GRACE TRUTH MINISTRIES
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A GREAT SINNER AND A GREAT SAVIOUR

by JOSEPH IRONS

Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, January 1849

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“And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meal in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:37,38)

On the first reading of these two verses the question occurred to me, which our beloved Lord put relative to the eighteen persons upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, “Think you that these were sinners above all the dwellers at Jerusalem, because they suffered those things?” So we put the question concerning the woman of whom this celebrated transaction is recorded, and ask, “Thinkest though that she was a sinner above all them that dwelt in the city?” One of the first impressions that would strike the mind upon reading this narrative is, that she was one who knew that she was a sinner, and mourned for sin, and that brought her to the feet of Jesus. Doubtless there were sinners in the city quite her equal in vice, however far she might have gone. But she is singled out by an act of sovereign grace, and brought to the Jesus' feet. And see the unlikely place in which she found Him--“in Pharisee’s house”—the most unlikely place in the world to look for Jesus. Pharisees are generally so filled with self-conceit, and superstition, and creature doings, and human merit, that they have not a room or a vacant chair for Jesus Christ. The present was, however, a solitary instance in which the Lord would make manifest the difference between a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and a humble, broken-hearted sinner. It is not unusual among the proud Pharisees of our day, to cast just the reverse reproach upon the sent-servants of God, that the Pharisees of old cast upon the Saviour. They reproached Him because He preached to, and associated with, sinners; and these reproach us by saying that we do not preach to sinners. This is a common charge against us. At all events, I shall preach to sinners this morning, or I shall be obliged to go very wide indeed of my text. The woman was a sinner. And on the present occasion, her character shall, first of all, be examined. Then, the opportunity she had of coming to Christ shall be noticed. Then, while present with Jesus, the manifestation of feeling that she put forth—weeping, washing His feet with her tears, and wiping them with the hair of her head. And, then, the expectation, which she felt all along, and which was ultimately realized.

Come, poor sinners, I hope there will be some such found here this morning, who will put in their claim along with this poor woman. Never mind if the Pharisee has not asked you to dine; if you can but get behind Jesus at His feet, that will do. Never mind if you are not allowed to sit at the table, especially at the table with Pharisees, Jesus has a table of His own, and He will welcome you there, as sure as He breaks your heart and brings you to His feet. These four things, then, I wish to invite your attention to this morning, as the Holy Ghost shall give liberty, and I trust that your prayers will ascend to the throne of Jesus, that He may commission His Spirit to preach the gospel to your hearts.

I. First, the character of the woman. Everything in Scripture is addressed to character; and though some people take the liberty of reproaching those preachers who are always preaching to character, I must insist that they cannot preach the gospel at all without preaching to character, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has said—“to the poor—to the poor the gospel is preached.” He marked and pointed out the character Himself. Now here, in my text, the character is a sinner. No doubt this poor woman was proverbially such, openly such; known publicly to be a notorious character—such a sinner as to have become a pest to society, offensive in the very city wherein she dwelt, a disgrace to her relatives, her neighbors, and her friends. All this is probable. Oh, how true is that statement of the apostle Paul, when He declared that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save Sinners, of whom l am chief.” (1 Tim. 1:15) He points at the chief, you will observe, the worst, the guiltiest, the most depraved, the farthest from God, “That where sin hath abounded grace may much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20) Not that, our precious Lord loved sin, or delighted in the extent of it; no, His delight is in the vast extent of that grace of His which can reach to the uttermost, “save to the uttermost.” Witness the record given in the Word of God, of a variety of prominent characters who have been the recipients of the grace of God. Go back to old father Abraham; an idolater amongst the Chaldeans, yet the grace of God found him, and brought him out, and distinguished him. Mark the character of Jacob. I cannot admire it, except in that which grace did for him. He was a deceitful supplanting young man; and who would not censure him for the conduct he pursued in obtaining the blessing? Yet he was the favored object of distinguishing, soul-transforming grace, and so were his posterity after him. Look also at the character of David, who is emphatically styled the man after God’s own heart He too was a sinner, and was obliged to acknowledge it, “I have sinned.” And why was this acknowledged, but that a message from Jehovah might be addressed to his conscience, “The Lord hath also put away thy sin.” Besides these, there is a Magdalene, a Saul, a Peter, and many others, whose notorious transgressions have been recorded by command of the Holy Ghost, in order to its being seen and known that a sinner out of hell is not beyond the reach of grace, the righteousness, the blood, and the salvation of Jesus Christ. So we preach to sinners.

