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§ 140. Christ forgives the Magdalen at the House of Simon the Pharisee.368368   Luke, vii., 36, seq.The reciprocal action of Love and Faith in the Forgiveness of Sins.

It was Christ’s free mode of life with his disciples, his intercourse with classes of people despised by the Pharisees, his seeking the society even of the degraded, in order to save them, which first drew upon him the assaults of that haughty and conceited sect.

On one occasion he was invited to dine with one of the Pharisees, named Simon, a man certainly incapable of appreciating the Saviour Either from his natural temper, or from his peculiar disposition to wards Christ, he gave him but a cool reception. While the Saviour was there, a woman came in who had previously led a notoriously vicious life, but who now, convinced of sin and groaning under it, sought consolation from Christ, from whom she had doubtless previously received Divine impressions. She threw herself at his feet, moistened them with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment. With what power must He have attracted the burdened soul, when a woman, goaded by conscience, could come to him with so sure a hope of obtaining balm for her wounded heart!

The Pharisee was astonished that He should have any thing to do with her. “Were this man,” thought he, “possessed of the prophet’s glance, piercing the thoughts of men, he could not be so deceived.” Christ, noticing his amazement, gave an explanation of the principle on which he acted, that must have shamed and humbled Simon; contrasting his cold hospitality with the heartfelt love which the woman, though oppressed with grief and sin, had manifested for him. Looking at the disposition of the heart, he prefers the woman—guilty, indeed, before, but, even for that reason, now longing the more earnestly for salvation, and penetrated with holy love—to the cold, haughty, self-righteous Pharisee, who, with all his outward show of observing the law, was destitute of quickening love, the essential principle of a genuine Divine life. “Her sins,” said he, “which are many, are all forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, he loveth little.”

It is love, according to Jesus, which gives to religion and morality their true import. The faith of the woman proved itself genuine, because it sprang from, and begat love; the love from the faith, the faith from the love. Her grief for her sins was founded in her love to the Holy God, to whom, conscious of her estrangement, she now felt herself drawn. Her desire for salvation led her to Jesus; her love aided her in finding a Saviour in him; with warm love she embraced him as such, even before he pronounced the pardon of her sins. Therefore 212Christ said of her, “Her many sins are forgiven, because she has loved much;” and to her, “Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace;” thus exhibiting the reciprocal relations of the two—the faith proving itself true by the love. The Pharisee, whose feelings were ossified, bound up in the mechanism of the outward law, was especially lacking in the love which could lead to faith; and therefore, in speaking to him, the woman’s love, and not her faith, was made prominent by Christ.

The very vices of the woman made her conviction more profound, her desire for salvation more ardent, her love for the Redeemer, who pronounced her sins forgiven, more deep and heartfelt. But she had not, even in the midst of her transgressions, been further removed from the true, inward holiness that springs from the Divine life, than was the Pharisee in his best estate. He separated himself from God as effectually, by that unfeeling selfishness which often coexists with what is called morality, and with a conspicuous sanctity of good works, as if he had yielded, like the woman, to the power of evil passions. He was none the better because his colder nature offered no salient points for such temptations. Christ’s standard of morality was different from that which the world, deceived by appearances, is wont to apply. The Pharisee had succeeded in avoiding these glaring sins, and in keeping a fair show of obedience to the law; but all this only propped up his self-deceiving egotism, which delighted in the illusion of self-righteousness. In such a man, the sense of alienation from God, the consciousness of sin, as an abyss between him and the Holy One, without which there can be no true repentance, could find no place.

Nay, the abject woman, in her course of vice, may have been nearer to the kingdom than the haughty and self-righteous man; even then, there may have been a spark of love, stifled, indeed, by sensuality, but still existing in her heart, which needed only the touch of a higher power to kindle into flame. In her case, what was in itself bad may have been a means of good; good, however, which certainly might have been arrived at by another road. The pangs of repentance made her susceptible of Divine impressions, the Divine love that met her kindled the spark in her own heart; and she rose, by the living faith of love, above the Pharisee, who, in his arrogant selfishness, was hardened against Divine impressions, and did not recognize the love of God, even when he saw it manifested.369369   The simplicity of this narrative, and the stamp of Christ’s spirit which it bears, are sufficient proofs of its originality and truth. But I find no ground for believing it to be identical with the anointing of Christ by Mary at Bethany, which also, according to Matt. (xxvi., 6), occurred in the house of a Simon. The resemblances are accidental; such things could occur again and again amid Oriental customs. That a woman, in order to show her reverential love for the Saviour, might serve him like a slave, wash his feet, not with water, but with the costliest material in her possession, &c.; all this could easily have occurred twice and both times, too, in the house of a man named Simon, which was a very common name among the Jews; although it is possible that the name may have been transferred from the one account to the other. But while the resemblances are accidental, the differences are substantial. In the one the woman is an awakened sinner; in the other, one who had always led a devout life, and was, at the time, seized with additional gratitude at the saving of a beloved brother’s life. In the one, the different relations in which a self-righteous Pharisee and an awakened sinner stand to Christ, who rejects no repentant sinner, are set forth; in the other, a heartfelt love, which knows no measure, is contrasted with the common mind, incapable of comprehending such love. In the one it is Christ that is blamed and justified; in the other, the woman.

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