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were far from being so disgusted at it as Judas was. And their concern for the poor was sincere. His was self-interested, and mere pretence.
One thing more should be observed for avoiding mistakes. It ought to be reckoned certain, that Mary, sister of Lazarus, is different from Mary Magdalen; and also from the woman that was a “ sinner,” of whom St. Luke speaks, ch. vii. 37, 38. She also “ anointed our Lord's feet, and wiped them with her hair. But her name is no where mentioned. And it is very observable, that of the woman mentioned by him, St. Luke says, “she stood at the feet of Jesus, behind him, weeping, and did wash his feet with tears.” À particular quite omitted both by St. John, and by the two former evangelists, in their several accounts of the person, who anointed Jesus at Bethany a short time before his death.
II. I now proceed, without farther delay, to mention some remarks upon this history, and shew 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 him, he “ answered, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man sliould 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, 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 to be mentioned with him, and spoken of as having shewn respect to him.
The only reason of all this can be, that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed, that lie 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
hima 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 shewed him respect in their actions, are spoken of as persons of disa tinguished 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.
“ 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 inconsiderable, 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.
8. 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 “ 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 shewn 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 upon this occasion will serve to justify the true interpretation of divers other texts. As Luke xiv. 14, 15. “ Then said he to him that bad 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
to the poor.
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 shew 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: “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 the poor.
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 excellencies. Our Lord said, that “wherever 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 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 “ 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 sort, she thought, she could never bestow it upon a more worthy object. Possibly, she was under apprehensions, from what she had 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 shewing 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 she 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.
All this will be readily apprehended to be true of so pious a woman as Mary, who by the gracious and wonderful interposition of the Lord Jesus had received her dear brother alive after he had been dead four days.
Her esteem for Jesus was judicious, and determined, well grounded, and unalterable. She was persuaded he was the Christ, the chosen of God. She knew it from the prophets, from his own most excellent words, and from his mighty works. And his conduct had been admirable, lovely and engaging, beyond expression. She believed he had the words of eternal life: and she would never cease to esteem him, and trust in him, whatever change there should be in his outward circumstances; or however basely and despitefully some others might think fit to treat him.
a If this sermon be too long to be read at once, here may be a good pause.
She had a higher idea of the dignity of Jesus, than most others had, and thought no testi. mony 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
has said nothing of that action, which we are now considering; where he says, that when Jesus, in his journeying3, 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 under, standing 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. He said to her: “ Thy sins are forgiven.” And for her farther assurance and comfort, added : “ Thy faith hath saved thee. Go in peace,” Luke iii. 36–50.
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
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 afár 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