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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Mary Magdalene

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THERE is a still unsettled dispute among New Testament scholars as to how many Marys there are in the Gospels, and then as to their identification. But our dispute will not be as to this Mary or that, but only as to ourselves. No, nor even as to who and what were the seven devils that at one time had made such a hell in Mary Magdalene's heart. Our whole dispute and debate shall be to let in some light from heaven on the bottomless pit of our own hearts, so as to scare out of our hearts some of the seven devils who still haunt and harbour there.

Seven times
The letter that denotes the inward stain,
He on my forehead, with the truthful point
Of his drawn sword inscribed. And, 'Look,' he cried,
When enter'd, that thou wash these scars away.'

We do not know just what Mary Magdalene's seven scars were. But for our learning, Dante's own seven scars are written all over his superb auto-biographical book. And Dante's identical scars are inscribed again every returning Fourth Day in Bishop Andrewes's Private Devotions. Solomon has the same scars also: "These six things doth the Lord hate. Yea, seven are an abomination unto Him." And, again: "When he speaketh fair, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart." And John Bunyan has the very same number at the end of his Grace Abounding: "I find to this day these seven abominations in my heart." And then Bunyan is bold enough, and humble-minded enough, to actually name his scars for the comfort and encouragement of his spiritual children. Now, what are your seven scars? What are your seven abominations in your heart? What are the six things, yea seven, in your heart that the Lord hates? It is almost our whole salvation to ask and to answer that question. Because it is a law of devils; it is their diabolical nature, and it is a first principle of their existence and indwelling and possession of a man, that they never make their presence known in any man till he begins to name them and cast them and curse them out. He does not at all feel their full power, and the whole pain, and shame, and distress, and disgust of their presence till he is almost delivered from them. They rage and roar and tear and gnash our hearts to pieces when they begin to see that their time in us is to be short. But, till then, we are absolutely insensible to their very existence, either outside of us or inside. It was an old aphorism of the deep old divines, and they took it, if I mistake not, out of the deep old stoies: "All vices are in all men; but all vices are not all extant in all men." As much as to say: 'All the seven devils are in every man's heart, but they do not all rage and rend equally in every man's heart: no, nor in the same man's heart at all times. The very devils have their times and their seasons like everything else.' Now, though Mary Magdalene is my text, it is of little real interest or importance to me who and what her seven devils were, unless in so far as that would cast some light in upon my own possession; yours and mine. But, on the other hand, if I have come by any means to know something of the terrible plague of my own heart, then, in that measure, I am a real authority as to the Marys of the four Gospels: and especially as to Mary Magdalene. To have grappled long, even with one inward devil, and to have had him at my throat day and night for years, and I at his-that is true New Testament scholarship. That throws a flood of light on all the Marys who followed our Lord about, and that makes Mary Magdalene a minister's own and peculiar field, and his specialised department of pulpit work. And the same inward experience is making not a few of my hearers far better genealogists, and harmonists, and exegetes, and demonologists, than all their teachers.

Pride, envy, anger, intemperance, lasciviousness, covetousness, spiritual sloth-these were Dante's seven scars on his sanctified forehead. I had a great dispute on the subject of Dante's scars the other day with one of the best Dante scholars in this country. He contended against me with great learning and great eloquence that Dante's besetting sin was pride-a towering, satanic, scornful pride, to the contemptuous and complete exclusion of all possible envy. He had Dante on his side in one passage at any rate. I could not deny that. And I confess it seemed to me that Dante and he together had established the doctrine that any envy at all is absolutely, and in the nature of things, quite incompatible with such a lofty pride as that was which wholly possessed Dante's heart. Till, staggered, if not truly convinced, I gave in: so browbeaten was I between two such antagonists. But when I came to myself; when I left all books, the very best, about pride and envy, and when I was led again of God's Holy Spirit into the pandemonium that is in my own heart, I recovered courage, till, tonight, I have my harness on again to fight the battle of divine truth against any man, and all men, and even Dante himself. And the divine truth to me in this matter is this: That in my heart, if not in Dante's, both pride and envy have their full scope together; and that they never, in the very least, either exclude, or drink up, or narrow down, the dreadful dominion of one another. Now, what do you say to that? How is it with your heart? 'I have no books,' said Jacob Behmen. 'I have neither Aristotle, nor Dante, nor Butler, nor Brea, nor Shepard, nor Edwards; I have only my own heart.' You have none of these books either, but you surely have your own heart. Who, then, for the love of the truth, will so read his own heart as to take sides with me? Come away. Take courage. Speak out. Speak boldly out. You must surely know what pride is, and you must all know, still better perhaps, what envy is, and at whose payments and praises and successes and positions your heart cramps and strangles and excruciates itself. Do you not both know and confess all these things before yourself and before God every day? Do you not? O stone-dead soul! O sport and prey of Satan! O maker of God a liar, and the truth is not in you! I would not have your devil-possessed heart, and your conscience seared with a redhot iron, for the whole world. I would rather be myself yet, and myself at my worst, a thousand times, than be you at your best. Whether you are true enough and bold enough to be on my side or no, I shall not be so easily silenced in my next debate about these two devils. For a man is more to himself, on such inward matters, than the whole Commedia and the whole Ethics to boot, with all their splendid treasures of truth, and power, and experience, and eloquence. As I was saying, I have not the least notion as to who or what Mary Magdalene's seven devils were, and much less do I know how they could possibly be all cast out of her heart in this life. I do not know much, as you will see, about Mary Magdalene, but I would not give up the little knowledge I have of myself, no, not for the whole world. For what would it profit me if I gained the whole world of knowledge and everything else, and lost my fast-passing opportunity of having all this pandemonium that is within me for ever cast out of me?

