The Friend of Sinners (2)

A Sunday Evening Gospel Address

"The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children. And one of the Pharisees desired Him to eat with him . . . And behold, a woman in the city which was a sinner . . . stood at His feet behind Him weeping" (Luke 7).

With what scorn the enemies of the grace of God spoke of our Lord. They despised Him because He did not respect their self-righteousness and pride, but sought out the sinful and the poor. Luke, whose high privilege it was to write specially of the grace of God, shows us this more often than the other evangelists. In chapter 5 he tells us that the Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, "Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" Here in chapter 7 they scornfully call Him "the Friend of publicans and sinners." In chapter 15 the Pharisees and scribes murmured saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them"; and in chapter 19, "they all murmured saying, that He was gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner."

The self-righteous religionist always did and always will murmur against the grace of God, but what folly is this, for where should the doctor be but among the folk that are sick, and where should the great Saviour be but among sinners. It was for this He came — to call sinners to repentance. We are glad that His foes called Him "the Friend of sinners"; they gave Him a name that shines out with an imperishable lustre and countless multitudes will rejoice in the glory of God for ever because He befriended every individual soul of them, when apart from Him they were hopeless and lost.

They had scarcely flung their bitter taunt at Him than He took it up and showed how true it was, and showed, too, that from among these sinners whom they despised, wisdom would gather her children and fill heaven with them. He showed that there were two families in the world — the family of wisdom and the family of folly. He Himself made the division between them and discovered which was which. The children of wisdom came to Him and clung to Him as the needle clings to the magnet, while the children of folly held proudly aloof; and as it was, so it is, and by this very thing every one of us may test himself as to whose child he is.

The scene where Jesus showed Himself to be the Friend of sinners was the Pharisee's house. A strange and uncongenial place in which to do that, we might think, but the background of Pharisaical pride and criticism only served to throw into bright and blessed relief the Saviour's grace. So we read, "One of the Pharisees desired Him that He would eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee's house and sat down to meat." This man may have thought himself a very important person when he extended his patronage to this prophet from Nazareth, and we can easily imagine how proudly he looked upon the multitude when his invitation was accepted. He little knew that his humble Guest was really arranging that feast that day, that He might spread another feast at which thousands have fed since then; a feast of grace for hungry men and women, which is as full and fresh as ever and which, I trust, will rejoice and satisfy us gathered together here this night.

The Pharisee supposed that Jesus was a prophet, but then a prophet was not, of course, in the same class as a Pharisee, and while he had invited Him to his house he looked upon Him as so inferior to himself that he did not offer Him the ordinary courtesy of the day. How could a Pharisee treat a prophet as an equal! And what prophet would expect it?

So on entering that house the Lord took the lowest seat at the feast, just inside the door. He could not have done otherwise, for He did not teach others to do what He did not practise Himself, and He had taught, "When thou art bidden to a feast take the lowest room"; and no friendly voice addressed Him saying, "Friend, go up higher." He was left where He reclined — just inside the door. And just outside the door there stood a woman, bowed and broken by her sin. She had heard Him and His word had made her feel that He alone could ease her of her burden and heal her stricken soul, and now between her and Him there was but a step. She was just outside and He was just inside that door, with only a step between. If He had been seated at the head of the table at the Pharisee's right hand, her courage would have failed her at the threshold and she would probably not have reached Him that day, but He was so near to her. Why, she had but to stretch out her hand and touch Him, she had but to take one step to be at His feet. Thus did the disdain of the Pharisee put the Saviour within reach of the sinner.

There were two great powers conspiring together that day to bring her into the place of blessing; her great need was driving her and His great love was drawing her, and between the driving power of her need and the drawing power of His love she was forced into the most blessed place in the universe of God, at the feet of Jesus. How do I know that to be at the feet of Jesus is to be in the most blessed place in the universe of God? I know it from experience. It was there my burden rolled away. Happy day!

"I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad."

And He was so kind to me. He made me feel that He was glad to see me. He released me from my sins and attached me to Himself, and I can bear witness to the fact that to be at the feet of Jesus is to be in the most blessed place in the universe of God.

