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vou have determined for war? Could you have borne the bare idea of it? Could you have endured to see the once victorious armies of Israel led in triumph by an enemy, the ark of the Lord a captive, a cruel and barbarous soldiery reducing a kingdom to ashes, razing fortresses, ravaging a harvest, and destroying in a moment the hope of the whole year? Would you have determined for famine? Would you have chosen to have the heaven become as iron, and the earth brass, the seed dying in the earth, or the corn burning before it was ripe. The locust eating what the palmer worm hath left, and the canker worm eating what the locust hath left, Joel, i. 4. men snatching bread from one another's hands, struggling between life and death, and starving till food would afford no nourishment? Would you have chosen mortality? Could you have reconciled yourselves to the terrible times in which contagion on the wings of the wind carries its deadly poison with the rapidity of lightning from city to city, from house to house; a time in which social living is at an end, when each is wholly employed in guarding himself from danger, and hath no opportunity to take care of others; when the father flees from the sight of the son, the son from that of the father, the wife avoids the husband, the husband the wife; when each dreads the sight of the person he most esteems, and receives, and communicates poisonous and deadly infection? These are the dreadful punishments out of which God required guilty David to choose one. These he was to weigh in a balance, while he agitated the mournful question, which of the three shall I choose for my lot? However, he determines, Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great: but let me not fall into the hand of man. He thought, that immediate strokes from the hand of a God, merciful though displeased, would be most tolerable. He could conceive nothing more terrible than to see between God and himself men, who would intercept his looks, and who would prevent his access to the throne of grace.
My brethren, the wish of David under his consternation may direct ours in regard to all the spots that have defiled our lives. True, the eyes of God are infinitely more pure than those of men. He indeed discovers frailties in our lives, which have escaped our notice, and if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart. It is true, he hath punishments to inflict on us infinitely more dreadful than any mankind can invent, and if men can kill the body, God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. However, this Almighty God, this terrible, this avenging God is a merciful God, great are his tender mercies: but men, men are cruel, yea, the very men, who allow themselves to live in the most shameful licentiousness, men who have the most need of the patience of others, men who themselves deserve the most rigorous punishment, these very men are usually void of all pity for their fellows. Behold a famous example. The unchaste woman in the text experienced both, and by turns made trial of the judgment of God, and the judgment of men. But she met with a very different treatment. In Jesus Christ she found a very severe legislator, who left her awhile to shed tears, and very bitter tears; a legislator, who left her awhile to her own grief, and sat and saw her hair dishevelled, and her features distorted;
but who soon took care to dry up her tears, and to address this comfortable language to her, Go in peace. On the contrary, in the hands of men she found nothing but barbarity and cruelty. She heard a supercilious pharisee, endeavour to arm against her the Redeemer of mankind, try to persuade him to denounce her sentence of death, even while she was repenting of her sins, and do his utmost to cause condemnation to flow from the very fountain of grace and mercy.
It is this instructive, this comfortable history, that we set before you to-day, and which presents three very different objects to our meditation, the conduct of the incontinent woman, that of the pharisee, and that of Jesus Christ. In the conduct of the woman, prostrate at the feet of our Saviour, you see the principal characters of repentance. In that of the pharisee you may observe the venom, that not unfrequently infects the judgments, which mankind make of one another. And in that of Jesus Christ you may behold free and generous emotions of pity, mercy and compassion. Let us enter into the matter.
1. Let us first observe the incontinent woman, now become a penitent. The question most controverted by interpreters, and very differently answered by them, is that, which in our opinion is the least important, that is, who was this woman? Not that a perfect knowledge of her person, and the history of her life, would not be very proper, by explaining the nature of her sins, to give us a just idea of her repentance, and so contribute to elucidate the text: but because, though we have taken a great deal of pains, we have found nothing on this article worthy to be proposed to critical hearers, who insist upon being treated as rational men, and who refuse to determine a point without evidence.
I know, some expositors, misled by a resemblance between this anointing of Jesus Christ, and that mentioned in the eleventh chapter of St. John, when our Saviour supped with Lazarus, have supposed that the woman here spoken of was the same Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who paid such a profound attention to the discourse of Jesus Christ, and who, according to the evangelist, anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair. And as other parts of the gospel speak of another Mary called Magdalen, some have thought that Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalen, out of whom it is said, Jesus Christ had cast seven devils, and the woman of our text, were one and the same person.
