Confession and Absolution
October 3, 1858 by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
“And the publican, standing afar off would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13 .
The heroes of our Saviour’s stories are most of them selected to illustrate traits of character entirely dissimilar to their general reputation. What would you think of a moral writer of our own day, should he endeavour in a work of fiction, to set before us the gentle virtue of benevolence by the example of a Sepoy? And yet, Jesus Christ has given us one of the finest examples of charity in the case of a Samaritan. To the Jews, a Samaritan was as proverbial for his bitter animosity against their nation, as the Sepoy is among us for his treacherous cruelty, and as much an object of contempt and hatred; but Jesus Christ, nevertheless, chose his hero from the Samaritans, that there should be nothing adventitious to adorn him, but that all the adorning might be given to the grace of charity. Thus, too in the present instance, our Saviour, being desirous of setting before us the necessity of humiliation in prayer, has not selected some distinguished saint who was famed for his humility, but he has chosen a tax-gatherer, probably one of the most extortionate of his class, for the Pharisee seems to hint as much; and I doubt not he cast his eye askance at this publican, when he observed, with self-gratulation, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” Still, our Lord, in order that we might see that there was nothing to predispose in the person, but that the acceptance of the prayer might stand out, set even in a brighter light by the black foil of the publican’s character, has selected this man to be the pattern and model of one who should offer an acceptable prayer unto God. Note that, and you will not be surprised to find the same characteristic exhibited very frequently in the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ. As for this publican, we know but little of his previous career, but we may, without perilling any serious error, conjecture somewhat near the truth. He may have been, and doubtless he was a Jew, piously brought up and religiously trained, but, perhaps like Levi, he ran away from his parents, and finding no other trade exactly suited to his vicious taste, he became one of that corrupt class who collected the Roman taxes, and, ashamed to be known as Levi any longer, he changed his name to Matthew, lest anyone should recognize in the degraded cast of the publican, the man whose parents feared God, and bowed their knees before Jehovah. It may be that this publican had in his youth forsaken the ways of his fathers, and given himself up to lasciviousness, and then found this unworthy occupation to be most accordant with his vicious spirit. We cannot tell how often he had ground the faces of the poor, or how many curses had been spilled upon his head when he had broken into the heritage of the widow, and had robbed the friendless, unprotected orphan. The Roman government gave a publican far greater power than he ought to possess, and he was never slow to use the advantage for his own enrichment. Probably half of all he had was a robbery, if not more, for Zaccheus seems to hint as much in his own instance, when he says “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I have gotten anything of any man by false accusation, I restore it unto him four-fold.” It was not often that this publican troubled the temple; the priests very seldom saw him coming with a sacrifice; it would have been an abomination, and he did not bring it. But so it happened, that the Spirit of the Lord met with the publican; and had made him think upon his ways, and their peculiar blackness: he was full of trouble, but he kept it to himself, pent up in his own bosom, he could scarcely rest at night nor go about his business by day, for day and night the hand of God was heavy upon him. At last, unable to endure his misery any longer, he thought of that house of God at Zion, and of the sacrifice that was daily offered there. “To whom, or where should I go,” said he, “but to God? and where can I hope to find mercy, but where the sacrifice is offered.” No sooner said than done. He went; his unaccustomed feet bent their steps to the sanctuary, but he is ashamed to enter. Yon Pharisee holy man as he appeared to be, goes up unblushingly to the court of the Israelites. he goes as near as he dare to the very precincts, within which the priesthood alone might stand; and he prays with boastful language. But as for the publican, he chooses out for himself some secluded corner where he shall neither be seen nor heard, and now he is about to pray, not with uplifted hands as yonder Pharisee, not with eyes turned up to heaven with a sanctimonious gaze of hypocrisy, but fixing his eyes upon the ground, the hot tears streaming from them, not daring to lift them up to heaven. At last his stifled feelings found utterance; yet that utterance was a groan, a short prayer that must all be comprehended in the compass of a sigh: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It is done; he is heard; the angel of mercy registers his pardon, his conscience is at peace;he goes down to his house a happy man, justified rather than the Pharisee, and rejoicing in the justification that the Lord had given to him. Well then, my business this morning is to invite, to urge, to beseech you to do what the publican did, that you may receive what he obtained. There are two particulars upon which I shall endeavour to speak solemnly and earnestly: the first is confession, the second is absolution. I. Brethren, let us imitate the publican, first of all in his CONFESSION. There has been a great deal of public excitement during the last few weeks and months about the confessional. As for that matter, it is perhaps a mercy that the outward and visible sign of Popery in the Church of England has discovered to its sincere friends the inward and spiritual evil which had long been lurking there. We need not imagine that the confessional, or priest-craft, of which it is merely an offshoot, in the Church of England is any novelty: it has long been there, those of us who are outside her borders have long observed and mourned over it, but now we congratulate ourselves on the prospect that the Church of England herself will be compelled to discover her own evils; and we hope that God may give her grace and strength to cut the cancer out of her own breast before she shall cease to be a Protestant Church, and God shall cast her away as an abhorred thing. This morning, however, I have nothing to do with the confessional. Silly women may go on confessing as long as they like, and foolish husbands may trust their wives if they please to such men as those. Let those that are fools show it; let those that have no sense do as they please about it; but as for myself, I should take the greatest care that neither I nor mine have ought to do with such things. Leaving that, however, we come to personal matters, endeavouring to learn, even from the errors of others, how to act rightly ourselves. Note the publican’s confession; to whom was it presented? “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Did the publican ever think about going to the priest to ask for mercy, and confessing his sins? The thought may have crossed his mind, but his sin was too great a weight upon his conscience to be relieved in any such way, so he very soon dismissed the idea. “No,” saith he, “I feel that my sin is of such a character that none but God can take it away; and even if it were right for me to go and make the confession to my fellow creature, yet I should think it must be utterly unavailing in my case, for my disease is of such a nature, that none but an Almighty Physician ever can remove it.” So he directs his confession and his prayer to one place, and to one alone “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And you will note in this confession to God, that it was secret: all that you can hear of his confession is just that one word “a sinner.” Do you suppose that was all he confessed? No, beloved, I believe that long before this, the publican had made a confession of all his sins privately, upon his knees in his own house before God. But now, in God’s house, all he has to say for man to hear, is “I am a sinner.” And I counsel you, If ever you make a confession before man, let it be a general one but never a particular one. You ought to confess often to your fellow creatures, that you have been a sinner, but to tell to any man in what respect you have been a sinner, is but to sin over again, and to help your fellow creature to transgress. How filthy must be the soul of that priest who makes his ear a common sewer for the filth of other men’s hearts. I cannot imagine even the devil to be more depraved, than the man who spends his time in sitting with his ear against the lips of men and women, who, if they do truly confess, must make him an adept in every vice, and school him in iniquities that he otherwise never could have known. Oh, I charge you never pollute your fellow creature; keep your sin to yourself, and to your God. He cannot be polluted by your iniquity; make a plain and full confession of it before him; but to your fellow creature, add nothing to the general confession “I am a sinner!” This confession which he made before God, was spontaneous, There was no question put to this man as to whether he were a sinner or no; as to whether he had broken the seventh commandment, or the eighth, or the ninth, or the tenth; no, his heart was full of penitence and it melted out in