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me: for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7. 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.
Christ reasons with these Pharisees upon their own principles, and shows that they would justify him in what he was doing. They esteemed themselves just persons, who had no need of repentance*. According to their own opinion, therefore, they were already secured to God, by walking in the paths of virtue, while these Gentiles had wandered from them, and were in the way to destruction. It was natural, therefore, to expect that God would discover more anxiety for those who were in danger of being lost than for those who were secure, and that he would act in this case in the same manner as those do who are afraid that they may be deprived of their property, who go out to seek it, and when it is found, manifest greater joy upon its recovery than in all which they possessed before. Such being then the temper of the Divine Being, in regard to the Gentiles, his messenger and prophet was fully justified in conforming himself to the disposition of the Being whom he represented. Thus it is that Christ vindicates himself from the charge of showing attention and giving encouragement to heathen publicans, who manifested a disposition to repentance, so as to appear better pleased with them than with Scribes and Pharisees. We are not, however, to suppose that because the sheep which was lost is but one, while ninety and nine are represented to be secure, Christ intended to represent the Gentiles as bearing the proportion of one to ninety-nine to the Jews; or that that is the proportion of bad men to good; but he probably intended thereby to express the small proportion which those few
* Luke xviii. 11. Vol. 2.]
repenting publicans bore to the number of those who assumed to themselves the character of righteous persons. This parable occurs before in Matt. xviii. 12. but it is there applied to a different purpose. Christ now adds a second parable, to the same purpose as the first, with a view more completely to illustrate his meaning.
8. Either what woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it ?
9. And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me: for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10. Likewise I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
As a woman who has lost only one piece of money out of ten, carefully searches for it, and, when found, rejoices; so God, when only one of his rational creatures out of a great number appears to be lost, by forsaking the path of virtue, rejoices at his repentance, and welcomes his return. And as this is the temper of the Divine Being towards a penitent, all his messengers and propbets are bound to show the same disposition.
It is said, in the tenth verse, that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God at the repentance of one sinner. We are not, however, to understand by that phrase that the joy at that event is felt by the angels; it is joy manifested by God, in the presence of his angels, who constitute the court of heaven; and signifies the same thing as the phrase in the former parable, “joy in heaven;" that is, joy with God in heaven : so
that no inference can be drawn from this passage, as to the knowledge which angels have of the events of this world, or the interest which they take in them.
1. We learn hence in what light to regard sinners, they are like sheep that are gone astray, or like valuable property that men have lost. 'They cease to fulfil the wishes of the proprietor; they no longer afford him pleasure; they are in the road to certain destruction. Their Creator intended to bestow upon sinners much honour, and to raise them to a high degree of perfection and excellence. He purposed to render them of extensive usefulness in the creation; but they are defeating his purposes, and ruining themselves; they are indulging in vices which pervert their natures from the ends which they were designed to answer; which pollute their souls and degrade their characters; which are the source of present pain, and will end in unspeakable ruin. Yet they are not irrecoverably gone; the sheep which has wandered from the fold may be brought back; the money which is lost may be found again. Their habits are not in general so confirmed, but that they may be changed; nor their characters so completely corrupted, but that they may be rendered pure. This is to be accomplished principally by instruction; by warning them of the folly and danger of the course which they are pursuing; by representing to them the excellence of that master whose service they have forsaken; the beauty of virtue and the glorious rewards which attend it. By such means may the wanderers be brought back, and those who were lost be saved from final ruin.
2. How worthy of our admiration and love is the temper of God towards the penitent sinner, as here represented! He rejoices in his recovery, and welcomes his return; nay, he seems to take more pleasure in his reformation than in all the virtues of those who never offended. What a noble spirit of benevolence and forgiveness is this! to value one rational being at so high a price, and that being a heinous offender! to seek him who had voluntarily departed; to press him to return who alone could be benefited by the change, and to rejoice in his recovery as much as it there had been no other being to engage his affection! Remember, sinner, that the Being from whose service thou withdrawest thyself is not an enemy who hates thee, but a friend who loves thee, and who wishes for nothing so ardently as to do thee good. He is grieved for thy departure, and will rejoice to bring thee to himself. .Canst thou bear to think of forsaking such a friend? Canst thou remain insensible to so much goodness?
2. Let the ministers of religion learn hence not to despise the meanest and most degraded of mankind. Christ did not shun the company of heathens and publicans, when they appeared inclined to receive instruction; but received them gladly, and conversed with them freely. In this it appears that he was but fulfilling the benevolent intentions of his heavenly Father, who would have all men to be saved, and is not willing that any should be lost. Let us not be backward to follow so illustrious an example. There are many of the human race, who, in the opinion of their brethren, are sunk to the lowest state of degradation, by a base employment, by want of birth, or of wealth, by rude manners or by uncultivated minds; with whom few of better rank choose to associate, and who are deemed the outcasts of society; and they are often neglected by men from whoin better things might be expected; by the ministers of the gospel of Christ; who, from a vain idea of their own superior attainments, like these selfrighteous Pharisees, stand aloof from all whom they imagine not to have made the same proficiency in knowledge and virtue with themselves. But they are not animated with the spirit of Christianity, which teaches us to condescend to men of low estate; nor do they follow the example of their master, who, wherever he found a rational creature, regarded him as the offspring of God, as a being capable of virtue or vice, as an heir of immortality or a victim of destruction, as a soul to be saved or to be ruined, and therefore an object of kindness and compassion, whom he was to do every thing in his power to instruct or reclaim, however degraded by station, vice or ignorance.
In order to understand the design of the ensuing parable, it is necessary to keep in mind the occasion on which it was delivered, and the connection in which it stands. We find from the beginning of this chapter, that the Scribes and Pharisees had accused Jesus of admitting publicans and sinners, or rather, heathen publicans, to hear him, and of permitting them to sit with him at table. In answer to this accusation he delivered two parables, which we have already considered, in which he shows, that as men pay more attention to what they think themselves in danger of losing, than to that which is not exposed to danger, so he was justified in showing greater attention to Gentiles, whom they considered as lost, than to Jews, who were already secured in the service of God, or at least thought themselves to be so. In the story before us he has still a reference to the same subject, and endeavours to illustrate the propriety of his own conduct, ana lo expose the pride and envious temper of his adversaries. The younger brother, who is dissatisfied with his father's house, goes from home, and, after wasting his portion in riotous living, returns a penitent to his father's house, represents the Gentiles, who early forsook God, and lived in a state of great wretchedness, but seemed now inclined to return to him. The elder brother, who is so much displeased at the welcome reception given to the younger, represents the Pharisaic Jews, who already began to murmur at the attention paid to the Gentile converts, and expressed their dissatisfaction in much