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The Much Forgiven Debtor and His Much Love

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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WE will sometimes ourselves be like Simon the Pharisee. We will sometimes invite a man to come to take a meal with us when we do not really mean it. We were in a warm mood of mind at the moment when we asked him to dine or sup with us. We met him in circumstances such that we were led into giving him the invitation when we did not really intend it. So much so that when the man comes we had quite forgotten to expect him, and we can scarcely hide our vexation at the sight of him. Now it was something not unlike that with Simon the Pharisee that night.

We must put out of our mind all our modern ideas and all our sound doctrines about our Lord. It is not easy for us to do that, but we will never read a single page of the four Gospels aright, unless we go back in imagination to the exact circumstances of that extraordinary time. We must accustom ourselves to return to those early days when our Lord was still half a carpenter of Nazareth, and half a preacher at the street corner. Some men holding Him to be a prophet come from God, and some holding that He was just Joseph's son gone beside Himself. It was in these circumstances that our Lord was sometimes invited to dine or to sup, His hosts sometimes forgetting that they had invited Him, and sometimes heartily wishing that He would not come, and, when He did come, positively not knowing what to do with Him. Such exactly was Simon's case. He had undoubtedly invited this so-called prophet to sup at his house that night. But when He came at the hour appointed, Simon was wholly occupied with looking after much more important people. When we arrive at any man's door on his distinct invitation and see that we are not expected; when nobody knows us or pays any attention to us; when the head of the house sees us quite well, but has not so much as a moment or a nod or a smile to spare to us,-it is all we can do not to put on our hat and go away home again. And if we do go in and sit down at his table, we are in a most sour and unsocial state of mind all the evening. But Simon's neglected Guest was quite accustomed to that kind of treatment. Every day He put up with incivility, and said nothing. No insult ever angered Him. No openly exhibited or plainly intended slight ever embittered Him. And thus it was that He went in and sat down at Simon's supper-table that night, with a quiet mind and an affable manner, and was the best of neighbours to all who sat near Him.

But who and what is this? For, behold a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she saw that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now, when the Pharisee which had bidden Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner. 'I have made a great mistake,' said Simon within himself. 'I am always far too precipitate with my invitations. I might have known better. What a scene! I will never hear the end of it. I will never forgive myself for it. I should never have had him across my doorstep. I was warned against him and against his followers, and I see now that they who so warned me were right. Whatever he is, he is not a prophet. If he were a prophet he would at once have put a stop to this scandalous scene.'

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 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 be forgave most. And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for My feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

From that scene, then, at Simon's supper-table, we are to learn this tonight. The less forgiveness, the less love: the more forgiveness, the more love: no forgiveness at all, no love at all: but, nothing but forgiveness, then nothing but love. And then love is always love. Love, in short, is always like that woman. If you would see love at its very best, just look at that woman. Simon, being neither a publican nor a sinner, had needed so little forgiveness that he had not love enough to provide his Saviour with a bason and water wherewith to wash His feet. Simon had neither love enough, nor anything else enough, to teach him good manners. I am afraid for Simon. For, even a very little forgiveness, even fifty pence forgiven, even five pence, even five farthings, would surely have taught Simon at least ordinary civility. When I see any man among you hard and cruel to another man, discourteous and uncivil, not to say intentionally and studiously insolent, I say to myself, either that man has not yet been forgiven at all, or he has been forgiven so little that he does not feel it any more than a stone. The truth is, grant forgiveness enough and you will soon convert the greatest churl among you to be the most perfect gentleman among you. Nothing else will do it, but forgiveness enough will do it. Grant forgiveness enough, and love enough, and you will have all considerateness, all civility, all generosity, all gratitude, springing up in that man's heart. Would you have a true gentleman for a friend, or for a lover, or for a husband, or for a son? Then manage, somehow, to have him brought to Simon's Guest for a great forgiveness, and the thing is done.

