THE LORD’S SAVING LOVE.
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (LUKE XV. 3-7.)
THE DIVINE LOVE.
The Divine Love is a love of giving. The Lord, Jesus Christ, came on earth to save those who were lost in evil and sin. He came, not in any scheme to avoid the consequences of Divine wrath, for the Divine character is incapable of wrath, or of any other unloving and unlovable quality. And God is one, in essence and in person. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the same person as Jesus Christ of the New Testament.
But, in the two different dispensations, the Israelitish and the Christian, two different aspects of the one Divine person are made prominent, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different phases of the one Divine character, a trinity of principles, in one person. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, thy God, is one Lord.” And Jesus said, , “I and the, Father are one.” The parable is a beautiful illustration of the character, or quality, of the Lord’s love.
SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
When the Pharisees and scribes said of Jesus, “This man receiveth sinners,” Jesus substantially replied, in the parable, “Yes, I do; just as you would, if any of your property should be lost. These are My sheep; and I come to seek and save that which was lost.” “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The self-righteous Pharisees and scribes despised and hated the sinners, and the publicans, or gatherers of the Roman tax, some of whom were renegade Jews, who, for money, served the Roman conquerors, against their own Jewish nation.
To the self-exalting Pharisee, righteousness seemed to require a man to stand apart from all sinners and outcasts, and to have no association with such persons. But, to the Lord, righteousness was in having intimate association with sinners, in order to save them, through repentance.
But the selfish Pharisees and scribes, inflated with a sense of their own importance, could not comprehend the Lord’s idea of righteousness. And, to them, the fact that Jesus associated with sinners was proof that He was not the true Messiah. For they expected the Messiah to come to them, to raise them into still greater power and importance, and thus to separate them, even more fully, from all sinners. And so they inferred that this man, who made so much of common sinners, and did not exalt the Pharisees and scribes, could not be the true Messiah, and must be an impostor.
Thus, they were in total error, as to the whole character of Jesus Christ. And, in fact, even the Old Testament would have taught them these truths, if they had been in mental conditions to receive such truths. ” Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
The “man” who has the hundred sheep, represents the Lord, who is the Divine Shepherd, the owner of all the human race, and of all good and true qualities in all human beings. In the Old Testament, Jehovah is called the Shepherd. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” And, in the New Testament, we find Jesus claiming for Himself, the Divine title of Shepherd. “I am the good Shepherd. I and the Father are one.”
And, in both the Old and New Testaments, men are called the Lord’s sheep. “For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” And, in the New Testament, “My sheep hear My. voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give unto them eternal life.” Abstractly, sheep represent charity, or love to the neighbor. In a general sense, the sheep of our minds are all our good principles of affection.
One hundred, as a round number, and a general number, represents all. One hundred sheep are all the regenerate affections of the human mind, all our good qualities. So, one hundred is often used as a standard, in numbering, or weighing, or in comparison. We say, there is not more than one man in a hundred, who does so and so.
LOSING ONE SHEEP.
To lose one sheep out of one hundred, is, mentally, to lose one of our good qualities, or virtues. This is the case, when any good quality in us suffers a decline, loses its goodness, and loses its vitality and activity. We lose it from our mind and character. Its work, or use, is lost to us. For, we lose any good quality as we relapse into the evil which is opposite to it.
The one sheep, the good quality which is lost from the erring- mind, is, especially, the principle of innocence. Innocence is not merely a negative state, of freedom from corruption, as is the outward innocence of a little child, which is in the innocence of ignorance. Spiritual innocence is the innocence of wisdom. Inward innocence consists in looking to the Lord, and in living in the love and practice of the Lord’s principles, in the acknowledgment that man, of himself is neither good nor true. Innocence is that quality of the will, in which it is open to the Lord, and receptive of life from Him.
This innocence is the central principle in all good qualities. It is utterly opposed to all forms of self-love and of self-intelligence. This innocence was lost in the fall of man. For the fall was a relapse into lower forms and phases of mental life ; it was, especially, a failure to look to the Lord, and a desire, in man, to lead himself, rather than to be led by the Lord. And, since the fall, the effort of the Lord has always been to restore to man his lost innocence; to lead him back to a child-like state of trust in the Lord, looking to the Lord, and not to self. If a man, thinking of his good qualities, regards these as his own, and separates them from connection with the Lord, these virtues lose their heavenly quality. For they ‘draw all their life from the Lord, momentarily, and while they are acknowledged and received as His gifts to men. Virtues claimed as our own, lose their quality of innocence.
