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ivould have assumed in that very instant a shocking character, that is, that he would have despised the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, Psalm li. 17. It is deligbtful, my brethren, lo combat such a fatal pretence. There is a high satisfaction is filling one's mind with just and elevated ideas of divine merey. All we say against the barbarity of the pharisue will serve to strengthen our faith, when Satan endeavours to drive us to despair, as he endeavoured once to destroy us by security, when he magnifies the sins we have committed, as he diminished them, when he tempted us to commit them.
The mercy of God is not an abstract attribute, discovered with great difficulty through shades and darkness by our weak reason : bat it is an attribute issuing from that among his other perfections, of which he bath given the most clear and seosible proofs, I mean his goodness. All things preach to us, that God is good. There is no star in the firmament, no wave of the ocean, no production of the earth, no plant in our gardens, no period in our duration, no gifts of his favour, I had almost said no strokes of his anger wbich do not contribute to prove this proposition, God is good.
An idea of the mercy of God is not particular to some plaoes, to any age, nation, religion, or sect. Although the empire of truth doth not depend on the nuinber of those that subunit to it, there is always some ground to suspect we are deceived, when we are singular in our opinions, and the whole world contradict us: but here the sentimeats of all mankind to a certain point agree with ours. All have acknowledged themselves guilty, and all bave professed to worship a merciful God. Though mankind have entertained different sentiments on the nature of true repentance, yet all have acknowledged the prerogatives of it.
T'he idea of the mercy of God, is not founded merely on human speculations, subject to error: but it is founded on clear revelation ; and revelation preaches this mercy far more emphatically than reason. These decisions are not expressed in a vague and obscure manner, so as to leave room for doubt and uncertainty, but they are clear, intelligible, and reiterated.
The decisions of revelation concerning the mercy of God do not leave us to consider it as a doctrine incongruous with the whole of religion, or connected with any particular doctrine taught as a part of it: but they establish it as a capital doctrine,and on which the whole system of religion turos. What is our religion ? It is a dispensation of mercy. It is a supplement to human frailty. It is a refuge for penitent sinners from the pursuits of divine justice. It is a covenani, in which we engage to give ourselves wholly up to the laws of God, and God condescends to accept our imperfect services, and to pardon our sins, how enormous soever they have been, on our genuine repentance. The promises of mercy made to us in re. ligion are not restrained to singers of a particular order, nor to sins of 1 particular kind: but they regard all sinners and all sins of every possible kind. There is no crime so odious, no circumstance so aggravating, no life so obstinately spent in sin, as not to be pitiable and pardonable, when the sinner affectionately and sincerely returns to God. If perseverance in evil, if the sin against the Holy Ghost exclude people from mercy, it is because they render repentance impracticable, not because they render it effeciual. · The doctrine of divine mercy is not founded on promises to be ac- : complished at some remote and distant period ; but experience hath justified these promises. Witness the people of Israel, witness Moses, David, Abab, Hezekiab, witness Manasseh, Nineveb, Nebuchadnezzar. What hath not repentance done ? By repentance the people of Israel suspended the judgments of God, when they were ready to fall on them and crush them. By repentance Moses stood in the breach, and turned away the wrath of God. By repentance David recovered the joy of his salvation, after he had committed the crimes of murder and adultery. By repentance even Abab obtained a reprieve. By repentance Hezekiah enlarged the term of bis life fifteen years. By repentance Manasseh saved himself and his people By repentance Nineveh obtained a revocation of the decree that a prophet had denounced against it. By repentance Nebuchadnezzar recovered his understanding, and his excellent majesty. It would be easy to enlarge this list. So many reflections, 80 many arguments against the cruel pretence of the pharisee.
III. You have seen in our first part the repentance of the immodest woman. In the second you have seen the judgment of the pharisee. Now it remains to consider the judgment of Jesus Christ concerning them both. "There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors : the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty, and when they had nothing to pay, he fraokly 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 tbe woman, 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 bath 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." This is our third part.
