THE very beautiful narrative out of which our text is taken stands in connection with what Christ had been saying with reference to the ministration of John, that among those who were born of women there had not arisen a greater prophet than John the Baptist; and yet, he that was least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he. And he instantly sets forth this in the beautiful account given us of the poor woman who came to him at the house of Simon the Pharisee.
John's ministry was the ministry of repentance. The ministry of Christ was the ministry of eternal pardon, of eternal peace, and of eternal righteousness in himself. Thus we see the glory of the gospel of the kingdom,--of being in Christ Jesus; redeemed from all iniquity; for ever made clean and pure in his precious blood.
We shall first of all look at the condition of those of whom the Lord is here speaking.
Secondly--At their debt; and
Thirdly--At the pardon.
We read in the 33rd verse of the chapter from which our text is taken, "John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, friend of publicans and sinners!"
Who shall ever bless him enough that he has given himself this name? The friend of publicans and sinners! "But wisdom is justified of all her children. And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat."
It seems that Simon was anxious to have a little private communication with Jesus, that he might know whether he was really a prophet or not. He did not believe in him as the true Messiah, and we shall see that he comes to the conclusion at last that he was not a prophet. We shall see that he had no spiritual life; and having no spiritual life, he was not born again from above, therefore he had no good works to produce. But the poor woman had known a little of the power of the prophecies of Christ. She had not only heard of his fame, but she had heard his precious words. She had received a little of the beginning of that true consolation which flows from a sense of pardoned sin. She had been led to believe in him with a true heart. Thus we see the difference between the Pharisee and this poor woman. She was anxious to find Christ, that she might come and anoint his feet, and that she might listen again to his precious words. She had heard some of his invitations to poor sinners, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matt. 11:28,29)
With what a meek and lowly heart does the poor woman come into the house of the proud Pharisee! What a contrast have we here presented to us in this house! And how blessedly does the Lord Jesus Christ bring out the circumstances of the two cases, and the sweetness of that pardon and that peace which flows from the application of his own precious blood to the conscience! He shows the poor sinner, that "though his sins were as scarlet, they are made white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they are as wool." (Isa. 1:18)
"And behold a woman in the city, which was a sinner:" doubtless she was a great sinner. Some persons have endeavored to prove that it was Mary Magdalene, but there is no evidence with regard to who she was. But it is quite clear that Simon knew her as a very bad woman. "And behold a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment."
Many persons have endeavored to prove again that this ointment was the produce of her sin, but these are only men's suppositions, endeavoring to add to the Word of God. "And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment."
Doubtless, when she went into the house with the ointment, it was her intention to anoint the feet of Jesus with it. She came for that purpose. And having received the truth in her heart in the love of it, it caused her tears to flow. I have no doubt she felt in herself that, instead of washing, she was rather defiling the holy feet of him whom she came to anoint. Then, not having any other means of wiping the tears away, she wiped them with the hairs of her head.
I can easily understand the dear woman's feeling, with her heart melted under a sense of pardoned sin. Until she heard from the lips of Jesus the words of love and mercy, she had never wept on account of sin. But now she weeps,--not tears of sorrow, but of joy; flowing, not from her eyes alone, but from her heart; which told, in more eloquent language than any words could express, the gratitude which flowed towards him who had undertaken to become her Surety for that debt which was no longer hers, but which was transferred to his sacred head. That they were tears of love and gratitude which flowed from her eyes upon the Saviour's feet, we shall prove as we go one; for Christ sets her forth as having wept upon his feet because "she loved much."
"Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake himself." Now this at once proves the Godhead of our precious Lord Jesus Christ,--that it was not necessary for the Pharisee to speak out what was passing in his mind. As I remarked before, he wanted to find out whether Christ was a prophet; and "he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors."
He had himself become the debtor on this woman's behalf. The creditor had become the debtor. Here we see the meeting together, in one glorious person, both the altar and the sacrifice. We see the justice of God manifesting itself by the meeting upon Christ of the whole of the debt of the sins of this poor woman.
