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Home » Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Gospels ! Chapter 41 - Luke 7:36-50 - Much Forgiveness, Much Love Light & Truth: The Gospels by Bonar, Horatius

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XLI.

Much Forgiveness, Much Love.

Luke 7:36-50.

     This is a feast of worldly hospitality on the part of Simon; probably little more. It does not look like the table of a believing, loving man; but of a hospitable Jew, who, puzzled, perhaps curious, about the character and claims of Jesus, is anxious for an opportunity of closer and freer intercourse. The expression in the thirty-ninth verse, "if he were a prophet," seems to indicate some such state of mind,-an oscillation between faith and unbelief.

     Simon, though inviting Christ, has not been overkind to his guest. "Thou gavest me no water for my feet." He has shrunk, too, from all expression of intimacy, all acknowledgment either of friendship or of discipleship. "Thou gavest me no kiss." He withholds the token of festal gladness. "Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint." Simon is evidently not at home with the Lord; nor does he wish to be thought at home with Him. Whatever might be his anxious questionings of soul, he is still "one of the Pharisees." He is no disciple.

     The Lord knew his heart and understood his invitation; yet he went to his house and sat down at his table. For whether it were Pharisee or publican, Simon or Matthew, that invited him, it mattered not. He went wherever he was desired, like the physician in a city of pestilence, putting himself at the disposal of sinners, and turning his footsteps in the direction of their varied needs. Nor did He take offence at the incivility of Simon in not washing his feet, or anointing his head. He mentions these afterwards, to humble his pride; but He is not affronted thereby; for he ever acts and speaks as one who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister"; 'not to be served by any, but to be the servant of all.

     The four following things are brought out in this narrative: (1.) The sinner's approach to Christ. (2.) Christ's reception of the sinner. (3.) The Pharisee's interference. (4.) Christ's rebuke and judgment.

     I. The sinner's approach to Christ. It is not enough that she knows that a prophet has arisen, and that the Son of God has come. The report of others will not do. She must see and hear for herself. It will not do for her to stand afar off; she must draw near.

     (1.) She comes earnestly. She must get at Him. She must encounter difficulties; she must brave scorn and sneers, and the risk of being thrust out; for she is "a sinner"; and the house of a Pharisee is the last place she would think of going to. But she is in earnest. She will not be hindered. Access to this wondrous man, whom she has heard of as the forgiver of sins, and the friend of sinners, she must have; and what are the taunts or jests of Scribe and Pharisee to her? True earnestness breaks through every barrier.

     (2.) She comes directly. She makes use of no mediator or messenger. She brings her own case in her own hand, and approaches him directly. She comes just as what she is, and as nothing else. She does not come as what she may be, or hopes to be, or is making herself to be. She does not come with excuses on palliations, but with confessions only; and He is her one confessor, and this is hen one confessional. She deals directly with Himself; for the sinner and the Saviour must meet each other face to face; both just what they are: the one the sinner, the other the Saviour.

     (3.) She comes trustfully. She may not yet know Him fully; but she knows something of Him, and of his grace; and that something is enough to call up her trust. She "trusts, and is not afraid." Man may look coldly on her; Jesus will not. Man may thrust her out; Jesus will not. She has few else, perhaps none, to trust; but she has Him, and it is enough. What she knows of Him, and of his love, removes all misgivings. She believes; but it is not in her faith, but in Jesus that she trusts. She weeps; but it is not in her tears that she confides. She repents; but it is not on lien repentance that she builds. She loves, but it is not on her love that she leans. She trusts in the Son of God. She trusts Him for what He is. She has already learned something of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, for her sake became poor.

     (4.) She comes thankfully. She comes to shew her love,-then grateful love. She brings her precious ointment; she brings her tears; she brings her kisses; she brings her reverence; she brings her thanks,-thanks not the less true and warm because uttered not in words, but in deeds. Her sin, and his love to the sinning one; her unworthiness and his overflowing grace; her outcast condition as far as man is concerned; her admission without upbraiding into the presence of the Son of God,-these are the things that call up gratitude. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," are the words which we seem almost to hear from her lips as she kneels behind his couch, kissing and anointing his feet.

