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II. I now proceed, without farther delay, to mention some remarks upon this history, and show how we may improve it for our benefit.
1. From the words of this text we evidently perceive, that our Lord distinctly foresaw the great progress which the gospel would soon make in the world.
Some inveterate adversaries of the christian religion, about three hundred years after our Lord's ascension, surprised and grieved at the progress it had made, and desirous, if possible, to retard and suppress it, and again raise up heathenism in its room, had the presumption to say, that the success of our Lord's doctrine had exceeded his own expectation; and that when he preached in Judea, he did not think his name and religion would prevail as they had done ; but that is a false insinuation. Our Lord often spoke of the wide extent of his doctrine. Though the Jewish people, many of them, withstood the bright evidence which was set before them of his great character; and it was very likely that they would continue to harden their hearts to a great degree; he knew that would not obstruct his reputation, or his doctrine. And did more than once declare, that “ many would come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, whilst the children of the kingdom, [for continued obstinacy and unbelief,] would be shut out."
When some “ Greeks, who had come up [to Jerusalem] with those who came thither to worship at the feast of the passover,” desired to see bim, he answered, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified,” John xii. 20—23. And afterwards at ver. 31, 32, “ Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
Beside other parables to the like purpose, he said : “ The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches of it."
This text is another clear proof of the same thing. And his prediction is delivered with some solemnity. • Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall this also that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her.”
The thing however is remarkable and extraordinary ; that Jesus should attain to such renown; that the doctrine taught by him should be preached every where; and that a testimony of respect to him should be thought to deserve frequent mention, and to be long spoken of to the honour of the person that had done it. Princes and conquerors easily transmit with honour their own names, and the names and characters of those who attend upon them, and serve them. But Jesus lived a humble, lowly life in this world,
a and died, as he now foresaw he should, an ignominious death. And yet he has attained to lasting, and wide extended, honour and renown; and it is esteemed by many, or even by all, in many parts of the world, an honour for any one to be mentioned with him, and spoken of as having shown respect to him.
The only reason of all this can be, that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed, that he was a teacher sent from God, that his discourses were wise and reasonable, and his conduct excellent and admirable, and that after his sufferings and death, he was raised to life, and with great power declared to be the Son of God, or the Messiah, as he had said he was.
To this only can be owing the honour to which Jesus has attained; and hereby the aspersions that had been cast on him by enemies, have been wiped off. The judgments passed upon him by those who evil entreated him, have appeared to be prejudiced, false, and malicious. Whatever honour they were possessed of, whatever splendour they lived in, how great soever their influence may have then been: their names are either forgotten, or are loaded with just and perpetual disgrace. On the other hand, they who believed in him, who received his words, who honoured him in their minds, and showed him respect in their actions, are spoken of as persons of distinguished wisdom and piety.
2. From this text we learn that reputation for good works is desirable, and valuable.
Otherwise, our Lord had not declared, in opposition to the censure now passed by some upon the action of this woman, that it would be celebrated by others, and that “ wheresoever the gospel should be preached in the whole world, what she had done, should be told for a memorial of her."
Wise men have always esteemed the good opinion of fellow-creatures a great advantage. Solomon says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than riches, and lovingkindness rather than silver and gold,” Prov. xxii. 1. And again : “ A good name is better than ointment,” Ecc. vii. 1.
But whilst they speak of this good name, as a special advantage, they take care to intimate what things are most excellent and meritorious, that the inconsiderate may not be misled by false appearances; therefore it is said by the same wise man: “ Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain. But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised,” Prov. xxxi. 30. Not that the two former are contemptible,
, but that they are in considerable, when compared with religion and virtue, which are much more commendable, and are likely to secure durable love and esteem.
It is an affectionate and comprehensive exhortation, with which St. Paul shuts up his epistle to the Philippians. “ Finally, brethren,” says he, “ whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think of these things,” Philip. iv. 8.
We may, then, quicken ourselves in the pursuit of virtue, and the practice of good works, with the hope of that acceptance and esteem, which are justly due to things right and reasonable in themselves.
It is a thing not undesirable, nor to be despised and slighted, to be praised by those who are in honour, and are justly praised; or to be esteemed by such as are greatly and justly esteemed. At the least, we may set this against the censures of the inconsiderate, the mistaken, and prejudiced; and may reckon the judgment of the knowing and serious to overbalance that of the vain and thoughtless.
