigid casuists, who render the path of life strait, and difficult, ye, whose terrifying maxims are planted like briars and thorns in the road of paradise; ye messengers of terror and vengeance, like the dreadful angels who with flaming swords kept guilty men from attempting to return to the garden of Eden; ye who denounce only hell and damnation; come hither and receive instruction. Come and learn how to preach, and how to write, and how to speak in your pulpits to your auditors, and how to comfort on a dying bed a man, whose soul hovers on his lips, and is just departing. See the Saviour of the world; behold with what ease and indulgence he receives this penitent. Scarcely had she begun to weep, scarcely had she touched the feet of Jesus Christ with a little ointment, but he crowned her repentance, became her apologist, pardoned during one moment of repentance the excesses of a whole life, and condescended to acknowledge for a member of "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing," this woman, and what kind of a woman? A woman guilty perhaps of prostitution, perhaps of adultery, certainly of impurity and fornication. After this do you violently declaim against conversion, under pretence that it is not effected precisely at such time as you think fit to appoint? Do you yet refuse to publish pardon and forgiveness to that sinner, who indeed has spent his whole life in sin, but who a few moments before he expires puts on all the appearance of true repentance, covers himself with sorrow, and dissolves himself in tears, like the penitent in the text, and assures you that he embraces with the utmost fervour the feet of the Redeemer of mankind?
Do I deceive myself, my brethren?' I think I see the audience quicken their attention. This last reflection seems to suit the taste of inost of my hearers. I think, I perceive some reaching the right hand of fellowship to me, and congratulating me for publicly adjuring this day of gloomy and melancholy morality, more likely to drive sinners to despair than to reclaim them.
How, my brethren, have we preached to you so many years, and you after all so little acquainted with us as to imagine that we have proposed this reflection with any other design than that of showing you the folly of it? Or rather are you so little acquainted with your religion, with the spirit of the gospel in general, and with that of my text in particular, as to derive consequences diametrically opposite to the design of the inspired writers? And where, pray, are these barbarous men? Where are these messengers of vengeance and terror? Where are the casuists, whose maxims render the road to eternal life inaccessible. Who are the men, who thus excite your anger and indiguation? What! Is it the man, who has spent fifty or sixty years in examining the human
heart; the man, who assures you, that, after a thousand diligent and accurate investigations, he finds impenetrable depths of deception in the heart; the man, who, from the difficulty of his own examinations derives arguments to engage you not to be satisfied with a superficial knowledge of your conscience, but to carry the light of the gospel into the darkest recesses of your heart; the man, who advises you over and over again, that if you content yourselves with a slight knowledge of yourselves, you must be subject to ten thousand illusions, that you will take the semblance of repentance for repentance itself, that you will think yourselves "rich and increased with goods," while you are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," Rev. iii. 17. Is this the rigid casuist, who offends and irritates you?
Perhaps, it is the man, who tells you that, in order to assure yourselves that you are in a state of grace, you must love God with an esteem of preference, which will engage you to obey him before all his creatures; the man, who, judging by innumerable evidences that you prefer "serving the creature more than the Creator," Rom. i. 25; concludes from this sad phenomenon that you have reason to tremble: the man, who advises you to spend at least one week in recollection and retirement before you partake of the Lord's Supper; the man, who would have you purify your hands from the blood of your brethren, and your heart burning with hatred and vengeance, and on that account placed in a catalogue of murderers' hearts, according to the spirit of the gospel: the man, who forbids you to come to the Lord's Supper while your wicked courses are only suspended instead of being reformed, and while your cruel exactions are only delayed instead of being entirely left off? Perhaps this is the man! Is this the rigid casuist, who offends and irritates you?
Or, probably, it is the man, who has attended you three, four, or half a dozen times in fits of sickness, who then saw you covered with tears, every time acknowledging your sins, and always calling heaven and earth to witness your sincere intention to reform, and to change your conduct, but who has always seen you immediately on your recovery return to your former course of life, as if you had never shed a tear, never put up a prayer, never made a resolution, never appealed to heaven to attest your sincerity: the man, who concludes from such sad events as these that the resolutions of sick and dying people ought always to be considered as extremely suspicious; the man, who tells you that during all his long and constant attendance on the sick he has seldom seen one converted on a sick-bed, (for our parts, my brethren, we are mournful guarantees of this awful fact,) the man alarmed at these frightful examples, and slow to publish the grace of God to dying people of a certain class; I say, probably, this is the man, who offends you! Is not this the cruel casuist, who provokes you?