     Thus it is that the sinner draws near with the "true heart" to the Son of God. Her knowledge of Him is very imperfect as yet; she has not yet realized all the glory of his person, nor known his coming death and resurrection; but she knows enough to give her confidence, for she sees his grace towards the sinner, and understands that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.

     II. Christ's reception of the sinner. In the scene before us, it is his reception of one who is in unqualified phrase, even according to man's judgment, a sinner, that is shewn us. She is not one of the best of sinners, but one of the worst; without goodness, or merit, or recommendation. She has nothing to prepare or qualify her; nothing to make her less unworthy to stand before the Holy One. Just as she is she comes! And how is she received?

     (1.) Immediately. She is not kept waiting for a moment. The Son of God does not hold her in suspense; does not bid her go and come again; does not send a message telling her to wait a little outside and make herself more meet for a reception. He receives her immediately; yet in a way which does not make light of her past sin, or lead her to forget who and what she is. Ah, yes! It was immediate reception which the Lord gave her; and it is immediate reception which he still gives to each coming one amongst ourselves. He does not stand on ceremony with us, nor repel us, nor, either by word or deed, give one sign of reluctance to receive us. As the Father the prodigal, so He receives his returning wanderers with wide arms, seeing us afar off and running, and having compassion, and falling on our neck and kissing us.

     (2.) Frankly. "When they had nothing to pay, he frankly (or freely) forgave them both." The forgiveness was the free gift of love; a love which the many waters had not quenched nor the floods drowned; a love which had survived years of sin, and ungodliness, and lust, and vanity; a love which, now meeting its object face to face, can no longer restrain itself; but like Joseph on the neck of Benjamin, gets vent to its long pent-up yearnings, in forgivenesses and blessings, as frank, and free, and generous as they are unearned and undeserved. Man's love of man is according to merit, on expectation of response; God's love of man has no reference to deserving or to return. Man's love of man is contracted, exclusive, and grudging; God's love to man is as boundless as it is free. He forgives without condition; He loves without reserve; He blesses without measure or end.

     (3.) Without upbraiding. There may be immediate and frank reception; yet afterwards there may be reproof and upbraiding. Not so with the Lord. Man's forgivenesses may be compatible with upbraiding; but the forgivenesses of God are too large, too generous, too free, to admit of this. As He "giveth," so he "forgiveth,"-"liberally, and upbraideth not." He does not bring up the woman's past life to remembrance. He reminds Simon of his unkindnesses; but He has no such remindings for the woman; He has not a word of upbraiding for her. He shews us in her case what He means when He says, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."

     III. The Pharisee's interference. Simon does not feel comfortable in the midst of this scene. He does not like the sinner's free approach, or the Lord's free reception. He finds fault with both. The root of his interference is his idea of how a prophet or religious man ought to act, and of how a sinner ought to act. In other words, it was on religious principles that he would thus object to what was going on, and would step in between the Lord and the sinner. The basis of his religion was man's goodness, not man's sinfulness; and his idea of reconciliation between God and the sinner was that of a compromise on both sides; the two parties meeting each other half way; man improving himself in moral and religious feeling, and so doing his part; God abating somewhat of his awful righteousness, and modifying the stern integrity of law, so as to give man a chance of reaching Him by a little exertion and strictness of life. The basis of what God calls reconciliation is altogether different. It assumes that God must come the whole way to meet man, and that that meeting must be as truly one of highest righteousness as of deepest love on the part of God. God takes man as he is, simply a sinner, "without strength," and without goodness. He does not ask man to meet him half way between earth and heaven; He comes down all the way to earth in the person of his incarnate Son. He does not resort to half measures, nor is He content with half payment. He comes down to man in absolute and unconditional love; without terms or bargains; himself paying the whole price, and thus leaving nothing for the sinner but to accept the frank forgiveness which his boundless love has brought.

     Of these things the Pharisee understood nothing. Wrapped round with his own religiousness, and merit, and goodness, his prayers, and fastings, and tithe-givings, he could not enter into the mind of God, nor comprehend the nature of his love, to sinners, his way of forgiving and receiving the guiltiest. Hence it is that, in his thoughts at least, if not in words, he steps in between the sinner and the Saviour. He would blame both.