this breathing “God be merciful to me a sinner.” They tell us that some people never can make a full confession, except a priest helps them by questions. My dear friends, the very excellence of penitence is lost, and its spell broken, if there be a question asked: the confession is not true and real unless it be spontaneous. The man cannot have felt the weight of sin, who wants somebody to tell him what his sins are. Can you imagine any man with a burden on his back, who, before he groaned under it, wanted to be told that he had got one there? Surely not. The man groans under it, and he does not want to be told “There it is on your back,” he knows it is there. And if, by the questioning of a priest, a full and thorough confession could be drawn from any man or woman, it would be totally useless, totally vain before God, because it is not spontaneous. We must confess our sins, because we cannot help confessing them; it must come out, because we cannot keep it in; like fire in the bones, it seems as if it would melt our very spirit, unless we gave vent to the groaning of our confession before the throne of God. See this publican, you cannot hear the abject full confession that he makes; all that you can hear is his simple acknowledgment that he is a sinner; but that comes spontaneously from his lips; God himself has not to ask him the question but he comes before the throne, and freely surrenders himself up to the hands of Almighty Justice, confessing that he is a rebel and a sinner. That is the first thing we have to note in his confession that he made it to God secretly and spontaneously; and all he said openly was that he was “a sinner.” Again: what did he confess? He confessed, as our text tells us that he was a sinner. Now, how suitable is this prayer for us! For is there a lip here present that this confession will not suit “God be merciful to me a sinner?” Do you say, “the prayer will suit the harlot, when, after a life of sin, rottenness is in her bones and she is dying in despair that prayer suits her lips?” Ay, but my friend, it will suit thy lips and mine too. If thou knowest thine heart, and I know mine, the prayer that will suit her will suit us also. You have never committed the sins which the Pharisee disowned; you have neither been extortionate, nor unjust, nor an adulterer; you have never been even as the publican, but nevertheless the word “sinner” will still apply to you; and you will feel it to be so if you are in a right condition. Remember how much you have sinned against light. It is true the harlot hath sinned more openly than you, but had she such light as you have had? Do you think she had such an early education and such training as you have received? Did she ever receive such checking of conscience and such guarding of providence, as those which have watched over your career? This much I must confess for myself I do, and must feel a peculiar heinousness in my own sin, for I sin against light, against conscience, and more, against the love of God received, and against the mercy of God promised. Come forward, thou greatest among saints, and answer this question, dost not this prayer suit thee? I hear thee answer, without one moment’s pause “Ay, it suits me now; and until I die, my quivering lips must often repeat the petition, ‘Lord have mercy upon me a sinner.’ ” Men and brethren, I beseech you use this prayer to-day, for it must suit you all. Merchant, hast thou no sins of business to confess? Woman, hast thou no household sins to acknowledge? Child of many prayers, hast thou no offence against father and mother to confess? Have we loved the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength; and have we each loved our neighbour as ourself. Oh, let us close our lips as to any boasting, and when we open them, let these be the first words that escape from them, “I have sinned, O Lord; I have broken thy commandments; Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner.” But mark, is it not a strange thing that the Holy Spirit should teach a man to plead his sinnership before the throne of God? One would think that when we come before God we should try to talk a little of our virtues. Who would suppose that when a man was asking for mercy he would say of himself, “I am a sinner?” Why surely reason would prompt him to say, “Lord have mercy upon me; there is some good point about me: Lord have mercy upon me; I am not worse than my neighbours: Lord have mercy upon me. I will try to be better.” Is it not against reason, is it not marvellously above reason, that the Holy Spirit should teach a man to urge at the throne of grace, that which seems to be against his plea, the fact that he is a sinner? And yet, dear brethren, if you and I want to be heard, we must come to Christ as sinners. Do not let us attempt to make ourselves better than we are. When we come to God’s throne, let us not for one moment seek to gather any of the false jewels of our pretended virtues; rags are the garments of sinners. Confession is the only music that must come from our lips; “God be merciful to ME a sinner;” that must be the only character in which I can pray to God. Now, are there not many here who feel that they are sinners, and are groaning, sighing, and lamenting, because the weight of sin lies on their conscience? Brother, I am glad thou feel thyself to be a sinner, for thou hast the key of the kingdom in thy hands. Thy sense of sinnership is thy only title to mercy. Come. I beseech thee, just as thou art thy nakedness is thy only claim on heaven’s wardrobe; thy hunger is thy only claim on heaven’s granaries, thy poverty is thy only claim on heaven’s eternal riches. Come just as thou art, with nothing of thine own, except thy sinfulness, and plead that before the throne “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This is what this man confessed, that he was a sinner, and he pleaded it, making the burden of his confession to be the matter of his plea before God. Now again, how does he come? What is the posture that he assumes? The first thing I would have you notice is that he “stood afar off.” What did he do that for? Was it not because he felt himself a separated man? We have often made general confessions in the temple, but there never was a confession accepted, except it was particular, personal, and heartfelt. There were the people gathered together for the accustomed service of worship; they join in a psalm of praise, but the poor publican stood far away from them. Anon, they unite in the order of prayer, still he could not go near them. No, he was come there for himself, and he must stand by himself. Like the wounded hart that seeks the deepest glades of the forest where it may bleed and die alone in profound solitude, so did this poor publican seem to feel he must be alone. You notice he does not say anything about other people in his prayer. “God be merciful to me,” he says. He does not say “one of a company of sinners,” but “a sinner,” as if there were not another sinner in all the world. Mark this, my hearer, that thou must feel thyself solitary and alone, before thou canst ever pray this prayer acceptably. Has the Lord ever picked thee out in a congregation? Has it seemed to you in this Hall as if there were a great black wall round about you, and you were closed in with the preacher and with your God, and as if every shaft from the preacher’s bow was levelled at you, and every threatening meant for you, and every solemn upbraiding was an upbraiding for you? If thou hast felt this, I will congratulate thee. No man ever prayed this prayer aright unless he prayed alone, unless he said “God be merciful to me,” as a solitary, lonely sinner. “The publican stood afar off.” Note the next thing. “He would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.” That was because he dare not, not because he would not; he would have done it if he dared. How remarkable it is that repentance takes all the daring out of men. We have seen fellows very dare-devils before they were touched by sovereign grace, who have become afterwards, the most trembling and conscientious men with the tenderest conscience that one could imagine. Men who were careless, bragging and defying God, have become as humble as little children, and even afraid to lift their eyes to heaven, though once they sent their oaths and curses there. But why did he not dare to lift his eyes up? It was because he was dejected in his “spirit,” so oppressed and burdened that he could not look up. Is that thy case my friend this morning? Are you afraid to pray? Do you feel as if you could not hope that God would have mercy on you, as if the least gleam of hope was more light than you could possibly bear; as if your eyes were so used to the darkness of doubt and despondency, that even one stolen ray seemed to be too much for your poor weak vision? Ah! well, fear not, for happy shall it be for thee; thou art only following the publican in his sad experience now, and the Lord who helps thee to follow him in the confession, shall help thee to rejoice with him in the absolution. Note what else he did. He smote upon his breast. He was a good theologian he was a real doctor of divinity. What did he smite his breast for? Because he knew where the mischief lay in his breast. He did not smite upon his brow as some men do when they are perplexed, as if the mistake were in their understanding. Many a man will blame his understanding, while he will not blame his heart, and say, “Well, I have made a mistake. I have certainly been doing wrong, but I am a good-hearted fellow at the bottom.” This man knew where the mischief lay, and he smote the right place.