Will someone amongst us gathered here tonight take the step that this sinner took? I tell out the gospel truth to you when I proclaim the fact that it is but a step to Jesus. Oh, why not take the step now? Just as you are, come to His feet. He will welcome you as He welcomed the sinner of the city and you need Him as much as she did. In a gospel meeting some time ago I pressed the people on this point. There was a lad in that audience who lived alone with his widowed mother, and that night he could not sleep. He wanted to be saved, dear lad, and he took the step. It was near to midnight when he crept into his mother's room. "My boy," said she, "what's the matter?

"Mother," he said, "do you remember that the preacher kept saying tonight, 'It's only a step to Jesus, why not take it now'? I've come to tell you that I've taken the step." I press this upon you, my hearers. This is the time. Now is the day of salvation. It is only a step to Jesus and there's room at His feet for you.

Behold this weeping sinner at the Saviour's feet. What kind of tears were those that flowed down her cheeks? They were tears of repentance we may be sure, but they were tears of gratitude also. She had found the place of rest. He had said, "Come to Me and I will give you rest." She had heard His word and had come, and had He disappointed her? Nay. He had exceeded her highest hope, as He always does, and though He had not spoken one word to her, her heart had found its rest, where weary souls may always rest, at His blessed feet.

The Pharisee watched her as she washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointed them with ointment and kissed them in her gratitude, and as he watched he disapproved, and the Lord went down, down in his estimation. A prophet he had thought Him when he invited Him to his house; but now he is sure that He cannot be that, for no prophet would have allowed such a woman as this to touch him. Perhaps not, but He whom this woman adored was more than a prophet — He was her Saviour and her God. This, my hearers, is the wonder of the gospel, it transcends our highest thought. When sinners did not seek their God, He sought them and came to earth to save them. The Son in the Godhead, by whose power the worlds were made, became flesh and dwelt among us, not to condemn but to save, and if we would see Him in this mighty condescension of love, where must we look for Him? There in the lowest seat in the Pharisee's house with a sinful woman weeping out her penitence at His feet, and a proud, graceless, self-righteous Pharisee despising Him for it. Oh, let us bend at those same feet, let us bring our adoration there, for our God is our Saviour; our Saviour is our God. Yes, Jesus is our Saviour and He is our Lord and our God.

But if Jesus went down in the Pharisee's thoughts, He went up in the thoughts of the sinner. The longer she stayed at His feet the more wonderful He became to her, and the less she cared for the Pharisee's scorn. She knew herself to be worse than even he imagined her to be, but all her deep need was met by her Lord who knew her perfectly. He knew all her sins and did not spurn her, and in Him she could rest; at His feet her storm-tossed soul and unsatisfied heart found all for which they had longed. Heaven looked on and saw in the Pharisee a child of folly and in the sinner a child of wisdom, and heaven's judgment is just and final. And the Father looked on and judged between these two. He could feel nothing but displeasure for the Pharisee who despised His well-beloved Son, but He loved the sinner who adored Him. We know He did, for Jesus said, "The Father Himself loves you because ye have loved Me," and she loved much, hence she was greatly loved of the Father. Oh, my friends, if we would stand well in the eyes of heaven and be loved by the Father, we must stand with this sinner in her appreciation of Christ and not with the scornful Pharisee.

The unspoken reasoning of the Pharisee was suddenly arrested by a challenge from the Lord; "Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee"; and he said, "Master, say on." Then the Lord propounded to him one of His most beautiful parables, beautiful in its simplicity. "There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?" It required no special acuteness of mind to discover the answer to that riddle, and Simon was compelled to give it, though he did so without enthusiasm. What personal interest could he have in such a topic, and what was his Guest driving at, anyhow? He was not a debtor; he had harmed nobody. He was not like this poor sinner; he had always met every just due and demand; and as for God, well, was he not a Pharisee, fasting, saying his prayers, paying his tithes, and was not that enough? What need had he for forgiveness who had never felt a burden or acknowledged a debt? Those words of the parable, "He frankly forgave," might thrill others, but there was no warmth, no music, in them for him. This Guest of his had evidently no sense of the fitness of things. He ought to have fiercely denounced the extortions of the tax-booths and the sins of the streets, or the follies of the court and society might have been a timely subject for discussion; but creditors, and debtors, and frank forgiveness! These belonged to a sphere of life of which Simon cared nothing and so, with Pharisaical luke-warmness, he gave his answer, "I suppose, he to whom he forgave most."

How swiftly the Lord turned his answer against him and showed him that while the sinner's heart was warm with much love that poured itself out in gratitude and adoration at the feet of her Lord, he remained coldly critical.

