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SERMON LIII.

LIFE OF CHRIST.

No. XX.

THE WOMAN WHO WAS A SINNER.

LUKE vii. 36-50.

The history contained in this passage beautifully and impressively illustrates the most striking feature of the gospel, that boundless and infinite

grace,

which is the only refuge of the guilty, the only asylum of the perishing. Jesus “ came to seek and to save that which was lost;" and in his instructions and

promises, through his merits, his sacrifice, and his Spirit, the deepest guilt may find pardon, the most polluted soul acquire the beauties of holiness, and the heart crushed with sorrow obtain consolation and peace. Blessed be God for that system of mercy, by which the degraded and ruined children of men may be rescued from condemnation and misery, and be brought to repentance, purity, and bliss. Blessed be that Saviour, who was a living illustration of the spirit and design of the gospel; “ who went about doing good” to the ignorant, the depraved, the forlorn: the stream of whose benevolence bore down all obstructions that opposed it, and proved wherever it flowed, “ the water of life.” While we are meditating on that touching exhibition of his benignity

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VOL. II.

and kindness, that is recorded in the text, may our hearts burn with warmer love towards him, and our minds be filled with higher and more endearing views of the immensity of his

grace. A pharisee, named Simon, had invited the Saviour to dine with him. None were more bitter enemies to Jesus than these proud and haughty men, who, confident of their own righteousness, felt not their need of pardoning mercy; yet, even among them, there were some of better dispositions, some who, like Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus, became afterwards disciples of the Redeemer. With the particular character of Simon we are unacquainted, nor can we tell the precise motives which induced him to invite Jesus. Perhaps he had been, in a degree,

affected by the solemn exhortations of the Redeemer, and wished to converse more fully with him, or more probably, as we conclude, from his omitting the ordinary marks of respect, which the Jews at their entertainments paid to those who were valued by them, he was influenced by curiosity, or had some cnsnaring design. Whatever was his motive, Jesus, ever ready to promote the salvation of his most in- . veterate enemies, went to his house. His religion did not drive him to a desert or a cloister; it is characterized by active benevolence. He refused not to eat with Zaccheus, Levi, and other publicans : he rejected not the invitation of the deluded pharisees, but seized every opportunity of instructing them both by word and example. His object was to benefit all classes; the self-righteous formalist, as well as the open sinner.

In the city resided a woman who had been notoriously wicked, and whose life had probably been stained by impurity. Of her name we are entirely

ignorant; for though some have confounded her with Mary Magdalene, and others with Mary, the sister of Lazarus, the Evangelists give not the smallest support to either of these opinions. She had heard some of the instructions of the Saviour: while listening to him, she had seen her sinfulness and her misery; she had been deeply penetrated with a sense of her guilt, and inspired with penitence. But, though filled with the deepest compunction, and trembling under a consciousness of her unworthiness, she does not entirely despair: she remembers the grace and condescension of Jesus; his acts of benevolence and mercy, which she had witnessed, or of which she had heard; the tender and encouraging invitations to all troubled and labouring souls which he has uttered; and she resolves to go to him, to pour out before him her tears, and to seek from him pardon and peace. She would not have dared thus to approach the haughty pharisees, who would have dismissed her with scorn, or sunk lier in despondency, by teaching her that she was lost without resource; but attracted by the compassion of Jesus, who was as benignant and good as he was great aneh holy, she feared not thus to cast herself upon his mercy. No obstacles shall restrain her; her heart is so full, that it will break if its feelings are not expressed. The entrance into Simon's house will probably be condemned as impertinent and obtrusive, The pharisees, who were there at meat with the Saviour, will probably view her with indignant aversion and supercilious contempt; but she despises the shame; she is indifferent to the reproaches of the world; she is willing to endure scorn and insult, if she may approach to the Saviour; no matter for the contumelies of the plarisees, if she is not spurned

by this good Shepherd. « No inconvenience," says Bishop Hall, in speaking of this woman, “ can prevent the penitent soul from a speedy recurrence to Christ. She says not, If Jesus were in the field, or in the street, or in the house of some humble publican, or any where save with a pharisee, I would come to him ; now, I would rather defer my access than find reproach and censure. It is not for the penitent and the believing to be timorous. O, Saviour! if thou be on the other side of the sea, a Peter will leap into the sea and swim to thee; if on the other side of the fire, the blessed martyrs will run through the flames to thee. We deserve not the comfort of thy presence, if, wheresoever we know thou art, though the way thither be through reproaches and afflictions, we do not come to thee."

You know that the Jews, as well as most of the ancient nations, instead of sitting at their meals, reclined upon couches, with their shoes or sandals taken off. This was the posture in which Jesus and the other guests were, when this penitent woman entered the room. She placed herself behind the couch, at his feet, mingling with the servants. Sensible as she was of his grace and compassion, yet the deep conviction of her sins would not permit her to look in his face. With what delight did she listen to all he said! Every word that he uttered penetrated her heart: her penitence, her gratitude, her admiration, her love, caused her to weep in such abundance, that her tears trickled down upon the feet of Jesus, and bathed them: observing them wet, she wiped them with the tresses of her hair, which was now loose and dishevelled, in sign of her penitence and sorrow. She kissed them, (which, as you observe in many parts of the Scripture, was not an unusual mode of express

ing reverence and regard,) to testify her adoring affection to the Redeemer of sinners. She thought, “ they are the feet of that good Shepherd, who came down from heaven, who followed me into the wilderness to save me;" and then again new floods of tears streamed over them.

It was customary in the eastern countries, at entertainments, to pour fragrant oils on the heads of such guests as they designed particularly to honour. She had with her an alabaster box of precious perfume: lowly and abased, she dares not approach the head of the Saviour; but shows at once her love and her humility, by anointing his feet. It is a silent thank-offering to him who had restored her lost peace, and led her back to the ways of virtue; for during all this time she spoke nothing ; but how eloquent were her tears and her actions !

The pharisee, however, knowing the dissolute life of this woman, and knowing little of the nature, design, and spirit of the gospel; instead of cherishing the returning virtue of this unhappy wanderer from the ways of God; instead of admiring the grace of the Redeemer, immediately concludes that Jesus cannot be a prophet, since he suffers this woman to touch and anoint him, instead of instantly expelling her from his presence, as the tradition of the elders required. • He said within himself, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who, and what manner of woman this is which touched him; for she is a sinner." He erred alike with respect to the character of Jesus, and that of the woman who now viewed with abhorrence her sins. He erred also with respect to his own character. Had he known it aright, instead of being offended with Jesus, touched and delighted with his

grace,

he would have thrown himself at his

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