This is one of the passages, found here and there in Scripture, which brings out in strong relief the grace of God, and what is in man’s heart too.
Here we get the Pharisee, this poor sinner, and the Lord Himself. We see these three characters, these three hearts all together: the man righteous in his own eyes; a person outwardly in wickedness; and then the heart of God, and the way in which He looks at and judges these two cases.
What precedes in the history is this: John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask, “Art thou he that should come; or look we for another?” (v. 19), and this gives occasion to the Lord to speak of God’s ways and dealings, the principles of which are of all importance to us. John had come with his solemn testimony, but the conscience did not bow to it. Then came the gracious testimony of Christ, but the heart was not moved by it. “But wisdom is justified of all her children.” God’s ways, whether in the testimony of John the Baptist, or in that of the Lord Jesus, are justified by the children of wisdom. The Pharisee is here, and the poor sinner: then comes the question, which is the child of wisdom?
We get a most important principle here: these publicans and sinners “justified God” both in the testimony of John, and in that of the Gospel. When we know what we are as sinners, we justify God, never ourselves; and then in His ways with us He justifies us. The moment we begin to justify ourselves, it is only the utter darkness of the human heart. We find these two testimonies. John the Baptist came requiring fruit, calling to repentance: the publicans and sinners justified God in this: the axe was laid at the root of the trees, these poor sinners acknowledged it and repented: they justified God. The first good fruit that is produced is always the acknowledgment that we produce bad fruit. Then came the blessed Lord, telling of sovereign grace that rose above all their sins; they justified God in this too. The man that justifies God in condemning him most thankfully justifies God in sending His Son to save him. Those who owned the truth of God’s judgment, and that they deserved it, confess their sins; Matt. 3:6. Are we willing to justify God in condemning us? John was so strict he would not even eat with any one; he could have nothing to say to these sinners: that was the reason they said, “He hath a devil.”
“There is none righteous, no, not one,” Rom. 3:10. This is plain enough; the “great white throne” will not make it plainer. “That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,” Rom. 3:19. This is God’s testimony, and in the gospel of grace too. Now we see around us numbers of religious people, going on decently and reverently; but their delight is not in God. Take such a person, and see where his heart is; leave a man alone three or four hours, and he thinks of his cares, game, pleasures, never of Christ. Christ has no place at all in his heart. We all have the idea that we shall be happy in heaven; so we shall, perfectly, blessedly happy. But put the natural man there, and he would get out as quickly as ever he could: there is nothing above he would like. When the blessed Lord came down in grace, man would not have Him. If you take a false religion, you never find a man ashamed of it; you never see this among Mahometans, heathen, or even in corrupt Christianity. Take a Christian, a real Christian, is he not ashamed to confess Christ before men? He is ashamed of himself for it, surely. You never find a person ashamed of a false religion, but you find Christians ashamed of the true.
Take man as man, and every mouth is stopped. Do we justify God in condemning us? The child of wisdom says, “It is true, I deserve to be cut down: I am a child of wrath; I justify God!” When that is the case, at once we are thankful for grace. When I am personally convinced that I deserve condemnation, I say, ‘I justify God in the grace that rises up above all my sins: I do not justify myself.’ The Son of man came in grace carrying the testimony of goodness wherever there was a poor sinner who would receive Him. God’s wisdom in this double way is justified. Wherever there is truth in the inward parts, we justify God. Then as to the fact of the history, we find who this child of wisdom was. We see it was not the Pharisee who set up to have a righteousness for God. The woman justified God’s testimony by John (I do not mean in fact, but it was the same testimony); she acknowledged her condemnation; but she justified God, too, in another way.
We cannot pretend to be righteous (I do not speak of what grace produces, but of the natural man); we do not love our neighbour as ourselves, we are not troubled if our neighbour’s house is burnt down as if it were our own. If I take the law of God, we may deceive ourselves about loving God with all our hearts, but a man must be a dishonest man if he says he loves his neighbour as himself. Paul could say of himself, “Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless” (Phil. 3:6); but the moment the law said, “Thou shalt not lust,” it might as well say, ‘Thou shalt not be a man.’ If I take the law, you see it is most useful; it probes the heart, and brings the consciousness that we have not kept it. Take all who are here; God has said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Can any of you say He is mistaken? It is perfectly true that, unless we are probed, we are all disposed to have a good opinion of ourselves; we are all disposed to be Pharisees. When a man is in this state, Christ is not the object of his heart at all: he calls himself a Christian, but, if he is honest, he will have to acknowledge that Christ has no place in his heart.
In this wonderful history in Luke 7 we get these three hearts unveiled: the man’s heart, not that of an open profligate sinner; the heart of the woman who was such; and God’s heart. We see, too, who was the child of wisdom.