These words have occasioned a famous question. It hath beeg asked whether the pardon granted by Jesus Christ to this womab were an effect of her love to Jesus Christ: or whether her love to Jesus Christ were an effect of the pardon she had received from him. The expressions, and the emblems made use of in the text, seem to countenance both these opinions.
The parable proposed by our Saviour favours the latter opinion, that is, that the woman's love to Jesus Christ was an effect of the pardon she had received. A certain creditor had two debtors, when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave the one five hundred pence, and the other fisty. Which of them will love him most? The answer is, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave most. Who doth not see, that the love of this debtor is an effect of the
acquittance from the debt? And as this acquittance here represents the pardon of sin, who doth not see that the love of this woman, and of all others in her condition, is here stated as the effect of this pardon ? But the application which Jesus Christ inakes of this parable, seems to favour the opposite opinion, that is, that the love here spoken of was the cause and not the effect of pardon. Seest thou this woman? Said Jesus Christ to Simon, 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. Mine head with nil 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. Doih it not scem, that the application of this parable proposes the pardon of the sins of this penitent, as being both the cause and the effect of her love.
This question certainly deserves illucidation, because it regards words proceeding from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself, and on that account worthy of being studied with the utmost care : but is the question as important as some have pretended? You may find some interpreters ready to excommunicate one another on account of this question, and to accuse their antagonists of subverting all their foundations of true religion. There have been times (and may such times never return) I say, there were times, in which people thought they distinguished their zeal by taking as much pains to envenom controversies, as they ough: to have taken to conciliate them; and when they thought to serve true religion by aggravating the errors of opposite religions. On these principles, such as took the words of the text in the first sense taxed the other side with subverting the whole doctrine of free justification; for, said they, il the pardon here granted to the sinner, be an effect of her love to Jesus Christ, what become of all the passages of scripture, which say, that grace, and grace alone obtains the remission of sin ? They of the opposite sentiment accused the others with subverting all the grounds of morality; for, said they, if this woman's love to Jesus Christ be only an effect of pardon, it clearly follows, that she had . been pardoned before she exercised love: But if this be the case, what become of all the passages of the gospel which make loving God a part of the essence of that faith without wbich there is no forgiveness? Do you not see, my brethren, in this way of disputing, that unhappy spirit of party, which defends the truth with the arms of falsehood; the spirit that hath caused. so many ravages in the church, and which is one of the strongest objections, that the enemy of mankind can oppose against a reunion of religious sentiments, so much desired by all good men ? What then, may it not be affirmed in a very sound sense, that we love God before we obtain the pardon of our sins? Have we not declaimed against the doctrine of such divines as have advanced that attrition alone, that is to say, a fear of hell without any degree of love to God was sufficient to open the gates of heaven to a penitent? Recourse to the Saviour of the world, such a recourse ás makes the essence of faith, ought it to
have no other motive than that of desiring to enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice ? Should it not be animated with love to his perfections ? But on the other hand, may it dot also be said, in a sense most pure, and most evangelically accurate, that true love to God is an effect of tbe pardon we obtain of him? This love is never more ardent, than when it is kindled at the flame of that, which is testified in our absolution. Is our zeal for the service of God ever more fervent than when it is produced by a felt reconciliation to him? Are the praises we sing to his glory ever more pure, than when they rise out of such motives as animate glorified saints, when we can say witb them, unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion ? Rev. i. 5. Do different views of this text deserve so much worin wood and gall ?
