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chief of all knowledge, is to know Christ aright. For it is engendered in us by nature to be ourselves filled with sins within, and yet to wish all men to be holy; and with great eagerness to look upon strong Christians only, turning away all the while our eyes from the weak, and persuading ourselves, that those who are thus weak are not to be reckoned among the company of Christians; and therefore, those whom we behold to be deficient in the smallest matters of sanctity, we will not hold to be saints, while we at the same time wink at our own sins, when we are all the while far worse than others. This arises from our nature, which is so filled with deadly poisons; and from the forwardness of our reason, which is ever measuring the kingdom of God according to its own apprehension ; and imagining, that those things which appear vile in its own eyes, are vile in the eyes of God. Wherefore, all these things must be far removed from thine eyes. For after thou hast imagined in this way, as long and as much as thou canst, thou only plungest thyself after all into such thoughts as these.—- I am undone! Which way shall I turn! If Christianity be this, that it receiveth none but the strong, the perfect, and the righteous, when shall I ever attain unto that state!'- And in this way thou wilt bring thyself into that perplexity that thou never wilt be able to arrive at a state of Christianity.
Wherefore, thou must come at last to this point, to say— O Lord, I feel that I am of such and such infirmity; and am as one sick and broken in mind : yet this shall be so far from being a hinderance to me, that I will on that very account, come unto thee to implore thy aid: seeing that thou art a shepherd, and that good shepherd, and I doubt not in the least that thou art such an one: therefore, I will not despond in my mind, how destitute soever I may be of good works.'—Hence this is the place for exerting a determination of mind, that we may learn to know Christ rightly in this way that his kingdom is the receptacle of the weak and the sick only: so that it is in nature and appearance a kind of hospital or infirmary, wherein there are none but diseased persons, who are lying down, and have need of being attended on until they be healed." But this knowledge very few receive : this is a wisdom not known to the city: so that, oftentimes, those are very deficient in it, who are partakers of the Gospel and of the Spirit. For this is the highest wisdom, unto an higher than which none can attain. Wherefore, although men look into the scriptures and see that they extol the kingdom of Christ in a wonderful manner, yet they do not seriously consider with themselves, what meaning is really couched in those words; nor do they observe that very deep wisdom, which is wisdom itself, that lies hidden under them, nor how widely that differs from all human wisdom. For we do not use our wisdom before the wise and prudent and the disputers of this world, and thus prostitute it unto them; but we use it before fools and the base things of the world; not, however, that we may gratify ourselves thereby, but rather that we may pluck men out of the world, in order that they may emerge from their sins and wretchedness, and attain unto righteousness and a sound understanding.
Hence it is evident, that Christian wisdom consists in this ;---that we raise not up our eyes on high, nor aim at that only which is exalted and wise, and thus have lofty notions of ourselves; but rather, that we turn our eyes to contemplate;' what is lowly, and observe that which is humble and foolish. He that has attained unto this wisdom, let him give thanks unto God. For by this knowledge he is become such an one, that he can rightly accommodate himself unto every thing that happens in the world. Wherefore, you will find many, yea very many, who are preachers of the Gospel, that have not Fet attained unto this wisdom... For hitherto, we have been so instructed and so trained up, as to believe, that none can apply his mind to come unto Christ, unless he be first perfectly pure. Wherefore, thou must unlearn this persuasion, and imbibe that true understanding of knowing Christ rightly;--that he is the true and good shepherd, of whom we have heard already. WAND-pow, by way of antithesis, he compares him
self, the good shepherd, with a bad shepherd, or an hireling, and shews that he is the true and good shepherd. And even as the name Christ is proper to him only, and yet he is not displeased at our having the same appellation also, and being named after Christ; so, although he be the only shepherd, yet he allows ministers to apply the same appellation to themselves. So also, Matt. xxiii. he forbids us to call any one upon earth by the name father, because one only is our father, even he who is in heaven. And yet, nevertheless, Paul calls himself the father of the Corinthians, when he says, 1 Cor
. iv.“ In Christ Jesus I have begotten you,” &c. Thus also God declares that he alone will be called father, and yet he permits men to be called by that name, and that they also should be fathers; which, however, they have not from themselves, but from Christ. So also we are called Christians; but on this account only ;-because we have nothing of ourselves, but receive all as freely given unto us for Christ's sake.
