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“ Master, say on.” “There was," said Jesus, "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 saith unto her, “Thy sins are forgiven.” Thus you have the story. If I come short in any
circumstance, I beg pardon of those that can correct me. It is three or four and twenty years since I saw the book; yet I have, as far as my memory will admit, given you the relation of the matter. However Luke, as you see, doth here present you with the substance of the whole.
Alas! Christ Jesus has but little thanks for the saving of little sinners. “ To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” He gets no water for his feet, by his saving such sinners. There are abundance of dry-eyed Christians in the world, and abundance of dry-eyed duties too; duties that never were wetted with the tears of contrition and repentance, nor ever sweetened with the great sinner's box of ointment. And the reason is, such sinners have not great sins to be saved from; or if they have, they look upon them in the diminishing glass of man's opinion, not in the true glass of the holy law of God. But I rather believe, that
WHERE GRACE SHINES BRIGHTEST.
the professors of our days want a due sense of what they are; for, verily, for the generality of them, both before and since conversion, they have been sinners of a lusty size. But if their eyes be holden, if convictions are not shown, if their knowledge of their sins is but like to the eye-sight in twilight; the heart cannot be affected with that grace that has laid hold on the man. And so Christ Jesus sows much, and has little coming in.
Wherefore his way is ofttimes to step out of the way to Jericho, to Samaria, to the country of the Gadarenes, to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and also to Mount Calvary, that he may lay hold of such kind of sinners as will love him to his liking. Luke xix. 1-11; John iv. 3–11; Mark v. 1-21; Matt. xv. 21–28; Luke xxiii. 33–44.
But thus much for the sixth reason, why Christ Jesus would have mercy offered in the first place to the greatest sinners, namely, because such sinners, when converted, are apt to love him most. The Jerusalem sinners were they that outstripped, when they were converted, in some things, all the churches of the Gentiles. “They were of one heart, and of one soul; neither said any of them, that aught of the things that he possessed was his own.” “ Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet,” &c. Acts ii. 44; iv. 34. Now, show me such another pattern if you can. But why did these do thus? Oh! they were Jerusalem sinners. These were the men that but a little before had killed the Prince of Life; and those to whom he did, that notwithstanding, send the first offers of grace and mercy. And the sense of this took them
betwixt the earth and the heaven, and carried them on in such ways and methods as could never be trodden by any since. They talk of the church of Rome, and set her in the primitive state, as a pattern and mother of churches; when the truth is, they were the Jerusalem sinners, when converts, that out-did all the churches that ever were.
Seventhly, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the greatest sinners; because grace when it is received by such, finds matter to kindle upon more freely than it finds in other sinners. Great sinners are like the dry wood, or like great candles, which burn best, and shine with greatest light. I lay not this down, as I did those reasons before, to show, that when great sinners are converted, they will be an encouragement to others, though that is true; but to show that Christ has a delight to see grace (the grace we receive) shine. We love to see things that bear a good gloss; yea, we choose to buy such kind of material to work upon, as will, if wrought up to what we intend, cast that lustre that we desire.
Candles that burn not bright, we like not. Wood that is green will rather smother, and sputter, and smoke, and crack, and flounce, than cast a brave light and a pleasant heat. Wherefore great folks care not much, not so much for such kind of things, as for them that will better answer their ends.
Hence Christ desires the greatest sinner; in him there is matter to work by, namely, a great deal of sin; for as by the tallow of the candle, the fire takes occasion to burn the brighter; so by the sin of the soul, grace takes occasion to shine the clearer. Little candles shine but little, for there wanteth matter for the fire to work upon; but in the great sinner, there is more matter for grace to work by. Faith shines, when it worketh towards Christ, through the sides of many and great transgressions, and so does love, for that much is forgiven. And what matter can be found in the soul for humility to work by so well, as by a sight that I have been and am an abominable sinner? And the same is to be said of patience, meekness, gentleness, self-denial, or of any other
grace. Grace takes occasion by the vileness
of the man to shine the more; even as by the ruggedness
grace and a good nature meet together, they do make shining Christians. But I say, when grace and a great sinner meet, and when grace shall subdue that great sinner to itself, and shall operate after its kind in the soul of that great sinner, than we have a shining Christian. Witness all those of whom mention was made before. Abraham was among the idolaters when in the land of Assyria, and served idols with his kindred on the other side of the flood. Jos. xxiv. 2; Gen. xi. 31. But when called, who was there in the world, in whom grace shone so bright as in him? The Thessalonians were idolaters before the word of God came to them; but when they had received it, they became examples to all that did believe in Macedonia and Achaia. 1 Thess. i. 6–10.
God the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, are for having things seen, for having the word of life held forth. They light not the candle that it might be put under a bushel, or under a bed, but on a candlestick, that all that come in may see the light. Matt. v. 15; Mark iv. 21; Luke viii. 16;
And, I say, as I said before, in whom is light likely so to shine, as in the souls of great sinners ?
When the Jewish Pharisees dallied with the gospel, Christ threatened to take it from them, and to give it to the barbarous heathens and idolaters. Why so? For they, saith he, will bring forth the fruits thereof in their season: “Therefore, I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." I have often marvelled at our youth, and said in my heart,
What can be the reason that they should be so generally at this day debauched as they are? For they are now profane to amazement. * And sometimes I have thought one thing, and sometimes another; that is, why God should suffer it so to be. At last I have thought of this. How if the God, whose ways are past finding out, should suffer it to be now, that he might make of some of them the more glorious saints hereafter? I know sin is of the devil; but it cannot work in the world without permission; and if it happens to be as I have thought, it will not be the first time that God the Lord hath caught Satan in his own design. For my part, I believe that the time is at hand, that we shall see better saints in the world than have been seen in it this many a day. And this vileness, that at present does so much swallow up our youth, is one cause of my thinking so. For out of them, for from among them, when God sets to his hand, as of old, you shall see what penitent ones, what trembling ones, and what admirers of grace, will be found to profess the gospel to the glory of God by Christ.
Alas! we are a company of worn out Christians. Our moon is in the wane; we are much more black than white, more dark than light; we shine but a little; grace in the most of us is decayed. But I say, when they of these debauched ones that are to be saved shall be brought in, when these that look more like devils than men shall be converted to Christ (and I believe several of them will be), then will Christ be exalted, grace adored, the word prized, Sion's path better trodden, and men be seen in the pursuit of their own salvation, to the amazement of them that are left behind.
* This was in the age of Charles II., perhaps the most unblushingly corrupt, of any age in English history. It was followed by an age of open Infidelity.-J. N. B.
† No general reformation, nor marked individual conversions, of the kind here anticipated in that generation, occurred until the time of Whitefield and Wesley; Bome sixty or seventy years later.-J. N. B.