MARY; Or, The Power of Penitence
James Smith, 1856
"If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner!"
"Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7:39, 44-47
This woman was a sinner — an open sinner. One who had violated the laws of decency, as well as the law of God. She is condemned and despised. Many are more ready to condemn — than to pity; to despise — than to endeavor to reclaim.
We forget when we look at the profane — that we have the seeds of profanity in our hearts! We forget that evil human nature is essentially the same in all — only that education, circumstances, providence, or the grace of God — makes the only difference between us and the vilest man that ever lived!
We are all one man's sons. We were hewn out of the same rock — we were dug out of the same pit. Humbling consideration this! My nature is the same as in the harlot, the drunkard, the murderer; and if left to myself — I would have been as depraved as they are!
While I condemn sin — let me ever pity the sinner. While I mourn over the fallen — let me ask the question so well put by the apostle, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?" 1 Corinthians 4:7.
Am I vile? Let me take the blame and the shame to myself.
Am I saved and holy? Let sovereign grace have all the glory and praise!
But this woman, this great sinner — was a sincere penitent. She had heard the gospel, and she believed it. It brought good news and glad tidings to her soul. It pointed to an open door by which she might escape from her degradation and desert. It informed her that there was love in God's heart for sinners — for great sinners, for the foulest transgressors. That God had devised a way by which sin could be condemned — and the sinner be forgiven!
Pardon, the possibility of pardon, was sweet to her soul. Pardon, the certainty of pardon, was music in her ears. Pardon, and a free pardon, just met her case. That God loved sinners — was news indeed. That God had sent his Son to save sinners — was glad tidings of great joy. She heard, she pondered, she believed — and she was changed. Her views of God's nature and character were changed. Her views of herself and her conduct were changed. Her eyes were opened, light from Heaven shone upon her underderstanding, new ideas took possession of her soul — and she felt a new, a strange, an inward change. Sin appeared in its true colors. She saw that it not only degraded humanity — but insulted and dishonored God. She perceived that she had not only sinned against God's holiness — as revealed in his law; but against his love — as exhibited in the gospel.
She regretted that she had pursued such a course. She inwardly grieved that she had offended such a God. She was sorry, heartily sorry, that she had ever sinned. Her sorrow was deep. She mourned alone. She wept in secret. She confessed her transgressions. She pleaded for mercy. The greatness of her sin would have driven her to despair — but the infinite greatness of God's love, generated hope in her soul. The more she reflected on her conduct — the deeper were her convictions; and the more she believed in the good news — the deeper was her remorse. She could not despair — God had sent his own Son to be a Savior; she could not but mourn and weep — because she had so fearfully sinned against so good and gracious a God.
While she listened to the great Teacher, the work was deepened in her soul; and as she looked at him through her tears — the tenderest sensations were awakened, the deepest emotions were produced. She drank in his words, as the thirsty earth drinks in the rain, or the exhausted traveler drinks the sparkling draught from the flowing spring. She followed him wherever she could. She heard him whenever she had an opportunity. She hung upon his lips, like the bee hangs on the fragrant flower, or like the limpet to the rock. As cold water to the thirsty soul — so to her was the good news from a far country.
One day, to her surprise, she saw him go into a Pharisee's house. She knew that for her there was no welcome there. But she longed to be with him. She thirsted to listen to him. She watched him go in. She saw the cold reception he met with. No flowing cup was put into his hand. No water was prepared for his feet. No kiss was printed on his cheek. No fragrant ointment was poured on his head. It broke her heart, to see her Savior treated thus. She hastened home, for there she had an alabaster box of very precious ointment. She entered the Pharisee's house, regardless of the contempt with which she might be treated. She went behind the couch on which he was reclining. Her broken heart made weeping easy, and tears in plenty flowed. She let her tears fall on his feet, and washed them thus. She wiped them with her tresses, once her pride and glory. She kissed his feet, as she had never kissed man's cheek. Oh, the tender feelings which were awakened — as she toiled and he taught! She breaks her alabaster box, and pours its ointment on his feet. It was her best, if not her all. Love prompted her, and love in her rejoiced, as she felt that she had honored him, her dear, dear Lord.
She is a true penitent, and in her penitence there was power. Produced by the holy and ever blessed Spirit of God, through the instrumentality of the Word of grace — it proved its nature and its origin by its effects. It changed the whole current of her feelings. Once she loved sin, and enjoyed it — now she hates it, and it is the cause of her bitterest grief. Once she pursued pleasure in the pathway of damnation — now no place is like the feet of Jesus, no music like his voice and words. Her present tears were sweeter than her former pleasures. Her love was now fixed on her Savior's person, and sought to express itself by honoring him in every possible way. She was fired with zeal for his glory, and could brave the persecuting sneers, and the contemptuous frowns of the Pharisees for his sake. Patiently could she endure any insults that might be aimed at her, for nothing could drive her from his feet.
Powerful must be that principle that could bring such a vile character into such a place, under such circumstances, and produce such effects!
Grief and love wrought together in her heart — and while she mourned for sin — she rejoiced in her Savior. Such repentance is divine. It proves that . . .
a new principle has been imparted,
a new nature has been produced, and
a new course has been commenced — a course which has . . .
the Holy Spirit for its guide,
the Scriptures for its rule, and
the glory of God for its end.
A course unknown to the world, and essentially different from that of mere formal professors. A course which has . . .
grace for its origin,
holiness for its characteristic,
and Heaven for its end.
Religion, without repentance, is a delusion!
Repentance, without power, is a mere dream!