I do not for a moment suppose that Simon was a redeemed man. I think all that the Lord speaks with reference to his want of kindness in not doing those things when he came to visit him, which courtesy might have led him to do, shows there was no love in his heart towards Christ; and he came to the conclusion, as we have seen, that he could not be a prophet, or he would have known that this woman was a sinner.
"There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had noting 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 rightly judged. And he turned to the woman."
How blessed is this! When he turned to the woman, it was one loving heart turning towards another loving heart. His heart was overflowing with love to her, as hers was towards him. What consolation is this for every poor sinner who has "fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before him!" That at all times the heart of Jesus is full of love towards him; that though he may seem to have his back turned to him, as he had to this poor woman, yet he knows all that is going on in his heart; and it is his delight "to bind up the brokenhearted," and to pour in the wine and the oil of his precious consolations. Therefore, with a heart as full--yea, infinitely more full of love than the heart of the poor woman who was kneeling at his feet, he turned to her, "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."
The Lord does not at once tell Simon he had nothing forgiven him, but he puts it in this kind way. Throughout the whole of this history, in what a courteous way does he speak, as though Simon had had a little forgiven him; although I cannot conceive for a moment that he was a pardoned sinner. "And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven." This must have confirmed all that was rolling over in her heart. I cannot wonder that she should weep tears of gratitude. Doubtless she had a hope springing up in her heart previously that her sins were forgiven; but when the Lord turned to her himself, with all the tenderness of his love, and said, "Thy sins are forgiven," how did her heart melt under the sense of such an overpowering word! "And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
Then she had faith. But she could not have had faith unless she had love; and she could not have had love unless she had been born again from above. She felt the burden of her sin, and she came according to the sweet invitation through faith, rolling her burden upon the Lord. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)
She may have been among the multitude when Christ preached his sermon on the mount. She may have felt her poverty when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) She felt the burden of her debt; she looked at the bond, and was terrified at the greatness of the mountain that rested upon her.
She may have heard him say, "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." (Matt. 5:4) She felt there was grace enough in Christ to pardon all her sin, and to take away all her guilt. Again: "Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for ye shall be filled." Suppose her to have heard such words as these, enabling her to realize that she was among those blessed ones, and we can understand how she could follow the Lord with joy and peace in believing.
Perhaps she may have thought her faith was very little, if she had any faith at all. But Jesus says, "Thy faith hath saved thee." Thou hast believed my word, that I am "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by me." (Heb. 7:25) Thou hast believed that I am the Messiah.
She had, doubtless, heard that glorious testimony, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) She felt her faith going out towards him, and that she must follow him wheresoever he went. She therefore followed him into Simon's house.
She had heard him say, moreover, "No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44) She felt she had been drawn by the power of divine love, and that she was compelled of necessity to go to him. She had heard, no doubt, another sweet word, "They that be whole need not the physician; but they that are sick." "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Matt. 9:12,13) And thus she comes, saying, Lord, I am a great sinner, but thou hast made me a penitent sinner. I come to thee with my broken heart, that I may get precious healing by the power of thy blood. And she had it confirmed to her very blessedly--"Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace;" or, as it literally reads, Go into peace: enter into the joy of thy Lord: enter into that eternal peace which I have made for thee between offended justice and thyself. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." (John 14:27)
The Lord enable you, dear brother, to realize the same blessedness today; that you have been brought thus to a deep sense of your need of such a precious Saviour; and then that, as your Surety, he has paid your debt. That you have first discovered how great your debt was; and then, weeping over your bond because you had "nothing to pay," such a word as this has come with power to your heart, "And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both."
But we come, secondly, to look a little at the debt. And here we shall see what a glorious thing it is for the debtor to have a surety. For when the bond is put into our hands, unless we have a surety, having "nothing to pay," we know it is impossible we can ever obtain pardon, and the only alternative is, that we must be shut up in prison.