The Pharisee, who is curious to know about Christ, asks Him to dinner; but he gives Him no water for His feet, and no oil. He is curious to know this preacher, and he thinks himself perfectly competent to judge about religion. The Lord noticed it all. There into this fine house the woman comes, confounded as to her sins, but her heart fixed by what is in Jesus, her whole heart going out to the blessed One. The Pharisee sees the woman washing the Lord’s feet with tears, and anointing them with ointment, and he says within himself, That is no prophet. When the conscience is reached, it is under judgment; but when it is not reached, a man thinks he is perfectly competent to judge whether God is right or wrong. “And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed him 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.” He says to Simon, You are right—shewing that He was more than a prophet. “Seest thou this woman?” Her whole heart is upon Me. We see, too, a person who has had the Lord Himself in his house, and he is settling that He could not be a prophet!
Where the conscience is exercised, it never judges, but it is judged. We all have a natural conscience, that is perfectly true: God took care man should have that, but the intellect of man knows nothing of the things of God. If my intellect could measure God, I must then be the master of my subject: If I understand mathematics, I am master of that subject; if my mind were capable of judging of God, my mind would be the master of God. When conscience awakes and says, “Thou art the man”; you have been sinning against God, there is no attempt then to judge. All true knowledge of God comes in through the conscience. Nothing but faith, which is the eye of the conscience, can put man in his right place with God. God brings me to justify Him: He is a holy God, I am not holy. That is the way the knowledge of God comes in. God is love: that is true, of course, but this is the way true knowledge of Him comes. The Pharisee thought he was all right, but in the presence of the Lord in grace he settled that He was no prophet. The mind of man is pitch darkness when we justify ourselves, not God.
When we turn to the poor woman, we find her owning in the fullest way her sinfulness, confounded by it; but what had she found in Christ? What does Christ mean? Who was He? What brought Him here? Was it our wishing, our asking? We rejected and crucified Him when He came. I find God acting when man was an utter sinner, all mouths stopped, then God manifest in flesh comes down amongst men. What brought Him down? I see in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, and more fully still in His death, that “God so loved the world.” This love of God had come into the world, so that sinners could look to and trust Him, while owning their sins.
The two names of God which express what He essentially is are light and love, light which is the purest thing we can conceive, and love. You see the law did not reveal God. It gave a perfect rule for the children of Adam, but Christ is not that (I do not say that He is not a model for Christians): but He is God Himself come into this world as light and love, shewing me my sins because He is light. Shew me any society you please where men are enjoying themselves, bring in Christ, and this spoils it all. But then if God is light He is love too. When God has shewn me, as light, all that I am, I find I am in the presence of the perfect love which brought Him here; and now, instead of fancying I can meet the judgment, I have God Himself here shewing me what I am. The heart of this poor woman and the heart of God had perfectly met. “God is light,” and the woman had not a word to say for herself, but God is also love, and so she goes into the Pharisee’s house. The light and the love manifested in God are both revealed to this woman’s heart: the light shewed her that she was an utter sinner; the love was what brought her there. She did not yet know that she was forgiven, but there was this blessed revelation of God which required nothing from her, but which was for her just what she wanted.
Christ was God in this world come to win back the confidence of man’s heart to God. I get this blessed One in this world, and He says, Are you ashamed to shew yourself to a decent person? Well, come to Me. He was here in this world, using the holiness that could not be defiled to carry the perfectness of His love to every poor sinner. We see a perfect example of this in the poor leper of Matthew 8:1-4. If a man touched a leper he must be put out, according to the law. Well, this poor leper saw the power that was in Christ, but he did not know His heart, and he says, “If thou wilt thou canst make me clean”; then the Lord put forth His hand, and touched him. I find the blessed Lord using the holiness that could not be soiled, that He might touch man in his sins! When my heart has seen that, I have got both truth and grace: truth in the knowledge that I am a sinner, and grace in Christ. The poor leper might have said, I am vile, not fit to shew myself to God or man, but I find One who can touch me.
Christ is God come down to sinners in their sins. The law could only say, If you do not do this, you are cursed. Christ comes to these sinners, and He shews us what we are; but He shews us also what He is: love, that brought Him down to us as we are, the vilest, the most wilful, sinners. Have not you committed sins, all of you? Well, how much sin will shut you out of heaven? Why did you sin? Because you liked it; your conscience tells you so. You cannot say to me, You are a big sinner, and I am a little one. Suppose you have committed ten sins, and I eleven, then am I to be shut out, and you let in? If I find two crab-trees, one bearing one crab, and the other one hundred, I say the one is a crab as well as the other. How many sins had Adam committed when he was driven out of paradise? One. That one sin proved his distrust of God; and his confidence in Satan. One crab proves the tree. It is quite true that some are living in flagrant sin, like the poor woman: it would be well if they were like her here! There is no good in sin, but there is good in being convinced of it as she was. God must deal with all sin, and this is what He does. If you have not found Christ, if you have not been washed in the blood of the Lamb, you are under judgment. The woman could not talk about theology, but she has found God, and what is in God’s heart.
