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theme had been John the Baptist-a prophet hated of the Pharisees, but dear to the people. John had been emphatically, like all his predecessors, the prophet of the people. The poor hear ever gladly such truth as rolled in thunder from his lips. They were worn down by legal exactions, and sick of Pharisaic cant and lies. They thronged to the ministry of a man who dealt a common judgment and a common measure of truth to all. The intense and fearless energy of this preacher of righteousness stirred their deeper passions; while his fierce denunciation of their taskmasters and tyrants kindled a hope of relief from their burdens. It made life more tolerable. Some ray of joy shone in their sad hearts at the thought that the kingdom of God was so near.
John came as a Reformer. All great Reformers are greeted at first with the popular sympathy and support.
· Doctrines of righteousness cannot but strike powerfully on the side of the oppressed and down-trodden classes, who feel themselves depressed below their natural level by the unrighteousness of their lords. There is always too much that palpably needs reform in this sad world, for reform to be other than a popular cry with those whose lot exposes them, unarmed, to the assault of “outrageous fortune." Any man who will stand up and preach righteousness in God's name, and with
divine boldness, shall have throngs of the poor of this world round him, applauding to the echo, until they find that the reformation which he preaches must have its beginning in their own hearts. Then the love of many waxes cold. But John bore the convictions and the sympathies of the multitude with him through his brief but impetuous career.
The hate and antagonism of the Pharisees, whom they hated, his ascetic life, his intense zeal, his fearless utterance, his early doom, kindled their imaginations, and touched their hearts. So jealously did the people cherish his memory, that the rulers might more safely have wrought any moral abomination in Jerusalem than have whispered a doubt of his prophetic ministry. “The rulers feared the people, because that all men held John to be a prophet.”
The Lord had spoken of this great forerunner, his vigorous independence, his prophetic grandeur, before which even the ministry of Elijah paled ; and then He enlarged His discourse, He spake of that kingdom of heaven of which John had been the herald, its winning aspect, its inclusive spirit, its genial breadth of sympathy and love, the daring eagerness with which all men pressed into it, the contrast which at every point it presented to the rigid and strait-laced exclusions of the law, and as He spake “ all the people that heard Him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the
baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” Supplying from Matthew xi. Luke's omissions, we find that this sketch of the essential character of the kingdom of heaven, led on to some awful denunciations of those by whom its benign ministry was scorned.-Matt. xi. 21–23. Lifting His thoughts from thence, Heuttered some calm deep words about the Father—whom then, for the first time in His public ministry, He thus addressed the mystery of His nature, unfathomable by human wisdom, the inscrutable secrets of His government, the dread abyss of God, which He, the only begotten Son, alone fathomed and filled. He reminded them of the tremendous sanctions with which His words were attended, how even the lightest had on it the absolute emphasis of God. Then, lest words so awful, thoughts so profound, should chill and oppress their spirits, His heart poured forth, from a depth of tenderness unfathomed still, that most tender, pathetic, and soul-piercing appeal of the Man of sorrows to the children of sorrows, which perhaps is without peer even among “ the words of the Lord Jesus: "_" Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart : and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy,
my burden is light.” I have directed your thought to this discourse in its wholeness, because these last words seem to furnish the key to this most touching and pregnant narrative which succeeds :-.“ And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him : for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master,
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet : but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the
hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss : but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint : but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven ; for she loved much : but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgivetb sins also ? And He said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee ; go in peace.” I beg my readers to study this carefully. It is evident that our Lord's discourse had been listened to by multitudes. Among them, a woman that was a sinner had heard His words about the Father and the kingdom of heaven; she was apparently heart-sick of her vocation, perhaps, heart-sick of her
very life. Righteousness was a thing she dared not think of. Had she been bred in a righteous home? Did wandering memories throng thickly when these things of man's higher life rose up before her sight? Perhaps the denunciation of God's vengeance on the despisers of the Saviour had shaken her soul from its guilty slumbers. The prayer of Jesus to the Father, this communion of a brother man with the Lord of all, had opened the vision of heaven above her. Ah! might she but look up and see a Father smiling,