“Here on my heart the burden lies.”
He smote upon his breast as if he were angry with himself. He seemed to say, “Oh! that I could smite thee, my ungrateful heart, the harder, that thou hast loved sin rather than God.”” He did not do penance, and yet it was a kind of penance upon himself when he smote his breast again and again, and cried “Alas! alas! woe is me that I should ever have sinned against my God” “God be merciful to a sinner.” Now, can you come to God like this, my dear friend? Oh, let us all draw near to God in this fashion. Thou hast enough, my brother, to make thee stand alone for there have been sins in which thou and I have stood each of us in solitary guilt. There are iniquities known only to ourselves, which we never told to the partner of our own bosom, not to our own parents or brothers, nor yet to the friend with whom we took sweet counsel. If we have sinned thus alone, let us go to our chambers, and confess alone, the husband apart, and the wife apart, the father apart, and the child apart. Let us each one wail for himself. Men and brethren, leave off to accuse one another. Cease from the bickering of your censoriousness. and from the slanders of your envy. Rebuke yourselves and not your fellows. Rend your own hearts, and not the reputation of your neighbours. Come, let each man now look to his own case, and not to the case of another, let each cry, “Lord, have mercy upon me, as here I stand alone, a sinner.” And hast thou not good reason to cast down thine eyes? Does it not seem sometimes too much for us ever to look to heaven again. We have blasphemed God, some of us, and even imprecated curses on our own limbs and eyes; and when those things come back to our memory we may well be ashamed to look up. Or if we have been preserved from the crime of open blasphemy how often have you and I forgotten God! how often have we neglected prayer! how have we broken his Sabbaths and left his Bible unread! Surely these things as they flash across our memory, might constrain us to feel that we cannot lift up so much as our eyes towards heaven. And as for smiting on our breast, what man is there among us that need not do it? Let us be angry with ourselves, because we have provoked God to be angry with us. Let us be in wrath with the sins that have brought ruin upon our souls, let us drag the traitors out, and put them at once to a summary death; they deserve it well; they have been our ruin; let us be their destruction. He smote upon his breast and said, “God, be merciful unto me a sinner.” There is one other feature in this man’s prayer, which you must not overlook. What reason had he to expect that God would have any mercy upon him? The Greek explains more to us than the English does, and the original word here might be translated “God be propitiated to me a sinner.” There is in the Greek word a distinct reference to the doctrine of atonement. It is not the Unitarian’s prayer “God be merciful to me,” it is more than that it is the Christian’s prayer, “God be propitiated towards me, a sinner.” There is, I repeat it, a distinct appeal to the atonement and the mercy-seat in this short prayer, Friend, if we would come before God with our confessions, we must take care that we plead the blood of Christ. There is no hope for a poor sinner apart from the cross of Jesus. We may cry, “God be merciful to me,” but the prayer can never be answered apart from the victim offered, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. When thou hast thine eye upon the mercy-seat, take care to have thine eye upon the cross too. Remember that the cross is, after all “the mercy seat; that mercy never was enthroned, until she did hang upon the cross crowned with thorns. If thou wouldst find pardon, go to dark Gethsemane, and see thy Redeemer sweating, in deep anguish, gouts of gore. If thou wouldst have peace of conscience, go to Gabbatha, the pavement, and see thy Saviour’s back flooded with a stream of blood. If thou wouldst have the last best rest to thy conscience, go to Golgotha; see the murdered victim as he hangs upon the cross, with hands and feet and side all pierced, as every wound is gaping wide with misery extreme. There can be no hope for mercy apart from the victim offered even Jesus Christ the Son of God. Oh, come; let us one and all approach the mercy-seat, and plead the blood. Let us each go and say, “Father, I have sinned; but have mercy upon me, through thy Son.” Come, drunkard, give me thy hand; we will go together. Harlot, give me thy hand too; and let us likewise approach the throne. And you, professing Christians, come ye also, be not ashamed of your company. Let us come before his presence with many tears, none of us accusing our fellows, but each one accusing himself; and let us plead the blood of Jesus Christ, which speaketh peace and pardon to every troubled conscience. Careless man, I have a word with thee before I have done on this point. You say, “Well, that is a good prayer, certainly, for a man who is dying. When a poor fellow has the cholera, and sees black death staring him in the face, or when he is terrified and thunderstruck in the time of storm, or when he finds himself amidst the terrible confusion and alarm of a perilous catastrophe or a sudden accident, while drawing near to the gates of death, it is only right that he should say, Lord have mercy upon me.” Ah, friend, the prayer must be suitable to you then, if you are a dying man; it must be suitable to you, for you know not how near you are to the borders of the grave. Oh, if thou didst but understand the frailty of life and the slipperiness of that poor prop on which thou art resting, thou wouldst say, “Alas for my soul! if the prayer will suit me dying, it must suit me now; for I am dying, even this day, and know not when I may come to the last gasp.” “Oh,” says one, “I think it will suit a man that has been a very great sinner.” Correct, my friend, and therefore, if you knew yourself; it would suit you. You are quite correct in saying, that it won’t suit any but great sinners; and if you don’t feel yourself to be a great sinner, I know you will never pray it. But there are some here that feel themselves to be what you ought to feel and know that you are. Such will, constrained by grace, use the prayer with an emphasis this morning, putting a tear upon each letter, and a sigh upon each syllable, as they cry, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” But mark, my friend, thou mayest smile contemptuously on the man that makes this confession, but he shall go from this house justified, while thou shalt go away still in thy sins, without a hope, without a ray of joy to cheer thy unchastened spirit. II. Having thus briefly described this confession, I come more briefly still to notice the ABSOLUTION which God gave. Absolution from the lips of man I do believe is little short of blasphemy. There is in the Prayer Book of the Church of England an absolution which is essentially Popish, which I should think must be almost a verbatim extract from the Romish missal. I do not hesitate to say, that there was never anything more blasphemous printed in Holywell Street, than the absolution that is to be pronounced by a clergyman over a dying man; and it is positively frightful to think that any persons calling themselves Christians should rest easy in a church until they have done their utmost to get that most excellent book thoroughly reformed and revised, and to get the Popery purged out of it. But there is such a thing as absolution, my friends, and the publican received it. “He went to his house justified rather than the other.” The other had nought of peace revealed to his heart, this poor man had all, and he went to his house justified. It does not say that he went to his house, having eased his mind; that is true, but more: he went to his house “justified.” What does that mean? It so happens that the Greek word here used is the one which the apostle Paul always employs to set out the great doctrine of the righteousness of Jesus Christ even the righteousness which is of God by faith. The fact is, that the moment the man prayed the prayer, every sin he had ever done was blotted out of God’s book, so that it did not stand on the record against him; and more, the moment that prayer was heard in heaven, the man was reckoned to be a righteous man. All that Christ did for him was cast about his shoulders to be the robe of his beauty, that moment all the guilt that he had ever committed himself was washed entirely away and lost for ever. When a sinner believes in Christ, his sins positively cease to be, and what is more wonderful they all cease to be, as Kent says in those well known lines
“Here’s pardon for transgressions past, It matters not how black their cast, And, O my soul with wonder view For sins to come here’s pardon too.”
