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beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness* !
I. I am to mention the case of some christians, who may properly be considered, as represented by the lambs of the flock, or by sheep that are with young.
Now in the general, you know, these expressions may signify all who are young and tender. You know, a young lamb is a very feeble creature, and when deserted by its dam, if not assisted by the shepherd, is in great danger of perishing, and of breathing out its innocent life, almost as soon as it has received it: And as Jacob observest, the Sheep that are with young, or that have lately yeaned, are not capable of such fatigues as the other cattle; but if over-driven so much as one day, their tenderness is such, that they would die. And therefore when our Lord was spoken of under the character of a shepherd, it was very just, as well as very elegant, to use such figures as these, to represent all those of his people who stood in need of peculiar compassion and care. Now you may easily apprehend, those are to be considered as included here, who are of a tender age, or but of little standing in religion, or whose spirits are naturally feeble,--or whose circumstances are distressful and calamitous, on account of any peculiar affliction, either of body, or of mind.
1. It is evident, that "they who are of a tender age," may with peculiar propriety be called the lambs of the flock.
They resemble lambs, in respect of their youth; and in some degree likewise, on account of that innocence and simplicity, for which our Lord singled them out, to recommend them to the imitation of all his followers, and even of his apostles, assuring them that they must Become like little children, if they would hope to enter into the kingdom of heavent. You, children, will therefore endeavour to mind what
I say this day; for I am to speak to you; to speak to you about the kindness and care of Christ towards you. I assure you, I speak of it with pleasure: And surely you should hear it with pleasure; and your little hearts should even leap for joy, to think that a minister should be sent to address himself to you, as the lambs of Christ's flock. Oh that every one of you may indeed be so! You will hear, what a kind
* Isa. Ixi. 3.
Gen. xxxiii. 13.
+ Mat. xviii. 3.
Shepherd you have, and how graciously he will lay you in his bosom !
2. "They who are but of late standing in religion, may also be called the lambs of Christ's flock.”
Though perhaps they are more advanced in age, than many others, they are but young in grace, and in christian experience; they are in the lowest form in Christ's school, and perhaps have much of the infirmity and weakness of children. They have also some peculiar difficulties to struggle with from within, and often from without, which may render them more sensible of those infirmities. Such are therefore called Babes in Christ; while christians of greater growth and experience, are called Strong ment,
3. The language of the text may also with peculiar propriety be applied to "those, whose spirits are naturally very feeble and timorous."
The constitutions of different persons are most apparently various; and the infirmities, which attend some, render them the objects of peculiar compassion. To them perhaps The grasshopper is a burdent; and what by others would hardly be felt at all, quite overloads and depresses them. While some of their fellow christians are as bold as the lion, these like the fearful lamb, start and tremble almost at the shaking of a leaf. This excessive tenderness of the mind, which shews itself often on very small occasions, is much more visible where their eternal interests seem to be concerned., The importance of those interests appears so great, that they are even terrified with the view. A sadness of soul, which often seizes them, disposes them to apprehend and suspect the worst concerning themselves. And hence it may so happen, that an incapacity to attend long to the exercises of devotion, arising from a natural weakness of nerves and spirits, shall appear to them as a black mark of a soul spiritually dead, and be thought a sufficient ground for applying to themselves all those awful things, which the hypocrites in Zion have so much reason to be afraid of. Or when they view the difficulties of the christian life, they are ready to sink under the prospect, and to conclude, that they shall lose that little good they have attained, and shall surely and speedily fall by the hands of such formidable enemies. It is very probable, that The hearts of many who hear me, know in
1 Cor. iii. 1.
† Rom. xv. 1.
Eccles. xii. 5.
this respect their own bitterness and burden*: But let them remember, it is known also by the compassionate Shepherd of Israel; and shall be graciously remembered, and considered by him.
4. The gracious promise in the text may be considered, as referring to those, whose circumstances are peculiarly distressful, on account of afflictions, whether of body, or of mind."
Who is there among you this day, that feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of his servant; and yet walketh in darkness, and hath no light? He is now called to trust in the name of the Lord, and to stay himself upon his Godt. What christians are there, whose Days are spent in grief, and perhaps their years in sighing; so that when their disappointments or maladies, their temptations or desertions press hard upon them, they are scarce able to rise under the burden, and to believe that they shall be any longer supported? But on the contrary are ready to cry out, Hath the Lord forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies§? To them does this compassionate Saviour appear, to Lift up the hands that hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees, to sweeten their sorrows, and silence their fears, to confirm their hopes, and awaken their joys. Let the young and the unexperienced, the timorous, and the afflicted, whose desires are towards him, and their hearts waiting upon him, let them all hear it with pleasure: If they can be safe in the arms of Christ, if they can be easy in his bosom, if they can be cheerful under his gentlest conduct, they may dismiss their anxieties, for to them, and to such as they are, does he particularly speak in these gracious words of the text, assuring them, that he will gather them as the lambs in his arms, that he will carry them in his bosom, and that he will gently lead them, as ewes which are great with young. Which brings me,
II. To consider what may be intimated concerning the Redeemer's tenderness to them, as expressed by these pastoral phrases.
