Page images

tionary precept quoted by Drusius, are said not to have allowed" the people of the world to touch them," or that the disciples of the wise are forbidden in the Mechilta, to enter into the company of a sinner, even in order to pray with him or to study the Scriptures together '.

Nor was it only to persons of notoriously immoral lives that this name of sinner was appropriated. The Heathen, the Samaritan, partook in the same opprobrium, and any transgression either of the law or of the traditions of the elders, which drew down on the individual so transgressing the penalty of being excommunicated, drew down on him at the same time the name of sinner, and an exclusion from the touch and fellowship of the godly. The publicans too, or collectors of the Roman taxes, were not only hated as the agents of a foreign tyrant, but accounted unclean from their habits of intercourse with the heathen; and every Israelite who had not joined himself to some particular sect or religious party, who had not, to use their own expressions, wallowed in the dust of the schools, and been initiated into those refinements on the Mosaic religion which the Essenes or the Pharisees inculcated, was regarded by both these sects with an intolerant pride, as "the people of the earth,” and, as in the present instance "sinners."

It followed as a necessary consequence that, as other causes besides immorality might produce

'Drusius de iii. sectis. L. ii. p. 83. Mechilta, f. 37. 2.

ecclesiastical censures, as though many of the publicans were unjust and impious, that character did not necessarily or universally belong to them; and as the simplicity of the secular and unlearned Jew might be perfectly compatible with the most essential duties of industry, integrity, and piety; it followed that many were thus branded with an opprobrious epithet, who were, possibly, better men than those who affected to despise them. And it is certain that this description of persons contributed more than any other among the Jews to the number of our Saviour's followers. Such as were already cut off from the synagogues and people of Israel, had nothing to hold them back from embracing the truth whenever and by whomsoever offered to their acceptance. Those who surrendered no privilege, who broke no ancient tie, who deserted no long loved society, had a lighter cross to bear in the Messiah's kingdom, and found the narrow gate far wider than they who were folded gorgeously and warm in the trappings of self-love, and the distinctive mantle of a sect or a party. They who were unused to any notice from persons of a religious character, and who were abandoned, by the uncharitable contempt of their graver countrymen, to infamy, impenitence and despair,—it was likely that they would flock with joy to any door which should be opened to their restoration, and be willing to recover their lost self-esteem by any sacrifice which the Messiah might enjoin them. And our Lord, 'whose errand it was to reconcile the differences

and heal the intestine feuds of the house of Israel, appears to have taken delight in displaying His superiority to these unfounded traditions, and in kindly extending His charitable notice to those who needed it most and received it most gladly.

When taunted by the Pharisees for this line of conduct, He sometimes replies that He came "to save that which was lost," and that "they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick1.” Sometimes, as in the case of Zaccheus, He reminds them that these sinners and publicans were children of Abraham as well as themselves, and partakers with them in God's promises. And sometimes, as in the parable of the prodigal son, and in that from which my text is taken, He lays down the broad, and to the Jews, the unusual principle, that not only is the penitent prodigal accepted by His Almighty Parent, but that he is accepted with joy; not only that he is admitted on his return, but that he is sought for during his wanderings; and that when found, there is more joy in Heaven on account of his repentance, than over the salvation of very many just persons to whom repentance was comparatively needless.

He appeals to the natural feelings and daily experience of every man, whether that which is lost does not, on that account, acquire an additional value in our hearts; and whether that which is recovered is not many times more dear to us than

St. Matt, xviii. 11. St. Luke v. 31.


if we had always continued its possessors. man of you," are His words, " having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing; and when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbours saying, rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost! 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'."

The instruction contained in this parable is of two kinds, and addressed to two different classes of hearers.

The first are those happy characters whom our Lord designates by the name of the righteous," the just persons who need no repentance." Not that any have existed, save Christ alone, to whom in some sense or other, and that a very cogent one, repentance has not been necessary. But they who have escaped the greater and more glaring crimes, who have, through good education or timely repentance, overpowered, in some considerable degree, the principle of evil within them; whom the habit of successful resistance has rendered superior to the ordinary assaults of Satan; and whom the grace of God, both prompting and helping their endeavours, has marked out, amid the wickedness of the

[blocks in formation]

multitude, as faithful, at least, though not perfect followers of their Saviour; these just persons, so happy in their good name and their good conscience, may learn from the present parable and the occasion on which it was spoken, to cherish new feelings, and to observe a new conduct towards those unfortunate wanderers from the fold of virtue and happiness who are described as lost sheep, and the objects, on that account, of an especial solicitude on the part of their owner. They will learn from His conduct, who is our hope, our example, and our God, that far from shunning such persons as unclean, or abhorring them as heirs of perdition, it is their duty, as servants of Christ, to exert their utmost influence to snatch them from the intolerable dangers by which they are at present surrounded; and that they can no better prove their love for Him by whom they are redeemed, than by forwarding His gracious purposes concerning those whom it was the main object of His coming into the world, to enable to an effectual repentance.

Nor is this a task confined to any peculiar order or profession. It is the duty of the layman as well as of the priest, of the catechumen as well as of the teacher; and all who can supply a word of private warning against sin, or of private encouragement to repentance; all who have a prayer or a tear to give for the soul of a wicked neighbour, are as much bound to do their best to snatch that neighbour from sin and its consequences, as they

« PreviousContinue »