George Everard, 1868
"While He was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper — a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head." Mark 14:3
"She has done what she could." Mark 14:8
Not what custom demanded — she went far beyond this.
Not what she would have done — she would gladly have done far more than she did.
But "she has done what she could" — that to which love prompted her, that which her means enabled her to accomplish.
But what did this woman do to draw forth such a commendation from the lips of Christ? It was Mary the sister of Lazarus, and in truest devotion she comes to honor the Master. In days past she has heard from His lips words that have reached her very heart. He has bestowed upon her the one thing needful — He has taught her to choose the good part that should never be taken from her — He has given back to her from the grave the brother four days dead. How can she manifest as she would, all her deep gratitude towards Him?
But if she cannot do all she would, she will do something. She brings a valuable and very precious alabaster box of ointment. She then breaks the box, and pours the ointment upon His head — and with it she anoints His feet. Then she stoops down, and begins to wipe His feet with her hair. Her money, her hands, her hair — all shall be employed to honor the Savior to whom she had given the warmest affections of her heart.
Ah! but she would never thus have anointed Christ — unless first He had anointed her. In His mercy and goodness He had bestowed upon her the oil of His heavenly grace; He had endued her with the unction of the Holy Spirit; He had thus drawn her with the cords of His love, and now she does not hesitate to bring the very best that she possesses as her offering.
Reader, would you, like this woman, bring to Christ a gift that He will accept — then ask of Him the anointing which He gladly bestows; ask of Him the manifold grace of His blessed Spirit, to quicken, to sanctify, and to teach you.
And it was a delightful service in which Mary was engaged. It was a delight to the Savior to receive her service. It was a delight to herself to perform it. Perhaps never before in her life, had she felt her whole soul so enraptured with love, joy, and peace, as at that blessed season. Years afterwards she would doubtless often remember it. When the Master was no longer seen on earth, when she no more knew Him after the flesh, but as her exalted Redeemer, her great Intercessor at the Father's right hand — how she must have looked back to that favored hour in the house of Simon, and felt thankful that it had been put into her heart thus to honor Him.
And a three-fold benefit arose from this work of love:
1. It anointed Christ for His burial. It was a step in preparation of that precious blood-shedding and descent into the grave, by which He overcame death and opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
2. It likewise filled the house of Simon with its fragrance. Not one was there within that house, but reaped something of the benefit.
3. And then a blessing came back to Mary herself. She carried away on her own hands and hair, somewhat of that which she had bestowed on Jesus.
And it is ever so. None can do service for Him, but the blessing spreads wide. It honors Christ, it honors the Father. It has an effect on those around. It brings a reflex benefit into the bosom of the one who performs it.
Never forget that Holy Scripture tells of two means by which we may look to receive. They may seem very different, but they perfectly harmonize one with the other. The first way to receive, is by earnest, believing prayer: "Ask, and it shall be given you."
But there is another way — free, cheerful, liberal giving. Side by side with the promise just quoted, we ought to place another word of our Lord's: "Give — and it shall be given unto you." Those who give, whatever it is, out of love to Christ shall never lose, but gain an infinite recompense from that which they impart. It may be here — or it may be hereafter; it may be in temporal things — or it may be in spiritual; but in whatever shape it come, the reward will far exceed that which has been laid out. It shall be "good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over," which shall be given into the bosom of the bountiful soul.
But how shall we follow Mary's example? Let us speak often to our hearts, with respect to our individual responsibility. Mary had her talent, and she used it well. Let us do likewise. Five talents, two talents, or one, may have been committed to our charge. This has God Himself determined in infinite wisdom. Our part is to employ well what we have — be it more or less. The unprofitable servant was not condemned because he had not five talents, but because having one, he hid it in the ground. Be it your prayer continually, "Lord, show me what gifts, what talents You have granted to me — and then give me grace always to occupy and trade with them diligently until You shall come."
