« PreviousContinue »
indeed hateful and odious to all Perfons, it leads Men into many a heinous Sin, and brings on many a heavy Punishment: But Humility is the Parent of all Vertue, and tho it may feem to deprefs, yet it certainly leads to Exaltatation; for he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Let us therefore ftrip our felves of all Pride and Haughtiness of Mind, which ever goes before a Fall; and let us put on Meekness and Lowlinefs of Heart, that we may be exalted in due time. To which end, let us watch against the Temptations of the World and the Devil, which are apt to fwell us with Pride and Vanity, and earnestly pray to be cloth'd with Humility, and to be found in the number of the poor in Spirit, to whom belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. A
The GOSPEL for the Third Sunday after
St. Luke xv. I—II,
Then drew near unto him all the Publicans and Sinners for to hear him: And the Pharifees and Scribes murmur'd, faying, This Man receiveth Sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this Parable to them, &c.
HE great Fame of Chrift's Doctrine and Miraclesdrew Perfons of all Sorts and Countries unto him. Among the reft we read here, that the Publicans and Sinners, fome of the worst of Men, were in that number, and likewife drew near unto him. The Publicans were Perfons infamous, even to a Proverb, and by their great Oppreffions and Exactions upon the People, had render'd themselves vile and odious in the fight of God and Man ; and therefore we find them here, and often elsewhere, coupled with Sinners, or Perfons of a loofe and profligate Converfation. However, thefe among others came and
drew nigh to our Saviour; but upon what Errand? Why, that we are here told was to hear him. They had heard much of him, and of the great things that he spake and did, and now they had a great Mind and Defire to hear him themselves; either out of Curiofity, as fome think, it being ufual to flock after new and much cry'd up Teachers; or out of Defign, as others imagine, to enfnare and entrap him, to feek to get fome Advantage upon him, and to find what occafion they could against him; as fome hear, not to learn, but to carp. Others again, and I think with greater probability, conceive that they drew nigh to hear him with better Ends, namely, to learn their Duty from him, and how to direct and amend their Lives. They had feen what Change had been made in Matthew their Fellow-Publican, how he had left his Publican's Stall to follow Chrift, and become one of his Difciples: They had heard likewife of Zaccheus another Publican, how he had reftor'd fourfold, and for that reafon Chrift came to his Houfe, and brought Salvation with him. The Noife of thefe and many other Matters brought them to Jefus to know the Truth, and to reap the Fruit of his Doctrine. To this end St. Matthew, whom our Saviour had lately call'd from the Receipt of Custom to be one of his Followers, made a Feaft for him; to which he also invited many of the Publicans and Sinners, that by hearing his Difcourfe, they might receive the fame Benefit, and become his Difciples. Accordingly our Saviour came and fat down to Meat in his Houfe, and many Publicans and Sinners came and fat down with him and his Difciples; which when the Pharifees faw, they began to take exception, asking the Difciples, Why eateth your Mafter with Publicans and Sinners? This Account St. Matthew gives of this Matter, Mat. 9. 10, 11. St. Luke here to the fame effect tells us, that upon the Publicans and Sinners drawing near unto Chrift to hear his Difcourfe, the Pharifees and Scribes murmur'd, faying, This Man receiveth Sinners, and eateth with them. The thing they here murmur'd at, was our Saviour's Freedom of Converfation with fuch bad Men. The Publicans being the Tribute-gatherers for the Roman Emperors, were generally Heathens and great Oppreffors, with whom it was forbidden by the Jewish Law to eat or converse. The Pharifees therefore and Scribes, who were fupercilious Defpifers of other Men, took great Offence at our Saviour's eating and converfing with them; telling his Difciples, that it was no way be.
coming fo holy a Perfon, as their Mafter pretended to be, to converfe fo freely and familiarly with the worst of Men; if he were the true Meffias, as they thought, he would decline fuch evil Company, and keep at a greater diftance from Sinners. They expected other things from the Meffias, viz. that he fhould maintain the Dignity of his Perfon and Office by a stately Retirement, fequeftring himself from common View, that the World might repair to him as a Divine Oracle, and never approach him without the greatest Reverence and Adoration. So that when they faw him fo freely walk abroad, and to be fo familiar with those who were none of the best, instead of receiving him as a Saviour, they rejected him as an Impoftor; ftiling him a Glutton, a Winebibber, a Friend of Publicans and Sinners, a Companion and Favourer of loofe and vile Perfons.
