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She had a higher idea of the dignity of Jesus, than most others had, and thought no testimony of respect could be too great to be shown him. Some, who possibly were not destitute of all regard for him, made computations of the value of the perfumed ointment, and thought the use she made of it no better than mere waste. But she having brought the vessel, and opened it, poured it forth without reserve upon Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. All this was done by her in the presence of many people, who were come to see Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. Many others treated him as a mean and ordinary person. She considers him, as entitled to all the respect that is due to the greatest and the wisest. And certainly, this her regard for Jesus, since it was just and well grounded, is greatly to her commendation. Faith in Jesus, as the Christ, was a virtue. She excelled in that virtue, and was eminent among the believers of that time, when the Messiah abode in person on this earth.
Nor was her faith rash and inconsiderate. It was the fruit of diligent attention, just observations, and serious meditation. All this we can say assuredly of Mary sister of Lazarus. We can collect it from a history of this family, (before taken notice of) related by St. Luke, though he has said nothing of that action, which we are now considering; where he says, that when Jesus, in his journeyings, came to the village where they dwelt, "Martha received him into her house." Whilst she was busy in preparing for the entertainment of Jesus, and the company with him, "Mary sat at Jesus's feet, and heard his word. Martha being cumbered about much serving," came to the Lord Jesus, and requested that her sister might "help her." He answered "that Mary had chosen that good, [or better] part, which should not be taken away from her,” Luke x. 38-42.
Finally, she manifested courage and resolution in this action, and with a readiness of thought, that is exemplary, she laid hold of the opportunity. Some resolution was needful, to exceed the common measures of respect, that were usually paid to Jesus. She actually met with rebukes, that were discouraging: but our Lord interposed, and forbad the giving her any trouble, and declared, that this action should be long and often mentioned to her honour.
These virtues, as seems to me, were in the mind of this woman at that time. I presume, I have not extolled this action beyond what it deserves. I have had no such design, though I have been willing to do justice to it, and to carry on the fulfilment of our Lord's prediction, "that wheresover the gospel shall be preached, there also this, which this woman had done, should be told for a memorial of her.”
But something still remains. It is not enough, that we celebrate, or acknowledge the good dispositions of this woman. We are to imitate the virtues, which we admire in others. She behaved commendably in her day. We are to do so in ours. She lived in the days of the Messiah, when he abode on this earth. She saw, and heard him. She was attentive, and open to conviction. She discovered his merit, and the evidences of his high character, and loved and honoured him as such, when many others despised and rejected him. And, as we have good reason to believe, was discreet and virtuous in the whole of her conduct, and so approved herself to be a true disciple of Jesus.
We also live in the days of the Messiah, which are times of greater light and knowledge, than any former times. He is not now on this earth. Nor have we seen him. But we have good reason to believe in him, and love him. The objects of faith are now increased. We believe his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension to heaven, and his exaltation to power: and have better assurance, that he will come again,, and give to every man according to his work, than they had, who saw him here in person. We should behave accordingly, if we desire to be rewarded hereafter. We should be diligent in improving opportunities of serviceableness and usefulness. He who neglects to sow at the proper season, must not expect to rejoice in the time of harvest. And, as the apostle says, "he that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly. And he that soweth bountifully, shall reap bountifully," 2 Cor. ix. 6.
5. From this, and other passages of our Lord's life, we can evidently perceive, that, with all his great and transcendent wisdom, he did not disdain what we call the weaker sex: but allowed them to be capable of true, and distinguished worth and excellence.
He found the woman of Samaria to be a person of an inquisitive temper, and of good understanding in the things of religion. And he condescended to discourse freely with her: and more clearly declared to her his character of the Messiah, than to most others. John iv.
He openly testified his accepting the repentance of the woman, spoken of in St. Luke, as
"a sinner," who had come into the house of a pharisee, when he sat at meat. Thy sins are forgiven." And for her farther assurance and comfort, added: " saved thee. Go in peace," Luke iii. 36-50.
He said to her:
Thy faith hath
How acute was the woman of Canaan, and how ingenious in her importunity! And how agreeable was the answer, which in the end our Lord gave her? "O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt," Matt. xv. 21-28.
