"A certain immoral woman heard he was there and brought a beautiful jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them."--Luke 7:37-38
"Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much."--Luke 7:47
These words occur in a Gospel story. The narrative is exquisite in pathos and exuberant in charms of writing; but it is mainly precious as enforcing lessons of eternal truth. It belongs only to Luke. Let it be approached with adoring gratitude to the Holy Spirit for guiding the pen of this Evangelist to record it, and with humble prayer that in His love He may apply it to promote salvation.
The prominent features teach that a realized sense of pardon kindles the flame of fervent love. It must be so, for the knowledge of much forgiveness cannot fail to fan affections into ardent blaze.
The pathway to this main improvement leads through pastures of refreshing incident. (Ver. 36.) Simon, one of the Pharisees, "invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so He went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table." That sect, as a class, regarded Him with suspicious enmity; but here a liberal mind shrinks not from hospitality. He calls Him to his table. Happy are they who honor Jesus--He will honor them. Happy are they who welcome Him to their hearts and homes--He comes the bestower of blessings.
Jesus complied--"He went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat." He is ever ready to draw near when called. If He is absent from our bosoms the fault is ours--we fail to open the door, and crave His entrance.
(Ver. 37.) A startling approach now amazes the assembled guests. The circumstance is heralded by "Behold!" Observe--mark--ponder! Who is this stranger? A woman comes, infamous in the city as a sinner. Her name is not recorded--but her conduct shows her spiritual condition. The unknown is of the heavenly family--her name is in the Lamb's book of life!
It is error to identify her with Mary of Magdala. The appearance of the Magdalene in the next chapter forbids such thought; and no evidence shows that the Magdalene, though grievously tormented, was vile in degrading sin. This stranger was a native of the city in which Jesus was now a guest, and there she was notorious for polluted living.
Tidings had reached her that Jesus sat at table in Simon's house. The narrative records no previous interview with Him; but the account compels the conclusion that she was no stranger to Him--that she had acquired knowledge of His grace and power--that her heart was warm in hope of rescue from the mire of sin and unclean slavery--that she looked through Him for pardon and salvation--hence her affections glowed, and love blazed brightly.
Her conduct manifests this state. Let her acts be noticed. Her heart was breaking with desire to testify her gratitude, and openly to honor Him. She could not resist the torrent of her feelings. She must draw near--she is deterred by no fear of obstacles; she disregards the charge of violating the world's proprieties. She took, perhaps, the best of her possessions--probably procured for personal embellishment--her alabaster box of ointment; she passed the door; she reached the guest-chamber--she saw her Lord; she rushed to the object of her love; and as He reclined on the couch before the table, she took her station behind Him.
Can she see Him and be thus near, and emotion not overflow? No--her heart melted. Tears flowed so copiously that they bedewed His feet; with her streaming hair she wiped away the fast-falling flood, and then in the fervor of her holy love she pressed these feet with her lips, and perfumed them with the fragrance of her balsam. The picture vividly proclaimed how she loved Jesus.
But whence this mighty glow of love? Her heart thus burned because her soul had received hopes of forgiveness. No other answer satisfies.
Did Jesus forbid her, or repel her? They little know His heart who doubt that He tenderly views tokens of love, from those whom He loved before the world began.
At this point it requires some violence to turn from the affecting view, and to fix our eyes on the host. He watched, and was offended. He reasoned--Can Jesus allow the touch of one so fallen and impure? He concluded that her character was undetected by Jesus--he suspected that a prophet's penetrating knowledge could not enlighten Him. He thought within himself--No man of God would have permitted such loving expressions from one who is notoriously a sinner.
Such notions prove utter ignorance of the heart of Jesus. The reproach of the Pharisees and Scribes is the glory of His Gospel--"This man receives sinners, and eats with them." Happy are they who can gratefully respond--This witness is true; delighted experience endorses it.
Jesus now shows that He is a prophet in high sense; that He could read the workings of the heart, and knew how to apply seasonable instruction. Replying to the inward feeling, He said, "Simon, I have something to say unto you." He then delivered a simple parable, and added a question which touched the core of the whole scene. "There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pieces of silver, the other fifty." Thus both were deeply indebted; but the debt of the one exceeded that of the other in tenfold degree. "And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both." Who can hear this, and not with adoration recognize the Gospel-scheme? We are all deeply in debt--we are utterly bankrupt--we stand convicted at the bar of God. But we are not cast into prison until we pay the uttermost farthing. Free forgiveness is within our reach.
There may be vast difference of outward guilt; but every sin is a debt, for which no culprit can make satisfaction. The least offender is incapable of canceling his obligations--the greatest and the least are equally insolvent. The least cannot enter heaven without free forgiveness from sovereign grace; the greatest is admitted by the same door.
Jesus asked Simon, 'Which of them will love the most?' The Pharisee replied, "I suppose that he to whom he forgave most." The conclusion is right--love will be in proportion to the amount of the felt benefit. Jesus approved the judgment; and then, with touches of tenderness and power, contrasted the ardent love of the pardoned intruder with the cold reception of the host. He pointed to the woman at His feet--"Simon, do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave Me no water for My feet"--she has sent forth streams from the fountains of her eyes; she has washed them with her tears, while her towel has been the hair of her head. How little was your love! How great was the feeling of her heart!