They are all swept away in one solitary instant; the crimes of many years; extortions, adulteries, or even murder, wiped away in an instant; for you will notice the absolution was instantaneously given. God did not say to the man “Now you must go and perform some good works, and then I will give you absolution.” He did not say as the Pope does, “Now you must swelter awhile in the fires of Purgatory, and then I will let you out.” No, he justified him there and then; the pardon was given as soon as the sin was confessed. “Go, my son, in peace; I have not a charge against thee; thou art a sinner in thine own estimation, but thou art none in mine; I have taken all thy sins away, and cast them into the depth of the sea, and they shall be mentioned against thee no more for ever.” Can you tell what a happy man the publican was, when all in a moment he was changed? If you may reverse the figure used by Milton, he seemed himself to have been a loathsome toad, but the touch of the Father’s mercy made him rise to angelic brightness and delight; and he went out of that house with his eye upward, no longer afraid. Instead of the groan that was on his heart, he had a song upon his lip. He no longer walked alone, he sought out the godly and he said, “Come and hear, ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” He did not smite upon his breast, but he went home to get down his harp, and play upon the strings, and praise his God. You would not have known that he was the same man, if you had seen him going out, and all that was done in a minute. “But,” says one, ” do you think he knew for certain that all his sins were forgiven? Can a man know that?” Certainly he can. And there be some here that can bear witness that this is true. They have known it themselves. The pardon which is sealed in heaven is re-sealed in our own conscience. The mercy which is recorded above is made to shed its light into the darkness of our hearts. Yes, a man may know on earth that his sins are forgiven, and may be as sure that he is a pardoned man as he is of his own existence. And now I hear a cry from some one saying, “And may I be pardoned this morning? and may I know that I am pardoned? May I be so pardoned that all shall be forgotten I who have been a drunkard, a swearer, or what not? May I have all my transgressions washed away? May I be made sure of heaven, and all that in a moment?” Yes, my friend, If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ, if thou wilt stand where thou art, and just breathe this prayer out, “Lord, have mercy! God be merciful to me a sinner, through the blood of Christ.” I tell thee man, God never did deny that prayer yet; if it came out of honest lips he never shut the gates of mercy on it. It is a solemn litany that shall be used as long as time shall last, and it shall pierce the ears of God as long as there is a sinner to use it. Come, be not afraid, I beseech you, use the prayer before you leave this Hall. Stand where you are; endeavour to realise that you are an alone, and if you feel that you are guilty. now let the prayer ascend. Oh, what a marvellous thing, it from the thousands of hearts here present, so many thousand prayers might go up to God! Surely the angels themselves never had such a day in Paradise, as they would have to-day, if every one of us could unfeignedly make that confession. Some are doing it; I know they are; God is helping them. And sinner, do you stay away? You, who have most need to come, do you refuse to join with us. Come, brother come. You say you are too vile. No, brother, you cannot be too vile to say, “God be merciful to me.” Perhaps you are no viler than we are; at any rate, this we can say we feel ourselves to be viler than you, and we want you to pray the same prayer that we have prayed. “Ah,” says one, “I cannot; my heart won’t yield to that; I cannot.” But friend, if God is ready to have mercy upon thee, thine must be a hard heart, if it is not ready to receive his mercy. Spirit of God, breathe on the hard heart, and melt it now! Help the man who feels that carelessness is overcoming him help him to get rid of it from this hour. You are struggling against it; you are saying, “Would to God I could pray that I could go back to be a boy or a child again, and then I could; but I have got hardened and grown grey in sin, and prayer would be hypocrisy in me. No, brother, no, it would not. If thou canst but cry it from thy heart, I beseech thee say it. Many a man thinks he is a hypocrite, when he is not, and is afraid that he is not sincere, when his very fear is a proof of his sincerity. “But,” says one, “I have no redeeming trait in my character at all.” I am glad you think so; still you may use the prayer, “God be merciful to me.” “But it will be a useless prayer,” says one. My brother, I assure thee not in my own name, but in the name of God, my Father and your Father, it shall not be a useless prayer. As sure as God is God, him that cometh unto Christ he will in no wise cast out. Come with me now, I beseech thee; tarry no longer; the bowels of God are yearning over thee. Thou art his child, and he will not give thee up. Thou hast run from him these many years, but he has never forgotten thee; thou hast resisted all his warnings until now, and he is almost weary, but still he has said concerning thee, “How shall I make thee as Admah; how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repenting are kindled together.”
“Come humbled sinner, in whose breast A thousand thoughts revolve; Come with thy guilt and fear oppressed, And make this last resolve: I’ll go to Jesus; though my sin Hath like a mountain rose, I know his courts; I’ll enter in, Whatever may oppose. Prostrate I’ll lie before his face, And there my sins confess; I’ll tell him I’m a wretch undone, Without his sov’reign grace.”
Go home to your houses: let everyone preacher, deacon, people, ye of the church, and ye of the world, everyone of you, go home, and ere you feast your bodies, pour out your hearts before God, and let this one cry go up from all our lips, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I pause. Bear with me. I must detain you a few moments. Let us use this prayer as our own now. Oh that it might come up before the Lord at this time as the earnest supplication of every heart in this assembly! I will repeat it, not as a text, but as a prayer, as my own prayer, as your prayer. Will each one of you take it personally for himself? Let everyone, I entreat you, who desires to offer the prayer, and can join in it, utter at its close an audible “Amen.” Let us pray,
“GOD-BE-MERCIFUL-TO-ME-A-SINNER.” [And the people did with deep solemnity say] “AMEN.”
P.S. The preacher hopes that he who reads will feel constrained most solemnly to do likewise.