To be conversant with wise and eminent men, and to be subservient to their ease, their credit, their influence, and usefulness; or to approve and embrace the excellent lessons and maxims which they deliver, and yield to them due honour and respect, is very commendable. This is a part of the virtue of the woman here spoken of; and our Lord declared she should not fail of being honoured for it.
3. Another thing, which we are taught by this text, is, that some seasons and circumstances may justify uncommon expense.
Such expense there was now, and some through prejudice or interest took upon them to blame it. And a specious argument there was against it. But our Lord, who always was impartial (as his worst enemies acknowledged) who was never under the bias of favour or interest, openly vindicates it. Some said, the ointment might have been -sold, and the price given to the poor. “ But he said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? The poor ye have with you always; but me ye have not always.”
Our Lord, then, without at all detracting from the obligation to relieve the poor and indigent, which he had often inculcated, justifies this uncommon expense. The reason upon which his determination is founded, teaches, that some extraordinary respect may be fitly shown to strangers, especially illustrious strangers.
The argument will hold with regard to any other persons of great merit and high station, and all those, to whom we are under great obligations. We may pay them all the respect we are able, with the abundance of good things with which God has blessed us. And what our Lord delivers here
this occasion will serve to justify the true interpretation of divers other texts. As Luke xiv, 14, 15, “ Then said he to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner, or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy rich neighbours—But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be blessed : for they cannot recompense thee; but thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Our Lord is not to be understood to forbid entertaining friends, and brethren, and rich neighbours ; but to teach, that we ought also to take care not to neglect and overlook the poor and necessitous, but to make a kind provision for them, and to show tenderness to such as are in affliction. For men may live in the splendour of an exalted condition, provided they let the poor and indigent partake of their abundance. As our Lord says upon another occasion : 6 Give alms of such things as ye possess; and behold, all things are clean unto you,” Luke xi. 41.
We may reasonably take it for granted, that the woman, who now indulged herself in a costly profusion upon Jesus, was also ready to other good works, and often bountiful to
Upon the whole, the christian doctrine does not require a mean and sordid spirit; but enlargeth the mind, and teacheth that discreet moderation in all things, and those tender regards for the poor and indigent, which may leave room for some enlargements upon ourselves and others on great and extraordinary occasions."
4. What this woman now did in anointing the body of Jesus was very commendable.
If any should ask, what could there be commendable in such an action, I should answer; I wish myself able to display all its excellences. Our Lord said, that " wherever • If this sermon be too long to be read at once, here may be a good pause.
the gospel should be preached, this also which she had done, should be told for a memorial of her.” Which may satisfy us, that it deserves to be celebrated. Indeed, I think, the virtues, which were then in exercise in her mind, and which formed this action, were more fragrant than her ointment, though that too was very precious, and “ the odour of it filled all the house."
The ointment, made use of by her, was reckoned very valuable by those who were present, and the expense extraordinary. "I suppose it was so, and far exceeding what she usually' expended on herself, or friends, at other times. But then the greater respect does she appear to have had for Jesus. If the woman spoken of by the first two evangelists, be the same with her, of whom St. John writes, (as is very likely, she was Mary sister of Lazarus. And we can form a tolerable notion of the circumstances of his family. He is never called a pharisee, a title seldom given to any but men of substance, and credit in the world. And when he died, and was buried, though extremely dear to his sisters, his funeral was very frugal. When our Lord came to his grave, which 66
was a cave, and a stone lay upon it, he said : Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him who was dead, saith unto him: Lord, by this time he stinketh. For he has been dead four days,” John xi. 38, 39. His body therefore had not been embalmed, nor laid in sweet spices. There can be no reason to think then that this family were people in opulent circumstances, but rather of a middle rank only, and private condition.
Mary however had a vessel of rich ointment. Whether it was a treasure that had been long in the family, or whether she had procured it lately for this purpose, we need not say, and cannot determine. But being possessed of a box or vase of ointment, of the richest sorts, she thought she could never bestow it upon a more worthy object. Possibly, she was under apprehensions, from what she bad heard him
say of his departure out of this world, that it was expedient to lay hold of the present opportunity, lest another should not offer for showing respect to so great a person.
She had a pure, sincere, ardent love and esteem for the Lord Jesus. Her mind was filled with gratitude for benefits conferred by him on herself, or her relations and friends, some temporal, some spiritual, and upon these sbe set the greatest value. She considered him as the Saviour of the world, and the greatest benefactor to her and those beloved by her, that ever she had hitherto known, or should know in time to come.