We do not intend to enter on these discussions. It is sufficient to know, first, that the woman here in question lived in the city of Nain, which sufficiently distinguishes her from Mary the sister of Lazarus, who was of Bethany, and from Mary Magdalen, who probably was so called, because she was born at Magdala, a little town in the tribe of Manasseh. Secondly, the woman of our text was one of a bad life, that is to say, guilty of impurity. The original word signifies a sinner. This term sometimes signifies in scripture the condition of such as lived out of the covenant, and in this sense it is used in the epistle to the Galatians, where St. Paul calls pagans sinners but the word is applied in Greek authors to those women,
who were such as all the circumstances of our history engage us to consider this woman. Though it is easy to determine the sin of this woman in general, yet it is not so easy to determine the particular kind, whether it had been adultery, or prostitution, or only some one criminal intrigue. Our reflections will by turns regard each of these conditions. In fine, it is highly probable, both by the discourse of the pharisee, and by the ointment, with which this woman anointed the feet of Jesus Christ, that she was a person of some fortune. This is all I know on this sort of question. Should any one require more, I should not blush to avow my ignorance, and to recommend him to guides wiser than any I have the honour of being acquainted with, or to such as possess that, which in my opinion, of all the talents of learned men, seems to me least to be envied, I mean that of hav ing fixed opinions on doubtful subjects unsupported by any solid arguments.
We will confine ourselves to the principal circumstances of the life of this sinner; and to put our observations into a kind of order we will examine first her grief-next, the Saviour to whom she applied then, the love that inflamed her-and lastly, the courage, with which she was animated. In these four circumstances we observe four chief characters of repentance. First, Repentance must be lively, and accompanied with keen remorse. Our sinner weeps, and her tears speak the language of her heart. Secondly, Repentance must be wise in its application. Our sinner humbles herself at the feet of him, who is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world, 1 John ii. 2. Thirdly, Repentance must be tender in its exercise, and acts of divine love must take place of the love of sin. Fourthly, Repentance must be bold. Our sinner surmounts all the scruples dictated by false honour, she goes into the house of the pharisee, and acknowledges her misconduct in the presence of all the guests, and was no more ashamed to disavow her former crimes than she had been to commit them.
We consider, in the repentance of this woman the grief with which she was penetrated. Repentance must be accompanied with keen remorse. It is the chief character of it. In whatever class of unchaste people this woman ought to be placed, whether she had been a common prostitute, or an adulteress, or whether being unmarried she had abandoned herself for once to criminal voluptuousness, she had too much reason to weep and lament. If she had been guilty of prostitution, she could not shed tears too bitter. Can any colours sufficiently describe a woman, who is arrived at such a pitch of impurity as to eradicate every degree of modesty; a woman letting herself out to infamy, and giving herself up to the highest bidder; one who publickly devotes herself to the greatest excesses, whose house is a school of abomination, whence proceed those detestable maxims, which poison the minds of men, and those infa mous debaucheries, which infect the body, and throw whole families into a state of putrefaction? It is saying too little to affirm, that, this woman ought to shed bitter tears at the recollection of her scandalous and dissolute life. The priests and magistrates, and people of Nain ought to have covered themselves in sackcloth
and ashes for having jolerated such a house, for not having one spark of the zeal of Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Num. xxv. 11. For having left one stone upon another as a monument of the profligacy of the city, and for not having erased the very foundations of such a house, though they, who were employed in the business, had been buried in the ruins One such house suffered in a city is enough to draw down the curse of heaven on a whole province, a whole kingdom.
