The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. L. Burrows, D.D.
From the book, What Baptists Believe, 1887
"Seest thou this woman?"—Luke 7:44
Seest thou this woman? Oh, yes! Simon had seen her; that is, he had glanced at her, as a very good person glances at a very disreputable one met in the street, or as a fashionably dressed lady might meet a shabby cousin from the country. You know this kind of glance that recognizes without looking, that throws the eyes into the corners and keeps the face in another direction; that seems to say, “I see you, but I had rather you wouldn't know it or notice it.”
Oh, yes! Simon saw her, and some rather suspicious thoughts were running through his mind as he furtively watched her operations. Probably he thought it a piece of intrusive impudence that such a city sinner should presume to venture to cross the threshold of such a very respectable mansion. He was watching Jesus, too, to see how he would receive this affectionate familiarity from this very disreputable person. Being a stranger in this little Galilee city, he might not know who or what she was, but if he was a prophet, as reputed, he would know by inspiration what manner of woman this was that touched him. He doubtless began to be rather dubious about the insight and purity of this Nazarene teacher, who was permitting his holiness to be soiled by such defilement.
I presume there must have been surprised and embarrassed silence during this scene. The thoughts of the self-righteous Pharisee were evidently not very favorable toward the humble guest, whom he had loftily condescended to invite to the distinguished honor of a seat at his table. He probably thought, “This woman would not have dared to take such liberties with me.” And so the contrast between himself and Jesus must have been quite consolatory to his righteous soul.
No! No! Simon! No poor, heart-broken sinner would ever have ventured to approach thee, with trustful, loving eyes, expecting pity and comfort and help. Not to such as thee in any of the ages, nor in this day, would a disgraced and polluted outcast approach for rescue or help. Thy virtue is too severe; thy sense of the proprieties too delicate to encourage such contact or converse. Thou art a righteous man, Simon, and for the righteous man one would scarcely die, but for a good man—i.e., a benevolent, loving-hearted man, as Jesus was to Magdalene—many like her would even dare to die. So does love win love.
Brethren, in your bearing and spirit toward the ruined and guilty children of earth, are you most like Simon or most like Jesus? "Seest thou this woman?"—not with scornful, indignant flashes, not with repelling, crushing words, but with compassionate, helpful regard, with encouraging, reclaiming, purifying words and deeds.
Seest thou this woman? Here is a novelty. Why, it is a woman at the feet of Christ. Did you ever hear of a woman at the feet of Plato or Aristotle? Did any of the old world masters in philosophy ever condescend to enroll women among their disciples? What did paganism or modern heathenism ever do for the elevation of women? What has Mohammedanism done for women? Judaism, the next best system to Christianity, because it had more of the true God in it, gave women in exceptional instances, as Miriam and Deborah, more honor and dignity and equality with man, but it was left for Christianity, in the four thousandth year of the history of the race, is alone to raise woman to the side of man, to equality in responsibility, dignity and esteem with man.
Did you ever hear of an instance in all the world's history in which any religion, but that of Christ, had compassion or toleration for a guilty woman except as an object of sensual love or brutal lust? My sisters, above all others you ought, as you do, to love and honor Christ, for he alone of all earth's reformers and philosophers has announced himself as the redeemer of woman. Heathen men reproached the missionaries for teaching a religion which was "the shield of woman."
Seest thou this woman? There are grand capabilities of good in her, which Jesus can develop and bring into beneficent exercise. Defiled, evil and injurious her heart and life may have been, but beneath all that exterior and within all the pollutions of that spirit, the eye of the Saviour discerns potentialities for virtue and beneficence and holiness, progressive through the eternities. It is a vile, but it is a convertible heart. Then we need despair of no sinner, and no sinner need despair of himself. The heart may be stone, but a clearer eye than that of Michael Angelo may trace an angel form in that stone.
The image of God, in which man was originally made, lies buried in that sepulchre, and though crusted all over, and petrified all through by the debris of depravity and vice, yet there is a "hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces," and a fire that consumeth the corroding dross and brings the ruined material into glorious shape by the reconstruction of regeneration. Simon saw in this woman nothing but a worthless, lost sinner, of whom and for whom there was no hope. He could discern in her only the soiled cocoon of a dead worm. Jesus' eye pierced through the rotten fibres, and discovered within, struggling to break through, a brilliant creation, with wings of all rainbow tints, to soar above the earth on which it had crawled and adorn the world with new strange beauties.