The Lord could say to the Pharisee, You are perfectly dark as to your own heart and as to God’s heart. If you gave no water for My feet, this woman has washed them with tears; if you gave Me no kiss, she has not ceased to kiss My feet. Everything she had she has given Me. You had the Lord in your house, and you did not know it. Then He says of the woman, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” She had really met God’s heart, as expressed in Christ, though she could not explain how it was: light was in her heart, love too, and they met. Why do I go to the cross? God manifests there His righteousness against sin, and His love to the sinner, and I justify God in His blessed love: as a child of wisdom I justify wisdom.
Then we get Christ’s answer to the woman’s faith: “Thy sins are forgiven.” She did not know it when she came in, but she loved Christ, she trusted Christ; and now the sins are all gone. He said to her—it was not a mere doctrine in the air, but He gives her the comfort of it— “Thy sins are forgiven.” God has sent love and light here, but He has sent forgiveness here also, “according to the riches of his grace,” not narrowly, closely, measuring our need. He pronounces this judgment upon her, “Thy sins are forgiven”; as He did to the thief, who was fit to go to paradise, “Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The dying robber was bearing the fruit of his ways before man, but Christ was bearing it before God, and therefore he was a fit companion for Christ in paradise. This is true of every believer. “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” Col. i:12. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14): this sanctification is entirely uninterrupted because Christ gives it perfection.
People call in question what the Lord has said to the woman, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also? “What is the good of preaching the remission of sins, if you do not believe it? Do you think, when God calls you by His grace, that He means you to be happy with Him or not? If we do not know we are forgiven, it is impossible to be happy. John, writing to all Christians, says, “I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake,” 1 John 2:12. You will not find after the day of Pentecost unforgiven sins in a believer. Did Christ die for half my sins? I believe Hebrews 10: “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Though I deserve death and condemnation, I believe that Christ, in the fullest grace, has taken my place, and He did not sit down till the work was perfectly finished. If the work that puts away your sins has not been done perfectly, when is it to be done? Can Christ die over again? Can another Christ come and die? “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” Christ cannot shed His blood over again, but the work by which He put away our sin never loses its value in the presence of God.
All through the Gospels we see that it is the soul that clings to Christ, touched by His love and grace, that learns most: that is where light and understanding come in, and so here the first full testimony of the Gospel is given to this woman— “Thy sins are forgiven?” Did He deceive her? “Thy faith hath saved thee”—a blessed word! If you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are saved. What did He come for but “to seek and to save that which was lost”? It is an accomplished work, that can never be repeated. There is no veil now: we are brought into God’s presence by Christ’s work. If our sins were as scarlet, they are now as white as snow, because this work of Christ, perfectly accomplished, puts me before God in the value of it.
Mark another thing. He says to the woman, “Go in peace.” “Peace I leave with you.” Are you before God in the perfect peace He was in? He has made peace by the blood of His cross. He met God there on the cross, and the testimony of the Gospel is that of a finished work. Now, let us remember, the Lord’s love takes all pains that He might do this for us: His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, when He was only thinking of the cup He was about to drink. I justify God in condemning me, but I justify Him also in saving me. He is righteous and holy, and He could not bear the sins; but He is love too, so He put away the sins.
Whatever I do now is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus; I am called to walk like a child of God. All duties flow according to the place we are in: duties cannot exist till we are in the place to which they belong. How can I have a child’s affections if I am not sure if I am a child? You must be a Christian before you can have Christian duties. We have duties as men, but we are lost on that ground. Be assured of this, that Scripture is perfectly plain on the point that we know our relationship with God. We own the judgment that was due to us, but we know the relationship in which we are. “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” This is the effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost. Am I to doubt the value of Christ’s blood-shedding? Does the Holy Ghost make me doubt? God says, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” I do not doubt it: the Spirit cries, “Abba, Father.” Ought I to doubt it? We shall go through exercises—the deeper the better; but the love of God has been revealed, and the fact is that I was a poor sinner, but here this blessed One came into the world when I was such, and died for me when I was such. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all engaged in this work.
Have your hearts been opened to see the unutterable love in the Son of God coming to die for you, and that God has accepted this work? We shall have conflict with ourselves surely, conflict with Satan and with the world; but we are in perfect peace with God. God calls us to own our sinfulness, but to know His love. The Lord grant, if this is not yet your case, that you may submit yourselves to God’s righteousness. Then “thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”