We pass on to mark that though this woman might have made her self-known publicly as an offensive sinner externally; still she was a sinner originally, before she entered the paths of vice. And here I think you and I will not be able to plead “not guilty.” She was a sinner originally. I grant that the innate depravity of a fallen nature might have been permitted to break out more violently in her conduct than in that of some others; but I cannot allow that she had more sin in her heart than I have in mine; I cannot concede that, in the sight of God, she was more a sinner in her real constitution, in her personal existence, than the most circumspect and moral of my hearers. I cannot admit a shade of difference; for concerning every one of Adam’s posterity it is set down, “The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint.” “From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in us; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.” (Isa. 1:5,6) Could her case have, been worse? Beloved, I wish you to be brought to a deep consciousness that sinnership belongs to us, as well as to the woman of the city, and that our sinnership is such that nothing but the blood of Christ can meet our condition before God. What would Simon have done could I have crept into his parlor, and said while pointing to himself at the head of his table, and then at the poor woman at Jesus’ feet, “Simon, you are as bad a sinner as that woman?” Would he not have set his dogs upon me, if he had any, or ordered me out of the house, if I had told him, “Your heart is as black and depraved as hers but she is nearer the kingdom of heaven than you are. You are further off from the Christ of God than she is; because in the depravity of your fallen nature you have the pride that denies your depravity, the pride that conceals it, and the pride that palliates it. She has not, and there is the difference between you?” May God Almighty convince my hearers of the depth of the ruin brought by the fall upon every child of Adam!

It is the lack of knowledge upon this point that throws open the door for all the abominable Arminianism of the day in which we live. Arminianism would die instantaneously if people would but believe the doctrine of the fall; but they do not. The reason why such heresies exist is, that men think there is something good remaining in them, something in their ruin which would do to be used again, to be built up afresh; and some divines have gone so far as to say that in the work of conversion, the making a saint out of a sinner, there is no new communication, but only the old powers and faculties are somewhat cleaned and trimmed up, educated and disciplined. So that Christ and His apostles did not tell the truth when they said, “If any man be in Christ Jesus, it is a new creation.” No, say these persons, it is only the old creation somewhat improved. The reason is that they do not believe the doctrine of the fall, and that God said, “On the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” They paraphrase it, as if He had said, “On the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt be very ill, thou shalt have a burning fever, but not die.” The sentence which is gone forth is, however, dying thou shalt die. And what said the apostle? “Sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Oh, my hearers, if you knew as much of yourself as a sinner as this poor woman did, nothing would satisfy you, short of coming to Jesus.

The dreadful delusion has gone forth, that the sinner’s case is not so bad but that it is within his own power to recover himself; at least with the help of a priesthood. A dreadful delusion has gone forth, that the language of Scripture should be untrue in describing the real state of mankind; and that God’s own testimony should not be credited concerning it, though He looked down from heaven and observed it:—”The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God.” (Ps. 53:2) And what is the conclusion? “They are all gone aside; they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good; no, not one.” (Ps. 53:3) Yet persons are to be found who talk about human merit, and who bolster up false hopes respecting the power of the will and the understanding, that they mean to set about a reformation shortly and make themselves good Christians. Such delusions as these may do for Paganism, or for poor deluded Papists, who never see a Bible; but that they should exist amongst persons who read the Bible, is to me “passing strange,” and a proof that the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Cor. 4:4)

The woman in our text was a sinner. And suppose any of you, my hearers, to imagine that you are sinners, but of a very, very slight description; having done very little that is evil; having done nothing to offend even a fellow—creature; and that, as to pleasing God, you have done the best you can; and that, therefore, you have not much to fear, especially as Jesus died. Still, I tell you that you are as far from the kingdom as you can be, while out of hell. And I pray God to open your eyes to the danger of your position. Now, mark one Scripture sentence, even though you forget all the rest I say to you: “Whoso keepeth the whole law”—you cannot pretend to that—“and offendeth but in one point, is guilty of it all”—“guilty of it all.” This proves your sinnership.

I will suppose an opposite description of character. Some one whom God may have sent in hither, how or why I shall not guess, burdened with guilt, overwhelmed with a consciousness that there is no heart so depraved no life so vile, no case so hopeless as his. But mark the expression, “A woman of the city that was a sinner.” It does not say how great, or how long a standing. “A sinner.” Well, this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” The most circumspect of Adam’s race must he saved as a sinner, if saved at all. The vilest sinner upon the face of the earth whom the Holy Ghost brings to the feet of Jesus need not despair of salvation.