How blessed is it, then, to find, on examining the bond, that there is a name in the corner which will be regarded by divine justice, and which will cause our covenant God and Father to pass over the name of the sinner. The sinner may discover the greatness of the debt by looking at the bond; but it is the name in the corner with which divine justice has to do, and that is THE NAME OF JESUS!
It was an eternal bond, entered into before the foundation of the world with our covenant God and Father, that all who should be brought by the power of the Spirit to feel their deep need of such a Surety, should find that Surety in Christ alone.
A dear friend remarked to me this morning, when speaking of that text in Isaiah, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isa. 1:18) "I cannot quite see," he said, "how it is that our sins can be made white as snow. Can sin ever become white?"
I put it to him this way. It is only as we look upon sin as it ever has been looked upon by Jehovah, as a bond, that we can see how it can be made white as snow. It is by receiving the bond at the hand of the Lord that we know how great the sum total is; and also what a great Surety we have, and how much he has paid for us, that we may be delivered from the penalty due to our non-payment of the bond.
There is a very sweet hymn which we sometimes sing with reference to this:
"He gave me back the bond;
It was a heavy debt;
And as he gave, he smiled, and said,
Thou wilt not me forget.
"He gave me back the bond;
The seal was torn away,
(to show that it was cancelled bond);
"And as he gave, he smiled, and said,
Think thou of me alway.
"That bond I still will keep,
Although it cancelled be;
It tells me what I owe to him
Who paid the debt for me.
"I look on it and smile;
I look again, and weep;
This record of his love to me
For ever I will keep.
"A bond it is no more;
But it shall ever tell,
That all I owed was fully paid
By my Emmanuel."
Yes, dear brother, we can but weep when we consider the sufferings of our precious Lord Jesus Christ, and what it has cost him to pay our debt and set us eternally free. But again, when we contemplate the glory of our risen Christ, that he is exalted a "Prince and a Saviour," "we may look again and smile," knowing that the bond is eternally cancelled, and that
"Payment God cannot twice demand;
First at our bleeding Surety's hand,
And then again at ours."
Thus the poor woman, no doubt, looked first at her mountain of sin, and at the sufferings Jesus had to go through to pay her debt. And then, on the other hand, feeling that he had pardoned her sin, and thus become her Surety, she knew that he could not go back from his engagements; for
"He who whispers pardoned sin
Was never known to lie."
She knew that "he was not a man that he should lie," but the mighty God, who had bound himself by covenant oath to pay the very last mite. She could smile again when she contemplated the glorious fact that, sinner as she was, she was "all fair," and without spot, as she stood in union with her glorious head; that she was far more beautiful in his perfection than all that the Pharisee could boast of; for after all he was but a "whited wall," or a painted sepulcher.
It is thus, then, that the Lord brings home the blessed whisper to the heart of a poor needy sinner.
But we come now, finally, to look a little at the pardon. There is no such thing as abstract pardon with God. Divine justice must be satisfied, though sin be freely pardoned. It is all sovereign grace pardon and sovereign grace mercy with reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But there must be payment of the debt before pardon can be whispered in the heart.
Now, we see this grace acting with reference to the Father in the gift of his only-begotten Son. Here was the manifestation of the infinite love of the Father towards the Church. He loved her with an everlasting love, and appointed her to be the eternal bride and companion of his own well-beloved Son.
But, then, there was her debt to be paid. He therefore covenanted with his own dear Son, that he would receive payment of the debt at his hands. It was great grace in Jehovah the Father, that he would receive payment of the debt at the hand of Jesus, when he might have exacted the whole at the hand of the sinner.
And was it not great grace in the Son, that he should come forth and willingly sacrifice himself, that he might satisfy divine justice by paying every jot and tittle of the debt of his dear bride?
Again, we see the grace of the Spirit manifested in bestowing upon the sinner the blessings of that pardon which flows to him through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God.