Power, that does not bring to the feet of Jesus, make us mourn over sin, and lead us to consecrate our best to his service — is not the power of God unto salvation, or the power that Mary felt!
Reader, "Do you see you this woman"?
Were you ever like her?
Have you been convinced of sin?
Have you fled to the Savior?
Have you sat at his feet?
Have you wept under a sense of his undeserved love?
Have you given him your best, and wished it were ten thousand times better — that you might bestow it on him?
Powerful penitence is always pleasant to the eyes of Jesus, and it is precious to his heart. It attracted his attention, and drew forth his vindication. He delivered a sweet and instructive parable, teaching that great sinners, when pardoned — manifest great love. They bring great honor to Jesus, and pour out a full heart in tears over the feet of Jesus.
"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Poor Mary, she had contracted a heavy debt, and when she felt in herself that all her sin was forgiven — she loved much. There was a depth, a power, a tenderness in her love — of which Simon the Pharisee knew nothing. The more vivid our sense of pardon — the deeper our penitence, and the more powerful our love!
O Jesus! how great your kindness to sinners, especially to broken-hearted sinners weeping at your feet! Oh, may I have Mary's feelings — and Mary's place! Oh, that I could weep as Mary wept — and love as Mary loved!
Jesus commends her. Blessed Immanuel! your commendation is commendation indeed. Surely the tears of Mary flowed faster now than before! Surely her bosom swelled with gratitude and love, and her heart conceived praises too vast for the lips to utter! How did she admire your words, your spirit, your generous heart, your glorious person!
O Jesus how wonderful it is, that with your Word before us, your grace within us, and your goodness sparkling all around us — that we do not love you more!
What a reward is bestowed on weeping Mary! What a testimony is borne! "Her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much."
A present pardon.
A full pardon.
A free pardon.
An everlasting pardon of all her sins pronounced!
She stands acquitted of all sin before God! She is as guiltless as an angel of light! O mystery of mercy! O wondrous grace — which can justify the ungodly, and turn the greatest sinners into glorious saints!
Mary was forgiven — through believing. She believed that Jesus was the Son of God, the Sent One, the Savior. She believed what Jesus said. She received him. She looked for salvation to him. Her faith saved her. It brought nothing to Jesus — but it received everything from Jesus. It deserved nothing — but it was the divinely-appointed means of obtaining pardon, peace, and everlasting life. Simple Faith brings . . .
the guilty sinner to Jesus for pardon;
the troubled sinner to Jesus for peace;
the lost sinner to Jesus to be saved;
the empty sinner to Jesus to be filled with the fullness of God.
Mary's faith brought her to Jesus, obtained pardon from Jesus, and wrought by love to Jesus.
Have we such faith? Cold assent will not do this. Merely agreeing with divine revelation will not do this. Oh, no! but the faith of God's elect, the faith of the operation of God, always does so. The faith that does not . . .
bring us to Christ,
obtain a pardon from Christ, and
break our hearts in penitence at the feet of Christ
— will not save us!
But the end crowns the whole. Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Fear not, Mary, though men misunderstand you — though men look with contempt upon you — though men even reproach your Savior for his kindness to you, "Go in peace."
Go, tell of the joy you feel.
Go, tell of the blessing you have received.
Go, tell of the prospect before you.
Go, and "Tell to sinners round,
What a dear Savior you have found!"
Go, and peacefully perform your domestic duties; go, and peacefully enjoy your religious privileges; go, and peacefully spend the days allotted to you below — and then peacefully depart to be with your Savior forever!
There is no godly sorrow for sin — until there is faith in Christ. While you are under the law, look at God through the law, or seek to be saved by obeying the law — you will find it impossible to repent. The law works wrath, and you will find that it will harden your hearts, stir up hard thoughts of God, and lead you to self-pity, despondency, and despair.
Faith looks to God as a God of love.
Faith looks to Jesus as an able and willing Savior.
Faith seeks and obtains pardon at his hands.
Faith melts the heart under a sense of his unutterable love.
Faith produces contrition, remorse, and repentance unto life.
If there is no penitence — then there is no faith; and
if there is no faith — then there is no spiritual life; and
if there is no spiritual life — then the wrath of God abides on us!
Penitence always deepens at the feet of Jesus. You can never produce repentance by trying to do so, or by complaining of the lack of it. No man can force himself to repent. But faith in Jesus, and fellowship with Jesus — will naturally, easily, and invariably produce penitence.
Take your hard, impenitent heart to Jesus — he will soften, break, and melt it! And as the rock in the desert flowed with water when Moses smote it — so will your rocky heart flow with streams of penitence and godly sorrow.
The feet of Jesus is the place for every guilty Mary, and for every vile sinner; and, blessed be his holy name, there is room for all such there, and there is always room. Jesus, who would not have this poor woman driven from him in the Pharisee's house, will not allow anyone to drive a seeking sinner from him now.
"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book!" Psalms 56:8. The tears of penitence sparkle in the Savior's eyes. Every one of them reflects his image as he looks upon it. So highly does he prize them, that he puts each one into his bottle — as if they were costly perfume! He records the number of them in his book — as if they were valuable gems! Jesus has an inventory of his saints' tears. The streaming eye, the swollen cheek, and the groaning heart, when sin is the cause — always find favor in his sight.
Those who weep for sin at the Savior's feet — shall never be condemned at the bar of justice! No matter who may accuse them — Jesus will advocate their cause. Let who will condemn — Jesus will pardon. Let who will try to trouble, Jesus will say, "Go in peace!" Blessed, blessed Jesus, your feet shall be my dearest place, and your love shall be the object of my pursuit!