Mark yet further. This poor woman was evidently overwhelmed with the consciousness of her sinnership. And that is the point to which I desire you to be brought, overwhelmed with the consciousness of your sinnership. It is not simply a cold admission of the fact, but compunction is felt distress of soul realized, a broken and a contrite heart bestowed, an overwhelming consciousness that you deserve nothing but eternal wrath. Now there may be some here this morning to whose consciences an arrow of warning and conviction has been sent, to whose discernment the spirituality and extent of a broken law have been presented, in whose hearts the sentence of that law, which was a sentence of death, has been written, so that they have the sentence of death in themselves and who have been obliged to fall down and cry in secret before God, “Lord, I am vile.” I believe there are cases in which the poor broken—hearted sinner, overwhelmed with a consciousness of his state, has not another word to utter before God than the short sentence I have just mentioned, “Lord, I am vile” or it may be the language of the leper, “Unclean, unclean.” It may, perhaps, advance to the cry of the publican, “God, be merciful unto me, a sinner.” I would rather find a poor sinner in that position than boasting of his attainments, palliating his transgressions, vowing and determining upon his own amendment, and putting forth his own resolutions as to what he means to accomplish and perform. All these I should place no confidence in, because they are his own. All these pretensions I should not entertain a hope about, because they are deceptive. But find me a sinner in whose conscience the arrows of the Almighty have stuck fast, who has felt the sentence of the law just as Paul speaks of it, “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died;” (Rom. 7:9) who has seen enough of sin’s obnoxious nature to make him wonder that he is out of hell, who is tilled with remorse at the review of his past life that can never be recalled and who lying at the feet of Jesus overwhelmed with the consciousness of his guilt, ruin, helplessness, and condemnation, cries, “God, be merciful unto me a sinner;” find me this, I say, and I am quite satisfied that it is the work of the Lord, that it is the conviction and teaching of the Holy Ghost, that there is something real here; and sure I am that there are brighter days and blissful enjoyments awaiting such persons, whoever they may be. Come, sinner, be no longer cast down while Jesus lives. If thou hast all the transgressions of this poor woman upon thy head and in thy heart and most of them portrayed in thy daily life, yet fear not, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, if He has but made you willing to be saved by Him.

I cannot quit this description of character without remarking that the woman must have been a regenerated character, and I draw this conclusion for the encouragement of others. She would not have been so much in love with Jesus, if she had not been a regenerated sinner. She would not have confided with Him, or awaited a pardon from Him, if she not been a regenerated sinner. She would not have poured out such a flood of tears to wash his feet, and have kissed them, if she had not been a regenerated sinner. I draw this conclusion for the encouragement of those tried and tempted souls for whom Satan would make believe there is no hope. If you are brought to the feet of Jesus, and can confide in Him, regenerating grace has made a change in your soul, which none but the omnipotent hand of God could have effected.

Let me pause here for a moment to explain what I mean by regenerated sinners. I do not mean those who have been deceived by the notion that they were regenerated when a little water was applied their faces. God forbid that I should encourage such a damnable delusion as that is! I do not mean that regeneration has been accomplished or performed by a priest’s fingers, except it be the “Great High Priest of our profession.” By regenerated sinners I mean those in whom the Holy Ghost has implanted life Divine; created another life, a new nature, the life of God in their souls. These will find their choicest place of abode to be at Jesus’ feet.

II. Now let us glance at the opportunity which the poor woman had of coming to Jesus. There is something interesting in the fact that it should have been in a Pharisee’s house. A Pharisee’s heart not only disapproves of the full salvation that is in Jesus, but despises a sinner not knowing himself to be one; and this is easily gathered from what this poor ignorant creature said within himself. He dared not speak it out, but he said within himself; “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;” as much as to say, “I Would not suffer her to touch me. I am too pure, too holy, too respectable for her to touch me. No, I would not allow her to touch even the broad Phylacteries about my garment; I would not allow her to touch my shoe latchet.” It does not appear that she was invited along with Christ to the Pharisee’s house, but found her way to where Jesus was. And be you sure of this, that a poor sinner, under the consciousness of guilt and sin, having heard of Jesus, will break through every difficulty, and whether it be a publican’s, a Pharisee’s, or a monarch’s house, the sinner must go to Jesus wherever He is to be found.