A new life had already entered into the soul of this woman, and was working outwardly toward its new and higher sphere. Oh look! my brethren, upon fallen humanity, even in its groveling meanness of depravity, not as something to be despised and trampled, but as containing germs for evolving a pure and beautiful immortality. And let the gospel in your hands and lips and lives become what the Lord, its blessed author, himself was—the compassionate reclaimer and regenerator of the poor and despised. What Christ was we must become in our narrower sphere of influence—friends of sinners, with words of instruction, encouragement and love ever on our tongues.
Seest thou this woman? Let her teach thee today a lesson in faith. Evidently, she had met the Lord before. He had said something to her, done something for her that won her gratitude and love. Some suppose he had healed her of some bodily malady, cast out of her tormenting demons, or, it maybe, he had warned her of the results of an evil life, awakened in her soul longings for a purer, higher life. She had been brought to believe in him. Not yet probably had her faith reached a sense of assurance and pardon. But it was clear enough to convince her that only in him was there safety and comfort for her. Her case in all its essential features is yours and mine.
Whether believers or impenitent, we are sinners. In all the universe there is only One who can give us pardon and peace. This only One has promised these highest blessings. Do you believe him? Then, like this woman, come directly to him. Take no instructions from others, except as such instructions show you the way to his feet. He will be the best instructor. Open your ear to his gracious words. This is fait - unquestioning belief in his word, in his power to redeem, in his loving willingness and solicitude to save. Not faith in your worthiness, or fitness or endeavors. She had none; but faith in his grace, in his nature, in his work—in a word, faith in himself.
Seest thou this woman? Did you ever see more genuine penitence? Here was open acknowledgment of open sin. She had been known as vile. She will be known as repentant and reformed. Here is a changed life, but it is not a cold, politic, logical change; its source is as deep as the well of tears; it originates in the inner recesses of the spirit. No such tears, poured out in such position, could be simulated or hypocritical. It is not dread of the results of sin, or she would not have exposed herself to the sneers and scorn of the Pharisee and his guests and servants. It is grief for a wasted life and a sin-stained soul that wrings those tears from her heart.
We cannot read this narrative without being impressed with the genuineness and sincerity of this woman's emotions. So must it ever be with true repentance. It is based upon a sense of guilt. It looks deeper than to the conduct, down into the sources and springs of the conduct, an evil heart. Not what I have done so much as what I am, in character and spirit, as under the holy, omniscient eye of the Lord opens the deepest fountain of repentant tears.
"My sins, my sins, my Saviour,
They take such hold on me
I am not able to look up,
save only, Christ, to thee.
In thee is all forgiveness,
In thee abundant grace;
My shadow and my sunshine,
The brightness of thy face."
Seest thou this woman? Learn a lesson in humility. Here is no pride, no self-assertion, no claim of rights nor of personal consideration, no excuses nor palliations, no haughty transferring of blame to others, no accusation of tempters or temptations. Unostentatiously, modestly, too much absorbed in her own emotions and yearnings to care for or notice the eyes that watch her movements, seeing only Jesus and thinking only of him, she glides softly within the hall, and kneeling behind his extended feet as he reclines at the table, as though she would hide there from all eyes, even from his own, she proceeds to her loving ablutions. She has carried thither the water for washing his blessed feet, not in a ewer, but in her heart, and she pours it forth as in soft, warm dew-drops from her eyes. She has brought a napkin to wipe off those drops; her own long tresses loosened over her own bowed face and over those precious feet, as if to veil the kisses she pressed upon them.
If you will only imagine the position, you will see nothing that looks like boldness or ostentation or presumption here, but only a sweet and beautiful humility. Here is no conformity to custom or ritual, no pope in ostentatious pride washing beggars' feet by book for the admiration of a gaping crowd, but a spontaneous yielding to a grateful impulse, and this is always the purest and highest worship which a human spirit can offer to the Lord.
Seest thou this woman? Above all else, learn from her a lesson in holy love. For it is manifestly love that underlies and prompts all. Because she loved much she did all this. Can you conceive of any manifestations of a pure love for a person more tender or touching than these? She does not speak one word. No expression of devotion or endearment falls from her lips. What need is there of words? We feel that a voice would have diminished rather than enhanced the expressiveness and pathos of this scene. The streaming tears, the bowed head, the hair that screened as with a silken veil the lovely face of the worshipper and the moistened feet of the Saviour, the warm kisses that wiped away the tear-drops—these were tender expressions of holy love which no fond words could intensify.
