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neighbour was a sinner! How doth he, though a better Pharisee, look awry to see such a piece in his house, while he dares think, “ If this man were a prophet, he would surely know what manner of woman this is !” Neither could she fore-imagine less, when she ventured to press over the threshhold of a Pharisee. Yet not the known austerity of a man, and her miswelcome to the place, could affright her from seeking her Saviour even there. No disadvantage can defer the penitent soul from a speedy recourse to Christ. She says not, If Jesus were in the street, or in the field, or in the house of some humble publican, or anywhere save with a Pharisee, I would coine to him; now, I will rather defer my access, than seek him where I shall find scorn and censure; but, as not fearing the frowns of that overly host, she thrusts herself into Simon's house to find Jesus. It is not for the distressed to be bashful ; it is not for a believer to be timorous. O Saviour, if thy spouse miss thee, she will seek thee through the streets; the blows of the watch shall not daunt her. If thou be on the other side of the water, a Peter will leap into the sea and swim to thee; if on the other side of the fire, thy blessed martyrs will run through those flames to thee. We are not worthy of the comfort of thy presence, if, wheresoever we know thou art, whether in prison or in exile, or at the stake, we do not hasten thither to enjoy thee.
The place was not more unfit than the time: a Pharisee's house was not more improper for a sinner, than a feast was for humiliation. . Tears at a banquet are as jigs at a funeral. There is a season for all things. Music had been more apt for a feast than mourning.
The heart that hath once felt the sting of sin, and the sweetness of remission, hath no power to delay the expressions of what it feels, and cannot be confined to terms of circumstance.
Whence then was this zeal of her access? Doubtless she had heard from the mouth of Christ, in those heavenly sermons of his, many gracious invitations of all troubled and labouring souls; she had observed how he vouchsafed to come under the roofs of despised Publicans, of professed enemies; she had noted all the passages of his power and mercy, and now deep remorse wrought upon her heart for her former viciousness. The pool of her conscience was troubled by the descending angel, and now she steps in for a
cure. The arrow stuck fast in her soul, which she could not shake out; and now she comes to this sovereign dittany to expel it. Had not the Spirit of God wrought upon her ere she came, and wrought her to come, she had never either sought or found Christ. Now she comes in, and finds that Saviour whom she sought; she comes in, but not empty handed; though debauched, she was a Jewess. She could not but have heard that she ought“ not to appear before the Lord empty.” What then brings she? It was not possible she could bring to Christ a better present than her own penitent soul; yet, to testify that, she brings another, delicate both for the vessel and the contents, “a box of alabaster;" a solid, hard, pure, clear marble, fit for the receipt of so precious an ointment: the ointment pleasant and costly; a composition of inany fragrant odours, not for medicine, but delight.
The soul that is truly touched with the sense of its own sin, can think nothing too good, too dear for Christ. The remorsed sinner begins first with the tender of “ burnt-offerings, and calves of a year old;" thence he ascends to hecatombs, " thousands of rams;" and above that yet, to“ ten thousand rivers of oil ;” and, yet higher could be content to “ give the first fruit of his body," to expiate “the sin of his soul.” Any thing, every thing is too small a price for peace. O Saviour, since we have tasted how sweet thou art, lo, we bring thee the daintiest and costliest perfumes of our humble obediences; yea, if so much of our blood, as this woman brought ointment, may be useful or pleasing to thy name, we do most cheerfully consecrate it unto thee. If we would not have thee think heaven too good for us, why should we stick at any earthly retribution to thee in lieu of thy great mercies?
Yet here I see more than the price. This odoriferous perfume was that wherewith she had wont to make herself pleasing to her wanton lovers, and now she comes purposely to offer it up to her Saviour.
As her love was turned another way, from sensual to divine, so shall her ointment also be, altered in the use: that which was abused to luxury, shall now be consecrated to devotion. There is no other effect in whatsoever true conversion; “As we have given our members servants to iniquity to commit iniquity, so shall we now give our members servants unto righteousness in holiness.” If the dames of Israel, that thought nothing more worth looking on than their own faces, have spent too much time in their glasses, now they shall cast in those metals to make a laver, for the washing off their uncleannesses. If I have spent the prime of my strength, the strength of my wit upon myself and vanity, I have bestowed my alabaster-box amiss : O now teach me, my God and Saviour, to improve all my time, all my abilities to thy glory. This is all the poor recompense can be made thee for those shameful dishonours thou hast received from me.