This innocence is, especially, the sheep that was lost; and without which, the ninety-nine sheep, all the other virtues, were left in the wilderness, the condition in which there was little life. Without innocence, without the loving acknowledgment of the Lord, every other virtue is left in a mental and spiritual wilderness, without the nearer presence of the Divine Shepherd; and hence subject to many dangers. Without innocence, every supposed virtue is tainted with self-merit. But the Lord seeks to restore to man’s mental fold, this lost sheep of innocence; to lead man back to the acknowledgment of his Lord, and thus to openness to heavenly life.
SEEKING THE LOST.
The Lord, as a Shepherd, is ever watching His sheep, noting the mental states of every wandering soul, and every wandering feeling and thought in every soul. And He goes forth, in His holy Word, and in the ministrations of His holy angels, to seek and save that which was lost.
And, in illustrating this principle of Divine help, the sheep is the best beast to make the story plain; for, when lost, separated from the flock, the Oriental sheep, used to the shepherd’s daily care, does not wander home, like the dog, or horse; but often becomes alarmed, and flies from impending dangers, exhausting his strength, until he falls down and dies.
Without the principle of innocence, the most gifted mind is left in a spiritual wilderness, with his affections and thoughts obscured and bewildered, feeling an inward loss which nothing can restore, except a return to an acknowledgement of the Lord, and a life in the Lord. Repentance and amendment of life bring the mind back into conjunction with the Lord.
When the Lord, as the Divine Shepherd, sees that we have lost one of our mental sheep, especially the principle of inward Innocence, (the love and mental habit of looking to the Lord,) He goes forth into our minds seeking to save that which was lost. He sends some clear and vigorous truth to our rational attention to recall to our minds the great fact that, without Him, “we can do nothing.” In every way, and through every rocky path, and every dense thicket, He seeks our lost sheep, which is, in fact, His sheep. And, if we are willing and obedient, He can restore our spiritual sheep, our state of innocence. And, through all our life, our Lord seeks to save our lost sheep. He never ceases the search, “until He find it,” if we are willing. And we all need this Divine assistance, for “All we, like sheep, have gone astray: we have turned everyone to his own way.”
“And when he hath found it, he layeth it upon his shoulders, rejoicing.” The shoulders, by which we exert our power, or sustain and support what we carry, represent our power: our energy. So, when we would urge a man to exert his powers, we say, “Put your shoulder to the wheel, and make it move.” Thus, as relating to the Lord, to lay the sheep on the shoulders, indicates that the Lord exerts all His Divine power to restore fallen men to connection with Him, as the source of their life.
And, as it relates to our side of the work, it calls us to put forth our whole energy to restore our lost innocence by breaking away from self-dependence, and looking to the Lord, as the source of all life; and thus re-establishing our orderly connection with the inflowing life of heaven, in which the lost sheep of innocence will be restored to our mental flock.
And when we feel, again, the return of our lost innocence, in our full acknowledgment of our Lord, we are, with our whole power, to urge every quality of our mind and life to come into full connection with the heavenly quality of spiritual innocence; to acknowledge their dependence upon the Lord. We are to carry out this restored principle, with all the energy of our will, We are to put it upon our mental shoulders, and carry it to our mental home, rejoicing in having found that which was lost.
The present parable especially exhibits the Lord’s agency in saving men. The other side of the work, the man’s part, is more especially brought out in the third parable in the chapter, that of “The Prodigal Son,” who arises, and goes to his father.
Everyone rejoices, in finding what he had lost; and he rejoices in proportion to the greatness of his former loss, and of his sorrow in his loss. Anyone, who has made any progress in regenerate life, and has felt the joy of uniting with the Lord, in heavenly affections and uses, and who has, at any time, become conscious that he has been relapsing into worldliness, and losing the high quality of spiritual life, feels a sense of terrible loss. In his sorrow, he feels alarmed at his condition. He cries “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . . . . Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free spirit.”
And, as he returns to an orderly life, looking to the Lord, he feels the inflowing love of the Lord; and he rejoices in his restoration to spiritual life. The joy of heaven is communicated to his open mind, as he is led back into the state of the innocence of wisdom, O Lord, “Let Thy judgments help me : I have gone astray, like a lost sheep: seek Thy servant; for I do not forget Thy commandments.” And then the Lord makes the truth clearer to the repenting mind, as He says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The Jews, as a nation, were broken up by the want of inward innocence; and they have been, ever since, wanderers upon the face of the earth, without a nationality or a home.
