Chapter 2 - In the Pharisee's House

A GOSPEL ADDRESS.
(LUKE vii. 36-50.)

When we first wake up to realize that we have not got any real solid peace as to the future, - I do not say hope, for I suppose everybody has something which he likes to call hope, if it is not very solid, - but when we wake up to find no solid ground for the future, we are still, if awake, yet in the darkness. We wake up ignorant how to secure what we are so anxious to secure; and therefore it is that we commonly miss, for a time at any rate, what we are seeking after, because we seek it in a wrong direction. We are very apt to impute it to God, and think God is dealing hardly with us, and that God is not willing to give it to us. We have got to wait upon God we think, until He is ready; whereas God is all the time waiting upon us. We have not to wait at all for God; but we are moving in one direction, and the thing we want to find is in another. Therefore the Gospel has to set this right; putting aside the thoughts and feelings of our own hearts to give us God’s thoughts instead.

What is meant by repentance? Every one naturally - not merely moralists, but the most ungodly, when he is aroused, thinks it means putting himself right, and thus takes a wrong direction - seeks exactly in an opposite way for the thing, he wants to find. Scripture has to come in and correct our thoughts, to turn us right round upon our path; and then the end we thought we had to go so far to reach is nigh at hand.

We find our Lord with a Pharisee. These Pharisees were not all hypocrites, though we know there were many hypocrites among them, and the "leaven of the Pharisees" was indeed hypocrisy. It is inseparable, more or less, from such a position as they were taking, however many who meant to be honest might be taking it. Law keepers for righteousness cannot afford to be quite honest. It would spoil their stock in trade if they looked too narrowly at what their hands are manufacturing for God. It is inseparable from their business that they cannot afford to keep a scrupulous conscience; and here they bring in the thought of God’s mercy, and hope that God will take their shoddy for good cloth. The Pharisees, in fact, included almost all the religious people of the day; and they are types of a large mass of the religious people of any day.

We can find plenty of them all about us in Christendom now. A class of people who cannot speak of having attained salvation or got peace with God; but whose religious life is a busy industry to provide themselves the wedding garment they must have to appear in before God. They are not irreligious, and not at rest. They are sinners in general, but not sinners in particular; not perhaps good enough for heaven, and not quite bad enough for hell; and so, if not believing in purgatory, puzzled where to place themselves; but certainly not with publicans and such like.

Thus One who sits down with publicans they do not understand. The gospel He comes to announce passes right over their heads and never touches them; or if it touches, it only gives offence. John the Baptist had come in a totally different way, and in a way more striking, naturally. He had come as a man separating himself from all alike, and altogether. Preaching in the wilderness of Judea, never seen in their cities, never taking part in their religious ceremonies, although of a priestly family, with his strange unfashionable garment of camel’s hair, and his food of locusts and wild honey, he stood off from men, calling a whole nation to repentance and to flee from coming wrath.

He did not suit the Pharisees either. The "way of righteousness" was not more to their taste than the way of grace. Opposite as he was in so many respects to the Lord, there was one point in which their testimony perfectly coincided. Neither made any difference in favour of religious people. If the Lord received all, welcomed all, the Baptist stood off from all, condemned all. Neither took account of their meritorious striving for goodness. If they went after John they must go with the common crowd of sinners: if one invited the Lord into his house, a sinner would follow Him in even there, as if His presence were sufficient title. So they believed in neither. When called to mourning they would not weep, and when piped to they would not dance. God’s righteousness was too severe; God’s grace was too free and bountiful. Bent upon justifying themselves before God, His righteousness condemned them as sinners, and as sinners His grace too alone would justify them. In either way Pharisaism could not exist. Both proclaimed them in a wrong path, - a path in which each step of apparent progress carried them but farther away from the end they sought. All their effort was to establish a difference between themselves and others, while neither righteousness nor grace would make a difference at all.

The strange thing is that we who try in vain to justify ourselves are called instead to justify God. For ourselves "it is God that justifieth," and God alone. But we justify Him when we take our places according to His estimate of what we are, who has pronounced upon us with a plainness which we cannot (except willfully) mistake, and an absoluteness which allows of no contention. "The Publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John." They were all baptized in Jordan, the river of death, "confessing their sins,"- the sins of which death was the just due; and thus they proclaimed God’s righteousness against themselves. That was repentance; and there it was that God could proclaim their righteousness whose testimony was that they had none.

