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of Moses, he cannot be thus named without a shameful undervaluing of the royal law of his Maker. There is no mortal man whose authority may not grow into contempt: that of the ever-living God cannot but be ever sacred and inviolable. It is now with the gospel, as it was then with the law: the word is no other than Christ's, though delivered by our weakness; whosoever be the crier, the proclamation is the King's of heaven. While it goes for ours, it is no marvel if it lie open to despite.
How captious a word is this ! Moses said thus, “what sayest thou?" If they be not sure that Moses said so, why do they affirm it? and if they be sure, why do they question that which they know decided? They would not have desired a better advantage, than a contradiction to that received law giver. It is their profession, “ We are Moses's disciples,” and, “ we know that God spake to Moses.” It had been quarrel enough to oppose so known a prophet. Still I find it the drift of the enemies of truth, to set Christ and Moses together by the ears, in the matter of the sabbath, of circumcision, of marriage and divorce; of the use of the law, of justification by the law, of the sense and extent of the law, and where not? but they shall never be able to affect it : they two are fast and indissoluble friends on both parts for ever; each speaks for other, each establishes other; they are subordinate, they cannot be opposite; Moses faithful as a servant, Christ as a Son. A faithful servant cannot but be * officious to the Son. The true use we make of Moses is, to be our schoolmaster to teach us, to whip us unto Christ; the true use we make of Christ is, to supply Moses. “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Thus must we hold in with both, if we will have our part in either : so shall Moses bring us to Christ, and Christ to glory.
Had these Pharisees, out of simplicity, and desire of resolution in a case of doubt, moved this question to our Saviour, it had been no less commendable, than now it is blameworthy.
O Saviour, whither should we have recourse but to thine oracle? thou art the Word of the Father, the Doctor of the church; while we hear from others, what say fathers? what say counsels ? let them hear from us, “What sayest thou?"
But here it was far otherways: they came not to learn, but to tempt, and to tempt that they might accuse, like their father the devil, who solicits to sin, that he may plead against us for yieldance. Fain would these colleaguing adversaries draw Christ to contradict Moses, that they might take advantage of his contradiction.
On the one side they saw his readiness to tax the false glosses which their presumptuous doctors had put upon the law, with an “I say unto you ;" on the other, they saw his inclination to mercy and commiseration in all his courses, so far as to neglect even some circumstances of the law, as to touch the leper, to heal on the Sabbath, to eat with known sinners, to dismiss an infamous but penitent offender, to select and countenance two noted publicans; and hereupon they might perhaps think that his compassion might draw him to cross this Mosaical institution.
What a crafty bait is here laid for our Saviour! such as he cannot bite at, and not to be taken. It seems to them impossible he should avoid a deep prejudice either to his justice or mercy. For thus they imagine, either Christ will second Moses in sentencing this woman to death, or else he will cross Moses in dismissing her unpunished. If he commands her to be stoned, he loses the honour of his clemency and mercy; if he appoint her dismission, he loses the honour of his justice. Indeed, strip him of either of these, and he can be no Saviour.
O the cunning folly of vain men, that hope to beguile Wisdom itself!
Silence and neglect shall first confound those men, whom after his answer will send away convicted. Instead of opening his mouth, our Saviour bows his body; and instead of returning words from his lips, writes characters on the ground with his finger. O Saviour, I had rather silently wonder at thy gesture, than inquire curiously into the words thou wrotest, or the mysteries of thus writing : only herein I see thou meanst to shew a disregard to these malicious and busy cavillers. Sometimes taciturnity and contempt are the best answers. Thou that hast bidden us“ Be wise as serpents," givest us this noble example of thy prudence. It was most safe that these tempters should be thus kept fasting with a silent disrespect, that their eagerness might justly draw upon them an ensuing shame.
The more unwillingness they saw in Christ to give bis
answer, the more pressive and importunate they were to draw. it from him. Now, as forced by their so zealous irritation, our Saviour rouseth up himself, and gives it them home, with a reprehensory and stinging satisfaction ; “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” As if his very action had said, I was loth to have shamed you, and therefore could have been willing not to have heard your illmeant motion : but since you will needs bave it, and by your vehemence force my justice, I must tell you, there is not one of you but is as faulty as she whom you accuse; there is no difference, but that your sin is smothered in secrecy, hers is brought forth into the light. Ye had more need to make your own peace by an humble repentance, than to urge severity against another. I deny not but Moses hath justly from God imposed the penalty of death upon such heinous offences, but what then would become of you ? if death be her due, yet not by those your unclean hands; your hearts know you are not honest enough to accuse.