The woman is come in, and now she doth not boldly face Christ, but, as unworthy of his presence, she stands behind. How could she, in that sight, wash his feet with her tears ? Was it that our Saviour did not sit at the feast after our fashion, but according to the then Jewish and Roman fashion, lay on the one side? or was it that this phrase doth not so much import posture as presence? Doubtless it was bashfulness and shame, arising from the conscience of her own former wickedness, that placed her thus. How well is the case altered ! she had wont to look boldly in the face of her lovers, now she dares not behold the awful countenance of her Saviour. She had wont to send her alluring beams forth into the eyes of her wanton paramours; now she casts her dejected eyes to the earth, and dares not so much as raise them up to see those eyes for which she desired commiseration. It was a true inference of the prophet, “ Thou hast an whore's forehead, thou canst not blush :" there cannot be a greater sign of whorishness than impudence. This woman can now blush; she hath put off the harlot, and is turned true penitent. Bashfulness is both a sign and effect of grace. O God, could we but bethink how wretched we are in nature, how vile through our sins, how glorious, holy, and powerful a God thou art, before whom the brightest angels hide their faces, we could not come but with a trembling awfulness into thy presence !
Together with shame, here is sorrow : a sorrow testified by tears, and tears in such abundance, that she washes the feet of our Saviour with those streams of penitence; “ She began to wash his feet with tears.” We hear when she began, we hear not when she ended. When the grapes are pressed, the juice runs forth; so, when the mind is pressed, tears distil the true juice of penitence and sorrow. These eyes were not used to such clouds, or to such showers : there was nothing
in them formerly but sunshine of pleasure, beams of lust; now they are resolved into the drops of grief and contrition. When was this change, but from the secret working of God's Spirit?" He caused his wind to blow, and the waters flowed; he smote the rock, and the waters gushed out." O God, smite thou this rocky heart of mine, and the waters of repentance shall burst forth in abundance.
Never were thy feet, O Saviour, bedewed with more precious liquor than this of remorseful tears. These cannot be so spent, but that thou keepest them in thy bottle, yea thou returnest them back with interest of true comfort: “ They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Blessed are they that mourn." Lo, this wet seed-time shall be followed with an harvest of happiness and glory.
That this service might be complete, as her eyes were the ewer, so her hair was the towel for the feet of Christ. Doubtless, at a feast, there was no want of the most curious linen for this purpose. All this was nothing to her: to approve her sincere humility, and hearty devotion to Christ, her hair shall be put to this glorious office. The hair is the chief ornament of womanhood : the feet, as they are the lowest part of the body, so the meanest for account, and homeliest for employment; and, low, this penitent bestows the chief ornament of her head on the meanest office, to the feet of her Saviour. That hair, which she was wont to spread as a net to catch her amorous companions, is honoured with the employment of wiping the beautiful feet of him that brought the glad tidings of peace and salvation; and might it have been any service to him to have licked the dust under those feet of his, how gladly would she have done it! Nothing can be mean that is done to the honour of a Saviour.
Never was any hair so preferred as this. How I envy those locks that were graced with the touch of those sacred feet, but much more those lips that kissed them! Those lips that had been formerly inured to the wanton touches of her lascivious lovers, now sanctify themselves with the testimony of her humble homages and dear respects to the Son of God. Thus her ointment, hands, eyes, hair, lips, are now consecrated to the service of Christ her Saviour, whom she had offended. If our satisfaction be not in some kind proportionable to our offence, we are no true penitents.
All this while I hear not one word fall from the mouth of this woman. What need her tongue speak, when her eyes spake, her hands spake? Her gesture, her countenance, her whole carriage was vocal. I like this silent speaking well, when our actions talk, and our tongues hold their peace. The common practice is contrary; men's tongues are busy, but their hands are still. All their religion lies in their tongue; their hands either do nothing, or ill, so as their profession is but wind, as their words. Wherefore are words, but for expression of the mind ? if that could be known by the eye or by the hand, the language of both were alike. There are no words amongst spirits, yet they perfectly understand each other. “The heavens declare the glory of God." All tongues cannot speak so loud as they that have none. Give me the Christian that is seen and not heard. The noise that our tongue makes in a formality of profession, shall, in the silence of our hands, condemn us for hypocrites.
The Pharisee saw all this, but with an evil eye. Had he not had some grace, he had never invited such a guest as Jesus; and if he had grace enough, he had never entertained such a thought as this of the guest he invited : “ If this man were a prophet, he would have known what männer of woman it is that toucheth him, for she is a sinner.”
How many errors in one breath! Justly, O Simon, hath this one thought lost thee the thank of thy feast. Belike, at the highest, thou judgest thy guest but a prophet; and now thou doubtest whether he were so much. Besides this undervaluation, how unjust is the ground of this doubt! Every prophet knew not every thing; yea, no prophet ever knew all things. Elisha knew the very secrets of the Assyrian privy-chamber; yet he knew not the calamity of his worthy hostess. The finite knowledge of the ablest seer reaches but so far as it will please God to extend it. Well might be therefore have been a prophet, and, in the knowledge of great matters, not have known this.
Unto this, how weakly didst thou, because of Christ's silent admission of the woman, suppose him ignorant of her quality! as if knowledge should be measured always by the noise of expression. Stay but awhile, and thou shalt find that he well knew both her life and thy heart. Besides, how injuriously dost thou take this woman for what she was ? not conceiving, as well thou mightst, were not this woman a convert, she would never have offered herself into this presence.