March 15, 1874 by C. H. Spurgeon
I do not remember that this expression is found anywhere else in the Word of God. It is found in these two places in the Gospel by Luke, but not in any other Gospel. Luke also gives us in two other places a kindred, and almost identical expression, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” This you will find used in reference to the woman whose issue of blood had been staunched (Luke 8:48 ), and in connection with that one of the ten lepers who returned to praise the Saviour for the cure he had received (Luke 17:19 ). You will find the expression, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” once in Matthew and twice in Mark, but you find it twice in Luke, and together therewith the twice repeated words of our text, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Are we wrong in supposing that the long intercourse of Luke with the apostle Paul led him not only to receive the great doctrine of justification by faith which Paul so plainly taught, and to attach to faith that high importance which Paul always did, but also to have a peculiar memory for those expressions which were used by the Saviour, in which faith was manifestly honoured to a very high degree. Albeit Luke would not have written anything which was not true for the sake of maintaining the grand doctrine so clearly taught by the apostle, yet I think his full conviction of it would help to recall to his memory more vividly those words of the Lord Jesus from which it could be more clearly learned or illustrated. Be that as it may, we know that Luke was inspired, and that he has written neither more nor less than what the Saviour actually said, and hence we may be quite sure that the expression, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” fell from the Redeemer’s lips, and we are bound to accept it as pure unquestionable truth, and we may repeat it ourselves without fear of misleading others, or trenching upon any other truth. I mention this because the other day I heard an earnest friend say that faith did not save us, at which announcement I was rather surprised. The brother, it is true, qualified the expression, and showed that he meant to make it clear that Jesus saved us, and not our own act of faith. I agreed with what he meant, but not with what he said, for he had no right to use an expression which was in flat contradiction to the distinct declaration of the Saviour, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” We are not to strain any expression to make it mean more than the speaker intended, and it is well to guard words from being misunderstood; but on the other hand, we may not quite go so far as absolutely to negative a declaration of the Lord himself, however we may mean to qualify it. It is to be qualified if you like, but it is not to be contradicted, for there it stands, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Now we shall this morning, by God’s help, inquire what was it that saved the two persons whose history will come before us? It was their faith. Our second inquiry will be what kind of faith was it which saved them? and then thirdly, what does this teach us in reference to faith?
I. WHAT WAS IT THAT SAVED the two persons whose history we are about to consider?
In the penitent woman’s case, her great sins were forgiven her and she became a woman of extraordinary love: she loved much, for she had much forgiven. I feel, in thinking of her, something like an eminent father of the church who said, “This narrative is not one which I can well preach upon; I had far rather weep over it in secret.” That woman’s tears, that woman’s unbraided tresses wiping the Saviour’s feet, her coming so near to her Lord in such company, facing such proud cavillers, with such fond and resolute intent of doing honour to Jesus; verily, among those that have loved the Saviour, there hath not lived a greater than this woman who was a sinner. Yet for all that Jesus did not say to her, “Thy love hath saved thee.” Love is a golden apple of the tree of which faith is the root, and the Saviour took care not to ascribe to the fruit that which belongs only to the root. This loving woman was also right notable for her repentance. Mark ye well those tears. Those were no tears of sentimental emotion, but a rain of holy heart-sorrow for sin. She had been a sinner and she knew it; she remembered well her multitude of iniquities, and she felt each sin deserved a tear, and there she stood weeping herself away, because she had offended her dear Lord. Yet it is not said, “Thy repentance hath saved thee.” Her being saved caused her repentance, but repentance did not save her. Sorrow for sin is an early token of grace within the heart, yet it is nowhere said, “Thy sorrow for sin hath saved thee.” She was a woman of great humility. She came behind the Lord and washed his feet, as though she felt herself only able to be a menial servant to perform works of drudgery, and to find a pleasure in so serving her Lord. Her reverence for him had reached a very high point; she regarded him as a king, and she did what has sometimes been done for monarchs by zealous subjects–she kissed the feet of her heart’s Lord, who well deserved the homage. Her loyal reverence led her to kiss the feet of her Lord, the Sovereign of her soul, but I do not find that Jesus said, “Thy humility hath saved thee;” or that he said, “Thy reverence hath saved thee;” but he put the crown upon the head of her faith, and said expressly, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” In the case of the blind man to whom my second text refers–this man was notable for his earnestness; he cried, and cried aloud, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” He was notable for his importunity, for they who would have silenced him rebuked him in vain; he cried so much the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” But I do not discover that Christ attributed his salvation to his prayers, earnest and importunate though they were. It is not written, “Thy prayers have saved thee”; it is written, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” He was a man of considerable and clear knowledge, and he had a distinct apprehension of the true character of Christ: he scorned to call him Jesus of Nazareth, as the crowd did, but he proclaimed him “Son of David,” and in the presence of that throng he dared avow his full conviction that the humble man, dressed in a peasant’s garb, who was threading his way through the throng, was none other than the royal heir of the royal line of Judah, and was indeed the fulfiller of the type of David, the expected Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Son of David. Yet I do not find that Jesus attributed his salvation to his knowledge, to his clear apprehension, or to his distinct avowal of his Messiahship; but he said to him, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” laying the entire stress of his salvation upon his faith.
This being so in both cases, we are led to ask, what is the reason for it? What is the reason why in every case, in every man that is saved, faith is the great instrument of salvation? Is it not first because God has a right to choose what way of salvation he pleases, and he has chosen that men should be saved, not by their works, but by their faith in his dear Son? God has a right to give his mercy to whom he pleases; he has a right to give it when he pleases; he has a right to give it in what mode he pleases; and know ye this, O sons of men, that the decree of heaven is immutable, and standeth fast forever–“He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” To this there shall be no exception; Jehovah has made the rule and it shall stand. If thou wouldst have salvation, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”; but if not, salvation is utterly impossible to thee. This is the appointed way; follow it, and it leads to heaven; refuse it, and thou must perish. This is God’s sovereign determination, “He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” Jehovah’s will be done. If this be his method of grace, let us not kick against it. If he determines that faith shall save, so let it be; only, Good Master, create and increase our faith. But while I attribute this to the sovereign choice of God, I do see, for Scripture plainly indicates it, a reason in the nature of things why faith should thus have been selected. The apostle tells us it is of faith that it might be of grace. If the condition of salvation had been either feeling or working, then, such is the depravity of our nature, that we should inevitably have attributed the merit of salvation to the working or the feeling. We should have claimed something whereof to glory. It matters not how low the condition may have been, man would have still considered that there was something required of him, that something came from him, and that, therefore, he might take some credit to himself. But no man, unless he be demented, ever claims credit for believing the truth. If he hears that which convinces him, he is convinced; and if he be persuaded, he is persuaded; but he feels that it could not well be otherwise. He attributes the effect to the truth and the influence used. He does not go about and boast because he believes what is so clear to him that he cannot doubt it. If he did so boast of spiritual faith, all thinking men would say at once, “Wherefore dost thou boast in the fact of having believed, and especially when this believing would never have been thine if it had not been for the force of the truth which convinced thee, and the working of the Spirit of God which constrained thee to believe?” Faith is chosen by Christ to wear the crown of salvation because–let me contradict myself–it refuses to wear the crown. It was Christ that saved the penitent woman, it was Christ that saved that blind beggar, but he takes the crown from off his own head, so dear is faith to him, and he puts the diadem upon the head of faith and says, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” because he is absolutely certain that faith will never take the glory to herself, but will again lay the crown at the pierced feet, and say, “Not unto myself be glory, for thou hast done it; thou art the Saviour, and thou alone.” In order, then, to illustrate and to protect the interests of sovereign grace, and to shut out all vain glorying, God has been pleased to make the way of salvation to be by faith, and by no other means.