“ But the hireling (saith he) who is not the shepherd, and whose own the sheep are not, when he seeth the wolf coming, leaveth the sheep and ficeth, because he is an hireling.” This is indeed a fearful saying, that some even appear to preach and inculcate the Gospel purely, and to comfort and heal the sheep; and yet, at last, suffer them to be taken away and torn; then only looking to their own safety by flight, when there was the most need of present help. As long as no wolves appear, they discharge their duty sedulously and well ; but as soon as they see the wolves rushing in upon the sheep, they leave them at once. And if they have fed those sheep well, so that they have become fat, strong, and sound, they are then only the more delicious morsels to satisfy the belly of the wolf.
But what is the meaning of this part of the parable? The meaning of Christ is this.—In my kingdom, (which consists in nothing else, but in establishing the weak, in healing the sick, and in giving courage to the fearful,) the holy cross shall by no means be wanting. For when it shall be preached that Christ only is needful unto us, whose poor miserable sheep we are ; that he only is oar strength, our salvation, our defence, and our refuge ; that our own powers and our own works are of no avail whatever; and that we are to put no trust in them ; (whereby all our own works, and all the inventions and contrivances which the world vamps up for worshipping and gaining the favour of God, vanish like a cloud of dust before the wind ;) such preaching as this, the world cannot bear,—that it should be the nature of the Gospel to bring with it the cross as an inseparable companion. And therefore, whosoever shall honestly confess this from his heart before the whole world, such an one must of necessity expose his life to the sword.
If therefore these things are so, we have here a separation of the good shepherds from the bad, in the most open manner. He that is an hireling, only preaches the Gospel so long as he hears himself called a learned, good, and holy man. But afterwards, when he comes to be reviled and branded with the opprobrious appellation of an evil yillain and a heretic, or is made the subject of public ridicule, he then either recants or falls utterly prostrate, and leaves the miserable and pitiable sheep alone and without a shepherd; and now, they are in a worse state than they were before. And what avails it that the sheep were well fed; this is of no service to them now. Whereas, had they been true shepherds, they would rather have lost their lives than have left the sheep in the jaws of the wolf; being ready at any time to lay down their lives for the Gospel's sake. And hence, they are any thing but true German shepherds, the tendency of whose preaching is only the increase of their gain in this life. These are, without controversy, hirelings. They seek their own gain, under cover of the Word of God; and only maintain and hold fast their principles, so long as this province will bring them honour and renown. But when the wolf begins to make his appearance, they draw back their feet, basely deny the Gospel, or betake themselves to flight, and leave the flock of sheep destitute. They look about them for their pasture and for their shepherd, who should
defend them from the rapacious wolves, but the excellent shepherd no where makes his appearance; at the very juncture of time, when he ought to have stood forward as a defence, and to have administered strength to the sheep, he was gone!
This continually happens in our day. When these matters often come to that pass, that even violent hands are laid upon us by the rage of persecution, then preachers shut their mouths; and when the firmest stand ought to be made, then they betake themselves the most to flight; while the sheep are scattered in a miserable manner, and are carried and driven away in every direction. May God grant that some of them at least may defend the Gospel of Christ with a firmness of mind, and may be ready to shed their blood, if circumstances shall require it, in defence of the sheep.Thus has Christ pourtrayed hirelings !
He saith moreover, “ I am the good Shepherd, and I know my sheep, and are known of mine." These words have an extensive signification; and it would take up a great deal of time if we were to dwell upon them particularly. He is here speaking of that office which belongs peculiarly to him. There is, says he, a mutual knowledge between me and my sheep. How comes this to pass ? He shews how it is immediately afterwards. “ As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father.” And how knoweth he the Father? Not by human, but by a divine knowledge.
I have sometimes spoken upon this more largely upon former occasions. The sum of the matter is this Christ knows us as his sheep, and we on the other hand embrace him as our shepherd. We have already heard who the good shepherd is, and on the other hand, who the poor weak sheep are. He looks upon us as sheep which are ready to faint, are sick, and have broken limbs: that is, he is not at all offended that his sheep are thus diseased and sick, nor does he on that account despise or reject them; but rather, devotes himself to their service, and administers to them the healing hand. For although they be so diseased and unsound, that