But since it is all thus of sovereign grace, we know that it comes to us freely, just as it came to this poor woman. How freely does the Lord pour forth words of pardon and peace to her! He does not put in any ifs. He does not say, IF you will do this, or IF you will do that. No; but it is all as free as the air we breathe. The power of God had been put forth in her heart. She had received spiritual life, which was producing in her a desire after a return again of the testimony of mercy which had been given her in the pardon of her sins. This would not encourage her in sin. No; it is impossible that one who has had pardon and peace sealed home upon his heart can trifle with sin. He feels like the apostle Paul, in the 7th or Romans, that there is a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, which is continually "bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members." This causes him to tremble at himself, and to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:23,24) At the same time he can rejoice in the blessedness that the bond is cancelled; that his sin is for ever put away; that "there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1) Nothing will act so powerfully in making him walk circumspectly, that he may "adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour in all things," (Titus 2:10) as the bringing home the love of Jesus to his heart in the pardon of his sins; at the same time keeping in remembrance the sufferings of Christ when he paid the mighty debt.
It is in this light we must look at our subject today. "And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both." This subject was presented to my mind with reference to our collection this morning for the Penitentiary and the Female Home.
I have known several instances since I have been in Plymouth, in which I have not the least shadow of a doubt that the Lord has wrought in the hearts of some of the poor creatures who were inmates of the Penitentiary, and brought them out of darkness into light.
I was in the habit of preaching there on Sunday afternoons a few years since; and I remember one instance of a girl who was sent as a servant into Berkshire. Two ladies from that county, as they were leaving Plymouth, took this girl from the Penitentiary with them; and they afterwards told me that they listened with delight to what the girl repeated of what she could remember of the sermons she had heard me preach. They told me that they had no doubt the Lord had blessed my ministry to her. She has since died, and I think the last words she said were,--and she sent them as her dying words to the matron,--"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33) She felt the depth of the wisdom, the depth of the mercy, and the depth of the grace, that had been manifested to her; and I believe in my heart that she has now joined "the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb. 12:23) And this is only one among many instances in which these poor creatures have been plucked as "brands from the burning."
We have seen a little of the feeling of the poor woman who came into Simon's house; and the tears of intense gratitude she shed; and it is very blessed if we can but realize that some of those who go into the Penitentiary and the Home ultimately receive the truth in the love of it; that they are brought to feel their sins a burden, and are compelled of necessity to hang upon the only arm that is able to save and deliver them.
I have seen the benefit of these institutions, more especially since I have been chaplain of the prison. I shall never forget the feeling I experienced with reference to a poor woman, who had been one of the wildest of creatures. She had been continually wandering about the country, working at different places, dressed as a man. She was committed to prison for several months. So wild and so untamable was this poor creature, that when I went into her cell, she looked up with an air of indifference, and said, "I shall very soon be in here again after I go out. You will never be able to do anything with me." I observed, as I went on, a change came over this poor woman. By degrees she became more attentive and interested, as I talked to her about her immortal soul, and read to her some of the sweet hymns we sing at the prison in the "Cottage Hymn Book."
When she was about to leave the prison,--it was on one of my preaching mornings, when I address the poor prisoners,--she said to the matron just before chapel-time, "Matron, let me stay and hear the chaplain once more." The matron said she never knew a prisoner ask such a thing before. She remained at chapel during the service, and then went away. She said to me as she was leaving, "I hope I shall profit by what I have heard."
One morning, as I was leaving the prison, the Governor said there was a poor woman in his house who wanted to speak to me. It was this same poor woman. She said to me, "Oh, sir! I cannot trust myself; I am terrified at myself. I should like to go into the Home, or else I fear I shall commit some act which will bring me back to the prison again. I cannot trust myself." "Well," I said, "go into the Home by all means."
She did go in, and she is still there, and I trust the Lord is at work upon her soul. I trust I shall yet hear that the Word of God has entered into the heart of this poor wild creature, and that she will be another "brand plucked from the burning," and be "to the praise of the glory of that grace which hath made us accepted in the beloved."
I now commend to you the institutions for which we plead today, the Penitentiary and the Female Home. May the Lord incline your hearts to give as he has prospered you, and to his name shall be the praise.