« AnteriorContinua »
and the care of our fouls with the price they coft thee!
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whofe own the sheep are not, feeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep. Tho' our Saviour be the only univerfal Shepherd; yet every Christian is paftor at least of one fheep (I mean his own foul) that is committed to his care. And certainly every man's intereft obliges him to be watchful: it is his only stock; his whole treasure. If he lofes this, he is undone, paft any hope of recovery. If he preferves it, he is rich, tho' in the extremity of poverty, and happy too under the most severe calamities. Yet, Oh! How often do we play the part of a hireling? how feldom of a good paftor? One would think this fheep belonged not to us; that we had no interest in its fafety, we are fo little concerned at its lofs. When we fee the wolf (i. e. temptation) coming, we fly and abandon it to the rnercy of our enemies, who have none: and what is the conclufion, but what our Saviour delivers, and the wolf catcheth and Scattereth the Sheep?
But our bleffed Saviour feems in fome manner to excuse the flight of a hireling, who flies because the sheep belong not to him. But, alas! we have not this pretext for our cowardife and neglect. This fheep is our own; nay, it is a part, and the prime part of us. And what can be more our own, than ourselves? Why then do we abandon it to the rage of the devil, who has all the voracioufnefs of the wolf, and all the force of the lion. He makes his rounds, night and day (like a roaring lion) to affail it unguarded. And, instead of defending it, at the approach of this cruel enemy, we pretend by flight to fecure ourselves, as if we could be fafe, when our fouls are in danger.
Had we at least two fheep, that is, two fouls; we might venture one, and fecure the other. But,
alas! we have only one; and, if this be loft, there is no recovering it. The whole world, nay, a thousand worlds are uncapable to redeem it: What Shall a man give in exchange for his foul, Matth. xvi. 26. We must fit down with the lofs, and eternally deplore it, without hope of ever retrieving it.
But we are not only guilty of neglect, but, what is worse, of temerity alfo: we not only fly, when the wolf comes (i. e.) when temptations present themselves; but we even feek them; we run headlong without confideration into thofe companies, where the devil lays traps to enfnare us; where idle difcourfe diftracts us; finful geftures difarm, occafion follicits, and emboldens us to evil. In thefe circumftances, in the midst of these dangers, instead of standing upon our guard, how often do we fleep, and without refiftance, nay, with pleafure, deliver up our foul to its mortal enemies; who please our fenfes merely to ftupify our reason, to flacken our care, and affure our ruin?
Warn a finner of his exceffes, defire him to repent; he will tell you, the world is fo full of dangers, it is hard to avoid them; that temptations are so strong, and nature fo weak, it is almost impoffible to overcome them. But, if there are fo many dangers, fhould not our care and caution rife in proportion? If nature is fo weak, fhould we expose it so easily? and, if temptations are fo ftrong, is it not the part of prudence to avoid, and an extreme temerity to feek them, and the last of follies to court them?
We fhould fet a careful watch upon all our fenfes, to keep off (if poffible) the approach of temptation; and therefore fhould never fuffer our eyes to wander among those objects, that, through these avenues, break in upon our hearts, and fubdue our wills. We fhould beg of God, with bended
knees, and lifted up hands, the prudence to avoid our enemies, and the ftrength to conquer them, if they affail us: and, if we did fo, we fhould perform the office, not of a hireling, but of a good fhepherd; we should not submit to temptations, but refift them, and difengage our fouls (if not from danger) at least from ruin. O good fhepherd! who haft fo much care of fouls, give us the prudence to have fome folicitude for our own! Infpire us with courage to refift our enemies, and make us so happy as to overcome them!
We cannot complain of our weakness. Our Saviour tells us in this very place, he knows his Sheep. This is not to be understood of a mere fpeculative knowledge: alas! he knows all things. He knows the damned, to punish them; but he knows the virtuous, to love them; and the weak, to strengthen them: like a good father, he provides for their neceffities; he is folicitous for their fafety; offers them means to procure it; and af fures them of fuccefs, if they make use of his affistance.
If therefore we fubmit to the fuggeftions of the devil, we must accufe our negligence, not our weakness. St. Paul affures us, God permits no body to be tempted above his ftrength. It is inconfiftent with his goodness to lay upon us obligations we cannot comply with, to load us with burdens we cannot bear. He proportions his grace to the difficulty, and gives us power to refift, when he permits us to be tempted. Let us therefore never run into temptation on the one fide, nor fear it on the other, if it purfues us. That is temerity and prefumption, mortal enemies to innocence; be that loveth danger shall perish in it, Eccluf. iii. 27. This is a mark of diffidence, either of our Saviour's power, or his goodness. Of his power, if we fufpect he cannot; of his goodness,
if we diftruft he will not protect us: and both are criminal. He can protect us, because he is omnipotent: he will, because he is good; because he has promised his affiftance, and cannot break his word. Diftruft then yourfelf; confide in God: neither fear, nor presume.
Now if you defire to know whether you belong to our Saviour's flock; the following words inform you: And am known of mine. That is, they confider what Jefus Chrift has done; what he has fuffered for them: how he loft his life for their fakes, and expofed his facred perfon to all the rage of men, to preserve them from the tyranny of the devil. These thoughts inflame them with a fervent love of their benefactor: they adore him as their God, and love him as their Redeemer. They bear his voice, and follow him. They are fedulous in hearing what he teaches, and as exact in the practice. They deteft all the loose maxims of the world, to embrace his. This is truly to know him in the fenfe of the gospel, and an infallible mark, that we are of his flock.
O foveraign Paftor of our fouls! by thy facred paffion, I conjure thee to place me in thy beloved flock. Give me the grace to hear thy voice, and the will to obey thy commands, without ever being fo unfortunate as to tranfgrefs them and lead me to heaven, where there will be, eternally, but one flock, and one Shepherd.
1. EPISTLE of St. Peter, Chap. ii. Verse
11. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as ftrangers and pilgrims, abstain from flefbly lufts, which war against the foul.
12. Having your converfation honest among the Gentiles that whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they fball behold, glorify God in the day of vifitation.
13. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's fake: whether it be to the king, as Supreme;
14. Or unto governours, as unto them that are fent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.
15. For fo is the will of God, that with well- . doing ye may put to filence the ignorance of foolish
16. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the fervants of God. 17. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
The MORAL REFLECTION.
HE apoftle perfuades the Chriftians to behave themselves like strangers and pilgrims in this world, to withdraw their affections from all carnal objects, that war upon the foul, and prejudice it more than they can oblige the fenfes, Dearly beloved, I beseech you as ftrangers and pilgrims, abftain from flefbly lufts, which war against the foul.
We are all strangers and pilgrims: We have no conftant habitation, as St. Paul affures us: Here have we no continuing city, Heb. xiii. 14. This world is but a wilderness, that leads us unto the