The Sinful Woman Kisses the Feet of Jesus
Christ, the manifestation of divine love among sinners.
His person and His words, the part He plays in this narrative, and the parable that He speaks in the course of it, have to be noticed under this head.
First, then, you have this idea–that He, as bringing to us the love of God, shows it to us, as not at all dependent upon our merits or deserts: ‘He frankly forgave them both’ are the deep words in which He would point us to the source and the ground of all the love of God. Brethren, have you ever thought what a wonderful and blessed truth there lies in the old words of one of the Jewish prophets, ‘I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy Name’s sake’? The foundation of all God’s love to us sinful men lies not in us, nor in anything about us, not in anything external to God Himself. He, and He alone, is the cause and reason, the motive and the end, of His own love to our world. And unless we have grasped that magnificent thought as the foundation of all our acceptance in Him, I think we have not yet learnt half of the fullness which may belong to our conceptions of the love of God–a love that has no motive but Himself; a love that is not evoked even (if I may so say) by regard to His creatures’ wants; a love, therefore, which is eternal, being in that divine heart before there were creatures upon whom it could rest; a love that is its own guarantee, its own cause–safe and firm, therefore, with all the firmness and serenity of the divine nature–incapable of being affected by our transgression, deeper than all our sins, more ancient than our very existence, the very essence and being of God Himself.
‘He frankly forgave them both.’ If you seek the source of divine love, you must go high up into the mountains of God, and learn that God’s love has no motive but Himself; it lies wrapped in the secret of His nature, who is all-sufficient for His own blessedness.
‘God is love’: therefore beneath all considerations of what we may want–deeper and more blessed than all thoughts of a compassion that springs from the feeling of human distress and the sight of man’s misery–lies this thought of an affection which does not need the presence of sorrow to evoke it, which does not want the touch of our finger to flow out, but by its very nature is everlasting, by its very nature is infinite, by its very nature must be pouring out the flood of its own joyous fullness for ever and ever!
Then, again, Christ standing here for us as the representative and revelation of this divine love which He manifests to us, tells us that while it is not caused by us, but comes from the nature of God, it is not turned away by our sins. ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him,’ says the unloving and self-righteous heart, ‘for she is a sinner.’ Ah! there is nothing more beautiful than the difference between the thought about sinful creatures which is natural to a holy being, and the thought about sinful creatures which is natural to a self-righteous being. The one is all contempt; the other, all pity. He knew what she was, and therefore He let her come close to Him with the touch of her polluted hand, and pour out the gains of her lawless life and the adornments of her former corruption upon His most blessed and most holy head. His knowledge of her as a sinner, what did it do to His love for her? It made that love gentle and tender, as knowing that she could not bear the revelation of the blaze of His purity. It smoothed His face and softened His tones, and breathed through all His knowledge and notice of her timid and yet confident approach. ‘Daughter, I know all about it–all thy wanderings and thy vile transgressions: I know them all, and My love is mightier than all these. They may be as the great sea, but my love is like the everlasting mountains, whose roots go down beneath the ocean, and My love is like the everlasting heaven, whose brightness covers it all over.’
God’s love is Christ’s love; Christ’s love is God’s love. And this is the lesson that we gather–that infinite and divine loving-kindness does not turn away from you, my brother and my friend, because you are a sinner, but remains hovering about you, with wooing invitations and with gentle touches, if it may draw you to repentance, and open a fountain of answering affection in your seared and dry heart. The love of God is deeper than all our sins. ‘For His great love wherewith He loved us, when we were dead in sins, He quickened us (made us alive).’
Sin is but the cloud behind which the everlasting sun lies in all its power and warmth, unaffected by the cloud; and the light will yet strike, the light of His love will yet pierce through, with its merciful shafts bringing healing in their beams, and dispersing all the black darkness of man’s transgression. And as the mists gather themselves up and roll away, dissipated by the heat of that sun in the upper sky, and reveal the fair earth below–so the love of Christ shines in, molting the mist and dissipating the fog, thinning it off in its thickest places, and at last piercing its way right through it, down to the heart of the man that has been lying beneath the oppression of this thick darkness, and who thought that the fog was the sky, and that there was no sun there above.
God be thanked! the everlasting love of God that comes from the depth of His own being, and is there because of Himself, will never be quenched because of man’s sin.
And so, in the next place, Christ teaches us here that this divine love, when it comes forth among sinners, necessarily manifests itself first in the form of forgiveness. There was nothing to be done with the debtors until the debt was wiped out; there was no possibility of other gifts of the highest sort being granted to them, until the great score was cancelled and done away with. When the love of God comes down into a sinful world, it must come first and foremost as pardoning mercy. There are no other terms upon which there can be a union betwixt the loving-kindness of God, and the emptiness and sinfulness of my heart, except only this–that first of all there shall be the clearing away from my soul of the sins which I have gathered there, and then there will be space for all other divine gifts to work and to manifest themselves. Only do not fancy that when we speak about forgiveness, we simply mean that a man’s position in regard to the penalties of sin is altered. That is not all the depth of the scriptural notion of forgiveness. It includes far more than the removal of outward penalties. The heart of it all is, that the love of God rests upon the sinner, unturned away even by his sins, passing over his sins, and removing his sins for the sake of Christ. My friend, if you are talking in general terms about a great divine loving-kindness that wraps you round–if you have a great deal to say, apart from the Gospel, about the love of God as being your hope and confidence–I want you to reflect on this, that the first word which the love of God speaks to sinful men is pardon; and unless that is your notion of God’s love, unless you look to that as the first thing of all, let me tell you, you may have before you a very fair picture of a very beautiful, tender, good-natured benevolence, but you have not nearly reached the height of the vigour and the tenderness of the Scripture notion of the love of God. It is not a love which says, ‘Well, put sin on one side, and give the man the blessings all the same,’ not a love which has nothing to say about that great fact of transgression, not a love which gives it the go-by, and leaves it standing: but a love which passes into the heart through the portal of pardon, a love which grapples with the fact of sin first, and has nothing to say to a man until it has said that message to him.
And but one word more on this part of my subject–here we see the love of God thus coming from Himself; not turned away by man’s sins; being the cause of forgiveness; expressing itself in pardon; and last of all, demanding service. ‘Simon, thou gavest Me no water, thou gavest Me no kiss, My head thou didst not anoint: I expected all these things from thee–I desired them all from thee: My love came that they might spring in thy heart; thou hast not given them; My love is wounded, as it were disappointed, and it turns away from thee!’ Yes, after all that we have said about the freeness and fullness, the unmerited, and uncaused, and unmotived nature of that divine affection–after all that we have said about its being the source of every blessing to man, asking nothing from him, but giving everything to him; it still remains true, that God’s love, when it comes to men, comes that it may evoke an answering echo in the human heart, and ‘though it might be much bold to enjoin, yet for love’s sake rather beseeches’ us to give unto Him who has given all unto us. There, then, stands forth in the narrative, Christ as a revelation of the divine love amongst sinners.