The Pharisee here helps to illustrate these points. He asks the Lord into his house; and the Lord goes. You never find anybody seeking for Him whom He refuses or turns away. If He will not refuse to sit down with Publicans and sinners, he will not refuse a Pharisee’s invitation either. And so let me say to anybody here: if there be a heart to welcome Him, fear not that He will not come because your measure of sin is not the due measure of it. The offer of the gospel is world-wide, and God knows perfectly how many and various are the states of soul addressed by it; but they are sinful states, all, with all their variety; and a Saviour of sinners is a Saviour for all. Quite true, that if He comes into Simon’s house Simon’s heart will not escape the testing of His presence, and it will be soon seen if the reception is real. If it is, His word will be submitted to, in proportion as He Himself is known, and has authority with the soul.

Thus all turns really upon what Christ is to us. Faith in Christ Himself - and that means a welcome given to Him - is the beginning of everything to us. Christ is light. To welcome Him is to get the light into our souls. We cannot be in His company without finding out what we are, and learning the only terms upon which we can be with Him; but those terms are surely submitted to, when we so learn them. All really turns upon this, what Christ Himself is to us. And this is what we find here, only that the one who welcomed Him in the Pharisee’s house was not the Pharisee. Alas, no; the only one found to appreciate the Son of God from heaven was one marked out comparatively as a sinner. "A woman in the city, that was a sinner, when she heard that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment. and stood at His feet behind him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment." What a wonderful attraction there was in Him for sinners! We may be sure that a Pharisee’s house would be just the place of all places she would naturally have kept away from. But if He is there, the place changes its character directly. His presence even in a Pharisee’s house could give boldness to the sinner to be there too.

What a wonderful thing is grace, beloved friends How it changes all our thoughts, all our relationships with regard to God, as we realize it! Where is the man who, after a long life of service to God, could say, as the fruit of that, "I go to God without any fear"? It is just that very class who call it presumption for them to say that. And it is quite true, it is presumption for anybody on that ground. Who but must tremble to draw near to God? But here is a poor sinner who does not tremble. Here is a sinner who gets boldness, by the very fact of His being there, to come in after Him, uninvited, even into a Pharisee’s house! And, moreover, He has not said even a word to her yet, that we know of. She has just discerned what is in Him for such as she is, and lays hold upon Him in her faith without a question. No syllable, as far as we know, had He ever yet addressed to her. Either she had seen Him, and heard for herself the gracious words that were so constant on His lips,- seen, perhaps, the deeds of love by which the words were evermore confirmed, - or perhaps she had only heard of Him through others. Words repeated, it may be, by unbelieving lips, or the story of what had been to the teller but a gaping wonder, may have sunk into her soul to be the seed there of eternal blessing.

Any way, faith in her knew and apprehended Him; and in Him found its need met, found what made Him hers, and made her His eternally. And there she is now in the Pharisee’s house, heedless of everything else in His presence. She feels no other eyes upon her. The presence of theirs neither daunts nor restrains her. There she is with her tears, - not all of sorrow, - to wash His feet; her hair (her woman’s glory) abased - was it abased? - to wipe them; her box of precious ointment to anoint them with. All was (how much!) too little for Him. All her wealth could rise no higher than His feet; but He who had come so far to win man’s heart to God, valued and acknowledged the gift of love, owned and justified the giver. "She loved much," from His own lips here, is the first word of this kind that meets us in the gospels.

But the Pharisee does not understand it. "He spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner." The Lord shows him that He is a prophet by reading his unspoken thought. "And Jesus, answering, said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty." There was a difference in the amount of the debts: there was no difference in this respect, that they were both debtors. So says the apostle: "There is no difference, for all have sinned," - not all equally, he does not say that, but all have sinned. Who has not? Who is not God’s debtor? Then mark what a personal interest this gives us in our Lord’s next words. Simon, or one of us, might owe his fifty pence only; another his five hundred. But if the first made that difference his plea, what would it show but hardness? "And when they had nothing to pay," - there is another point in which there is no difference, and yet the greatest possible difference, if you look at it in another way. As to ability to pay, there is no difference at all. Not alone His holiness could not allow us to compound, but we on our part could not. All we can do is to draw drafts upon the future,- a bank where we have no credit, and where not one of our drafts is honoured. We can promise: that indeed is easy; but which of our performances ever did anything else but increase the debt? And if it did not, for which of them, even as a single item, could we presume we had made God our creditor? If we will take God’s word for it, simple enough it is, not only that "there is none righteous," but "there is none that doeth good."