Think for a moment, here, of the display of discriminating grace. A proud Pharisee invites Christ to sit at meat with him, perhaps to display his liberality, or more probably for the purpose of questioning and finding fault with Jesus, and so obtaining materials to Persecute Him. Jesus talked to him, and reasoned with him. A parable is put before him to explain the truth; yet Simon is never once told that his sins are pardoned. He is passed by; he is left in his own proud self-righteousness, his own pride and delusions; and this poor outcast woman—who dared not appear before the face of Jesus—comes behind his back, stands there and weeps, and pours out her distresses, vents the anguish of her soul, and notorious as she was, a public reproach as she was, and perhaps justly so, is made the recipient of sovereign grace, the object of eternal love, the partaker of life Divine. She elicits this significant expression of our Lord, “Seest thou this woman? Methinks I hear the proud Pharisee, almost with disdain, reply, “See her! I wish I did not. See her how came she in my house! See her! I would spurn her from my person.” But I would not, said Jesus. She is brought to His feet, and Simon might look upon her with disdain, but Jesus looked upon her with love. Simon might look upon her to despise her, but Jesus look upon her to forgive her. Simon might look upon her to hate, but Jesus looked upon her to manifest that the distinguishing grace which He is accustomed to exercise in the most sovereign manner, had reached her heart; and thus, in Simon’s own house, the discriminating grace of God was exhibited to take the sinner and to leave the Pharisee.

Moreover, this poor woman must have been informed where Jesus was, and what He was as the sinner’s Friend; and this is the very pith of the message of the gospel of Christ. Our great business, from Lord's Day to Lord's Day, and from week to week, is to publish the name and the fame of the sinner’s Friend; to tell sinners, of every description, who know their want of a Saviour, where He is to be found; to tell them that He is to be found at Calvary, where He once bled and suffered for sinners, that He is to be found on the throne of grace, where he is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins; to tell them that He is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High, waiting, expecting, demanding, that all the sinners for whom He bled should be, like this poor woman, brought to His feet, and begin to adore His name and trust His love. Is not this encouraging to sinners? We come forth with the information that our precious Christ is often to be found upon earth in the house of prayer, working miracles, taking possession of poor ruined sinners, and sealing forgiveness home to the conscience; that He is visiting His own churches, and that, instead of being beholden to them for His feastings, He has provided “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined;” (Isa. 25:6) and his whole Church may participate, and the vilest sinner share, who is but made to hunger after it; and He says, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” (Songs 5:1) Then I would fain have my hearers invite sinners within the walls of the sanctuary of Christ, and say to them as the woman of Samaria did to the people of that city, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did.” And thus, whilst the gospel is being preached, you may be, in God’s goodness, the instruments of bringing sinners to where Jesus sits at meat, where He performs His miracles, and where Jesus may break the poor sinner’s heart, and give him salvation with all its blessings. Do not be idle, then, in these short-lived days of working. “Son, go work in my vineyard today;” and wherever you find a ruined sinner invite him to come up with you to the Lord’s house. Tell him, “I have found where Jesus is—I have found the Messiah come with me, and you shall hear of His taking millions home to glory, and that millions yet unborn are to receive the forgiveness of sins through His precious blood; and why should you not be amongst them?” I know you cannot give a new heart, or wash away sins, but Jesus can.

There, must have been, after all, an influence put forth upon this poor woman’s soul, to bring her to the feet of Jesus, or she would never have come there. Now this is literally the case with every sinner of Adam’s race. Our Lord says concerning them all, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” “No man can come unto me except the Father who hath sent me draw him.” There is the influence put forth—a mighty attractive power. “All that the Father giveth me shall come.” But these three things together—they will not come, they cannot come, and yet they shall come. The will not come is in their proud Arminianism; the cannot come is in their ruin by the fall; and the shalt come is in the Holy Spirit’s operations. Nor was it ever known that a sinner of Adam’s race came to Jesus, in the character and manner which this poor woman did, but by the invincible operations of the Holy Spirit of God, constraining, convincing, attracting, and drawing him, and revealing a precious Christ unto him. This is the way that Jesus deals with sinners.