Oh, is there amongst us a heart such as Simon had? An unforgiven heart that has never been moved with gratitude to the Saviour and has no love for Him? A heart that has never felt the utter alienation of its sinfulness from God? Such a heart is a dead heart, dead and cold as a stone, except when some sinful passion moves it to beat with selfish interest. To live like that is to be twice dead, and to die like that is to be damned in unforgiven sin for ever.

We do not envy the feelings of the Pharisee as he listened to the Lord's words, but, thank God, many of us can understand what the feelings of the poor sinner were as she heard Him say, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven." David described the blessedness of the man whose sins are forgiven, and this woman knew it. I know it, and I thank God that many of you who hear me this night know it also. Yet what words can describe this blessedness? The quietness after the storm, the relief after the oppression, the deep, holy peace that fills the heart as the sense of forgiveness steals over it! To sink down into the arms of a pardoning God and to rest on His bosom, the bosom from which the pardon flows, this is a never-to-be-forgotten experience and none who have known it can ever think lightly of it!

A Pharisee could not know it, nor any man who excuses his sins or hides them or refuses to admit to God and to himself that he is a sinner. But those who have felt the smart and sting of sin, those who have tried in vain to slay the serpent that has bitten them, they will know it. Those who have discovered that their sins are neither dead not done with, who have groaned in the night at the memory of them, and found that they cannot escape them, that with persistent feet they pursue them and gather round them and point accusing fingers at them, crying, "Thou art the man," they are on the verge of the blessing. Those whose consciences are awakened, who feel that it is against God that they have sinned, who have looked into the abyss of horror into which their sins were carrying them, these will find no relief, no refuge, no hope except in Jesus, and to Him they will come, as came this woman, with broken and contrite hearts, and He will receive them and frankly forgive them. They cannot forgive themselves, neither angel nor man can clear them, but God can, and He will for Jesus' sake. Forgiveness is His grand prerogative, and when conscience-stricken, sin-laden, honest at last, they come to Him, He frankly forgives. This is Bible truth, this is the first glad note of the gospel, it is the first ray of light that shines from the Saviour's face into the sinner's heart, and the experience of multitudes who have answered to it as the diamond flashes back the light of the sun.

And now the Lord deals only with the woman at His feet. It seems as though the Pharisee and his guests with their questionings and scorn fade away into their own insignificance and are blotted out, and we see the Saviour, benign and kind, bending over the weeping, wondering penitent, and by His words hushing her every fear and answering her every question. He speaks of the past, "Thy sins are forgiven thee"; He speaks of the future, "Thy faith has saved thee"; He speaks of the present, "Go in peace." And as she arose and went to her house or tarried in the street until He should come forth, do you think that she envied even the most exalted woman in the land? Oh, now she had got what wealth and honours could not purchase, what He alone could give, to whose feet she had been, and she was satisfied.

And now I would say a word to those who have believed. Let none of us imagine that we are but little debtors needing only a little forgiveness, for such have but little love. They know not the rapture of a glowing and expanding heart, their souls cannot warm towards the Saviour who died for them. They must be ever half-hearted towards their Lord and have little pity or care for weary, burdened, broken-hearted sinners. We are, I trust, like this woman at the great Redeemer's feet, we had nothing to bring to Him but our sins and these were many, consequently we could only look for pardon, though wrath were our desert. We know the relief, the joy that a full and frank forgiveness gives and we can sing the glad song of the Psalmist, "Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered."

How great is the price that has been paid to secure this blessing for us, and how great a blessing it is! Even in those parts of the Word of God which unfold for us the highest truths we are reminded of it. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we read, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Yes, the price that has been paid for this priceless blessing is the precious blood of Jesus.

Let Simon sit, smug and critical, tearless and cold, in his Pharisaical pride, despising alike the Forgiver and the forgiven, with him we have nothing in common, for we have sinned much and been forgiven much; we are much loved and must love much in return. So we do not sit with the Pharisee, but we fall with the sinner at those feet which were beautiful upon the mountains, bringing good tidings and publishing peace, feet that were pierced and wounded for us at Calvary, the feet of Jesus. There we pour out our gratitude and our adoration and feel the strength of those cords of love that bind our hearts to our Saviour and make us His willing slaves for ever. FOR TO WHOM MUCH IS FORGIVEN THE SAME LOVETH MUCH.