In this sense, therefore, clearly, we have got nothing to pay: still, that is not quite yet the sense of the Lord’s words. If it were, since all of us have nothing to pay, all would be forgiven, whereas forgiveness is the portion of some, not all, and there is a point at which people have to arrive before they are forgiven. This is, in fact, the point of which our Lord speaks. It is when the having nothing wherewith to pay becomes a truth in our consciousness, - when we reach the fact of our utter bankruptcy, - when we give up the effort to compound with God, and are obliged to take our places before Him as mere beggars, - sinners quite undone, - that mercy becomes actually ours. "If we confess our sins" - that and nothing more - " He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This, then, is a word meant for any soul in the consciousness of its ruin to take as applying to itself. If the first part consciously applies to you, beloved friends, the second part does. If it be true of you that you have nothing to pay God with, it is assuredly true that He frankly forgives you. Take the sweet assurance to your heart. Keep it, as you have perfect title. Fear not because it is so much beyond your thought. God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts; nor is that unbelieving proverb that a thing is "too good to be true" applicable at all where He is in question. The really best thing of Him is ever the truest. "The Son of man is come to seek and save that which is lost." Hear it, ye lost ones. Let it fill up your hearts with joy and adoration. "When they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both." The amount of the debt made no difference in this respect. The Pharisee and the sinner of the city might alike here be met. There was no difference as to the way or the certainty of forgiveness. The difference that this would make would naturally be of another kind.

"Tell me, therefore," says the Lord to Simon, "which of them will love him most?" "I suppose," says Simon, forced into honesty by the appeal, "I suppose, he to whom he forgave most." "Thou hast rightly judged," replies the Lord. The natural conscience thus judges, and judges rightly, that the greater the debt forgiven, the more the heart of the debtor would be turned in grateful love toward Him who had forgiven him. Love, then, here - and the Lord teaches us in the application that He is illustrating how love to God is produced in the soul - love is based upon the knowledge of forgiveness. Grace is thus the spring of holiness in us. The gospel not only sets the soul free from fear of wrath and condemnation, but in setting it free, binds it to God forever. "O Lord," says the psalmist, "truly I am Thy servant: I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid: Thou hast loosed my bonds." This is the principle. And the apostle says, "And not only so," - not only is salvation sure, - " but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." Thus the gospel provides for holiness by the freeness of its forgiveness, and (mark it well) by the certainty also of the forgiveness which it proclaims. If the love is founded, as it is clearly taught here, upon the sense of what one has received, then it is absolutely necessary to this that forgiveness should be a certainty, far removed from doubt and question.

And this is ever what Scripture supposes as to the Christian. It supposes that he has definite certainty as to that which alone gives him his place, and forms his character as a Christian; and the first thing, of course, is forgiveness. You may turn round on me, perhaps, and say, "I have not had the Lord’s voice speaking to me, as the woman in this story had." But that is your mistake, not mine, beloved friends. In the first place, as to the woman here, when the Lord pronounced her a forgiven one upon this evidence that she loved much, He had not yet spoken to her. It is a thing which seems to give such remarkable beauty and simplicity to her faith that it had no direct word to herself to go upon. She had seen His acts and ways of love with others, and she had laid hold upon the grace in it for her own need. His lips only confirm it to her, - vindicate that simplicity of faith in her, and show it was no mistake. But the love the Lord speaks of, the love that was manifesting itself in her actions there, was a love based upon the sense of a forgiveness which she already enjoyed, and which was working its blessed work upon her.
And then again, if the Lord spoke to her, He speaks here, beloved friends, no less to us. "When they had nothing to pay, He frankly forgave them both," is a word as definite as can be for any soul who is consciously in that condition. To all beggared and bankrupt souls, consciously that, the good news is here proclaimed of a forgiveness for them as clear, as free, as definite, as heart can desire. If your soul only says to Him, "Lord, I have nothing to pay," then you shall know the grace of a giving God. Without presumption, without pretension to be anything, without having to look into yourself to find anything, except sin and misery, you may, nay, you are called upon to appropriate to yourself a forgiveness which God has pronounced yours. The Gospel does not expect to find ready-made saints: it makes them. It is preached not to saints, but to sinners, and the first thing is to receive it as such, - God’s good news, declaring the character of God, bringing His love into your souls to produce love again to Him. All commandment-keeping comes as the result of this: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." "Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering." All such things are fruits of the Gospel; and therefore the Gospel is first of all to be received, in order to them.

The Lord Himself, not judging here in a direct divine way, but by the evidences, pronounces as to this woman’s forgiveness from the tokens of her love, contrasting it with the coldness of the Pharisee’s reception: "And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she has 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 that I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil 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: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." Mark how gently the Lord deals there with Simon’s conscience. He will not say Simon does not love at all. Himself there his guest, he will give him all possible credit for the invitation. He will leave it to his own soul if he loved so much even as "a little." But the woman, with her sins "many," as He says they are, she shall have from His own mouth the assurance of how little ashamed of her He is, or of the grace in which she has had such just confidence. "And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven." Let them cavil as they may, He will confirm it. "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." And may some who listen to me now, with an equal simplicity, lay hold upon a love whose unexhausted treasury is as full today as ever for all demands upon it. May you, too, beloved friends, believing, go on your way rejoicing in a peace made for you by the blood of the Cross, and proclaimed to you by its Maker.