III. We now come to the manifestation of feeling in this poor woman. What are the feelings that she must have been the subject of? The first I shall mention is the feeling of necessity, and the second is that of a new nature’s affection for what she had discovered. She loved much. This feeling of necessity not only brings the sinner to Jesus under Divine power and might, but constrains the sinner to put forth the emotion which is described of this woman—weeping. I do not so much regard the literal effusion of water from the bodily eyes, as I do the weeping of the soul—the compunction of the spirit; though with persons who are naturally sensitive, this very compunction will flow forth in external tears, but in other constitutions not so visibly. Therefore, I do not put that value upon the flow of tears externally that I do upon the compunction of the soul, which melts and dissolves the sinner at the feet of Jesus. Oh, the blessedness of such a position melted in heartfelt sorrow for sin! Have you ever been there? I am very much afraid that many who pass for Christians have glided into their Christianity in a very smooth and easy manner; and I as strongly fear that they will glide out of it as easily, and perish forever. When the Lord’s people are described as returning to Zion, the Lord, speaking by the prophet, says, “They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them.” (Jer. 31:9) Look over the penitential grief described in the 51st Psalm. Mark, also, the Lord’s account of Ephraim, “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.” Observe the anguish of spirit that Saul of Tarshish felt when Jesus first spoke to him. Follow Peter going out from Pilate’s hall to weep bitterly over sin; end then ask yourself have I wept before God over sin? Is it that burdensome cursed, tormenting continually annoying thing, even though it may be pardoned, that I hate its very existence, and mourn over it before God? I want to know if you have experience this manifestation of feeling before, Jesus. Have you stood behind Him, weeping at His feet? You are aware, that among the Jews the posture of sitting at meat was a reclining one, with their feet partially thrust out behind them; and thus the opportunity was given this woman who thought, perhaps, that she was concealed of humbly prostrating herself behind the precious Christ of God, and weeping so as to wash His feet with her tears. It appears that Simon had been neglectful of the common courtesy of those times, which was to wash persons’ feet when they came in, especially when they sat at meat; and, therefore, the Saviour upbraids the Pharisee that, with all his pretensions he cared nothing about Christ, and disregarded even the common courtesies of life. Oh, there is no character so detestable as that of the Pharisee; not even the infidel. They are so case-hardened, so dreadfully opposed to Christ, and so horribly proud in themselves, that there is not so awful a character in the world as the Pharisee; and our beloved Lord has denounced no such woes upon any other character as upon that. But this poor woman pours out her soul, sheds her tears upon the Redeemer’s feet, takes the very locks of her head for a towel to wipe them with, and then kisses his feet. What does this express? Not merely the necessity which she felt of a Saviour, but the love of her heart, arising from a newly created nature having received the tokens of that Saviour’s love. It is thought probable that this poor woman had heard the Saviour preach, had listened to His voice, had obtained the knowledge of the remission of sins in His name, and received comforting grace from on high, and took this opportunity of venting her affections for Him.

Now examine well this point before we proceed further, and ask, has this been my case? There may be vain boastings of pardoning love, and justifying righteousness by persons who have obtained a head knowledge of the doctrines of grace, but have never been found weeping with gratitude and love at Jesus’ feet. Sure I am, and I beg you to mark this down as a standing principle, that one view of the precious Christ, in the assurance of His pardoning love, sealed upon the heart and conscience will do more to melt the soul down, than all the threatening of the Word of God, or all the torments of lost souls, could they ring in our ears. As saith one of our poets,

“Law and terrors do but harden
All the time they work alone;
But a sense of blood-bought pardon
Soon dissolves a heart of stone.”

The best repentance which is known on earth is that which flows from Calvary, from atoning blood, from pardoning love in the contrite soul; sweetly satisfied that his sins are cast behind Jehovah’s back, and there incapable of pouring out, in sufficient profusion, his expressions of gratitude and love, for pardoning love applied by power Divine, he waits, he looks, and weeps at the feet of Jesus. What knowest thou, my hearers, of these feelings? Many persons are greatly frightened about going to hell, and sometimes, perhaps, grieve lest they should do so. You may be frightened concerning it, and cry over it, and go to hell after all; but if you have seen an agonizing Christ; felt the application of His blood to your conscience, heard His voice speaking forgiveness to your soul, and found the Divine change effected in your heart by the Holy Ghost, you shall never be banished from His presence; and sure I am that there will be tears of gratitude, affection, and thankfulness—a melted soul pouring itself out—”pour out your soul before the Lord.” And this will be the most acceptable sacrifice in the sight of our precious Christ. The one description of sorrow, the apostle says, worketh death, and the other worketh life; the one comes from a slavish dread—the other from a newly created, heaven—born love to Jesus.

