« ZurückWeiter »
and direct all things; who hath an especial care of his kingdom, which is the christian faith; therefore it must needs be that his kingdom will flourish among us here on earth. Of this kingdom, we have elsewhere said, that it is so Ordained, that we increase every day and become purer; and that it is not governed by any force or power, but by preaching alone; that is, by the gospel. This gospel cometh not from man, but it was brought by Jesus Christ himself; and afterwards put into the hearts of the apostles and their successors, that they might comprehend it, and speak and publish it.
Hereby is his kingdom governed, wherein he so reigneth, that all the power thereof consisteth in the word of God. Now whosoever shall hear and believe this, pertaineth to this kingdom. Moreover, this word is made so effectual, that it bringeth an abundance of all the good things which are necessary to man. For it is the power of God which is able to save every one that believeth; as Paul saith to the Romans; if thou believe that Christ died for thee, to deliver thee from evil, and cleave unto the word, it is certain that no creature is able to overthrow thee. For as none are able to overthrow the word, neither shall any be able to hurt thee if thou trust in it. By the word thou shalt overcome sin, death, satan, and hell; and to that thou must flee, for in it thou shalt find peace, joy, and eternal life; and be made partaker of all the good things that are promised in the word.
Wherefore the government of this kingdom is marvellous. The word is published and preached through the whole world; but the power thereof is secret; it must be felt and tasted in the heart. We therefore of the ministry are able to perform nothing more, than torbecome the instruments through which our Lord Christ openly preacheth the word; for he suffereth the word to be published abroad, that every one may hear it. But faith maketh us to feel it inwardly, in the heart; yea, it is the secret work of Christ, when one knoweth what is his duty, and is willing to do according to his divine will and pleasure. That these things may be better understood, we will now treat of our text, wherein Christ saith, "I am the good shepherd V What is a good shepherd'] A good shepherd, saith Christ, giveth his life for his sheep : and I leave my life for my sheep. Here the Lord declareth what his kingdom is, by the parable of the sheep. The sheep is of that nature, that it quickly knoweth the voice of its shepherd; neither followeth it the voice of another; but always cleaveth to its own, and seeketh help of him, not being able to help itself. The sheep cannot feed itself, nor preserve itself from the wolves; but is altogether dependant upon the shepherd.
Christ therefore bringeth the quality and nature of the sheep as a parable; and transformeth himself into a shepherd : whereby he showeth what his kingdom is: which consisteth in feeding his sheep; that is, miserable, needy, and wretched men, that have no help or counsel but in him alone. That we may declare this more plainly, we will quote a passage from Ezekiel: chap, xxxiv. a Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? why therefore do ye feed yourselves 1 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool; ye kill them that are fed; but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with. force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd; and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea,
104 LtJtHER's SERMONS.
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 1 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 spirit, 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. Fometimes 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 lis 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