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their deliverance in marvellous ways, such as they could neither foresee nor so much as imagine.
4thly and lastly, If any inviting opportunities should offer (as sometimes happens) that by once or twice straining a point, and breaking through the unerring rules of Christian sincerity, you might make some very considerable advantage, to set you, as it were, up in the world ever after ; reject the alluring bait at once, with the utmost horror and disdain. Consider, not so much what may flatter your present desires in point of interest or worldly honour, as what is strictly just, honest, and fair, and will bring you solid and lasting felicity. Consider not consequences in a secular account, when strict duty is concerned. Leave the issue of all in God's hands; only, do you what is right, and what it becomes you to do. To take into any indirect, unjustifiable courses, is to throw yourself at once out of God's favour and protection, and is renouncing all reasonable claim to his blessings here or hereafter. Remember the pious and prudent resolution of holy Job : “ Till I die,” says he, “ I will not remove my
integrity from me.—My heart shall not reproach me so long
as I live a.” This noble resolution he held to, as his sheetanchor, to his dying day: in this was he happy even amidst his troubles, (much more when they were over ;) and by adhering to this principle he is now a blessed saint above; as well as our Nathanael, of whom our blessed Lord hath given such an excellent character.
Learn we from such admirable examples to be true and faithful in all that we say and in all that we do; deceiving no man, beguiling no man to his detriment; punctual to our word and promise, much more to our oaths; firm and constant to our just engagements; honest and impartial in all our dealings; every way behaving, as becometh men professing godliness, “ Israelites “ indeed, in whom is no guile."
a Job xxvii. 5, 6.
The Joy in Heaven over one repenting Sinner, more than
over ninety and nine just Men, explained.
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. THESE THESE words of our blessed Lord are introduced with a
noted parable of the lost sheep : a parable recorded in the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew, as delivered by our Lord upon a special occasion; but recorded by St. Luke as again delivered, and reinforced by our Lord, upon an occasion more general, as shall be shewn presently.
The parable is to this effect. A person is supposed to have had an hundred sheep of his own, and all of them safe, except one, which had happened to wander from the flock, lost for the time. The owner, in this case, being much concerned for the loss of a single sheep, goes immediately in quest of it, leaving the ninetynine for a while to themselves, till he finds the sheep that went astray, to bring to them. Having found it, he returns with joy; yea, he rejoices more over that sheep, in that particular case, than he does over the ninety and nine which went not astray. “ cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours,
saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my
sheep which was lost a.” Our blessed Lord, having thus opened the parable, proceeds next to apply it, in this grave and
a Luke xv. 6.
weighty moral : “ 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."
To enforce this doctrine, he adds two parables more, containing the same thought, in the main, or illustrating the same thing, and serving the same purpose. One is, of a woman having ten pieces of silver, but losing one of them for a time, and seeking diligently till she finds it: upon her so finding it, she rejoices orer that piece which she had lost, more than over the nine other pieces which she had constantly enjoyed.
The third parable is of a father recovering his prodigal, his lost son, who had long gone from him, and was, in a manner, lost and undone. The good man, in this case, is more sensibly affected at the recovery of that lost son, and makes greater rejoicings for it, than he had ever done for his other son, who had necer offended in like kind, nor ever gone from him.
These three parables are all drawn from nature, and are founded in self-evident facts: but the justness of the application of them to the case mentioned in the text may not perhaps be obvious at first hearing, but may want some explication. I shall therefore endeavour so to explain the particulars, as to render both the design and the use of our Lord's doctrine, in this instance, clear and perspicuous to an attentive hearer.
I. The design of all is to be learned chiefly from the occasion given for those three parables.
The first occasion given for the first of the three appears in St. Matthew, chapter the eighteenth. Our Lord, perceiving that there was too much of selfishness, or narrowness of spirit, in his own disciples, while every one was contending for the first place in heaven, little concerned how few might come thither, provided they themselves were but secure of the Divine favour ; I say, our Lord, perceiving this meanness of temper to prevail too much amongst them, endeavoured to correct it, by representing to them, that they ought to look upon others as parcels of themseloes ; and to rejoice as much at the recovery of any lost brother, as at the recovering a lost limb of their own, or any lost part of their own substance or treasure : for that such was the tender compassion of Almighty God, the common Father of all, that he would have " none of his little ones perish b:" and such also was the benign and generous temper of the blessed angels in heaven, that they rejoice exceedingly, as often as any new concerts come in to them, to share with them in glory. Such is the purport of the parable of the lost sheep, as first delivered by our Lord, and recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel.
b Matth, xviii. 14.