IV. Let us now pass on to say a few words concerning this poor woman’s expectations. No doubt they were great. They are not recorded, but I should think we might sum them up in two particulars. She expected to eye the glories of His person, and gaze upon Him with delight; and she expected, also, to receive absolution from Him, and she got both. Now, if you were brought to the feet of Jesus, I would have you encourage this two-fold expectation. The first is, to eye the personal and official glories of Christ. Think for a moment of the privilege of gazing by faith upon Him, who is declared to be “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3)—of looking Him in the face, in whose face the glory of God is displayed as it is written, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) Now raise your expectations, beloved, for the enjoyment of more of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” in the precious countenance of Jesus Christ, look for it see in Him all the attributes of the Deity glorified. See in Him all wisdom and knowledge treasured up. See in Him resting the entire responsibility for the salvation of the whole election of grace, the whole Church of God, see in Him the compassion of Deity towards ruined sinners, see in Him both the ability and the willingness to save to the uttermost. See in Him all beauties and all glories, until, by gazing upon Him, everything else shall appear deformed and ugly which has not His likeness, and your own poor fallen nature the most deformed and ugly of all. So that, whilst admiring His glories, gazing upon His beauties, and fixed, with wondering delight, upon His precious person, every moment that shall be spared to reflect upon yourself may make you cry out, “My eyes have seen the King in His beauty;” “therefore, I abhor myself. I loathe myself in dust and ashes.” Oh, the preciousness of believing views of Christ! Oh, the blessedness of living in the expectations of their being extended by looking at him in a promise—by looking at Him in a doctrine* by looking at Him in an ordinance—by looking at Him in the closet, and conversing with Him—or even by looking at Him, sitting in contrast with the Pharisee. I can easily conceive that the eye of faith may place before it those two objects, such as the poor woman had. There was the proud, stiffs-starched Pharisee, as dead as the seat on which he recline and there is the precious, glorious Christ of God humbling himself for the sake of sinners, and determining to save them to the uttermost. I can easily imagine that this poor woman, taught of God, on catching a glimpse of Simon, would be ready to say within herself, “What a demon—like countenance!” Then, turning to Christ, “See, heaven beams in His every look.” Catching another glimpse of Simon, “What a mass of pride!” Then, turning to Christ, “What a pattern of humiliation, condescension submission and patience, is here!” Glancing once more at Simon, if she condescends to give him another look, “See his blindness, his hardness of heart, and his enmity towards Christ depictured in his very looks, and expressed in every sentence!” She turns away—“I will not look any more there. I can bear no longer the ugliness of the Pharisee. I must turn, and gaze only upon my Saviour. All the love of Deity, all the affection of a husband, all the tenderness of a brother, all the faithfulness of a glorious High Priest, all the responsibility of a Daysman and an Advocate, all the condescension that can bring him down to my ruined case, as a guilty, sinful wretch, whom all the city despises, all the happiness that my empty, guilty, hungering, longing soul can desire to enjoy, all are here pouring forth from His expressive words, and heavenly countenance.” And at length she breaks out, in the rapture of the Church of old, “He is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.” (Songs 5:10,16) Oh, look at Him again; He Himself invites you. “Look on me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (Isa. 45:22) “Behold me,” is His cry. Look off from everything else, to gaze upon the precious Christ of God, and know more and more of Him; yea, till ye “know even as ye are known.”