Rome, what a fair opportunity have I now to confound thee! Am I not able to produce in the sight of the whole world full proof of thy shame and infamy? Do not a part of thy revenues proceed from a tax on prostitution? Are not prostitutes of both sexes thy nursing fathers, and nursing mothers; is not the holy see in part supported, to use the language of scripture, by the hire of a whore, and the price of a dog? Deut. xxiii. 18. But alas! I should leave thee too much reason to retort. I should fear, you would oppose our excesses against your excesses. I should have too much reason to fear a wound by the dart shot at thee. I should tremble lest thou shouldst draw it smoking from thine own unclean heart, and lodge it in ours. 0 God! teach my hands to day to war, and my fingers to fight. My brethren, should access to this pulpit be forever forbidden to us in future; though I were sure this discourse would be considered as a torch of sedition intended to set all these provinces in a flame; and should a part of the punishment due to the fomenters of the crime fall upon the head of him who hath the courage to reprove it, I do, and I will declare, that the prosperity of these provinces can never, no never be well established, while such affronts are publickly offered to the majesty of that God, who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, Hab. i. 13. Ah! Proclaim no more fasts, convoke no more solemn assemblies, appoint no more publick prayers to avert the anger of heaven. Let not the priests, the ministers of the Lord weep between the porch and the altar, let them not say, spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, Joel ii. 17. All this exterior of devotion will be useless, while there are amongst us places publickly set apart for impurity. The filthy vapour, that proceeds from them, will ascend, and form a thick cloud between us and the throne of grace, a cloud, which the most ardent prayers cannot pierce through.
Perhaps our penitent had been guilty of adultery. What idea must a woman form of herself, if she have committed this crime, and considers it in its true point of light? Let her attentively observe the dangerous condition, into which she hath plunged herself, and to that which she is yet exposed. She hath taken for her mode! the woman described by Soloman, and who hath had too many copies in latter ages, that strange woman in the attire of an harlot, who is subtle of heart, loud and stubborn, her feet abiding not in her house, now without, now in the streets, lying in wait at every corner, and saying to such, among the youth as are void of understanding, I have peace offerings with me, this day have I paid my vows. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love, for the good man is not at home, he is gone a long journey, and will not
come home till the day appointed, Prov. vii. 5. &c. Is it necessary, think you, my brethren, to alter many of these descriptive expressions to give a likeness of the manners of our times?
Are not modern dissipations described in the perpetual motion of this strange woman, whose feet abide not in her house, who is now without in the country, then, in the streets, and at every corner? What are some curious, elegant and fashionable dresses, but the attire of a harlot? Are not the continual artifices, and accumulated dissimulations, which some people use to conceal future designs, or to cover past crimes, are not these features of this subtle woman? What are those pains taken to form certain parties of pleasure but features of this woman, who saith, I have peace offerings with me, I have this day paid my vows, come let us solace ourselves with loves? What are certain moments expected with impatience, managed with industry and employed with avidity, but features of this woman, who saith to fools among the youths, the good man is not at home, nor will he come till the day appointed?-I stop.-If the unchaste woman in the text, had been guilty of adultery, she had defiled the most sacred and inviolable of all connections. She had kindled discord in the family of him, who was the object of her criminal regard. She had given an example of impurity and perfidy to her children and her domestics, to the world and to the church. She had affronted in the most cruel manner the man, to whom she owed the tenderest attachment, and the most profound respect. She had covered her parents with disgrace, and provoked such as knew her debauchery to inquire from which of her ancestors she had received such impure and tainted blood. She had divided her heart and her bed with the most implacable enemy of her family. She had hazarded the legitimacy of her children, and confounded the lawful heir with a spurious offspring. Are any tears too bitter to expiate such an odious complication of crimes? is any quantity too great to shed to wash away such guilt as this?
But we will not take pains to blacken the reputation of this penitent: we may suppose her unchaste, as the evangelist leads us to do, without supposing her an adulteress or a prostitute. She might have fallen once, and only once. Her sin, however, even in this case must have become a perpetual source of sorrow, thousands and thousands of sad reflections must bave pierced her heart. Was this the only fruit of my education? Is this all I have learned from the many lessons that have been given me from my cradle, and which seem so proper to guard me forever against the rocks where my feeble virtue has been shipwrecked? I have renounced the decency of my sex, the appurtenances of which always have been timidity, scrupulosity, delicacy and modesty. I have committed one of those crimes, which, whether it be justice or cruelty, mankind never forgive. I have given myself up to the unkindness and contempt of him, to whom I have shamefully sacrificed my honour. I have fixed daggers in the hearts of my parents, I have caused that to be attributed to their negligence, which was occasioned only by my own depravity and folly. I have banished myself forever from the company of prudent persons. How can I bear their looks? Where can I find a night dark enough to conceal me from their sight?