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is the good shepherd; who healeth all sorts of diseases, and helpeth them 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 1 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 have 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 ahhorreth.
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 eifectual 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 1 When shall I attain those things 1 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,
yet I will not cast off my hope, but will flee unto thee, that thou mayst succour me; for thou only art the true shepherd; wherefore I will not despair, nor be discouraged, although I come void of works.
We must be diligent, that we may become wise and know Christ. In his kingdom only the weak and diseased are conversant; it being, as it were, a mere hospital, in which only the sick and feeble lie, of whom a care must be taken. But few men have this knowledge, for it is not easily attained; it is even sometimes wanting in them who have the gospel and spirit. Some men look into the scripture, which setteth forth the kingdom of Christ, affirming it to be precious ; nevertheless they pay but little attention to the signification of the words therein contained, neither do they perceive that true wisdom is hidden therein, which far excelleth our wisdom.
Christian wisdom does not consist in seeking the company of those that are accounted wise and skilful, and to make mention, and talk of them; but to be occupied among the unwise, and those that lack understanding, that they may forsake sin and foolishness, and embrace righteousness, and sound understanding. Therefore it appeareth that christian wisdom doth not consist in lofty looks, and seeing ourselves in things high and wise, as in a glass, but that we look to those things which are below, and mark that which is humble. He that knoweth these things, let him give thanks to God; for by this knowledge he is able to prepare and apply himself to every thing that shall take place in the world. But ye shall find many, yea, even among those that preach the gospel, who are not thus far enlightened.
Heretofore we have been taught that none must
come to Christ, till he be altogether clean; thou
must therefore forsake this opinion, that thou mayst
attain to true understanding, and know Christ aright; as the true and good shepherd. He compareth the good shepherd with the evil, or hireling, in the following passage: "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep."
It is true, indeed, that Christ is the only shepherd: the name of Christ belongs to him alone; yet he communicates the same to us, that we may be called christians. In the same manner, although he be the only shepherd, yet he imparteth the same name to those that be of the ministry. Matthew likewise forbiddeth our calling any man father on earth; for one is our Father, which is in heaven. (Chap, xxiii.) Notwithstanding, Paul calleth himself the father of the Corinthians, when he saith; "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." (1 Cor. iv.) Therefore it seemeth as though God alone would have the name of father; and at the same time granteth the same name to men, that they also may be fathers; howbeit, not of themselves, but by Christ: even as we are called christians; not that we have any thing of ourselves, but that all things are given us through Christ.
Christ saith, moreover, "He that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth," &c. This surely is a hard saying; that they which preach the gospel, and strengthen and heal the sheep, should at last suffer them to be caught and torn in pieces: while they themselves flee away, when the sheep have the most need of help. As long as the wolves do not appear, they do their duty carefully and diligently; but as soon as the wolf appears, they immediately leave the sheep. If they have fed them well and made them fat, strong and whole, they are the better liked by the wolves.
But what is the hidden meaning of this parable 1 The meaning of Christ is this; in my- kingdom, (which consisteth in nothing else, but strengthening the weak, healing the sick, and encouraging the faint hearted,) the holy cross shall not be wanting. When it is preached that Christ only, whose silly sheep we are, hath the care of us, strengtheneth, healeth, and helpeth us, that our own strength and works are of no importance, the world cannot abide it: so that it is a natural consequence for the gospel to bring the cross with it; inseparably accompanying it; and he that will unfeignedly profess it before the world, must expect to bear persecution. This being the case, it is not difficult to perceive the difference between the true shepherds and the hirelings.
The hireling preacheth the gospel as long as he is reported among men to be learned, godly, and holy. But when he is reproved, or called a heretick and wicked man, or requested to make a recantation, he either recanteth or leaveth the flock without a shepherd: their case then becomes worse than it was before. What doth it avail the sheep, even if they were well fed before 1 If they were true shepherds, they would lose their lives rather than leave the sheep to the jaws of the wolves; and would be ready to offer their neck to the axe for the sake of the gospel.
They therefore are not good shepherds, who preach the gospel that they may thereby obtain honour and riches; without doubt these are hirelings, who seek their own glory even in sound doctrine, and in the word of God. Wherefore they abide no longer than they receive honour, praise, and benefit thereby. As soon as the wolf cometh, they go back, deny the word, and flee away; leaving the sheep, earnestly seeking for pasture and their shep