Nor is this all. It is clear to every one who chooses to think that in order to the renewal of the heart, which is the chief part of salvation, it is well to begin with the faith; because faith once rightly exercised becomes the mainspring of the entire nature. The man believes that he is forgiven.
What then? He feels gratitude to him who has pardoned him. Feeling gratitude, it is but natural that he should hate that which displeases his Saviour, and should love intensely that which is pleasing to him who saved him, so that faith operates upon the entire nature, and becomes the instrument in the hand of the regenerating Spirit by which all the faculties of the soul are put into the right condition. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he, but his thinkings come out of his believing; if he be put right in his believing, then his understanding will operate upon his affections, and all the other powers of his manhood, and old things will pass away, all things will become new through the wonderful effect of the faith, which is of the operation of God. Faith works by love, and through love it purifies the soul, and the man becomes a new creature. See ye then the wisdom of God? He may choose what way he will, but he chooses a way which at once guards his grace from our felonious boastings, and on the other hand produces in us a holiness which other wise never would have been there. Faith in salvation, however, is not the meritorious cause; nor is it in any sense the salvation itself. Faith saves us just as the mouth saves from hunger. If we be hungry, bread is the real cure for hunger, but still it would be right to say that eating removes hunger, seeing that the bread itself could not benefit us, unless the mouth should eat it. Faith is the soul’s mouth, whereby the hunger of the heart is removed. Christ also is the brazen serpent lifted up; all the healing virtue is in him; yet no healing virtue comes out of the brazen serpent to any who will not look; so that the looking is rightly considered to be the act which saves. True, in the deepest sense it is Christ uplifted who saves, to him be all the glory; but without looking to him ye cannot be saved, so that
“There is life in a look,”
as well as life in the Saviour to whom you look. Nothing is yours until you appropriate it. If you be enriched, the thing appropriated enriches you; yet it is not incorrect but strictly right to say it is the appropriation of the blessing which makes you rich. Faith is the hand of the soul. Stretched out, it lays hold of the salvation of Christ, and so by faith we are saved. “Thy faith hath saved thee.” I need not dwell longer on that point. It is self-evident from the text that faith is the great means of salvation.
II. WHAT KIND OF FAITH WAS IT that saved these people?
I will mention, first, the essential agreements; and then, secondly, the differentia, or the points in which this faith differed in its external manifestations in the two cases. In the instances of the penitent woman and the blind beggar, their faith was fixed alone in Jesus. You cannot discover anything floating in their faith in Jesus which adulterated it; it was unmixed faith in him. the woman pressed forward to him, her tears fell on him; her ointment was for him; her unloosed tresses were a towel for his; feet she cared for no one else, not even for the disciples whom she respected for his sake; her whole spirit and soul were absorbed in him. He could save her; he could blot out her sins. She believed him; she did it unto him. The same was the case with that blind man. He had no thought of any ceremonies to be performed by priests; he had no idea of any medicine which might be given him by physicians. His cry was, “Son of David, Son of David.” The only notice he took of others was to disregard them, and still to cry, “Son of David, Son of David.” “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” was the Lord’s question, and it answered to the desire of his soul, for he knew that if anything were done it must be done by the Son of David. It is essential that our faith must rest alone on Jesus. Mix anything with Christ, and you are undone. If your faith shall stand with one foot upon the rock of his merits, and the other foot upon the sand of your own duties, it will fall, and great will be the fall thereof. Build wholly on the rock, for if so much as a corner of the edifice shall rest on anything beside, it will ensure the ruin of the whole:–
“None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners good.”
All true faith is alike in this respect.
The faith of these two was alike in its confession of unworthiness. What meant her standing behind? What meant her tears, her ever-flowing tears, but that she felt unworthy to draw near to Jesus? And what meant the beggar’s cry, “Have mercy on me?” Note the stress he lays upon it. “Have mercy on me.” He does not claim the cure by merit, nor ask it as a reward. To mercy he appealed. Now I care not whose faith it is, whether it be that of David in his bitter cries of the fifty-first Psalm, or whether it be that of Paul in his highest exaltation upon being without condemnation through Christ, there is always in connection with true faith a thorough and deep sense that it is mercy, mercy alone, which saves us from the wrath to come. Dear hearer, do not deceive yourself. Faith and boasting are as opposite to one another as the two poles. If you come before Christ with your righteousness in your hand, you come without faith; but if you come with faith you must also come with confession of sin, for true faith always walks hand in hand with a deep sense of guiltiness before the Most High. This is so in every case.
Their faith was alike, moreover, in defying and conquering opposition. Little do we know the inward struggles of the penitent as she crossed the threshold of Simon’s house. “He will repel thee,” the stern, cold Pharisee will say, “Get thee gone, thou strumpet; how dare thou defile the doors of honest men.” But whatever may happen she passes through the door, she comes to where the feet of the Saviour are stretched out towards the entrance as he is reclining at the table, and there she stands. Simon glanced at her: he thought the glance would wither her, but her love to Christ was too well rooted to be withered by him. No doubt he made many signs of his displeasure, and showed that he was horrified at such a creature being anywhere near him, but she took no notice of him. Her Lord was there, and she felt safe. Timid as a dove, she trembled not while he was near; but she returned no defiant glances for Simon’s haughty looks; her eyes were occupied with weeping. She did not turn aside to demand an explanation of his unkind motions, for her lips were all engrossed with kissing those dear feet. Her Lord, her Lord, was all to her. She overcame through faith in him, and held her ground, and did not leave the house till he dismissed her with “Go in peace.”
It was the same with the blind man. He said, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” They cried, “Hush! Why these clamours, blind beggar? His eloquence is music; do not interrupt him. Never man spake as he is speaking. Every tone rings like the harps of the angels. Hush! How dare thou spoil his discourse?” But over and above them all went up the importunate prayer, “Son of David, have mercy upon me,” and he prevailed. All true faith is opposed. If thy faith be never tried it is not born of the race of the church militant. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,” but it is indicated in that very declaration that there must be something to overcome, and that faith must wage war for its existence.