Let us also remind ourselves often of the mighty power of individual effort, whether put forth for good or for ill. Proofs of this meet us continually on every side, and should stimulate us to a life of pains-taking and exertion in the cause of Christ. A few forcible words may set this before us, and the position which individuals occupy in subordination to the purposes of the Most High God: "Truly one stands in awe at the might of single men, and at the world-shaping influence which they have exercised. It is a solemn, it would be a terrible thing to contemplate, if we did not believe that a mightier than man ruled over all — that these mightiest, no less than the least, were in His hand; whether helpers or hinderers of His kingdom, were alike raised up by Him to work out His plans — to bring about in the end, by strangest ways and such as to us seem often most unlikely, that kingdom which shall rule over all."
But if God makes so great a use of a single person, though it be an ungodly man, as for example He did of Senaccherib — then what an encouragement may this be to such as put themselves into His hands as instruments to fulfill His will!
"The noblest lot of man," said Christopher Columbus, "is to be a conscious instrument in the hand of the Almighty for the fulfillment of His designs." It is certain also that when God is pleased to make use of anyone, or any effort, as His agency for extending His kingdom and doing good to man — the vastness of the blessing is altogether disproportionate to the means employed.
Who shall say what Mary wrought for the Church of Christ, by the example of her zeal and love in bringing her box of precious ointment? Who shall say what liberality has been called forth in every section of the Church, by the example of the widow bringing her two mites and casting them into the Lord's treasury? Who shall say how often a single sentence or expression dropped from the lips of some humble follower of Christ, has been caught up, and has been re-echoed through many a congregation, and through many a town and village, awakening the careless or cheering the hearts of believers? Who shall say what fruit may spring from a little seed — a letter written to one in trouble, or a few minutes conversation on the one thing needful?
A sister is just about to set sail for a distant land. She passes through a town where a brother is at school. She has only time in a few hurried moments to press upon him the importance of decision in religion, and to urge him to read the Scriptures daily, and pray for her and the heathen to whom she is going.
Behold, how great a harvest from one grain of seed! Through that interview, in years to come, the brother becomes the laborious and successful Christian schoolmaster; and through his pupils, the influence of Robert Noble will long be felt far and wide throughout India.
But if we would follow Mary, let us remember that she anointed both the head and feet of Christ. So should we do with His mystical body. Let us honor with our prayers and praises, with our love and adoration, our glorious and exalted Head. Neither let us forget the humblest members of His body. We may feed the poor, instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful and downcast, gather together the little children, and send the Gospel to those sitting in heathen darkness.
And the fragrance that filled the house of Simon, may also suggest its lesson. Why may not Christians, in the homes where they dwell, diffuse more of the fragrance of holy peace and heavenly love? Why not exercise more of that love which is patient, and kind, and does not envy, and does not boast, and is not proud, and is not rude, and is not self-seeking, and is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs, and does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, and always protects, and always trusts, and always hopes, and always perseveres.
Instead of the coldness, indifference, jealousies, envies, estrangements, and the like, which so often mar the comfort of home-life, and brings such a reproach upon the name of Christ — might we not thus bring down into our dwellings something of the pure atmosphere of a holier world? Christian reader, be careful that those who live beneath the same roof may not discern in you that unsubdued temper, that unchecked sin, that inconsistent walk — which will neutralize all your influence for good.
"As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." Ecclesiastes 10:1
Why not cast out these "dead flies"? Selfish ways, angry feelings, thoughtless words, cross looks, peevishness, sullenness, ill judgings, refusals to be pleased or to accept acts of kindness, the neglect of little duties, attentions, and courtesies; a querulous, unhappy, dissatisfied way of speaking, putting questions in an unpleasant tone, or giving an answer that makes it plain that you took a question in a wrong light, a looking awry at whatever is done by another; keeping near the truth and yet giving a wrong impression, bribing conscience by not going very far astray — and yet going far enough to make any one see that you are not striving to be perfect before God — these are the "dead flies" that spoil the precious ointment, and place numberless stumbling blocks in the way of those dearest to us.
As you value your own peace of mind, yes, your own salvation and that of those about you — be done with these things forever. In the might of the Spirit so watch and pray against them, so cultivate the graces of a loving charity and genuine sincerity — that men may discern in you the very opposite of all this, and may thus through you glorify your Father who is in Heaven.
