« PreviousContinue »
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.
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 favor, 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 favors, 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 á hiss 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 wa. ter 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 loveth much, and hath 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.
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 saith he, thy sins are forgiven.... 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 roads to paradise; ye messengers of terror and vengeance, like the dreadful angels who with flaming swords kept guilty man 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 hath 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 bimself in tears, like the penitent in the text, and assures you that he embraces with the utmost fervor 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 most of my hearers. I think, I perceive, some reaching the right hand of fellowship to me, and congratulating me for publicly abjuring this day a 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 shewing 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 inspired writers? And where, pray, are these barbarous inen? Where are these messengers of vengeance and terrors? Where are the casuists, whose maxims render the road to eternal life inaccessible? Who are the men, who thus excite your anger and indignation? What! Is it the man, who hath 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. ii. 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 hath attended you three, four, or half a dozen tiines 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 hath always seen you immediately on your reco very 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 hath 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