Once more, the faith of these two persons was alike in being openly avowed. I will not say that the avowal took the same form in both, for it did not; but still it was equally open. There is the Saviour, and there comes the weeping penitent. She loves him. Is she ashamed to say so? It may bring her reproach; it will certainly rake up the old reproaches against her, for she has been a sinner. Never mind what she has been, nor who may be present to see her. She loves her Lord, and she will show it. She will bring the ointment and she will anoint his feet, even in the presence of Pharisees, Pharisees who would say, “Is this one of the disciples of Christ? A pretty convert to boast of! A fine conquest this, for his kingdom! A harlot becomes a disciple! What next and what next?” She must have known and felt all that, but still there was no concealment. She loved her Lord, and she would avow it, and so in the very house of the Pharisee, there being no other opportunity so convenient, she comes forward, and without words, but with actions far more eloquent than words, she says, “I love him. These tears shall show it; this ointment shall diffuse the knowledge of it, as its sweet perfume fills the room; and every lock of my hair shall be a witness that I am my Lord’s and he is mine.” She avowed her faith. And so did the blind man. He did not sit there and say, “I know he is the Son of David, but I must not say it.” They said, some of them contemptuously, and others indifferently, “It is Jesus of Nazareth.” But he will not have it so. “Thou Son of David,” saith he; and loud above their noise I hear him cry, like a herald proclaiming the King, “Son of David.” Why, sirs, it seems to me he was exalted to a high office: he became the herald of the King, and proclaimed him, and this belongs to a high officer of State in our country. The blind beggar showed great decision and courage. He cried in effect, “Son of David thou art; Son of David I proclaim thee; Son of David thou shalt be proclaimed, whoever may gainsay it; only turn thine eyes and have mercy upon me.” Are there any of you here who have a faith in Christ which you are ashamed of? I also am ashamed of you, and so also will Christ be ashamed of you when he cometh in the glory of his Father and all his holy angels with him. Ashamed to claim that you are honest? Then methinks you must live in bad company, where to be a rogue is to be famous; and if you are ashamed to say, “I love my Lord,” methinks you are courting the friendship of Christ’s enemies, and what can you be but an enemy yourself: If you love him, say it. Put on your Master’s regimentals, enlist in his army, and come forward and declare, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Their faith was alike then in these four particulars, it was fixed alone on him, it was accompanied with a sense of unworthiness, it struggled and conquered opposition, and it openly declared itself before all comers.
By your patience I shall now try to show the differences between the same faith as to its manifestations. First, the woman’s faith acted like a woman’s faith. She showed tender love, and the affections are the glory and the strength of women. They were certainly such in her. Her love was intense, womanly love, and she poured it out upon the Saviour. The man’s faith acted like a man’s in its determination and strength. He persisted in crying, “Thou Son of David.” There was as much that was masculine about his faith as there was of the feminine in the penitents faith, and everything should be in its order and after its season. It would not have been meet for the woman’s voice to be heard so boldly above the crowd; it would have seemed out of place for a man’s tears to have been falling upon the Saviour’s feet. Either one or the other might have been justifiable, but they would not have been equally suitable. But now they are as suitable as they are excellent. The woman acts as a godly woman should. The man like a godly man. Never let us measure ourselves by other people. Do not, my brother, say, “I could not shed tears.” Who asked thee to do so? A man’s tears are mostly within, and so let them be: it is ours to use other modes of showing our love. And, my sister, do not say, “I could not act as a herald and publicly proclaim the King.” I doubt not thou couldest do so if there were need, but thy tears in secret, and those wordless tokens of love to Jesus which thou are rendering, are not less acceptable because they are not the same as a man would give. Nay, they are the better because they are more suitable to thee. Do not think that all the flowers of God’s garden must bloom in the same colour or shed the same perfume.
Notice next that the woman acted like a woman who had been a sinner. What more meet than tears? What more fitting place for her than at the Saviour’s feet? She had been a sinner, she acts like a sinner; but the man who had been a beggar acted like a beggar. What does a beggar do but clamour for alms? Did he not beg gloriously? Never one plied the trade more earnestly than he. “Son of David,” said he, “have mercy on me.” I should not have liked to have seen the beggar sitting there weeping; nor to have heard the penitent woman shouting. Neither would have been natural or seemly. Faith works according to the condition, circumstances, sex, or ability of the person in whom it lives, and it best shows itself in its own form, not in an artificial manner, but in the natural outflow of the heart. Observe, also, that the woman did not speak. There is something very beautiful in the golden silence of the woman, which was richer than her silver speech would have been. But the man was not silent; he spoke; he spoke out, and his words were excellent. I venture to say that the woman’s silence spoke as powerfully as the man’s voice. Of the two I think I find more eloquence in the tears bedewing, and unbraided hair wiping the Saviour’s feet, than in the cry, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Yet both forms of expression were equally good, the silence best in the woman with her tears, and the speech best in the man with his confident trust in Christ. Do not think it necessary, dear friend, in order to serve, to do other people’s work. What thine own hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. If you think you can never honour Christ till you enter a pulpit, it may be just possible that you will afterwards honour him best by getting out of it as quickly as you can. There have been persons well qualified to adorn the religion of Christ with a lap-stone on their lap who have thought it necessary to mount a pulpit, and in that position have been a hindrance to Christ and his gospel. Sister, there is a sphere for you; keep to it, let none push you out of it; but do not think there is nothing else to do except the work which some other woman does. God has called her, let her follow God’s voice; he calls you in another direction, follow his voice thither. You will be most like that other excellent woman when you are most different from her: I mean, you will be most truly obedient to Christ, as she is, if you pursue quite another path.
There was a difference, again, in this. The woman gave–she brought her ointment. The man did the opposite–he begged. There are various ways of showing love to Christ, which are equally excellent tokens of faith. To give him of her ointment, and give him of her tears, and give him the accommodation of her hair, was well; it showed her faith, which worked by love: to give nothing, for the beggar had nothing to give, but simply to honour Christ by appealing to his bounty and his royal power, was best in the beggar. I can commend neither above the other, for I doubt not that both the penitent and the beggar gave Christ their whole heart, and what more does Jesus ask for from any one?
The thoughts of the woman and the thoughts of the beggar were different too. Her thoughts were mainly about the past, and her sins–hence her tears. To be forgiven, that was her point. His thoughts were mainly about the present, and did not so much concern his sin as his deficiency, infirmity, and inability, and so he came with different thoughts. I do not doubt that he thought of sin, as I dare say she also thought of infirmity; but in her case the thought of sin was uppermost, and hence the tears; in his the infirmity was uppermost, and hence the prayer, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.” Do not, then, compare your experience with that of another. God is a God of wonderful variety. The painter who repeats himself in many pictures has a paucity of conception, but the master artist scarcely ever sketches the same thing a second time. There is a boundless variety in genius, and God who transcends all the genius of men, creates an infinite variety in the works of his grace. Look not, therefore, for likeness everywhere. The woman, it is said, loved much, and she proved her love by her acts; but the man loved much too, and showed his love by actions which were most admirable, for he followed Jesus in the way, glorifying God. Yet they were different actions. I do not find that he brought any box of ointment, or anointed Christ’s feet, neither do I find that she literally followed Christ in the way, though no doubt she followed him in the spirit; neither did she with a loud voice glorify God as the restored blind beggar did. There are differences of operation, but the same Lord; there are differences of capacity and differences of calling, and by this reflection I hope you will be enabled to deliver yourselves from the fault of judging one by another, and that you will look for the same faith, but not for the same development of it.
So interesting is this subject that I want you to follow me while I very rapidly sketch the woman’s case, and then the man’s, not mentioning the differences one by one, but allowing the two pictures to impress themselves separately upon your minds.