Oh! brethren, do not let your love for Jesus exhaust itself in words. He asks not for empty professions, but for heart emotions, expressed in loving acts. "My little children, let us love not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth."…"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord! Lord! but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
Love expresses itself most sincerely in self-sacrificing, spontaneous acts. Professions of love for Christ are cheap and often shallow; but the love that wells out from an overflowing heart, that freely gushes into little rills of beneficence and fertility, that draws out a tear of sympathy with those who weep and lights up the face with a glad smile upon those who rejoice, which pities the poor and opens the hand to the needy, which ministers to the suffering and yearns for the wandering, which emulates the spirit of Christ in doing good—these are the expressions of love for him, infinitely more precious to him than all the formalities of wordy profession.
See, too, how brave her love made this woman. The unlikeliest place in which she could look for a welcome or tolerance was a Pharisee's house. The rigidly righteous, the severely religious are not specially friends to sinners. The purest in heart are the most pitiful. But even here under this Pharisee's scorning eye and scowling brow, whence, if she had thought, she might have expected to be driven out by his ordered menials, love gave her courage to go, seeking her adored Lord.
The highest courage has its stimulus in love. Up the crags of the precipice to the eagle's nest, whither the hardy chamois-hunter shudders to climb, love will wing the feet of a mother rushing to rescue her stolen child. And love for Jesus, if it be anything like his love for us, will carry us through sacrifices and dangers, to look bravely in the scorner's eye, to confess Jesus before a sneering world, to bear his banner amid barbarian hosts, to meet without quailing the frowns of kings and without blanching the dungeons and flames of martyrdom. Nothing inspires such courage as earnest love for Christ.
Seest thou this woman? Now look at the costly offering which her love prompted. She brings something to him. She bears in her hand an alabaster flask of precious ointment, and pours it over his feet. Love brings its gift. It selfishly withholds nothing of its possessions from its object. It is no hard duty to give where you love. The Magdalene was not asked to bring her costly ointment for the anointing of Jesus. It was the spontaneous suggestion of her love. Love is liberal. This alabaster box, with its expensive nard, was the best she had, and probably, certainly, the most appropriate offering she could make, and was so accepted and approved by the Lord.
Oh! how ashamed and humiliated we have often reason to be by the appeals we have made, and so often made in vain, to the liberality of Christ's disciples, to express their love for him, their interest in what is dearest to his heart—the enlargement and establishment of his kingdom. Many seem to be so reluctant to spare an offering for Christ. They look so troubled and pained when appeals to their benevolence are urged; not because they are so poor, but because they are so unwilling. And when they do reluctantly give, it is not like this woman, the best they have, but what can with least inconvenience be spared.
Ah, brethren, what is needed most by the disciples of Christ are not resources, but love. If we only loved like this saint, the contents of our alabaster boxes and all other treasure-boxes would be freely poured out at his feet. Let not covetousness and greed be stronger than love. A profounder love of Christ will induce a larger liberality, and nothing but this will.
Let this woman teach us yet another lesson. This: that our offerings to Christ, when made in love, are of more benefit to ourselves than to him or to his cause. Mary was more blessed by her offering than Jesus was. It seemed a waste to the covetous and selfish. And of itself it had no permanent use. The fragrance of the ointment evaporated in a day and left no trace behind. It was annihilated by using it. Was it then a useless expenditure? Not so thought Jesus. In a like case he said, "She has wrought a good work upon me, and this thing that she hath done shall be told throughout the world wherever the gospel is preached." The spirit of benevolence, cultivated by offerings, is of more value than the gifts themselves. Whether we believe it or not, "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
Accept and ponder then, dear brethren, the lessons which this woman teaches us today. Let them lead you to clearer ideas and a deeper experience of what is involved in the attracting love of Christ, in the convertible capabilities of a depraved soul, in repentance, faith, love, humility, courage and beneficence, and you, too, may go from this house as this woman went from the house of Simon, with the same words of Christ echoing joyfully on your souls, "Thy sins are forgiven thee—thy faith hath saved thee—go in peace.”