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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 eflectual.
The doctrine of divine mercy is not founded on promises to be accomplished at some remote and distant period ; but experience hath justified these promises. Witness the people of Israel, witness Moses, David, Ahab, Hezekiah, witness Manasseh, Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar. What hath 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 Nebu. chadnezzar 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 pharisee. Now it remains to consider the judgment of Jesus Christ concerning them both.
them both. There was a cer
tain 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 righily 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. My 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 forgiven, the same loveth little. This is our third part.
These words have occasioned a famous question. It hath 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 favors the latter opinion, that is, that the woman's love to Jesus Christ was an effect of the pardon 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 forgare most. Who doth 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 doth 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 favor 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 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. Doth 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 derives illucidation, 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 their foundations of true religion. There have been times (and may such times never return) I say, there were times, in which people thought they distinguished their zeal by taking as much pains to envenom controversies, as they ought to have taken to conciliate them; and when they thought 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 wo man'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 hath 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 abso. lution. 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 can we 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 ?
But what is the opinion of the Saviour of the world, and what would he answer to the qnestion 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 virtue, that can elude the force and evidence of it: a crer ditor 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 debts 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 on account