When he sat in the temple over against the treasury, and saw many rich men cast in their gifts, a poor widow woman, who cast in two mites, obtained from him the highest commendation. "Of a truth, this poor widow has cast in more than they all. For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury has cast in all the living that she had," Luke xxi. 1-4.
Yea it is said, that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus," John xi. 5. Nor can there be any doubt, that they were worthy of the esteem, which he manifested for them. He had observed in them qualities of the mind, and a prudent and virtuous conduct, truly amiable and commendable. That was a happy family! They were happy in each other. They were likewise happy in the favour and friendship of Jesus himself.
And not to mention any more instances of this kind, St. Luke has particularly informed us, that as our Lord "went throughout every city and village of Judea, preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God, the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits, and infirmities: Mary Magdalen, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to him of their substance." Luke viii. 1-3.
And it seems, that they made great proficiency by their attendance on Jesus. They must have heard many of his public discourses, and seen many of his miracles. But they were not present, at any time, when our Lord ate the paschal supper with the disciples. Nor did they hear his affecting discourses at those seasons. And they must have been absent upon many other occasions, when he dicoursed and conferred with the disciples. In this respect it may be said, that they "partook of the crumbs only, that fell from the disciples table." Their improvements therefore are surprising. For they appear not to have fallen short of the apostles themselves in understanding, faith, zeal, and affection for Jesus.
And St. Mark, relating the conclusion of our Lord's sufferings on the cross, says: "There were also women looking on afar off. Among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James the less, and of Joses, and Salome. Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and administered unto him and many other women, who came up with him unto Jerusalem, Matt. xv. 40, 41.
Those women therefore, who had before attended upon our Lord, persevered in their faith to the end. They attended his crucifixion, standing afar off, bewailing him. They afterwards observed, where they laid him. And early on the first day of the week came to the sepulchre, with rich spices to embalm him. And they had the honour to be the first, who saw the Lord after he was risen from the dead.
Permit me to add a thought or two more. The persons named by St. Luke and St. Mark, as following our Lord, and ministering to him, were, chiefly, women of distinction, and of advanced age. Such were those, who, together with our Lord's mother, showed him that respect. Among these I do not reckon the two sisters of Lazarus. They appear not to have attended upon our Lord any where, but at their own home, and, in the company of their brother, at the house of Simon the Leper, a neighbour in the village of Bethany, where they dwelt. The reason we do not certainly know. But it may have been owing to their age. If they were still in the days of youth, it might not be fit, that they should expose themselves abroad.
Hence we can infer, that the number of women, who believed in Jesus as the Christ, and professed faith in him, was not inconsiderable. Many of these there were, who had so good understanding, and so much virtue, as to overcome the common and prevailing prejudice. Without any bias of passion, or worldly interests, and contrary to the judgments and menaces of men in power, they judged rightly in a controverted point, of as much importance as ever was debated on this earth.
I have touched upon all these particulars, by way of encouragement to others. Despair to excel, and attain to eminence, enervates the powers of action, and obstructs those advances in knowledge and piety which otherwise might be made. High stations and public employments
are not needful. Eminent virtue may be in any station. Wherever it is, it is discerned by the penetrating eye of Jesus, and is beheld with approbation, and will be rewarded by him in due time.
6. This text gives no encouragement to those honours, approaching to idolatry, or altogether idolatrous, which some have since given to departed saints, both men and women.
Our Lord, in this place, speaks not of any such thing. And it is inconsistent with the tenour of his, and his apostles' doctrine. But I need not enlarge upon this, in an assembly of persons, who think freely, and exercise their highest power of reason and understanding in things of religion, as well as about matters of less moment.
7. We have in this history, an instance of the favour of our Lord for virtue.
A person having performed an action, which proceeded from laudable dispositions, he expresseth his approbation of it, and declares, that it should be celebrated. We may be assured therefore, that when our Lord shall come again, to judgment, this benevolent, this remunerative property of his all-knowing and perfect mind, will be gratified, and displayed to the full. He will then bestow rewards, answerable to the riches, the honours, the delights and entertainments of this world: but greatly surpassing them, and the ideas, which we have formed from what now appears to us most splendid and magnificent.
