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missioned by Christ to watch for our souls, and instruct us in every part of our religious duty. And these governors are often called pastors of the flock, and our Lord is the great Shepherd that superviseth all the rest; and he knows his sheep, and they obediently hear his voice and follow him; as the custom of the eastern was, and is still, to lead, and not to drive their sheep.
But now, if this be the true temper of a Christian, what shall we think of those who despise government, and speak evil of dignities, are turbulent and factious in the state, and rend and tear the church by groundless schisms and divisions; and for the sake of small, indifferent things, such as a posture in public worship, the colour of the minister’s garment, and the like, break the unity of the spirit and the sacred bond of peace ?
And what shall we think of those too, who in lesser societies and families are impatient of all restraint, throw off all discipline, are headstrong and untractable, and are drawn to obedience by nothing but mere force and compulsion ? And finally, what shall we think of those that spurn at the commands even of God himself, and are deaf to all the affectionate calls of their Saviour, that compassionate, good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, to rescue them from the jaws of the infernal lion?
If then an obedient, governable temper be the temper of a sheep of Christ's flock, what kind of creatures may those be accounted which we but now described ? Whatever they may pretend, the sheep of Jesus they cannot be; for this is quite contrary to the submissive spirit of his institution, and
to his own example; who in his tender years was subject to his parents in all things, and when he appeared in the world was obedient to the law under which he was born, and to the government under which he lived, and to God his heavenly Father to death, even the cruel, ignominious death of the cross; saying, with admirable self-resignation, when the bitter cup of his sufferings was offered him, (the very sight of which put him into so great an agony, that he sweat great drops of blood, and begged most earnestly, that if it were possible that terrible cup might pass from him,) Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
Now can any one, after all this, have the face to style himself one of Christ's sheep, who is remarkable for nothing so much as disobedience; and that not only to every human ordinance, but even to that blessed Saviour of his, whose name he bears ? No, no, it is plain to whom he belongs, and whose government he is under, even that of the great apostate spirit, who was a rebel from the beginning, and tempted our first parents to that fatal transgression of their Creator's command, which we all so sadly smart for ever since, and who still works in the children of disobedience. His servants we are to whom we obey; and he that will submit to no government but that of the prince of darkness, who makes it his constant business to embroil and unhinge all government besides, must expect no other than to have his portion with that his governor in his infernal kingdom. And whoever hopes to be placed among the sheep, on the right hand of Jesus, at the day of judgment, must first learn to be governable and obedient to him here; and to those likewise who are his lawful representatives and ministers, whom he hath set over us, whether in church or state.
IV. A sheep is a quiet, patient creature, not noisy and clamorous and refractory when under the shearer's hand, or even when going to the slaughter, or when the deadly knife is applied to his throat.
And thus should every Christian be under God's chastisements, and all the disposals of his wise and good providence. No murmurings and repinings, unseemly, discontented language or behaviour, should proceed from any of Christ's flock, let his sufferings and his circumstances here be what they will. It is our business to learn to possess our souls in patience, and quietly and silently to lie down under the hand of the great Shepherd, without the least resistance. And for this too we have the Shepherd's own admirable example, who when he was oppressed and afflicted, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, (though perfectly innocent and unworthy of such treatment,) yet he opened not his mouth. And when he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he did neither strive nor cry, nor was his voice to be heard in the streets e; as Isaiah prophesied of him long before, and which he fulfilled to a tittle.
What shall we say then of those impatient creatures to whom every trouble and affliction is intolerable, though it be only such as is common to men; and makes them break out into unfitting complaints, and extravagant reflections, sometimes even upon God himself? It is well known such creatures there are in the world, and but too many; and it is a rarity to meet with a soul that is truly patient and resigned. But this is to act more like a swine than a sheep; like those who live a brutal life, and place all their happiness in the pleasures of sense here below, rather than those who have such glorious expectations as a Christian has in a world that is infinitely better.
e Isaiah liii.
Where the true spirit of our holy religion is, there will be this patience; and therefore, whoever finds himself of a contrary temper, under the afflictions and troubles he meets with in the world, it concerns him highly to do what he can to amend and alter it, and earnestly to beg of God to furnish his soul with this excellent grace, which is so needful to carry us through the manifold changes and chances of this life, and is a disposition of mind as inseparable from true Christianity, as a passive quietness is from the nature of a sheep.
V. But after all, in the last place, though a sheep is an innocent, profitable, governable, and patient creature, and therefore very apt to represent a Christian by, who should be all this; yet it is a creature very apt to wander and be lost; and so are we, God knows, the very best of us, too much.
In this particular we all resemble sheep too nearly; and were we as like them in other respects as this, it would alleviate the fault, and incline the good Shepherd to seek and pity, rather than to punish us.
But this is our condemnation, that we have very little of the sheep in us, but a strange proneness to go astray, and leave those paths we know we ought to walk in, and go in those which we know are strictly
forbidden us, and which too we cannot but know will certainly bring us to ruin.
II. Wherefore we will now proceed to consider, how aptly the condition of those who leave the paths of their duty, and follow wicked courses, is compared to that of a sheep that is strayed and lost.
1. And first, a strayed and lost sheep is exposed to many great and unknown dangers, particularly to the fury of wild beasts in those countries that are infested by them; and what can more lively set forth the sad condition a wandering sinner is in than this? He straggles at random, thoughtless of every thing but how to gratify a present unreasonable brutish humour; and goes thus heedlessly on from one vice and folly to another, till he is lost before he is aware in a wilderness of sin and delusion, barren of every thing that is truly good ; where his soul suffers a famine of the grace of God, and is torn by the briers of dismal cares and anxieties, fears and misgivings of heart, and often feels the lashes of a guilty conscience: and instead of the pure streams and green pastures, to which the good Shepherd used constantly to lead him, while he continued in the flock, nothing but a vast comfortless desert, in which he must daily pine away till he perish.
That is, instead of the unspeakable comforts of religion, the peace and quiet of mind, and the continual blessing of God, which a good Christian experiences while under the government of his Saviour, the wandering sinner meets with nothing of true content and satisfaction, but every thing that is contrary to it; and in a short time both body and soul must feel the dreadful consequences of his extravagancy ; diseases, and poverty, and a hasty death, and then,