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good Shepherd will hear their cry, and will help them : only this must always be remembered, that we must cooperate with the assistances we receive from our compassionate Redeemer; we must observe his directions, and give up ourselves entirely to his guidance, and follow him close, with the greatest care and circumspection, or else all is to no purpose; we shall stray and be lost again, and our last wanderings will become more fatal than our first.
And how can we think but that he who is truly sensible that he has lost himself in the ways of sin beyond all recovery, if left to his own ignorance and impotence; and sees by a daily experience that he is still more and more bewildered in his evil courses, and unless the great good Shepherd would pity his wretched condition, and seek him out and bring him back, he must for ever stray till he perish ; how can we think but that such a one should cry out with the most passionate earnestness and feeling concern of one that is in a lost, undone condition, O seek thy servant! and be ready gladly to do any thing that might contribute to his safety.
Indeed, there is no other remedy in so forlorn a case as this, but for the sinner to lift up his voice and cry aloud to Jesus to seek and to save him; to beg that he would send out his light and his truth, that they may lead him and bring him to his holy hill, and to his dwelling, and make him once more hear the voice of joy and gladness.
But how can I expect, may a wretched sinner say, that Christ should ever seek so vile a creature as I am ? What advantage will my return be to
i Psalm xliii. 3.
that great Shepherd, whose are the cattle upon a thousand hills? How can I think that he should ever seek a starved and famished sheep, which by its wilful wanderings from the fold, and disregard of all his affectionate calls and warnings to come back, may justly have provoked him to abandon it for ever? Could I find the way back of myself, it would be an inestimable favour to be again received; but for such a miscreant as I to hope to be sought after, how can it be! O, no; it would be unpardonable presumption to expect it.
Thus may a dejected sinner, when come to a thorough feeling of his sad condition, reason with himself: and when he knows not which way to direct his steps, and is amazed and confounded in his guilty thoughts, it is but too often that despair of ever recovering that happy state, which once he despised and turned his back upon, makes him lay aside all endeavours after it, and give himself up as irrecoverably gone, and take what path shall offer next. And indeed the highest presumption it would be to look for so much tender care, when we have so little deserved it, and so much deserved the contrary, were we not encouraged thus to hope by him whose compassions are infinite. For thus saith the Lord Godk, with respect to the kingdom of his dear Son, and the favour he would shew to wretched mankind by and through him, I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick 1. What unparalleled goodness is here, and what ample encouragement for every wandering sinner to hope, k Ezek. xxxiv. II.
| Ezek. xxxiv. 16.
and cry aloud, even for such great and undeserved
mercy as this!
But as David, when he confessed that he had gone astray like a sheep that was lost, and thereby acknowledged the miserable condition he had brought himself to by leaving the way of God's commandments; and then begged earnestly that God would seek his servant, restore him to his integrity, and bring him back to those paths of holiness from which he had so shamefully wandered; as David makes it an argument to incline God to be thus gracious to him, that he did not forget his commandments m, so there can be no greater inducement to our merciful Saviour to bring back one of his lost sheep, by his special grace, to a due sense and performance of his duty, than his being heartily desirous to return to a new life; not altogether forgetful of the manifold obligations that lie upon him to obedience, and sensible that, after all the experiments he has tried, sincere religion is his only happiness.
It was this temper of mind that rendered the return of the prodigal son so successful; and a sinner thus disposed need not doubt of all needful help to secure his safe retreat, from him who has assured us, for our greater encouragement, that he rejoiceth more at the finding one lost sheep, than for ninety and nine that never went astray.
Wherefore, whatever temptations a sinner may comply with, to forsake the paths of God's commandments, and wander in the ways of sin, let him have a care of wholly forgetting his obligations of obedience to God, and quite throwing off all sense of his duty; that is, let him have a care of a hardened heart and a seared conscience, of making a mock at sin, and laughing and drolling upon religion, and deriding those that make more conscience of their ways than he does, and advise him better; for this is the way to fix him irrecoverably in vile courses, and will make all methods to reclaim him ineffectual: it will at length bring upon him an utter oblivion to every thing that is good, and seal him up to destruction.
m Psalm cxix. ult.
And what a miserable hopeless condition are they in who have sinned themselves into an insensibility of their sad state, and have not only wandered beyond all possibility of returning of themselves, but cannot so much as cry out to the good Shepherd to seek and save them, having quite forgotten all things that are religious and good !
Indeed there will be a time when their consciences shall be awakened from this dead sleep; and then they will call and cry, in the bitterness of their souls, for mercy: but then, alas! it will be too late. They have let slip the happy opportunity of grace and salvation that once was put into their hands; and then there will be no retrieving it, but submit they must to the dreadful punishment which their incorrigible wickedness has deserved.
This is a very melancholy consideration, but it is a very true one; and may we all so seriously lay it to heart now, as to prevent our experiencing the truth of it hereafter!
And let us imitate the good shepherd in the parable; and, as far as in us lies, endeavour to reduce our wandering brother; and, by affectionate advice and friendly reproof, to make him sensible of his lost condition, unless he returns by a speedy repentance, and bring him off from those vicious practices which, if persisted in, will certainly bring him to ruin. This we may all of us do in some measure, not the clergy only, but the laity too; and it is every one's duty not to suffer sin upon his neighbour », but to rebuke him for it; and if the law of Moses obliged us to this, much more does the law of Christ. And nothing can be a greater charity, nor a work more acceptable to God and our blessed Saviour, than to convert a sinner from the error of his ways, and save a soul from eternal death. This is to be workers together with him for the good of mankind : it shews that we are animated with the same spirit, and are sincerely desirous that the kingdom of Christ may flourish, and that all may be obedient sheep under the government of the great good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
It is true, this good work must be managed with discretion, if we would have it thoroughly successful; and the time, the manner, the person, and other incidental things, must be considered, to carry it on smoothly and without offence. But, after all, we may be too nice and curious in this matter, as well as too downright and blunt; and more good a great deal might we this way do one another than we do, were we not too much afraid of disobliging. Indeed it is an ungrateful office to tell people of their faults, and they cannot tell how to bear it even from those who have the highest authority for doing it, the bishops and pastors of Christ's flock, much less from those who are upon a level with themselves, and only sheep, as they are. However, he that truly
n Lev. xix. 17.