And it is quite possible that even from the sick chamber to which some reader may be confined, there may outcome the sweet savor of Divine grace. When the rising murmur is stilled by some thought of Christ's suffering, when impatience and selfish brooding over personal trials are checked by the cheerful hopes that grace inspires — there comes forth a hallowing influence that cannot fail to be felt throughout the dwelling.
But there may be more than this. Let but the invalid have,
"A heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize,"
and opportunities will occur and ways be opened out for deeds of beneficence and Christian love, that will be all the more valued as coming from such a quarter.
There are many ways which we can spread the fragrance of the gospel:
words of kindly counsel may be spoken,
books lent and perhaps read to those who come in,
clothes made for the children of relations, or for the poor around,
Christ's cause among the heathen not forgotten,
a letter written to the sick one,
gifts to the needy, and
Christian tracts and publications scattered around
— something of this might be done by any Christian, and together with intercessory prayer might prove a means of incalculable good.
And be not hindered in your service of Christ, whatever it is by the unkind remarks that sometimes may reach your ear. Even in the very presence of Christ, envy assails Mary. The traitor Judas has an objection ready, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." Mark 14:4-5
It sounded fair and plausible so that the other disciples seem to have taken it up, but the root of Judas' complaint was secret enmity to Christ. The very man who objects to Mary thus honoring Christ, is the one who immediately afterwards sells Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Be not surprised therefore if you meet with the same opposition. The real origin of ten thousand fair-sounding objections to missions at home and missions abroad, to this and the other scheme for advancing the kingdom of Christ — is a heart that is glued fast to the world, and that secretly hates all spiritual religion. There is a Judas-spirit lurking beneath, which cherishes no love to the Savior, and for a very little gain or pleasure would say "good-bye" to Him forever.
Never therefore give up a single good work, never turn aside from a single path of usefulness, because of the reproach that may be cast upon you. For remember, if man blames — Christ approves. Christ in this instance, as He ever does, takes the part of those who desire to serve Him. He puts down with one hand those that rebuke the woman — and with the other lifts her up by words of gracious commendation. "Let her alone. Leave her to accomplish her desire. What she does shall never be forgotten. Throughout the wide world it shall be made known as the proof of the love she bears Me." "Truly I say unto you, wherever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world — what she has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."
Christian, never forget that Christ is the merciful Advocate and Rewarder of His people. Let the world shoot out its poisoned arrows, its sharp words, its hard sayings — yet never heed them. You have Christ on your side — and that is enough. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper. He pleads your cause now on His mediatorial throne — He will plead it in the presence of all when He shall appear. Think of that great day. How blessed shall you be then, if now, day by day, you are sowing the heavenly seed.
What a glorious harvest shall you reap! What a harvest of answered prayers, of accepted labors, of efforts blessed! Not a sin, not a failing remembered, for the great Cross covers all! Not the least act of service forgotten, for even "the cup of cold water shall never lose its reward."
"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who has loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace — comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work."
Teach me to live! 'Tis easier far to die —
Gently and silently to pass away —
On earth's long night to close the heavy eye,
And waken in the realms of glorious day!
Teach me to live! — Your purpose to fulfill:
Bright for Your glory let my candle shine!
Each day renew, re-mold this stubborn will,
Closer round You, my heart's affections twine.
Teach me to live for self and sin no more;
But use the time remaining to me yet,
Not my own pleasure seeking, as before —
Wasting no precious hours in vain regret.
Teach me to live! No idler let me be,
But in Your service, hand and heart employ;
Prepared to do Your bidding cheerfully —
Be this my highest and my holiest joy.
Teach me to live! — my daily cross to bear;
Nor murmur though I bend beneath its load.
Only be with me. Let me feel You near,
Your smile sheds gladness on the darkest road.
Teach me to live! — with kindly words for all,
Wearing no cold, repulsive brow of gloom;
Waiting, with cheerful patience, until Your call
Summons my spirit to her heavenly home.