« VorigeDoorgaan »
addressed in language, similies and figures, which had a reference to what they so well understood, that so their ideas might naturally be led on to the comprehension of what they did not know.
This was our Lord's manner of teaching upon all occasions. In the passage before us, he styles himself the good shepherd. “I am the good shepherd.” It presents an amiable picture of our blessed Lord, and of the religion he came into the world to teach ; to behold him upon this and other occasions, recommending himself and his doctrine by terms savouring of humility, love, peace. And surely nothing more powerfully bespeaks the divine authority of both, than their being characterised eminently by qualities so little calculated to ensure a popular reception among mankind; and their making their way in opposition to deep-rooted prejudice, the selfish passions of our nature, fire and sword; so as to be at length believed on in the world, and received as coming from God.
When our Lord made his humble entry into the world at Bethlehem, there was nothing of a worldly nature to announce it, nothing showy, noisy, or magnificent. Born in a manger, at night, without observation, (save the “ rude wonder” of shepherds,) the heavenly host proclaimed before him, nothing more, “ than glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” Words of the highest and most divine import, but unmeaning, and per. haps homely in sound to the ears of men.
His life and doctrine were of the same unobtrusive, peaceful description. He uttered not his voice in the streets; He inculcated upon his disciples the meek, retired, lowly graces, which characterised himself. « Blessed are the poor in spirit ;” “ blessed are the peacemakers;" was the language with which he ushered his doctrine into the world. And when he was retiring from the world, peace was the legacy he bequeathed to his disciples. Nay, even when he had overcome death, and vanquished the insolent malice of his enemies, he assumes no more state or consequence than he did before his triumph—"peace be unto you," was the gracious recognition he gave his disciples after his resurrection.
The above remarks, serve to show that the true spirit of Christianity is lowly and peaceable : “ learn of me,” said its divine author, “ for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls :" and that it is consequently opposed to the high and lofty notions of mankind, and to that wisdom of the world, which the apostle tells us is foolishness with
God. “ For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called : but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty : and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. That no flesh should glory in his presence."
In exact accordance with the above character of his doctrine, under the title of the good shepherd, we have a lovely picture of the grace and condescension of our incarnate Redeemer. “I am the good shepherd : the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep.” Is it possible for words to represent in a livelier, more affecting, more touching point of view, that lowliness of heart, that devotedness to the happiness of man, which marked his character, than the figure before us conveys ? Is it possible that any other argument can affect us, any other motive prevail with us to embrace the Lord Jesus in all his offices, of friend, intercessor, prophet, priest, and king, if this, here set forth, affect us not, and produce not its full impression upon our hearts and lives? Surely not. And
our Lord himself thought so, when he said, “ greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” And if a mortal like ourselves can give no higher proof, no greater demonstration of his attachment, than that of substituting his life for his friend, the argument receives an infinite weight, and comes home with overwhelming force and conviction to our hearts, when we bear in mind, that under the character of the good shepherd is shadowed forth, the eternal Son of God. St. Paul argues the matter in the same way, by an appeal to our feelings as men, in the fifth chapter to the Romans : " and hope,” saith he, “ maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us :” that is, we have every thing to hope from the love of such a Redeemer : “ for,” he adds, “ when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely (appealing to human friendships) for a righteous man,” a merely just upright man, “will one die: yet, peradventure, for a good man,” a generous person, a kind-hearted benefactor, “ some would even dare to die;" an expression savouring of doubt and hesitation, even in a case which should seem to demand as a debt so strong a proof of gratitude and friend
ship. « But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, (and consequently not friends, but enemies,) Christ died for us.”
Behold then the love of our good shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep ; sheep, moreover, to use St. Peter's expression, “ who were going astray,” or as our Liturgy more strongly expresses it, “ lost sheep,” unable to return to the fold by any strength or will of our own: but by the grace and sacrifice of that shepherd who came to seek and to save that which was lost, we alone return, or, (as the words are well rendered,) " are returned, or brought back to the shepherd and bishop of our souls.”
The sacrifice, moreover, was voluntary. True it is that the Jews, with wicked malice, crucified and slew him. It was their voluntary and deliberate act. And to them belongs the guilt of that act. On them, as they dreadfully imprecated, rests his blood. The deed is solely theirs. But let it not hence be inferred, that the Jews crucified and slew the Son of God in a way that destroyed the free will, and with his free will, that unparalleled proof of his love for the sheep in giving, freely giving his life a ransom for sinners. No, He freely came and devoted himself