Upon another occasion, the Scribes and Pharisees were disposed to murmur at our Lord for receiving sinners, and eating with them. Here the like selfishness and narrowness of spirit (which our Lord had before reproved in his own disciples) brake out in a much greater degree, and attended with more malignant symptoms. Wherefore our blessed Lord did not only repeat the parable of the lost sheep, but he pressed it in a stronger manner than before ; illustrating and enforcing it every way, and superadding two parables more, of like purport with it.
The chief design of all was, to insinuate to those murmuring, repining, envious Jews, who conceived themselves righteous, and who were for engrossing heaven, in a manner, to themselves, that such temper of theirs was altogether wild, unnatural, and inhuman: that, however they might scorn and reprobate sinners, they ought to remember that even sinners were their near allies ; and, if they were gone from them, were worth the recovering : and that, instead of envying them the benefit and privilege of returning to the fold, they ought rather to take all imaginable pains to reduce them; and to rejoice exceedingly in it, as in the recovering any lost treasure : for the admitting of repenting sinners to a share with them in happiness would really be no detriment to them, but so much entire gains ; and, if they had but any thing of a godlike temper and disposition, or any just notion of the case, they would be sensible that so it must be. A man rejoices at the recovering his lost sheep: why? because he looked upon that sheep as part of his own substance. A woman rejoices at the finding the lost piece of silver: why? because she had made it a part of her beloved treasure. A kind father rejoices at the fetching home his lost son : why? because he loved him as a son, and could not but be glad of so agreeable an addition to his family. How then could the Scribes and Pharisees murmur and repine at our Lord's receiving sinners, in order to reclaim them; or why should they desire to engross the Divine favours entirely to themselves ? The reason was, that they were selfish and ill-natured, and had nothing of a large soul or a Divine spirit in them: for if they had but looked upon sinners with an eye of love or tenderness, they must have rejoiced in their happiness, as being part of their own. The angels in heaven understand this matter rightly; and they are so far from repining when others come in for a share with them, that they rejoice at it; and so much the more, if the case was before doubtful, or almost desperate.—“ There is joy in heaven over one sinner that “ repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which “ need no repentance."
c Luke xv. 2.
But here it may be asked, Who or what are those ninety-nine just persons, needing no repentance ? And again, be they who they will, why more joy for the recovering of one, than for the keeping or retaining of many? These are seeming difficulties, which
I shall endeavour briefly to account for both.
1. As to the just persons, who are said to need no repentance, we may best understand such persons as lead good lives in the main ; and who have no need to change their general course of life, but to persevere in it, and to carry it on to higher perfection. In a certain sense, the very best of men may be said to need repentance, that is, daily repentance, for sins of infirmity, sins of daily incursion : but as the word repentance often means a thorough change of heart and life, not from good to better, but from bad to good ; in that sense there may be many who need no repentance, having long been in a good state, in a state of grace and salvation. With respect to such, our Lord elsewhere says, “ I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repent“anced.” Our Lord came not to call such to a different course of life, or to a thorough change of state ; but to improve that course which they were before in, and to make it, by his merits and satisfaction, accepted to salvation. Of such religious and exemplary men, we may reasonably interpret what our Lord says in the text, that they need no repentance.
2. But a more difficult question still remains, namely, why our Lord should say, that there shall be more joy in heaven over any one repenting sinner, than over ninety-nine just persons, such as I have described. As to which, we may be confident, that our Lord had no design to put any slight upon men who constantly lead a regular life; nor to prefer a returning penitent before a person who has held an uninterrupted course of virtue
d Matth. ix. 13.