What! Is it the man, who sees the sentence of death written in your face, and your house of clay just going to sink, to whom you appear more like a skeleton than a living body, and who fears every morning lest some messenger should inform him that you was found dead in
your bed, who fears all this from your own complaints? What am I saying? From your own complexion, from the alarms of your friends, and from the terrors of your own family; the man, who is shocked to see that all this makes no impression upon you, but that you live a life of dissipation and security, which would be unpardonable in a man, whose firm health might seem to promise him a long life; the man, who cries to you, "awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light," Eph. i. 11; improve the remainder of life, the breath, which, though it leaves thee to totter, prevents thy falling down dead. Is this the man, the rigid casuist who offends and irritates you? Such maxims, such discourses, such books, such sermons, are they systems of morality, which confound you, and drive you to despair?
After all, where are the sinners whom these casuists have driven to despair? Where are those tormented and distracted consciences? For my part, I see nothing, turn my eyes which way I will, but a deep sleep. I see nothing but security, lethargy, insensibility. How is it possible that the history of our text, that the language of Jesus Christ, "Woman, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace," that the voice of eternal truth should incline you to raise objections full of error and illusion? Is there no difference between your case and that of this penitent woman, none between Jesus Christ and your casuists? Is there any thing in which they agree? The casuist conversing with this penitent was a prophet, a prophet! he was a God, who "searched the reins and the hearts," who saw the bottom of her soul, and who penetrated through all the veils, with which a frail human heart is covered, and beheld the truth of her conversion and the genuineness of her grief: but you, my brethren, you have no such casuists, and we can judge only by external performances, which ascertain your state only on condition that they proceed from your heart. Our penitent lay prostrate at the feet of the Lord of religion, who could save her, if he pleased, by extraordinary means, and who could deliver her from death and hell by a singular effort of power, not to be repeated: but your casuists are servants, who act by commission, under express directions and orders, and who have no right to announce peace till you answer the description given in the royal instrument. Such ministers, whatever assurances of grace and pardon they affect to give, ought never to calm your consciences till you have exactly conformed to the orders of their and your sovereign master. Our penitent came to ask pardon in a free and voluntary manner, while she was in perfect health, all her actions were unconstrained and spontaneous; but you wait till death hales you to the tribunal of God, you loiter till the fear of eternal flames fright you away from such pleasures as you continue to love, and to which you would most likely return again, did not God spare you the shame by not giving you an opportunity. The penitent of our text did all she could in her circumstances to express the truth of her repentance, there was no sacrifice so dear that she did not offer, no victim so valuable that she did not stab, if I may use such an expression, with the
knife of repentance, no passion so inveterate that she did not eradicate, no marks of love for her Saviour so tender that she did not with all liberality express. Behold her eyes flowing with tears over the feet of Jesus Christ, behold her hair dishevelled, her perfumes poured out, behold all the character of sincerity, which we have observed in our first paper. Is there any one mark of a true conversion which she does bear? But you, how many reserves, how many artifices have you? How many actions of your lives, which we must not be allowed to state to you in their true point of light? How many tempers in your hearts, which must not yet be touched? Here, it is an enemy, the bare sound of whose name would increase your fever, and hasten your death. There, it is an iniquitous acquisition, which you reserve for your son to enable him to take your name with greater honour, and to support with more dignity that vain parade, or rather that dust and smoke in which you have all your life involved yourself. Our penitent never deceived Jesus Christ: but you, you have deceived your casuist a thousand and a thousand times. Our penitent wept over the odious parts of her life, and, far from being too proud to confess her sins, gloried in her confession while she blushed for her crimes: but your eyes, on the contrary, your eyes are yet dry, and it is Jesus Christ, who is weeping at your feet, it is he who is shedding tears over you, as formerly over Jerusalem, it is he who is saying, O that "thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!" Luke xix. 42; Ps. lxxxi. 13. It is not then to you, but it is to your kind of repentance, that sentences of absolution ought to be refused. The repentance of the unchaste woman was exactly conformable to the covenant of grace, to the genius of the gospel, and to the end of the mission of Jesus Christ. Hence from the mouth of the Saviour of the world proceeded, in spite of her former libertinism, in spite of the cruel censure of the Pharisee, and in spite of the murmuring of the guests, these comfortable words, "Woman, thy sins are forgiven thee. Woman, thy faith hath saved thee. Go, depart in peace."
Here, my brethren, the evangelist finishes the history of the penitent woman! and here we will finish this discourse. There is, however, one circumstance, which St. Luke has omitted, and which, if I may venture to say so, I wish he had recorded in the most severe and circumstantial manner. What were the future sentiments of this woman after the courageous steps she had taken at her setting out? What emotions did absolution produce in her soul? What effects in her conscience did this language of the Saviour of the world cause,
Woman, thy sins are forgiven-thy faith hath saved thee-go in peace?" But there is nothing in this silence that ought to surprise us. joy was not a circumstance that came under the notice of the historian. In the heart of this frail woman, converted and reconciled to God, lay this mystery concealed. There was that "peace of God, which passeth all understanding, that joy unspeakable and full of glory, that white stone, and that new name, which