This, then, was the whole of Simon's case. He called our Lord Master, in as many words. He had our Lord at his table that night; but, all the time, he loved our Lord very little, if any at all. In other words, Simon had been forgiven by our Lord very little, if any at all. Simon did not need much forgiveness, if any at all, and in that measure Simon's case was hopeless. Simon, in short, was a Pharisee, and that explains everything concerning Simon. I know nothing more about Simon than I read in this chapter. I know nothing of his past life. I suppose it was, touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But, blameless or no, I am sure of this about Simon, that the holy law of God had never once entered Simon's heart. All Simon's shameful treatment of our Lord, and all his deep disgust at that woman, and all his speeches to himself within himself, all arose from the fact that the holy law of God against all kinds of sin and sinners, and especially against himself, had not yet begun to enter Simon's hard heart. My brethren, to make the holy law of God even to begin to enter your hard heart would be the greatest service to you that any man could do to you. Only, no man can do you that service. No mere man, as the Catechism says, but that Man only who sat that night at Simon's supper-table and said to him,-"Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee." Your minister may preach to you till he is old and grey-headed, but he will be to you as one that plays on an instrument; you will not take him seriously. You will pay no attention to him, till after the law enters. And just to the depth and to the poignancy with which the law of God enters your sinful heart, just in that measure will you possess in your broken heart a great or a small forgiveness, and will manifest before God and man a great or a small gratitude. Let no true preacher then be brow-beaten by all the Pharisees in the world from labouring to make the law enter the innermost hearts of his people: both the law legal, and the law evangelical.

Then they that sat at meat with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? He and they had up till now been talking in the most friendly way together as they ate and drank. They had been talking over the latest news from Rome and Jerusalem: over the gossip of the town: over the sudden deaths of last week, and over the foul and fair weather of last week: when, suddenly, their talk was cut short by the unaccountable conduct of that woman. Some of them who sat at meat with Him had for months past been much exercised in their minds about Him. At one time they had thought one thing about Him, and at another time they had thought another thing about Him. Some could scarcely eat their supper for watching Him, how He ate, and how He drank, and how He talked, and all what He said and did. Till, when He spoke out, and told the story of the creditor and his two debtors, and then wound up the story with such a home-thrust at Simon, they wished themselves seated at another table. They wished that they were well home again. And then when His voice rose to a tenderness and a solemnity they had never heard in any man's voice and manner before, it was no wonder that they said within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

Now, listen to this, may brethren. Listen, and receive this. That same Man who forgiveth sins is here also. Here, at this moment, in this house. And He is here on the same errand. He is here seeking and saving sinners. Come to His feet then as that sinful woman came. Come if you are as unspeakably vile as she was, and with the same unspeakable vileness. Come if she is your sister in sin. Up till tonight a Pharisee like Simon; or up till tonight a harlot like this woman; equally come. And come all the more quickly. This woman was on her way to throw herself into the pond when she heard our Lord preaching one of His sermons of salvation: and before He had done with His sermon she was at His feet. Come even if you are intending to take your own life tonight. A woman once had the arsenic bought on a Saturday night, when she said to herself that she would go once more to the church before she took it. The text that morning was this: What profit is there in my blood? She told me her whole story long afterwards. Come if you have the arsenic in your pocket. Come and cast it at His feet.

And then He will have in you the wages for which He worked; for how you, for one, will love Him! Jesus Christ is not easily satisfied with love; but He will be satisfied, and to spare, with your love. And every day on earth will add coals of fire to your love to your Redeemer. And no wonder. For He will have to say to you ten thousand times this same thing: Thy sins, which are still many, are all forgiven thee. Again, and again, and again, He will have to say it, for, having begun to say it to you, He will say it to you to the end. Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace, He will say.

Samuel Rutherford was wont to set this riddle of love to the old saints in Anwoth: Whether they would love their Saviour more for their justification or for their sanctification? And some said one thing and some said another thing. And some wary old ones said both things. Oh yes! What a love, passing all earthly love, will He be loved with to all eternity! By some men and some women, that is. All His redeemed will love Him, but some will love Him more than these. To have been frankly forgiven such a fearful debt, and then, as if that were not enough, to have been washed whiter than the snow, and from such unspeakable pollution. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love Him most? I suppose that they to whom He forgave most. Yes; but what about those to whom He did both? Both frankly forgave them their fearful debt; and also, though their sins were as scarlet: though they were from scalp to sole one slough and crust of sin, made them as white as snow; and though they were red like crimson, made them to be as wool. Let Rutherford take that woman for his answer. For no better answer will ever be given to his riddle of love in this world. Behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.

When I stand before the throne
Dressed in beauty not my own
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then how much I owe.
Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Saviour's side,
By the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.
Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Much Forgiven Debtor and His Much Love'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​t/the-much-forgiven-debtor-and-his-much-love.html. 1901.
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