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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 hath 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 punishments 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 who 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 licentiousness, men who have the most need of the patience of others, men who themselves deserve the most rigorous punishments, these very men are usually void of all pity for their fellows. Behold a famous example. The unchaste woman in the text experienced both, and by turns made trial of the judgment of God, and the judgment of men. But she met with a very different treatment. In Jesus Christ she found a very severe legislator, who left her a while 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, endeavor to arm against her the Redeemer of mankind, try to persuade him to denounce her sentence of death, even while she was repenting of her sins, and 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, that not unfrequently infects the judgments, which mankind make of one another. And in that of Jesus Christ you may behold free and generous ernotions of pity, mercy and compassion. Let us enter into the matter.
1. 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 of 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 sanie Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who paid such a pro, found 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, zome 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.
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 of Bethany, and from Mary Magdalen, who probably was so called, because she was born at Magdala, a little town in the tribe of Manasseh. Secondly, the woman of our text was one of a bad life, that is to say, guilty of impurity. The original 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 so 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 honor 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 fed 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 cha.
racters of repentance. First, Repentance must be lively, and accompanied 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, i 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 honor, 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 colors sufficiently describe a woman, who is 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 greatest excesses, whose house is a school of abomination, whence proceed those detestable maxims, which poison the minds of men, and those infamous debaucheries, which infect the body, and