All the expressions do evidently speak a most affectionate care; and they do more particularly intimate,—that he will be ready to receive,-protect, and comfort them, and that he
Prov. xiv. 10.
+ Isa. 1. 10.
Heb. xii. 12.
Psal. xxxi. 10.
will moderate their trials in proportion to their strength. The three former of these are implied, in gathering them in his arms, and laying them in his bosom; and the last, in his gently leading those that are with young.
1. The text evidently declares "the readiness of the blessed Jesus to receive the weakest soul that applies to him."
He will gather them in his arms: i. e. at least, his arms shall be open to them. For Though the Lord be high, he hath respect unto the lowly*; and he will not despise the humblest creature, that thinks himself most beneath his regards. Children, though they can do so little for his service, though they hardly know how to breathe out a prayer before him, or what blessings they should ask at his hands; yet they shall be welcome to him. He understands their poor broken language; and he hears it with pleasure.When the soul is but just setting out in religion, and seems, in a spiritual sense, as helpless as a new-born infant; when there is little knowledge, and perhaps a very strong struggle between nature and grace; he will not Despise the day of small thingst. When the christian is ready to say the hardest things against himself, when a sense of former follies, and of present defects, lays him even in the dust at the foot of a Redeemer, this gracious Shepherd will raise the drooping creature: And when he is ready to say, Lord, I am, as I deserve to be, cast out of thy sight; he will gather him among the lambs in his arms, he will open them wide to receive and embrace him.-Trembling souls, hear it to your comfort: In all your weakness, under all your guilt, in the midst of your fears, in the midst of your sorrows, you may come to Jesus with a holy boldness, and assure yourselves, that he Will not cast you outs. That he will in no wise, i. e. by no means, on no consideration whatsoever, do it. But,
2. The phrase farther implies, " that he will provide for their safety."
And therefore it is added, that he will not only gather them in his arms, but carry them in his bosom; which expresses both the tenderness, and the continuance of his care for this purpose. You know, when the poor trembling lamb is lodged, not only in the arms, but in the bosom of the shepherd, while it remains there, it is so secure, that the wild beast, or the robber, must conquer the shepherd, before he can hurt the lamb.
Psal. cxxxviii. 6. + Zech. iv. 10.
Jonah ii. 4.
§ John vi. 37.
So when the feeble and fearful christian hears the lions of hell, as it were, roaring around him, and sees them just ready to devour him, he may fly to this sanctuary, and defy them all; for Everlasting arms shall be underneath him*, and shall compass him round for his defence and safety. I give unto my sheep eternal life, says Christ, in the most resolute and determinate manner, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand↑. "Reviving words!" may the believing soul say; for they assure me, that if I am in that hand, to which I have been so frequently and so solemnly committing my eternal all, nothing can destroy me, that is not able to oppose, and even to conquer Christ,-that almighty Saviour,whom, when he was on earth in feeble mortal clay, all the hosts of hell, with their united malice and rage, assaulted in vain, and were subdued and triumphed over by that very death, which they so eagerly laboured to accomplish; for on the cross He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly."
It may properly be added here, that as the lamb cannot be destroyed, so neither can it be seduced, when in the shepherd's arms. The foolish creature while at a distance from him, may wander it knows not whither, and lose itself in some barren and pathless wilderness, where it cannot subsist, and from whence it cannot return. And thus far the humble believer will own the parallel too just,-will own that he has again and again Gone astray like a lost sheep§: "Yet Lord," may he add, "I adore thy faithful care in reducing me to thy fold again, and am encouraged this day to hope, thou wilt not suffer me to perish by my wanderings. Thine eye and thy hand, are my security, against the prevalency of inward corruptions, as well as outward temptations; and I trust, that neither the one nor the other, Shall be able finally to separate me from thy love, or to deprive me of the blessings connected with it."
3. The promise in the text farther implies, "that Christ will consult the comfort of his people," as well as their safety.
He will carry the lambs in his bosom; carry them, when they are so weak, as not to be able to walk, like the rest of the flock. Or rather, here may be a beautiful allusion to a circumstance, which must often occur in the place where Isaiah wrote; where it might perhaps be usual, when a new fallen lamb was
Deut. xxxiii. 27.
+ John x. 28.
Rom. viii. 39.
Col. ii, 15.