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS.
“And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.” The friends and neighbors of our spiritual qualities are our good natural qualities, which are also called in to rejoice with us; to feel, and respond to, the joy that is communicated to our spiritual minds, from the heavens, and from our spiritual minds to our natural minds.
REJOICING OVER REPENTANT SINNERS.
“I say unto you that, likewise, joy shall be in heaven, over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.” This last verse has been a stumbling-block to the interpreters. It seems to offer a premium for sinning and repenting, rather than for an entire life of freedom from sin. But, the trouble has been in a misunderstanding of the force and meaning of the verse. The text does not say that the Lord loves the repentant sinner more than He loves the righteous man, nor that He does any more for the sinner: it merely says there is more rejoicing over the sinner. And it does not say that such rejoicing is done by the Lord, but by men.
And it is clear why there is a sense in which this is so. If you have a family of children, all of whom are healthy and vigorous, except one feeble one, your care is demanded for this feeble child, more than for the others; and his afflictions draw out your sympathy and your affections, more than the others, who do not seem to need so much sympathy. And, if some remedy should quickly restore the health of your feeble child, there is a sense in which you would rejoice more over his restored health than over that of the other children, whose health had not been in danger, and for whom you had never been anxious.
And, spiritually speaking, our loss of innocence gives us great solicitude. And when this lost sheep is found, and restored to the fold, we rejoice over it more than over the other virtues; because, in fact, this principle of spiritual innocence gives tone and character to all the other good qualities. Without it, they are left in the wilderness. And, in one sense, the wilderness is a state of temptation, in which our good principles are not in full vigor of life. Thus, rejoicing ,in the restoration of our innocence is, practically, a rejoicing in the restoration of the inward quality of all our virtues.
NEED NO REPENTANCE.
Thus the whole mind of man rejoices in the return of the lost sheep of innocence, more than in the virtues which appeared to “need no repentance.” These” need no repentance,” now, because they have already gone through their repentance, in times past. For all need repentance, at some time, And the merely external righteousness of the Pharisee does not take a man to heaven, at all ; and so there would not be any rejoicing in heaven, over such repentance.
For the rejoicing mentioned in the last verse of the parable is said to be “in heaven,” i. e., among men of heavenly character. We cannot ascribe varieties of feeling to our Lord; He, being infinite, is above all circumstances and accidents. And heaven is not merely a place, full of men ; it is a condition. And it is in men. ” The kingdom of God is within you.” The joy of heaven is, then, interior joy, the joy of our spiritual and regenerate affections, which rejoice in the restoration of a state of innocence, more than in all other qualities, when these are, separated from spiritual innocence, which is the inward foundation of all heavenly qualities.
In the practical providence of the Lord, some men reach higher states of regenerate life by being permitted to fall into sin, and by seeing their own evils, and acquiring an abhorrence of them, than the same men could attain in an even life, without appearance of sin : because, in the even life, there would be danger of self-righteousness, and also of ignorance of their real tendencies. Some minds require actual personal experience, to give them an abhorrence of sin. And such men, when they repent and reform, may be regenerated to a high degree.
‘The Lord permits each man to meet just such things as are necessary to his regeneration. The chief question is not what we come from, or come through, but what we finally come into. But all need repentance, reformation and regeneration. And it is best always, to shun every evil, during all our life ; and to do every good that we can, in the name of the Lord, acknowledging our dependence upon Him ; and yet doing our part, by keeping His commandments,
THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
The early Christian Church, which was in a more childlike state than the First Christian Church of later times, loved to dwell, with great delight, upon the image of the Lord, as the good Shepherd, bringing home the lost sheep. You find this image on many of the early Christian relics, gems, seals, pieces of glass, etc., and on bas-reliefs on the sarcophagi, or stone coffins, and in paintings in the catacombs, or subterranean burial-vaults of the early Christians.
And it is well for men of to-day, to keep in mind the boundless and tender love of the Lord. For, as we rise to an appreciation of the quality of the Divine Love, we become more fully able to prepare our hearts to receive, and to live in, such a quality of love. Our Lord is always operating; to draw us out of evil, and into goodness. Our sins are not laid up against us, in a grand debtor and creditor account, in heaven. But sin is like ill-health; we must live ourselves out of it, according to the laws of life. And he who lives himself out of past sins, and hates his own evils, thereby frees himself from their present influence; and the Lord leads him above them. “‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . . . . He restoreth my soul.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887