Observe this woman. What a strange compound she was. She was consciously unworthy, and therefore she wept, yet she drew very near to Jesus. Her acts were those of nearness and communion; she washed his feet with her tears, she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and meanwhile she kissed them again and again. “She hath not ceased,” said Christ, “to kiss my feet.” A sense of unworthiness, and the enjoyment of communion, were mixed together. Oh, divine faith which blends the two! She was shamefaced, yet was she very bold. She dared not look the Master in the face as yet; she approached him from behind; yet she dared face Simon, and remain in his room, whether he frowned or no. I have known some who have blushed in the face of Christ who would not have blushed before a judge, nor at the stake, if they had been dragged there for Christ’s sake. Such a woman was Anne Askew, humble before her Master, but like a lioness before the foes of God.
The penitent woman wept, she was a mourner, yet she had a deep joy; I know she had, for every kiss meant joy. Every time she lifted that blessed foot, and kissed it, her heart leaped with the transport of love. Her heart knew bitterness for sin, but it knew also the sweetness of pardon. What a mixture! Faith made the compound. She was humble, never one more so; yet see how she takes upon herself to deal with the King himself. Brethren, you and I are satisfied, and well we may be, if we may wash the saints’ feet, but she was not. Oh, the courage of this woman! She will pass through the outer court, and get right to the King’s own throne, and there pay her homage, in her own person, to his person, and wash the feet of the wonderful, the Counsellor, the mighty God. I know not that an angel ever performed such suit and service, and therefore this woman takes pre-eminence as having done for Jesus what no other being ever did. I have said that she was silent, and yet she spake; I will add, she was despised, but Christ set her high in honour, and made Simon, who despised her, to feel little in her presence. I will also add she was a great sinner, but she was a great saint. Her great sinner-ship, when pardoned, became the raw stuff out of which great saints are made by the mighty power of God. Finally she was saved by faith, so says the text, but if ever there was a case in which James could not have said, “Shall faith save thee?” and in which he must have said, “Here is one that shows her faith by her works,” it was the case of this woman. There she is before you. Imitate her faith itself, though you cannot actually copy her deeds.
Now look at the man. He was blind, but he could see a great deal more than the Pharisees, who said they could see. Blind, but his inward optics saw the king in his beauty, saw the splendour of his throne, and he confessed it. He was a beggar, but he had a royal soul, and a strong sovereign determination which was not to be put down. He had the kind of mind which dwells in men who are princes among their fellows. He is not to be stopped by disciples, nay, nor by apostles. He has begun to pray, and pray he will till he obtains the boon he seeks. Note well that what he knew he avowed, what he desired he pleaded for, and what he needed he understood. “Lord, that I might receive my sight;” he was clear about his needs, and clear about the only person who could supply them. What he asked for he expected, for when he was bidden to come he evidently expected that his sight would be restored, for we are told by another Evangelist that he cast away his beggar’s cloak. He felt he should never want to beg again. He was sure his eyes were about to be opened. Lastly, what he received he was grateful for, for as soon as he could walk without a guide he took Christ to be his guide, and followed him in the way, glorifying him. Look on both pictures. May you have the shadows and the lights of both, as far as they would tend to make you also another and distinct picture by the selfsame artist, whose hand alone can produce such wonders.
III. What does this teach us in reference to faith?
It teaches us first that faith is all important. Do, I pray you, my hearers, see whether you have the precious faith, the faith of God’s elect. Remember there are not many things in Scripture called precious, but there is the precious blood, and there goes with it the precious faith. If you have not that you are lost; if you have not that you are neither fit to live nor fit to die; if you have not that, your eternal destiny will be infinite despair; but if you have faith, though it be as a grain of mustard seed, you are saved.
“Thy faith hath saved thee.”
Learn next that the main matter in faith is the person whom you believe. I do not say in whom you believe. That would be true, but not quite so scriptural an expression. Paul does not say, as I hear most people quote it, “I know in whom I have believed.” Faith believes Christ. Your faith must recognise him as a person, and come to him as a person, and rest not in his teaching merely, or his work only, but in him. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” A personal Saviour for sinners! Are you resting on him alone? Do you believe him? You know the safety of the building depends mainly upon the foundation, and if the foundation be not right, you may build as you will, it will not last. Do you build, then, on Christ alone? Inquire about that as a special point.
Observe next, that we must not expect exactly the same manifestation in each convert. Let not the elders of the church expect it, let not parents require it from their children; let not anxious friends look for it; do not expect it in yourself. Biographies are very useful, but they may become a snare. I must not judge that I am not a child of God because I am not precisely like that good man whose life I have just been reading. Am I resting in Christ? Do I believe him? Then it may be the Lord’s grace is striking out quite a different path for me from that which has been trodden by my brother, that it may illustrate other phases of its power, and show to principalities and powers the exceeding riches of divine love.
And, lastly, the matter which sums up all is this, if we have faith in Jesus we are saved, and ought not to talk or act as if there were any question about it. “THY FAITH HATH SAVED THEE.” Jesus says it. Granted, you have faith in Christ, and it is certain that faith hath saved you. Do not, therefore, go on talking and acting and feeling as if you were not saved. I know a company of saved people who say every Sabbath, “Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners”; but they are not miserable sinners if they are saved, and for them to use such words is to throw a slight upon the salvation which Christ has given them. If they are saved sinners they ought to be rejoicing saints. What some say others do not say, but they act as if it were so. They go about asking God to give them the mercy they have already obtained, hoping one day to receive what Christ assures them is already in their possession, talking to others as if it were a matter of question whether they were saved or not, when it cannot be a matter of question. “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Fancy the poor penitent woman turning round and saying to the Saviour, “Lord, I humbly hope that it is true.” There would have been neither humility nor faith in such an expression. Imagine that blind man, when Christ said, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” saying “I trust that in future years it will be found to be so.” It would be a belying at once of his own earnest character and of Christ’s honesty of speech. If thou hast believed, thou art saved. Do not talk as if thou wert not, but now down from the willows take thy harp, and sing unto the Lord a new song. I have noticed in many prayers a tendency to avoid speaking as if facts were facts. I have heard this kind of expression, “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we desire to be glad.” The text is, “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad;” and if the Lord has done these great things for us our right is to be glad about them, not to go with an infamous “if” upon our lips before the Lord who cannot lie. If ye are dealing with your fellow creatures, suspect them, for they mostly deserve it; if ye are listening to their promises, doubt them, for their promises go to be broken; but if ye are dealing with your Lord and Master, never suspect him, for he is beyond suspicion; never doubt his promises, for heaven and earth and hell shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of his word shall fail. I claim for Christ that ye cast away forever all the talk which is made up of “buts,” and “ifs,” and “peradventures,” and “I hope,” and “I trust.” You are in the presence of One who said, “Verily, verily,” and meant what he said, who is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.”
You would not spit in his face if he were here, yet your “ifs” and “buts” are so much insult cast upon his truth. You would not scourge him, but what do your doubts do but vex him and put him to shame? If he lies, never believe him; if he speaks the truth, never doubt him. Then shall ye know when ye have cast aside your wicked unbelief, that your faith has saved you, and ye will go in peace.