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And he said, A certain Man had two Sons. -4. And the Younger of them, said to his
Father, Father, give me the portion of
goods that falleth to me. And he divided l'unto them his living. IT T was the general character of our serM.
Lord in his: miņistry that he went about doing good, · But in no kind of benevolence did he take a greater delight, than in conferring spiritual health on all who were sensible of their sickness, While he frequently relieved the infirmities of the body, it was his constant and invariable aim to heal the maladies of the soul. He took all op
SERM. portunities to instruct the ignorant, to
reclaim the wandering, and to cheer the penitent. Hence to persons of this description his company was always welcome, his conversation always desirable. Accordingly we read in the opening of this discourse, Then drew near unto him all the Publicans and Sinners for to hear him. Yet though all his faculties were devoted to the service of mankind, he could not give satisfaction to all. The Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth Sinners, and eateth with them.
In this brief report of the Evangelist we discover not only the general character of these two different orders of people, but also the particular dispositions with which they approached our Lord.
The one, not unconscious of their spiritual defects, resorted to him for instruction to their ignorance, for correction to their errors, for consolation in their sorrows of repentance. The other, trusting in themselves that they were righteous, came not to derive any knowledge to their understandings or any improvement to their hearts. Their design in attending was to have a malignant watch on his conversation
and demeanour. Nor could they have sERM, shewn a greater disposition to censure, X, than to murmur at a conduct, which w had for its object the spiritual health of those who stood in need of his assistance,
To these uncharitable 'murmurs our Lord replies in parables; What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he cometh home he calleth together his friends and Neigh-. bours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost,
This image, so familiar to the common orders of mankind, was rendered sacred to the Jews from its frequent recurrence in the Psalms and the Prophets, wherein the Creator and Governor of the world is described under the similitude of a good and tender Shepherd assiduously attentive to the welfare of his flock. In this pleasing image our Lord also represents him diligently seeking to reclaim the Sinner from the error of his ways, rejoicing to restore him to the fold of the faithful, and in
SERM. viting all the heavenly host to unite
with hiin in joy on the conversion of a Sinner; a joy, in which they readily participate ; for as our Saviour 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.
This passage on the first recital appears to have difficulties, which require some comment or explanation. For it seems to countenance a doctrine not in barinony with the tenour of the gospel, that there are just persons who need no repentance: it seems also to favour a position which our reason cannot easily comprehend, that one repenting sinner is of greater estimation in the sight of heaven than a whole company of those that are strictly righteous.
The common answer to these difficul ties is as follows. · These words must not be taken to imply, that any men are competent in their present state of frailty to attain such perfection in righteousness as literally to need no repentance. For it is no uncommon mode of speech in holy scripture to express absolutely what is to be understood comparatively. There
is none strictly righteous: there is none's e’rm. that positively needeth no repentance. Yet compared with the wicked a man is called righteous, who makes it his constant endeavour to comply with the whole will of God: compared with the sinner that repenteth a man may be said to need no repentance, who has lived in an habitual service of the Lord, and therefore does not stand in need of so total and radical a change of heart and life, as an inveterate and habitual sinner must indispensably undergo.
Neither should these words be taken to imply, that one repenting Sinner is of more account in heaven than many just or righteous men. For that is more than even the letter of the parable supports. Though the Shepherd is more gratified at the moment in finding the sheep that was lost, than in retaining all his flock beside, yet we do not understand that he puts a higher value on the one sheep that he has found than on the ninety and nine that never went astray. Thus also though the Inhabitants of heaven may entertain a greater joy for the time in the recovery of one Sinner than in the persevering service of many righteous men, yet we