Lo, not the bird, but the fowler is taken. He says not, Let her be stoned; this had been against the course of his mercy: he says not, Let her not be stoned; this had been against the law of Moses. Now he so answers, that both his justice and mercy are entire; she dismissed, they ashamed.
It was the manner of the Jews, in those heinous crimes that were punished with lapidation, that the witnesses and accusers should be the first that should lay hands upon the guilty : well doth our Saviour therefore choke these accusers with the conscience of their so foul incompetency. With what face, with what heart could they stone their own sin in another person?
Honesty is too mean a term. These Scribes and Pharisees were noted for extraordinary and admired holiness: the outside of their lives was not only inoffensive, but saint-like and exemplary. Yet that all-seeing eye of the Son of God, which “ found folly in the angels," hath much more found wickedness in these glorious professors. It is not for nothing, that “his eyes are like a flame of fire.” What secret is there which he searches not ? Retire yourselves, O ye foolish sinners, into your inmost closets, yea (if you can) into the centre of the earth, his eye follows you, and observes all your carriages: no bolt, no bar, no darkness can keep him out. No thief was ever so impudent as to steal in the very face of
the judge. O God, let me see myself seen by thee, and I shall not dare to offend.
Besides, notice, here is exprobration. These men's sins, as they had been secret, so they were forgotten. · It is long since they were done; neither did they think to have heard any more news of them. And now, when time and security bad quite worn them out of thought, he, that shall once be their Judge, calls them to a back-reckoning.
One time or other shall that just God lay our sins in our dish, and make us possess the sins of our youth. “These things thou didst, and I kept silence, and thou thoughtst that I was like unto thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thee.” The penitent man's sin lies before him for his humiliation; the impenitent's, for his shame and confusion.
The act of sin is transient, not so the guilt; that will stick by us, and return upon us, either in the height of our security, or the depth of our misery, when we shall be least able to bear it. How just may it be with God to take us at advantages, and then to lay bis arrest upon us when we are laid up upon a former suit!
It is but just there should be a requisition of innocence in them that prosecute the vices of others. The offender is worthy of stoning, but who shall cast them? how ill would they become hands as guilty as her own ! what, do they but smite themselves, who punish their own offences in other inen? Nothing is more unjust or absurd, than for the beam to censure the mote, the oven to upbraid the kiln. It is a false and vagrant zeal that begins not first at home.
Well did our Saviour know how bitter and strong a pill he had given to these false justiciaries; and now he will take leisure to see how it wrought. While therefore he gives time to them to swallow it, and put it over, he returns to his old gesture of a seeming inadvertency. How sped the receipt?
I do not see any of them stand out with Christ, and plead his own innocency; and yet these men, which is very remarkable, placed the fulfilling or violation of the law only in the outward act. Their hearts misgave them, that if they should have stood out in contestation with Christ, he would have utterly shamed them, by displaying their old and secret sins; and have so convinced them, by undeniable circum
stances, that they should never have clawed off the reproach : and therefore, “ when they heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.”
There might seem to be some kind of mannerly order in this guilty departure; not all at once, lest they should seem violently chased away by this charge of Christ; now their slinking away “one by one,” may seem to carry a show of a deliberate and voluntary discession. The eldest first: the ancienter is fitter to give than take example; and the younger could think it no shame to follow the steps of a grave foreman.
O wonderful power of conscience! man can no more stand out against it, than it can stand out against God. The Almighty, whose substitute is set in our bosom, sets it on work to accuse. It is no denying, when that says we are guilty ; when that condemns us, in vain are we acquitted by the world. With what bravery did these hypocrites come to set upon Christ! with what triumph did they insult upon that guilty soul! now they are thunder-struck with their own conscience, and drop away confounded ; and well is he that can run away farthest from his own shame. No wicked man needs to seek out of himself for a judge, accuser, witness, tormentor.
No sooner do these hypocrites hear of their sins from the mouth of Christ, than they are gone. Had they been sincerely touched with a true remorse, they would have rather come to bim upon their knees, and have said, Lord, we know and find that thou knowest our secret sins; this argues thy divine omniscience. Thou that art able to know our sins, art able to remit them. O pardon the iniquities of thy servants. Thou that accusest us, do thou also acquit us. But now, instead hereof, they turn their back upon their Saviour, and haste away.
An impenitent man cares not how little he hath, either of the presence of God, or of the mention of his sins. O fools ! if ye could run away from God, it were somewhat; but while ye move in him, what do ye? whither go ye?' ye may run from his mercy, ye cannot but run upon his judgment.
Christ is left alone, alone in respect of these complainants, not alone in respect of the multitude: there yet stands the mournful adulteress. She might have gone forth with them,