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nobody constrained her stay; but that which sent them away, staid 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 ? O 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 inight well see there was no warrantable ground of his farther proceeding against her.
Two things are necessary for the execution of a malefactorevidence, 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 shew favour to foul offenders? art thou rather pleased that gross sins should be blanched, and sent away with a gentle connivency? 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 declinest 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 to trench upon the functions of others! How can we ever enough magnify thy mercy, who takest no pleasure in the death of a sinner! whoso camest to save, that thou challengest us of unkindness for being miserable: “ Why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
But, O 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 be found, in an happy exchange of spiritual repast for bodily.
Who knows not the Pharisees to have been the proud enemies to Christ; men over-conceited of themselves, contemptuous of others, severe in shew, 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 Pharisce, as an exempt man. 0 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, temper thyself, as to “become all things to all men, that thou mightst 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, Oye 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 fashions. 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 exorbitances, 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 power 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 fall 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 a 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 no other conveyance to hell than this, which cannot be so pleasing to nature, as it is hateful to God, who so speaks of it, as if there were no sins but it; "a woman that was a sinner.
She was a sinner, now she is not; her very presence argues her change. Had she been still in her old trade, she would no more have endured the sight of Christ, than that devil did which cried out, “ Art thou come to torment me?" Her eyes had been lamps and fires of lust, not fountains of tears; her hairs had been nets to catch foolish lovers, not a towel for her Saviour's feet; yet still she carries the name of what she was : a scar still remains after the wound healed. Simon will be ever the leper, and Matthew the Publican. How carefully should we avoid those actions which may ever stain us!
What a difference there is betwixt the carriage and proceedings of God, and men! The mercy of God, as it “calleth those things that are not, as if they were,” so it calleth those things that were, as if they were not; "I will remember your
iniquities no more:” as some skilful chirurgeon so sets the bone, or heals the sore, that it cannot be seen where the complaint was. Man's word is, That which is done cannot be undone: but the omnipotent goodness of God doth, as it were, undo our once-comunitted sins: “Take away my iniquity, and thou shalt find none.” What we were in ourselves, we are not to him, since he hath changed us from ourselves.
O God, why should we be niggardly where thou art liberal? why should we be reading those lines which thou hast not only crossed, but quite blotted, yea, wiped out?
It is a good word, “she was a sinner.” To be wicked, is odious to God, angels, saints, men; to have been so, is blessed and glorious. I rejoice to look back and see my Egyptians lying dead upon the shore, that I may praise the Author of my deliverance and victory. Else, it matters not what they were, what I was. O God, thou, whose title is, “I am," regardest the present. He befriends and honours us that says, “Such ye were, but ye are washed."
The place adds to the heinousness of the sin; “ in the city.” The more public the fact is, the greater is the scandal. Sin is sin, though in a desert: others' eyes do not make the act more vile in itself, but the offence is multiplied by the number of beholders.
I hear no name of either the city or the woman ; she was too well known in her time. How much better is it to be obscure than infamous ! Herein, I doubt not, God meant to spare the reputation of a penitent convert. He, who hates not the person, but the sin, cares only to mention the sin, not the person. It is justice to prosecute the vice, it is mercy to spare the offender. How injurious a presumption is it for any man to name her whom God would have concealed; and to cast this aspersion on those whom God hath noted for holiness!
The worst of this woman is past, “She was a sinner;" the best is to come, “ She sought out Jesus;” where? in the house of a Pharisee. It was the most inconvenient place in the world for a poted sinner to seek Christ in.
No men stood so much upon the terms of their own righteousness, no men so scornfully disdained an infamous person. The touch of an ordinary, though honest Jew, was their pollution ; how much more the presence of a strumpet? What a sight was a known sinner to him, to wlaom his holiest