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my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth.”
What he here saith should be particularly noticed. The meaning is, that he will have the weak, sick, broken, abject, and lost, to be strengthened, healed, cured, and sought after; not spoiled and destroyed. These things, saith he to the shepherds, ye ought to do ; but ye have done none of them. Wherefore I myself, (as he afterwards saith,) will deal thus with my sheep: “That which is lost, will I seek again; that which is driven away, will I bring again ; and to that which is not well, will I prepare a remedy, and heal it.” Here we see that the kingdom of Christ is such as pertaineth to the weak, diseased, and feeble; the preaching whereof is full of comfort ; although we do not thoroughly feel our misery and weakness : if we did, we should forthwith run to him.
But how did those shepherds behave themselves ? they ruled in rigour, and strictly exacted obedience to the law. Moreover, they added their own traditions; as they do also at this day; and if they be not kept, they cry out and condemn him that transgresseth them, so that they do nothing but urge more and more their own inventions. But this is not the way to feed and govern souls ; Christ is not such a shepherd : for by such manner of feeding, none are helped, but the sheep are utterly lost. We shall now make some remarks upon the preceding passage of the prophet. First, he saith that the weak sheep are to be strengthened ; that is, the consciences which are weak in faith, and have a sorrowful spi. rit, and are of faint courage, are not to be enforced. It must not be said unto them, thou must do this, thou must be strong; for if thou art weak thou art ordained to eternal punishment! This is not the way to strengthen the weak.
Paul saith, Rom. xiv. “ Him that is weak in the
faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." He likewise adds, Rom. xv. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.” Wherefore they are not to be severely compelled, but comforted; that although they be weak, they may not despair, for they shall become stronger. Isaiah the prophet, spake of Christ in the following words : “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." chap. xlii. The bruised reed signifieth miserable, weak, and bruised consciences; which are so easily shaken, that they tremble, and sometimes lose their confidence in God. With these God doth not deal rigorously, but in a gentle manner; lest he break them.
The smoking flax, which as yet burns a little, and emits more smoke than fire, are the same consciences: they ought not to despair, for he will not utterly extinguish them ; but will always kindle them, and more and more strengthen them. This, to him that truly knoweth it, is a great comfort. He that doth not gently handle weak consciences after this sort, doth not execute the office of a true shepherd. Afterwards the prophet saith, “That which was diseased, ye ought to have succoured.” Who are those diseased ones? they who in their manner of living, and their outward.works, have certain diseases and vices. The first pertaineth to the conscience when it is weak; the other to the manners or condition of life ; as when one is carried with a wilful mind, and a wayward disposition; and by wrath and evil doings offend; as even the apostles sometimes did.
Such as are so vicious in the sight of men, that they are even an offence to others, God will not have rejected and despaired of; for his kingdom is not of such a nature that the strong and whole only should live therein, but Christ is placed in it that he may take care of such as are weak and helpless.
Sometimes we are so weak and sick, that we almost despair of being subjects of this kingdom : but the more we feel our disease, so much the more we must strive to come to him ; for he is always ready to heal us. If we are weak and oppressed, and in great affliction, we have more reason to go to Christ; acknowledging ourselves sinners, that he may help and justify us : for the greater our disease is, the more needful it is for us to be healed.
Christ requireth these things of us, and allureth us to come to him boldly and cheerfully. Others who are not such shepherds, think they make men righteous, if they exact much of them, and urge them much ; whereby they only make those who are evil, worse : as the prophet saith, “The broken have ye not bound together.” To be broken, is, as when one has a leg broken, or a wound inflicted somewhere else ; that is, when a christian is not only so diseased and weak that he stumbleth, but also runneth into such great temptations that he breaketh some part, and even denieth the gospel, after the manner of Peter ; who forswore Christ.
Now if any one should so stumble, that he was compelled to go back, and be utterly cast down in mind, we must not yet cast him off; as though he would never more pertain to the kingdom of Christ. We must leave Christ's property to himself; that his kingdom may remain mere mercy and grace ; whose desire is to help them only that are grieved with their calamity and misery, and greatly desire to be delivered from it: that his kingdom may altogether abound with comfort, and he be the gentle shepherd that provoketh and allureth all who come to him. And all this is done by the gospel ; whereby the weak are to be strengthened, and the sick healed.
This word is sufficient for all the distresses of conscience ; giving abundant comfort to all, though they be ever so great sinners. Christ therefore alone
is the good shepherd; who healeth all sorts of diseases, and helpeththem that are fallen. He that doth not, is not a shepherd. The prophet thus remarks: “Ye have not brought again that which was driven away." What is that which was driven away? The despised soul that is so scorned and contemned, that whatsoever christian doctrine is bestowed upon it, is thought to be in vain. Yet Christ will not suffer it to be dealt with in a harsh manner : his kingdom is not compassed with so straight bounds, that only the strong, whole and perfect, flourish therein ; for this pertaineth to the heavenly life to come; but in this kingdom, only grace and mercy must abound.
As God promised to the children of Israel ; Ex. iii. That he would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. The prophet concludeth ; "The lost have ye not sought.
That is lost which seemeth to be condemned; of the return whereof there is scarcely any hope : of which sort in the gospel were publicans and harlots; and at this day, they who have not a spark of godliness, but are untractable and unruly. Notwithstanding, these are not to be left, but means should be used, that at the last . they may be reclaimed and brought into the right way. Which Saint Paul ofttimes did ; as when he delivered two of this sort to satan : 1 Tim. i. “I bave delivered them unto satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” And again he saith, 1 Cor. v. " To deliver such a one unto satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
These he cast off as condemned ; yet he did not despair of them. Christ should be preached, as rejecting no man, although he be weak: but that he willingly receiveth, comforteth, and strengtheneth every one ; so that he always appeareth to be the good shepherd. Therefore it comes to pass, that
men willingly resort to him, and that there is no need to compel them. The gospel so allureth and maketh them willing, that they come with love and pleasure, and with all boldness ; whereby their love to Christ is increased, so that they do every thing willingly, who before were to be urged and compelled. If we be compelled, we act grudgingly and unwillingly, which God abhorreth.
When we perceive that God dealeth so lovingly and gently with us, our hearts become ravished, so that we cannot stay ourselves, but are constrained to run unto him, leaving all other things for his sake. Consider how great an evil it is, when one judgeth another. The kingdom of Christ, as we have heard, is so ordained, that it healeth and justifieth only sick and miserable. consciences; wherefore those who have regard only to the strong and whole are much deceived. It is great and effectual knowledge whereby Christ is known. It is grafted in us by nature, to be altogether evil and wicked ; yet notwithstanding we would have every one honest : we earnestly regard strong christians; not looking to the sick and weak, thinking them not to be christians; though we ourselves at the same time exceed them in wickedness.
The cause of this is our corrupt nature, and our blind
reason ; which would measure the kingdom of God by our own judgement : whereby wethink those things unclean before God, which seem unclean to us; but this opinion must be removed from our minds. It will be said, alas ! what will become of me if all christians must be whole, strong, and godly? When shall I attain those things? In this manner thou wilt bring thyself into such a perplexity, that thou shalt not attain unto true comfort and joy. Thou must be so affected, that thou wilt say, most gracious Saviour, although I find myself altogether weak, and diseased, and in a wretched state,