Now to remove this Offence, our Saviour lets them know, that the end of his converfing with thefe Men, was not to encourage or harden them in their evil ways, but to reclaim them from them, and at once to convince and convert them from the Error of their ways: He was fo far from approving the Exactions of the Publicans, that he exacted Repentance and Reformation from them, and convers'd with Sinners, not to countenance, but to reprehend and reform their Vice and Wickednefs. By which means fome of the Publicans, from being Exacters of Tribute, became the Teachers of Righteoufnefs, and many of the Sinners were turn'd from Darkness to Light, and from the Power of Satan unto God: which was fo far from being inconfiftent with the Holiness of the Meffiah, that 'twas indeed the main end of his Coming. He told them in St. Matthew's Golpel, that the Whole have no need of the Phyfician, but they that are fick; and that he vouchfafed his Com pany, not where it might be most defir'd, but where it was most needed, for he came not to call the Righteous, but Sinners to Repentance: meaning, that his main Bufinefs was with thofe humble and modeft Offenders, that were fenfible of their Faults, and willing to amend them; these being more likely to be reduc'd to a better Courfe of Life, than fuch as are conceited of their own Holinefs, and fcorn others, as unworthy of their Society and Conversation. Moreover, he bids them go and learn the meaning of that Saying of God Almighty, I will have Mercy, and not Sacrifice wherein he prefers the Acts of Mercy and Charity to Mens Souls, before all the ritual Obfervances of the
Law, and much more before all the nice Formalities of Converfation. For this end it was, that he fo freely ate and drank with Publicans and Sinners, and tho he went up and down to and with all forts of Men, yet it was ftill do. ing good, and healing all kinds of Maladies both of Body and Soul: fo that the Pharifees might as well blame the Phyficians of the Body for vifiting Hofpitals and fick Patients, as the Phyfician of the Soul for applying himself to fuch as labour'd under more fpiritual and dangerous Distempers.
Again, he tells them, that he came to feek and to fave all that were loft, that he was fent first to the loft Sheep of the Houfe of Ifrael, to bring them home to the great Shepherd and Bishop of their Souls, and after that to reduce all that were gone aftray both of Jews and Gentiles, to gather them all into one Flock, and to bring them into one Fold: which things could not be done, without making himself known to and converfing with them; for that alone could give him the Opportunity of teaching and inftructing Mankind, of inftilling his Doctrine into them, and preaching to them the Myfteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. This our Saviour here in St. Luke explains and exemplifies to us in two or three Parables, viz. thofe of the loft Sheep, the loft Groat, and the loft Son; in all which he infinuates his tender Love and Care of loft Man, and Willingness to fave and reduce the greatest Sinners.
The first of thefe Parables is in the third and following Verfes of this Gofpel: And he spake this Parable unto them, faying, What Man of you having an hundred Sheep, if be lofe one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the Wilderness, and go after that which is loft, until he find it? Where Sinners are fitly refembled to loft Sheep; (1.) Becaufe no Creature is fo apt to wander as the Sheep, which is fo heedlefs as not to keep right, unless it be ftill under the Shepherd's Eye; and this fhews how eafily we are mif led, how often we fall by Temptation, and feldom continue long in the right way. Again, (2.) No Creature is more helpless and liable to danger than à ftraying Sheep, it hath many Enemies, and no Guard against them; the Dog, the Wolf, the Fox are all ready to devour and make ittheir Prey. This reprefents the forlorn Condition of loft Man, who when out of the care of the good Shepherd, is intangled with the World, enfnar'd by Satan, opprefs'd by wicked Men, and is utterly unable to efcape or defend
himself against his Ghoftly Enemies. Once more, a wandring Sheep of all Creatures is the moft unlikely of it felf ever to return; for being once bewilder'd, it will ftray for ever, unless the Shepherd find and reftore it: So is it with loft Man, who being out of the way would return no more, except he be reduc'd by the Shepherd, which is by hearing his Voice and following him.
Now who is there (faith the Parable) who having loft a Sheep, doth not beftir himself and go after it, till he find it? How much more then are erring and straying Sinners to be fought after, who would wander for ever in the Ways of Destruction, if not reftor'd and directed into the Paths of Life? But to go on with the Parable, when the Owner of the loft Sheep had found it, 'tis faid in the next words, He layeth it on his Shoulders rejoicing, he feeleth not the Burden, which is much the lighter by removing the Heaviness and Trouble he had in the Lofs of it: and when he cometh home, he calleth together his Friends and Neighbours, faying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found the Sheep that was loft. He makes merry with them, and doubles his Joys from the Fears he had of lofing it, and the Pains he took in finding it. Likewife, I say unto you (faith our Saviour) Joy fhall be in Hea ven over one Sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine juft Perfons, which need no Repentance: meaning, that God who is reprefented here by the Owner of the loft Sheep, and the holy Angels and glorify'd Spirits above, which are meant by his Friends and Neighbours, conceive no fmall Joy at the Return of a penitent Sinner. As for the Angels, they being the Guardians of God's Children, and miniftring Spirits to the Heirs of Salvation, may be well enough fuppos'd to be affected with the Welfare and Happiness of each. For we find this heavenly Hoft finging at our Saviour's coming into the World for the Redemption of Mankind; and ever fince defire to contemplate and admire this great Mystery. And every Occafion of this kind may minifter to their Gladness, and give a new Acceflion to their Joy.
But when God is faid to rejoice at the Repentance of a Sinner, it must be understood as fpoken after the manner of Men for God is void of all Paffions and Perturbations, and above the Tranfports of Joy and Sorrow. So that when God is faid to be angry, to be griev'd, or to be provok'd by Sinners, 'tis meant only of the Effects