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from the mouth of Christ than they are gone. Had they been sincerely touched with a true remorse, they would have rather come to him 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. Oh! 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, no body constrained her stay; but that which sent them away, stayed her conscience. She knew her guiltiness was publicly accused, and durst not be by herself denied: as one that was therefore fastened there by her own guilty heart, she stirs not till she may receive a dismission.
Our Saviour was not so busy in writing, but that he read the while the guilt and absence of those accusers ; he that knew what they had done, knew no less what they did, what they would do. Yet, as if the matter had been strange to him, he lifts up himself, and says, “Woman, where are thy accusers ?”
How well was this sinner to be left there ? could she be in a safer place than before the tribunal of a Saviour? might she have chosen her refuge, whither should she rather have fled? Oh happy we, if when we are convinced in ourselves of our sins, we can set ourselves before that Judge who is our Surety, our Advocate, our Redeemer, our Ransom, our Peace!
Doubtless she stood doubtful betwixt hope and fear; hope, in that she saw her accusers gone; fear, in that she knew what she had deserved : and now, while she trembles in expectation of a sentence, she hears, “Woman, where are thy accusers ?"
Wherein our Saviour intends the satisfaction of all the hearers, of all the beholders, that they might apprehend the guiltiness, and, therefore, the unfitness of the accusers; and might well see there was no warrantable ground of his farther proceeding against her.
Two things are necessary for the execution of a malefactor; evidence, sentence; the one from witnesses, the other from the judge. Our Saviour asks for both. The accusation and proof must draw on the sentence; the sentence must proceed upon the evidence of the proof; “Where are thy accusers ? hath no man condemned thee?" Had sentence passed legally upon the adulteress, doubtless our Saviour would not have acquitted her: for as he would not intrude upon others' offices, so he would not cross or violate the justice done by others. But now, finding the coast clear, he says, “ Neither do I condemn thee."
What, Lord ! dost thou then show favour to foul offenders ? art thou rather pleased that gross sins should be blanched, and sent away with a gentle connivancy? Far, far be this from the perfection of thy justice. He that hence argues adulteries not punishable by death, let him argue the unlawfulness of dividing of inheritances, because, in the case of the two wrangling brethren, thou saidst, “Who made me a divider of inheritances ?" thou declinedst the office, thou didst not dislike the act, either of parting lands, or punishing offenders. Neither was here any absolution of the woman from a sentence of death, but a dismission of her from thy sentence, which thou knewest not proper for thee to pronounce. Herein hadst thou respect to thy calling, and to the main purpose of thy coming into the world, which
was neither to be an arbiter of civil causes, nor a judge of criminal, but a Saviour of mankind; not to destroy the body, but to save the soul. And this was thy care in this miserable offender; “Go and sin no more.” How much more doth it concern us to keep within the bounds of our vocation, and not to dare trench upon the functions of others! How can we ever enough magnify thy mercy, who takest no pleasure in the death of a sinner? who so camest to save, that thou challengest us of unkindness for being miserable, “Why will ye die, 0 house of Israel ?”
But, 0 Son of God, though thou wouldst not then be a judge, yet thou wilt once be: thou wouldst not in thy first coming judge the sins of men, thou wilt come to judge them in thy second. The time shall come, when upon that just and glorious tribunal thou shalt judge every man according to his works. That we may not one day hear thee say, “Go ye cursed," let us now hear thee say, “Go, sin no more.”
THE THANKFUL PENITENT.
ONE while I find Christ invited by a publican, now by a Pharisee. Wherever he went he made better cheer than he found in a happy exchange of spiritual repast for bodily.
Who knows not the Pharisees to have been the proud enemies of Christ; men over conceited of themselves, contemptuous of others, severe in show, hypocrites in deed, strict sectaries, insolent justiciaries ? yet here one of them invites Christ, and that in good earnest. The man was not, like his fellows, captious, not ceremonious: had he been of their stamp, the omission of washing the feet had been mortal. No profession hath not yielded some good : Nicodemus and Gamaliel were of the same strain. Neither is it for nothing, that the evangelist having branded this sect for despising the counsel of God against themselves, presently subjoins this history of Simon the Pharisee, as an exempt man.
O Saviour, thou canst find out good Pharisees, good Publicans, yea a good thief upon the cross; and that thou mayest find, thou canst make them so !
At the best, yet he was a Pharisee, whose table thou here refusedst not. So didst thou in wisdom and mercy attemper thyself, as to " become all things to all men, that thou mightest win some.” Thy harbinger was rough, as in clothes, so in disposition, professedly harsh and austere; thyself wert mild and sociable: so it was fit for both. He was a preacher of penance, thou the author of comfort and salvation : he made way for grace, thou gavest it. Thou hast bidden us to follow thyself, not thy forerunner. That then which politics and time-servers do for earthly advantages, we will do for spiritual ; frame ourselves to all companies, not in evil, but in good, yea in indifferent things. What wonder is it that thou, who camest down from heaven to frame thyself to our nature, shouldst, while thou wert on earth, frame thyself to the several dispositions of men ? Catch not at this, 0 ye licentious hypocrites, men of all hours, that can eat with gluttons, drink with drunkards, sing with ribalds, scoff with profane scorners, and yet talk holily with the religious, as if ye had hence any colour of your changeable conformity to all fashion. Our Saviour never sinned for any man's sake, though for our sakes he was sociable, that he might keep us from sinning. Can ye so converse with lewd good fellows, as that ye repress their sins, redress their exorbitancies, win them to God? now ye walk in the steps of him that stuck not to sit down in the Pharisee's house.
There sat the Saviour, and “Behold, a woman in the city that was a sinner." I marvel not that she is led in with a note of wonder; wonder, both on her part, and on Christ's. That any sinner, that a sensual sinner, obdured in a notorious trade of evil, should, voluntarily, out of a true remorse for her lewdness, seek to a Saviour, it is worthy of an accent of admiration. The noise of the Gospel is common; but where is the power of it ? it hath store of hearers, but few converts. Yet were there no wonder in her, if it were not with reference to the
and mercy of Christ ; his power that thus drew the sinner, his mercy that received her. O Saviour, I wonder at her, but I bless thee for her, by whose only grace she was both moved and accepted.
A sinner! Alas! who was not? who is not so ? not only "in many things we sin all ;" but in all things we all let fail many sins. Had there been a woman not a sinner, it had been beyond wonder. One man there was that was not a sinner; even he that was more than man, that God and man, who was the refuge of this sinner: but never woman that sinned not. Yet he said not, a woman that had sinned, but “that was a sinner." An action doth not give denomination, but a trade. Even the wise charity of Christians, much more the mercy of God, can distinguish between sins of infirmity and practice of sin, and esteem us not by a transient act, but by a permanent condition.
The woman was noted for a luxurious and incontinent life. What a deal of variety there is of sins! that which faileth cannot be numbered. Every sin continued deserves to brand the soul with this style. Here one is picked out from the rest ; she is not noted for murder, for theft, for idolatry; only her lust makes her a woman that was a sinner. Other vices use not to give the owner this title, although they should be more heinous than it.
Wantons may flatter themselves in the indifferency or slightness of this offence: their souls shall need