8. And lastly, This text teacheth us to think, and judge for ourselves, and to act according to the light of our own judgment and understanding, after having taken due care to be well informed, without paying too great deference to the favourable, or the unfavourable sentences of others.
This woman met with checks and rebukes in her testimony of respect to Jesus. But he approved of it. Some acts of charity, some works of goodness, which appear reasonable and expedient to ourselves, may be preferred by us before some others, which are in more general esteem. Those we should perform, without discouraging these others, or entirely omitting them, if our ability can reach them all. But every man is the best judge of his own abilities, and what is most proper to be done by him, in the circumstances, in which he is placed, and the relation he bears to others. If we perform what appears to ourselves best and most expedient, with a sincere regard to the glory of God: and upon all occasions strive to excel in what is laudable: we need not doubt the approbation of our Lord, whose judgment is the most impartial, and the most equitable, and will secure such rewards, as are most valuable and desirable.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TAKEN BY FORCE.
And from the days of John the Baptist, until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Matt. xi. 12.
JOHN the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with that question: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" Our Lord having wrought some miracles in the sight of those two persons, as well as taught the people in their hearing, sends them back again to John in prison, saying, "Go, and show John the things, which ye do hear and see.”
When they had departed, our Lord took that opportunity to speak to the multitudes concerning John, the better to remove their prejudices against himself, and the gospel-dispensation. He enlargeth upon John's character, whom they generally owned for a prophet. He tells them, that they therein judged very rightly. He was a prophet indeed, and superior to most, or any of the prophets, that had been sent to them, upon account of the doctrine taught by him which was pure religion, recommended upon forcible motives and considerations.
"Nevertheless," adds our Lord, "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He that shall receive my doctrine, and be a subject of the gospel dispensation, fully
revealed and established, will excel him in the knowledge of religion in some respects. As much was intimated by John himself.
It follows in the words of the text: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." As if he said: However after all, it is not every one that will attain to this excellence and dignity. Such are the prejudices that obtain, and such are the worldly and self-interested views of many, that it is not ⚫ without considerable difficulty, that the blessings of this dispensation will be secured. And they may be said to be a sort of violent men, that enter into the kingdom of God, now setting up in the world.'
"For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." Hitherto, you have had the teaching of the law and the prophets. But the genuine, and sublime principles of true religion are now more clearly taught. And more self-denial is requisite to embrace them, than many are willing to practise and submit to.
There is a parallel place in St. Luke, which is in these words. "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that the kingdom of God is preached. And every man," who enters into that kingdom, "presseth into it," Luke xvi. 16. that is, forceth his way into it, by breaking through many obstacles.
It is added in the fore-cited place from St. Matthew, where our Lord is discoursing to the people concerning John: "And, if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was to come. He that has ears to hear let him hear." Which expression we never find used by our Lord, but when
says somewhat of great importance, or which men were prejudiced against, and therefore it required more than ordinary attention and honesty of mind, to admit and embrace. For though John was really very eminent, and at his first appearance raised the regard of the whole Jewish nation, they did not now so generally consider him, in his proper character of the fore-runner of the Messiah as they had done.
"The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." Our Lord, by violent men, does not intend such as are injurious to others in their rights and privileges. Nor does he design to intimate, that any violence is necessary to be used against the will and disposals of God as if hinderances were laid in the way of men's salvation by determinations of the Divine Being, secret or open. For God is ready, graciously to receive all who repent. And Jesus Christ calls and invites all in general, saying: "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden: and I will give you rest." But the force here spoken of is that resolution, which is exerted in denying ourselves, and overcoming prejudices, or acting contrary to some obstructions laid in our way by other men.
Not to enlarge any farther in a general way concerning the meaning of this observation of our Lord, I shall endeavour to explain it by representing, in several particulars, the nature of that force, which is here spoken of, and mention divers instances of the violent people here intended. After which I may add some reflections, and conclude.
I. I shall mention some particulars, which may show the nature of the force here spoken of. 1. One kind of force here intended is a resolution of mind to receive the doctrine and precepts of strict holiness and virtue, though contrary to the ordinary bias of men's appetites and inclinations.