I will confess it again: How the whole seven could possibly be cast out of her heart in this present life, I, for one, cannot imagine; and I do not believe it. Complete, or all but complete, deliverance from two, say, of the seven I could easily believe, but the remaining five are quite beyond me. Two of the seven stars are on the surface. They are but skin-deep. Two of Dante's seven devils have their holes in the sand; in the soft earth and on the exposed outside of our hearts. Properly speaking, they are rather mole-heaps and rabbit-burrows than the dens of devils. Properly speaking, they are not devils at all. Till any man who is in any earnest at all can easily dig them out with a spade, and wring their necks, and nail their dead carcases up on the church door and be for ever done with them. But if you do that with those two it will only the more terrify and exasperate the other five. When the outposts of hell are stormed and taken and put to the sword, that only drives the real hell, with its true and proper devils, deeper down into their bottomless entrenchments. There are some wild beasts so devilish in their bite; they make their cruel teeth so to meet and lock fast in a man's flesh; that the piece has to be cut out if he is to be saved from their deadly hold. And the fangs of these five genuine devils must be broken to pieces in their heads with the hammer of God, and the flesh and bone into which they have locked their cursed teeth must be cut out and sacrificed before the soul is set free. And in this case the surgeon with his hammer and his knife is Death, and the full science and success of his operations will not be all seen till the Resurrection morning. "Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places. Arise, O Lord! disappoint him, cast him down. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness." It is better to enter into heaven with seven devils excavated out of our hearts as with a knife, than to have them gnawing in our hearts to all eternity.

Since ever there were women's hearts in this world, were there ever two women's hearts with such emotions in them as when Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, stood together beside His Cross? Did you ever try to put yourself into His mother's heart that day, or into Mary Magdalene's heart? They stood and wept as never another two women have wept since women wept in this world, till John at Jesus' command took His mother away from Calvary and led her into the city. But Mary Magdalene still stood by the Cross. He dismissed His mother, but He kept Mary; she would not be dismissed, and she stood near to His crucified feet. All His disciples had forsaken Him and fled. And thus it was that there was no eye-witness left to tell us how Mary Magdalene stood close up to the Cross weeping, and how she did wash His feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head. And then, when He said, I thirst, how she took the sponge out of the soldier's hand and put it up to His lips. When He bowed His head she saw Him do it, and she heard Him say, It is finished! It was not a place for a woman. But Mary Magdalene was not a woman; she was an angel. She was the angel who strengthened Him. She was the whole Church of God and ransomed bride of Christ at that moment in herself: she and her twin-brother, the thief on the Cross. How the next three days and three nights passed with Mary Magdalene I cannot account for her to you. But on the first day of the new week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre. And Jesus saith unto her, Mary! She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni! Jesus saith to her, 'Touch me not with thy tears, nor with the hairs of thy head, nor with thy ointment.' And, had He not said that, she would have been holding His feet there to this day. And now that He has ascended to His Father's house, He is saying to His saints and to His angels to this very day the very same words that He said in Simon's house-"This woman since I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet."

But the supreme lesson to me out of all Mary Magdalene's marvellous history is just the text: "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils." As much as to say,-it was not to Peter, nor to James, nor to John, that He gave that signal favour and unparalleled honour. It was not even to His own mother. It was to Mary Magdalene. It was to her who loved Him best, and had the best reason to love Him best, of all the men and women then living in the world. While this world lasts, and as long as there are great sinners and great penitents to comfort in it, let Mary Magdalene be often preached upon, and let this lesson be always taught out of her, this lesson,-that no depth of sin, and no possession of devils even, shall separate us from the love of Christ. That repentance and love will outlive and overcome everything; as also, that there is no honour too high, and no communion too close, for the love of Christ on His side, and for the soul's love on her side, between them to enjoy. Onlyrepentdeep enough and to tears enough; only love as Mary Magdalene loved Him who had cast her seven devils out of her heart; and He will appear to you also, and will call you by your name. And He will employ you in His service even more and even better than He honoured and employed Mary Magdalene on the morning of His Resurrection.

Mary Magdalene! my sister, my forerunner into heaven till I come, and my representative there! But, remember, only till I come. Cease not to kiss His feet till I come, but give up thy place to me when I come. For to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. Give place then; give place to me before His feet!


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Mary Magdalene'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/m/mary-magdalene.html. 1901.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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