"You gave me no kiss"--your lips never pressed My brow; but this woman, from the time I came in, beginning from the first moment and never pausing, has devoured My feet with kisses. How cold was your affection! How warm was hers!
"You did not anoint My head with oil." You did not bring the cheapest perfume for My head; but she has anointed My feet with aromatic balsam, with costly myrrh. How scanty was your gratitude! How profuse was hers!
He then touched the mainspring of her conduct--He disclosed the deep spring of her rapturous affection. This fervent emotion arose from mighty motive. She loved thus largely, thus intensely, because much had been forgiven her. She had grasped pardon--she believed that her many sins were all forgiven. Her much love gave evidence.
Perception of much pardon never fails to awaken such rapture. Grace covering immensities of evil begets immensities of grateful manifestation. He who is raised from the lowest depths mounts on loving wings to the highest heights--the greater the burden removed, the swifter do the wings fly upward. Jesus added--"To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." The heart, conscious of but little relief, warms with scanty love. The debt seems small; the release is requited by small gratitude.
The reproach conveyed to the Pharisee is keen, though tenderly expressed. Coldness of love results from pardon poorly prized. No blaze of gratitude breaks forth, because no burning obligation has been felt.
Let not the erroneous thought intrude, that this penitent was forgiven because of her love. Love is not the cause, but the effect of forgiveness. It precedes not, but it surely follows--it produces not, but it is the certain result. This woman loved not, until she knew her large, her full, her unmerited pardon; but then love, as the sun emerging from a cloud, shone in full splendor.
Thus the Gospel subjugates the heart. "We love Him because He first loved us." The believer realizes, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Responsive love breaks forth, "My heart, my soul, my body, all are His."
There is rich gain in this devoted love. Let the scene be again visited. The penitent retired not before Jesus gave a smiling look and cheering word--He now spoke with all authority, and sealed her pardon. Jesus said to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven!"
In her service she won assurance; in her work of love she earned a harvest of abounding comfort. Jesus imprints on her heart that her sins were all behind His back, and blotted out of the book of remembrance.
But He dismissed her not without pointing to the instrumental cause of her success--"Your faith has saved you; go in peace." She had heard His words; she had been persuaded; she believed, and doubted not--she may now go to her home to repose under the shadow of assurance, and to live in the calm serenity of reconciliation. All peace was now her heritage--she had right to enter on the tranquil domain. Such the narrative. The APPLICATION of this touching scene shall be brief.
I. This woman was abominable in guilt. She had wallowed foully in sin's mire. But she heard of Jesus--she obeyed His call. Sense of vilest evil formed no barrier; it urged her forward--she cast herself on Him, and was saved. This case, which is no solitary gem in the Gospel-casket, loudly encourages. Oh, sinner, though your sins be as scarlet, come to the Savior, and they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, come, and they shall be as wool; though they be piled as mountains upon mountains, His cleansing blood, His covering righteousness, shall hide all! Are you as full of malady as the notorious leper? A persecutor, a blasphemer, an injurious one, as Paul? As occupied by Satan, as Mary of Magdala--as thoroughly abandoned, as Manasseh--as dishonest as Zaccheus? Only come! He is pledged to cast out no suppliant. Come, and you shall be welcomed. All who look to the cross, as the smitten Israelites to the uplifted serpent, shall be healed. They who cry to Him in the faith of the dying thief shall enter Paradise.
II. All who can truly testify that they have accepted the Savior, and have looked with penitence and faith to Him, and have plunged into the open fountain, and have wrestled with Him for mercy, and are clinging to Him with embracing arms, should bless God for His grace toward them. Let them emulate the example of this grateful woman and show forth their love. Let them manifest it with the lip, and encircle His throne with the melody of constant praise, and chide their dull souls--"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits--Who forgives all your iniquities." It should be exhibited, also, in unremitted self-dedication. "Here we offer and present unto You, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto You."
All the means entrusted to their stewardship should be laid on Him, their altar. Especially they should labor to advance His kingdom among the sons of men, whether they be the ignorant at home, or the perishing in heathen-wilds. This is the test of love which Jesus asks--"Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" again, "Do you love Me?" and again, "Do you love more than these?" "Feed My sheep." "Feed My lambs." It is doubtful love which toils not in proclaiming Christ.
III. Abundant love reaps abundant harvests of delight. This loving servant gained the authoritative assurance, "Your sins are forgiven." So they who labor devotedly for Him advance far into those sweet gardens of joy, where the light of His countenance casts bright beams around--where the pure breezes of the Spirit bring inward health and freshness--where flowers of precious promises diffuse fragrance--where laden trees drop fruits of peace--where melody continually sings of safety, security, full redemption, eternal salvation. They who love Him most, and work most for Him, most frequently receive the tidings, "Your sins are forgiven!"
This assurance is worth ten thousand worlds. It gives so much that more can scarcely be desired. It makes every step on earth a sure and rapturous advance to the strong city of which salvation is the walls and bulwarks, and forgiveness is the open gate.