     (1.) He blames the sinner. He thinks she ought to have been more respectful, more distant. He does not like the idea of a well-known sinner coming into his house without invitation, and kissing the feet of Jesus without asking permission. He sees in this step, an undue and unwarrantable boldness; the taking of a liberty with this reputed prophet, such as she should have been the very last to take. He does not understand how a sense of need draws the sinner irrepressibly into immediate contact with the Lord. They who have not known their sin, nor felt their need, may hesitate, or stand at a respectful distance; but he who has realized his own sin and need cannot thus keep aloof. He must go at once to the Son of God. Let self-righteousness forbid him, and formalism frown upon him, he cannot stay away from Christ any more than can the prodigal from the arms of his father. Men may say this is too free, too direct, too simple, too easy; and blame him who thus acts; but if ever they come to know their own need, they will feel that nothing else would do but this.

     (2.) He blames the Lord. He demurs to this manner of treating the sinner. Can he who does this be the Son of God? Can he be even a prophet? He either knows or does not know that the woman is a sinner. If he does not know, he is no prophet; and if he knows, he is acting most inconsistently with his character and office. He ought to have kept her at a distance; to have refused to allow such liberties, and to have reproved her for being so bold. As the Scribes and Pharisees at another time did, so Simon does here. He murmurs. What! Be so kind to a common sinner! What! Allow a profligate to kiss his feet! This is trifling with sin, and countenancing the sinner. Thus man blames God for his love,-at least for its freeness. Were it love bought or deserved, he would say nothing; but it is love to the undeserving, love to the guiltiest, this he cannot away with. This frank, and free, and immediate forgiveness is something which his religion abhors. But let man's religion turn away from God's free love to the sinner; still this is God's way. His thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways are not our ways. High as heaven is above the earth, so high are his thoughts of grace and blessing above all our thoughts and ways.

     IV. Christ's rebuke to the Pharisee. He defends Himself; He defends the woman; He reproves Simon. Assuming Simon's ground, that he was much less a sinner than the woman, He still reasons with him as with one who professed to have received forgiveness to some extent. Both needed forgiveness; and the question was thus one of more or fewer sins; not one of sin and no sin. Look then at the fruits. On the one hand you have the fruits of one who knew that she had sinned much, and had been forgiven much. These were overflowing love, gratitude, and reverence. On the other, you have the fruits of one who thought himself a man of far fewer sins, and therefore needing fewer pardons. They are so scanty that they cannot be named. No washing of the feet, no anointing of the head, no kiss of affection,-no manifestation of love at all; bare worldly civility and hospitality,-no more. It was as if Christ had said, Look at the fruits of the woman's pardon, and look at yours! How different? What warmth in her, what coldness in you? What love in her, what indifference in you! To you I am nothing; to her I am all. You have given me your table and your house; she has given me her heart and soul.

     Simon's religion was founded upon the idea of needing little forgiveness; of so making up for past sin by a strict life of ritualism, that when the day of settlement came between him and God, the balance against him might be very slight. He judges himself by this; and he judges the woman by this. He has few arrears to pay off; she has a fearful amount. Should both be treated in the same way? Should Christ shew as much favor to the one as to the other? Christ shews him the fruits of this false idea, this self-exalting religion; and bids him judge of himself and of his religion by these. Man may think well of him, and of his prayers, and alms, and sacrifices, by means of which he hoped to pay off his debt; but what could God think? How could God look upon a religion that led to no love, no gratitude, no fond allegiance of the soul? God can do without our sacrifices and services, but he cannot do without our love.

     The religion that is founded upon the idea of few sins and a small forgiveness,-a trifling debt, and man's power to pay it off by a good life,-must lead to little love; so by it we are made more debtors to self than to God; nay, we are hardly debtors to God at all. The religion founded upon the truth of man's utter evil, and his need for infinite pardons, must lead to much love; for it makes us wholly debtors to God, and to his frank, forgiving love. When pardon is to be bought or deserved, there can be little love, if any; when it is wholly undeserved and unbought, coming straight to the sinner from the free love of God, there must be much love; love in return for love; the pardoned sinner's full-hearted love, responding to the mighty, the stupendous love of God! Oh, if we would learn to love God, let us do full justice to the love of God' to us.

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