This poor woman expected, also, to receive absolution from the Saviour, and she obtained it. I can not help contrasting this with the delusion under which millions are acting at this very moment. Millions of persons are, at this moment, and in this long—called Christian country, expecting to receive absolution from a sinner, as vile and polluted as themselves, a human official priest. I have not language sufficiently strong to express my loathing of the ignorance that can bend beneath such superstitions, and my deep indignation at the diabolical villainy of those who fill their coffers by contrivances of lies. Talk of absolution from a creature! Surely, none but the devil himself could ever equal it. Nay, I do not think that He ever did; for in all his temptations of Christ, He did not once presume to offer absolution. He certainly did presume to tell Him one barefaced lie; namely, that he would give Him all the kingdoms of the world, which he could not do, because they were not his to give. “All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” That was base enough; but it is not half so base as the wretches who tell us that they have power to grant absolution to a fellow worm. It really appears to me, that none of the brute creation are sunk so much beneath their position in the creation of God, as those men are who yield to such horrible delusions, I denounce this, because of the fact that millions of persons are this very day, and even in the British empire, duped and plundered by that horrible doctrine of absolution at the hands of men. Observe, however, that this doctrine, viewed scripturally, is a very precious one; and we do not mean that the devil should rob us of the doctrine, though it is his constant practice to turn to the vilest of uses the best of things. The doctrine of absolution is plainly set forth in Scripture, but then Jehovah assumes it as His own prerogative. “I, even I,” says He, “am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isaiah 43:25) The Jews asked the question very pertinently, at the close of the chapter from which I have taken my text, when Jesus said unto the woman, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” “Who is this that forgiveth sins?” A very reasonable question; and I wish every poor wretch who visits the confessional would put that question to the priest. The rational answer would be, “Why a fallen creature, who needs forgiveness himself, or he will go to hell.” But when the question is put concerning Christ, “Who is this that forgiveth sins?” the answer is, “He who is able; He who has engaged to blot them out in His own blood; He who, from everlasting, has taken them upon Himself, in covenant engagements, that He might put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; He who is truly properly God.”

A word relative to the difference between the declaration of the doctrine of absolution, and the reception of it from Christ by the poor sinner. They are two different things. Unto Simon the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” But that would not have satisfied her, if she had stopped there. It was the doctrine of Divine forgiveness in the hands of Christ proclaimed. It was the doctrine of Divine forgiveness, reaching the vilest and guiltiest of sinners. “She loved much, for much was forgiven her; a doctrine that may well raise the hopes and expectations of the guilt-burdened soul. If Jehovah forgives sins, and those of the vilest description, why not mine? In the very existence of such a doctrine, my hearer may hope that, by and bye, Christ will speak unto his heart and conscience with the power of the Holy Ghost, and say, “Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee.” This assurance is sealed with power. It is received with faith. It is a certificate embosomed in the soul—a satisfaction not to be destroyed—a holy joy commenced, heaven pledged, and hell shut and barred against that soul for ever—Satan vanquished, and all the blessings of the everlasting gospel of Christ opened to the view, to be poured out by the spirit, and enjoyed in personal experience. What thinkest thou, then, beloved, of the doctrine of absolution? Is it brought home to thy conscience? Do you receive it at the hands of our Great High Priest? I solemnly declare, that I would not thank a thousand human priests, even though they were the best men in the world, for all the absolutions they might be able to pronounce in the course of their whole lives. I should treat them all with utter contempt—as mere delusions. But when Jesus speaks to my heart, and says, “I, even I, have blotted out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,” I can believe Him, I receive His assurance, and I cannot resist it. He sets a seal upon it. He puts it in the soul, writes and engraves it in the heart and the mind, and then, like Hezekiah, the pardoned sinner, however great his transgressions may have been, exultingly exclaims, “He has cast all my sins behind his back. When sought for, they shall not be found. When asked after, there shall be none.”

“Seest thou this woman?” Examine her character, and ask if it is thine. “Seest thou this woman?” Look at her opportunity seize it, and fly to Christ wherever you find Him. “Seest thou this woman?” Look at her manifestation of feeling, and see if necessity has driven thee to Christ, and the new creation in thy heart has constrained thee to pour forth tears of affection, love, and gratitude, to a glorious Saviour. Then sit down at His feet, and raise high thine expectations of enjoying and knowing more of His precious person, receiving repeated tokens of His forgiving love, and anticipating the moment when He shall say, “Come, pardoned soul; come, ransomed soul; come, renewed soul, and he thou a glorified soul with me above.” May He send down His Spirit to apply these few remarks with power divine to the hearts of my hearers, and, at all events, prevent any of them from going away, and saying that we do not preach to sinners, and His precious name shall have all the glory. Amen.

The 84th Song in Mr. Irons New Version of the Psalms


"Great is the Lord His Name confess,
Let Zion shout His praise;
The mountain of His holiness,
Where He His truth displays.

"The joy and beauty of the earth,
The city of our God;
Whose citizens of heav’nly birth,
Their liberties record.

"Within her Palaces, her saints,
Her covenant God is known;
For He attends to their complaints,
And they their refuge own.

"Kings have assembled to make war
Against the chosen race,
Fear seiz’d upon them when they saw
The triumph of His grace.


The ships of Tarshish Thou shalt break
When they Thy Church invade;
‘Tis but to bid the winds awake,
And in the deep they’re laid."



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