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we will first consider the reason of this
way pression, and improve it as we go to our practice; and then conclude with some remarks upon the good shepherd's so diligently seeking his lost sheep, and great care to bring it back again safe to his flock; which is an argument of greater tenderness than only to receive it kindly when it should return of itself, as the father did his prodigal son. Therefore, of the two, this parable exalts the divine compassion to a sinner to the greater height, and gives us a clearer notion of his infinite mercy. And as for the joy that was occasioned by the lost sheep's being found, that being the same with what is said upon the return of the prodigal, we shall need say the less upon that particular now, having considered it before upon that parable.
I. Let us begin then with inquiring upon what accounts God's faithful people, or men under the discipline of the true religion, especially the Christian, are so often called sheep in the holy writings?
1. And it may be, in the first place, because a sheep is a creature remarkable for its being perfectly harmless and innocent, and free from all hurtful qualities and dispositions. And such is every one obliged to be that is under the discipline of the religion of Christ Jesus, and such will every one be that sincerely and entirely gives himself up to that holy discipline. For what more strictly forbidden, in the New Testament especially, than the offering any harms or injuries to any man, even to an enemy, or so much as the returning those that are done to us, unless it be in the necessary defence and preservation of a man's self, which is the prime obligation of nature? And what an admirable example in this instance has our Saviour set us, that spotless lamb of God, in his conversation in the world, and then expressly commands all his fold to learn of him a, and tread in his blessed steps. And accordingly all along, from the beginning of our holy religion till now, none so remarkably inoffensive in their intercourse with men as the truly good Christian.
And if so, what sort of creatures are those to be esteemed, who make it their business to ensnare and prey upon all they can get within their reach, who lelight to do mischief, and value themselves upon their being able to circumvent their neighbour to his prejudice? These are not the qualities of harmless sheep, but of ravenous wolves, and crafty foxes, and devouring lions; and whatever disguise such persons may put on, shrowding themselves under fair professions and specious pretences, and good names and titles, this is not the temper of Christianity, and no part of the wisdom that is from above, which is peaceable and gentle, and not at all injurious, but rather a disposition that is most evidently earthly, sensual, and devilish.
Wherefore let no man deceive himself into an opinion of his being one of the flock of Christ and a sheep of his pasture, merely because he was, when young, admitted into his fold by baptism, and has ever since gone in and out with the rest of his sheep in the outward exercises of religion ; for he that hath not the spirit or temper of Christ is none of his, and a harmless innocence is the inseparable concomitant of such as are Christians indeed, and truly under the discipline of the great Shepherd of the sheep, Christ Jesus.
a Matt. xi. 29.
II. Secondly, as a sheep is a very harmless creature, so it is a very useful and profitable one; and so should every Christian endeavour to be in all his relations, to the best of his ability. Hence it is that our Lord calls his disciples the salt of the earth, such as should season the profaner world by their pious conversation; and a light that is set in an eminent place; and therefore, says he, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven, by praising God for them, and imitating your excellent example. And the apostle says agreeably, The manifestation of the Spirit, or the manifold gifts and
graces that Christians receive from God, is given to every man to profit withal b; and our great Master has led the way in spending his days, nay his blood, in doing good to mankind.
A sheep then of the flock of Jesus should make it his earnest and his constant endeavour to be as beneficial as he can to all men. All narrow-spirited selfishness should be quite laid aside amongst Christians; according to that of the apostle, Let no man seek his own, but every man another's welfare c. And as we are very desirous, in our several necessities and troubles and afflictions, to receive help and relief, comfort and advice, from such as are able to give it us, and think it very hard and unnatural when it is denied, so are we obliged to go and do likewise to others, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. And that we may be capable of being effectually serviceable to others, we must not neglect I Cor. xii. 7.
c 1 Cor. x. 24.
to enlarge our ability, by improving ourselves in what may do any good to our brethren.
Thus he that would be thoroughly charitable to the poor must be prudent in the management of his own circumstances; and by industry and sobriety, and moderate care, enable himself more freely to supply another's wants ; agreeable to the advice of St. Paul, Let a man labour, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him that needeth 4.
And he whose business it is to instruct and exhort and advise, should labour diligently to improve his own mind in all useful knowledge; and first cure himself of all irregular affections and practices, that he may the more effectually and experimentally apply the cure to others : Physician, heal thyself.
And in a word, he that is made a steward of any of the good gifts of God, and intrusted with any talent by our great Master, must by no means be slothful and idle, much less unfaithful in his trust, but employ what he has received to the good of the community, that his profiting may appear unto all, and he may communicate to others of the bounty which God has bestowed upon himself.
But if this be true Christianity in this instance, how strangely unlike it is the general practice of the world! where self is all that is regarded; and so a man's own particular, private interest be advanced, he cares not what becomes of his neighbour or the public.
What more commonly seen than men's cringing and fawning when they hope to advantage themselves; but when their own turn is served, they are
Ephes. iv. 28.
as hard as flint to others that desire their help, nay, very often, even to those that before assisted them.
And how unchristian and even unnatural is it to be heaping up continually great stores, and adding to one's abundance, and yet to do still less and less good, the more our ability of doing it increases ! And on the contrary, how inexcusable is it, by sloth and idleness, carelessness and extravagancy, to sink a man's parts or fortune to that low ebb, as to be no longer capable of being serviceable to mankind !
In short, a Christian should be public-minded, and desirous to be some way or other a universal friend to all men; and by prudent care and industry in his station endeavour to make his ability bear proportion to those his desires : that so, as becomes a sheep of the flock of Christ, he may be useful and beneficial in his generation.
III. A sheep is a very governable creature, not stubborn or unruly, but observant of the shepherd's call, and ready to obey it. And so should a Christian be to all his lawful superiors, whether in church or state,
Christianity makes void no obligations that are not plainly sinful, but rather adds another stronger tie to them; making that duty and subjection to be now for the Lord's sake, and for conscience sake, which before was only for fear of wrath and punishment. Many are the places of scripture which strictly command obedience to civil governors, whether it be to the king as supreme, or to those that are set in authority under him ; and as many oblige us to be ordered and directed by our spiritual governors, in spiritual things, as those that are com
BRAGGE, VOL. III.