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ON CHRIST'S LOVE TO PENITENT SINNERS.
LUKE XV. 6.
Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.
THEN drew near unto Jesus all the publicans "and sinners for to hear him." Persons of bad character, not only in the sight of God, but also in the judgment of men, were so impressed by our Lord's miracles and discourses, that they voluntarily "drew near," not to cavil or scoff, but "to "hear him." Yet, while he compassionately regarded and instructed them, the "Scribes and "Pharisees murmured, saying, This man receiveth "sinners, and eateth with them."
To repress these proud objectors; to illustrate the propriety of his conduct as the Saviour of sinners; and to encourage the penitent, both at that time and in all future ages; our gracious Lord spoke the three parables which stand recorded in this chapter.
We have lately considered the scriptural view of repentance unto life;" and the majesty and glory of that God against whom we have sinned, with our relations and obligations to him, as aggravating the criminality of our conduct; and have
shewn, that we are all thus brought in guilty before God of numberless and heinous transgressions, whatever be our character among men. These considerations are suited to shew us our need of repentance, of mercy, of the Saviour's atoning blood, and of sanctification by the Holy Spirit. If then our minds be prepared, by a genuine conviction that this is really our state, and these our urgent wants, to welcome the message of the gospel; the present subject, which leads us to consider the love of Christ to lost sinners in general, and to penitents in particular, cannot but be seasonable.
"What man of you," says the condescending Saviour even to his murmuring opposers, "having "an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, will not "leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and 66 go after that which is lost, until he find it?" The hundred sheep are his valued property: one of them is lost; the rest are safe in the pasture: and his principal care and pains are not employed about the ninety and nine, but about the single sheep that is missing. He leaves the rest as not equally needing his presence, and goes from place to place, with labour and fatigue, to seek after that which is lost: nor does he remit his assiduity, or cease from his anxious search, till at length he finds it. Then he thinks himself well recompensed for his past labour; and "laying it on his "shoulders, rejoicing," he carries it to the fold: and going home "he calleth together his friends " and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with for I have found my sheep which was lost.” -What then are we to learn from this parable?
Our Lord himself answers the inquiry, when he adds, "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be
in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more "than over ninety and nine just persons which "need no repentance."
But who are these "just persons that need no "repentance?" Certainly none on earth have a right to consider themselves as such; but it is equally certain that numbers do not perceive or feel their need of repentance. The murmurs of the Pharisees, whom our Lord addressed, shewed this to be their proud sentiment: and he often spoke to men according to their judgment of themselves, and not according to their real character. The chapter before us contains a remarkable instance of this: for in the parable of the prodigal son the elder brother is introduced, when in a very proud and disobedient spirit, saying, “Lo, "these many years do I serve thee; neither "transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and his father is afterwards represented as saying, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have "is thine:" though it is evident that the parable was intended to rebuke the vain confidence of the proud Pharisees, as well as to encourage humble penitents.
But, should any person doubt respecting this interpretation, we may remember that angels in heaven need no repentance: yet the Saviour's care, and labour, and sufferings, were not employed about them, but in behalf of poor lost sinners on earth nor does he rejoice over angels, as he does over every sinner that repents.-Even those who have been brought home to his fold,
and are walking in his ordinances and commandments, need not that kind and degree of repentance, which they do who are yet wandering in the broad way: and every new instance of one brought to repentance excites fresh joy in heaven; because the good Shepherd "rejoices that he has found "his sheep that was lost;" and calls on all his friends to rejoice with him.
There are public successes which make whole nations resound with joyful acclamations: yet we are not taught by the sacred oracles to think that the angels of God generally unite in rejoicings of this kind. But, had we been previously informed that one event, and but one, frequently occurs on earth, which fills all heaven with joy and praise, our curiosity would have been excited, our imagination would have been earnestly employed, our expectations would have been raised; and probably we should have felt some disappointment, as well as surprise, when we found it was merely that some poor criminal, perhaps scandalous for his crimes, perhaps neglected because of his low condition or mean abilities, in a cottage, an almshouse, or a prison, was weeping for sin, crying for mercy, and almost overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, and dread of merited condemnation! Yet "there is joy in the presence of the angels of "God, over one sinner that repenteth."
Without entering into a minute interpretation of the parable, we may, from the text, remark three particulars.
I. The event here referred to; "I have found my sheep which was lost:"
II. The instruction contained in the represen
tation given, that Christ himself rejoices in this event: "Rejoice with me:"
III. The instruction to be derived from the exhortation given to all his friends to rejoice with him.
I. The event, "I have found my sheep which "was lost."
This leads our reflection back to the consideration of all that has been previously done, in order to the finding of the lost sheep; and to the 'height, and depth, and length, and breadth of "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge;" even his love to sinners, considered as strangers to repentance, and living in allowed and heinous disobedience.
We were as sheep going astray, but we have "returned:" (or have been brought back or converted,) "to the Shepherd and Bishop of our "souls." "I have gone astray," says the Psalm
ist, like a sheep that is lost." Indeed this is the constant emblem in scripture of our condition, as estranged from God, and seeking happiness from the world. Other views of our state and character shew our criminality, as apostates and rebels, and enemies to God; and are suited to humble us before him but this especially illustrates our misery and danger. What more helpless and exposed than a lost sheep? It can neither flee from its enemies, nor resist them. It is surrounded with dangers of which it has no dread, and against which it can take no precaution: and, unless again brought under the tender faithful care of the shepherd, it must at length, in one way or other, be destroyed. In such a world of temptation as this is, if we