If religion consisted only in some ritual observances, or bodily mortifications, at some certain seasons; it would not be so difficult a thing, nor very contrary to any bad habits and dispositions. But true religion, such as was taught by John the Baptist, and by our Saviour, is a doctrine hard to be received, and complied with, cordially and fully. The general strain and tenour of their preaching is, "repent:" forsake all sin: return to God, and serve him in the practice of real holiness. "When the people came to John, and asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answered and said unto them: He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none. And he that has meat, let him do likewise," Luke iii. 11. Hard doctrine! And it requires a good deal of resolution of mind, and much self-denial, to determine to put it in practice, by parting with our all upon special occasions, or our superfluous abundance, from time to time, as the wants and exigencies of men may demand.
The same may be said of his other admonitions to publicans and soldiers, that they should
• Matt. iii. 11. and other places.
perform the duties, particularly suited to their employments, and forbear the exactions, or other offences, which their way of life more especially inclined them to. Luke iii. 12-14.
Such was John's doctrine. And certainly our Lord's was of the same kind, and an improvement of it-declaring, that unless "men's righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, they could in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven," or obtain the everlasting happiness of the life to come.
Our Lord's precepts are very difficult, as they are contrary to generally prevailing affections and inclinations, enjoining purity of heart and life, meekness under provocations, and forgiveness of injuries.
Compliance with these rules and precepts he has himself compared to the parting with a valuable member of the body, saying: "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee, that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell," Matt. v. 29, 30. And what there follows.
And in regard to the difficulty of this holy conduct, and this complete conquest, which we ought to make of irregular appetites and passions, his apostles have delivered some of their exhortations in such terms as these: "Mortify your members, which are upon the earth; and crucify the flesh, with the corrupt affections, and lusts thereof."
2. Another kind of violence intended by our Lord is the quitting favourite notions and prejudices, upon sufficient evidence, and with mature, serious and diligent consideration,
It is, undoubtedly, somewhat difficult to part with opinions that have been long entertained, and thereby to own that we were once in the wrong. Prejudices are sometimes strengthened by fond affections, which increase the difficulty of parting with them. This was very much the case of the Jewish people in general. They expected in the Messiah a glorious prince, a successful and victorious warrior, a king that should reign over them with power and splendour, and enrich them with the spoils of the nations.
They thirsted for the pleasure of being revenged upon the gentiles, the Greeks and the Romans, who had successively brought them into subjection, and laid them under tribute: And many were in expectation of some of the most profitable and honourable posts of this extensive empire. They were intent upon the external ordinances of the law of Moses; but thought little about any precepts or encouragements of internal religion and real virtue.
It must therefore have been the effect of serious consideration, that any embraced Jesus as the Messiah upon the evidence of his miracles, and the testimony of John, and such like arguments: whilst they saw nothing in him suited to the idea, which most had formed of a worldly prince. And yet there were some, yea many, who believed on him, "when they saw the miracles that he did," John iii. 2; ch. vii. 31; ch. ix. 30-33. To these our Lord imputes a laudable violence and zeal, in distinguishing themselves from the most.
All the disciples of our Lord are to be remembered here, who overcame, in part at least, at the very beginning, some prejudices: who made a profession, that he was the Christ, the Son of God, and adhered to him as having the words of eternal life: though they did still maintain hopes of seeing him appear, some time, with worldly glory.
Nathanael is a plain instance of a man, who gave up his prejudices, and false notions, upon evidence. "6 Philip finding Nathanael, and saith unto him: We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said: Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John i. 45-51. Nevertheless, when Jesus had manifested extraordinary knowledge, he answered, and said unto him: "Rabbi, thou art the Son God, thou art the king Israel."
This must have-been true of all in general, among the Jewish people, who at that time believed in Jesus. They did give up, in some measure, though not yet entirely, some notions that had for a while a deep rooting in their minds.
3. Another kind of violence intended by our Lord, is quitting some present worldly advantages, for the sake of the gospel, and making a profession, of the truths of religion, against much opposition, and notwithstanding difficulties and discouragements.
This kind of violence was practised by many, if not all Christ's disciples, whom he chose to be his apostles. They had at first, in believing in him, as before said, yielded up some prejudices and wrong notions, in part at least. part at least. And in obeying his call, to follow him, and attend upon him, they resigned some earthly advantages. They left their employments, the ordinary means