But what is the opinion of the Saviour of the world, and what would he answer to the question proposed? Was the pardon granted to the singer the cause of her love, or the effect of it? Which of the two ideas ought to prevail in our minds, that in the parable, or that io the application of it? The opinion most generally received in our churches is that the love of this woman ought to be consider. ed as the effect of her pardon, and this appears to us the most likely, and supported by the best evidence: for the reason, on which this opinion is grounded, seems to us unanswerable. There is neither a critical remark, nor a change of virtue, that can elude the force and evidence of it: a creditor had two debtors, he forgave the one five hundred pence, and the other fifty, the first will love him most. Vodoubtedly this love is the effect, and not the cause of the acu quittance of the debt. On the contrary, the reason on which the second opinion is founded may be easily answered. It is grounded on this expression, Her sins are forgiven, for she loved much. The original reading is capable of another sepse. Instead of translating for she loved much, the words may be rendered without any violence to the Greek text, her sins are forgiven, and because of that or on account of that she loved mucho Tbere are many examples of the original term being taken in this sense. We omit quotations and proofs only to avoid prolixity. .
We must then suppose, that the tears now shed by this woman were not the first, which she had shed at the remembrance of her sins. She had already performed several penitential exercises under a sense of forgiveness, and the repetition of these exercises proceeded both from a sense of gratitude for the sentence pronounced in her favour, and from a desire of receiving a ratification of it. On this account we have not assigned the fear of punishment as a cause of the grief of this penitent, as we ought to have done had we supposed that she had not already obtained forgiveness. Our supposition supported by our comment on the words of the text in my opinion, throw great light oo the whole passage. The pharisee is offended because Jesus Christ suffered a woman of bad character to give him so many tokens of her esteem. Jesus Christ nakes at the same time an apology both for bimself and for the penitent. He tells the pharisee, that the great esteem of this woman proceeds from a sense of the great favours, which she had received from him : that the
pbarisee thought he had given sufficient proof of his regard for Jesus Christ by receiving him into his house, without any extraordinary demonstrations of zeal, without giving him water to wash his feet, oil to anoint his head, or a kiss in token of friendship; and that what prevented him from giving greater marks of esteem was his conside ering himself in the condition of the first debtor, of whom only a little gratitude was required, because he had been released from an obligation to pay only a small and inconsiderable sum: but that this wuman considered herself in the condition of the other debtor, who had been forgiven five hundred pence; and that therefore she thought herself obliged to give her creditor the highest marks of esteem. "Seest thou this wornan ? 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 she hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many are forgiven." On this account she hath loved much, and hath given me all these proofs of affection, which are far superior to those, which I have received at your iable, for he, to whom little is forgiven, loveth little. . At length, Jesus Christ turns himself towards the penitent, and, affected at her weeping afresh, repeats his assurances of forgiveness, and appeases that sorrow, which the remembrance of her crimes excited in her heart, though she no longer dreaded punishment. Go saith he, thy sins are forgiven-Go in peace.
Ye rigid casuists, who render the path of life strait and difficult; ye, whose terrifying maxims are planted like briars and thorns in the roads to paradise ; ye messengers of terror and vengeance, like the dreadful angels who with flaming swords kept guilty man from attempting to return to the garden of Eden; ye who denounce only hell and damnation ; come hither and receive instruction. Come and learn how to preach, and how to write, and how to speak in your pulpits to your auditors, and how to comfort on a dying bed, a man, whose soul hovers on his lips, and is just de parting. See the Saviour of the world; behold with what ease and in. dulgence he receives this penitent. Scarcely had she begun to weep, scarcely had she touched the feet of Jesus Christ with a little ointment but he crowned her repentance, became her apologist, pardoped during one moment of repentance the excesses of a whole life, and condescended to acknowledge for a member of a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing, this woman, and what kind of a woman? A woman guilty perhaps of prostitution, perhaps of adultery, certainly of impurity and fornication. After this, do you violently declaim against conversion, under pretence that it is not effected precisely at such time as you ibink fit to appoint? Do you yet refuse to publish pardon and forgiveness to that sinner, who indeed hath spent his whole life in sin, but who a few moments before he expires puts on all the appearance of true repentance, covers himself with sorrow and dissolves himself in tears, likė the penitent in the text, and assures you that he embraces with the utmost serror the feet of the Redeemer of mankind ?