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a repentant sinner, than over those who need no repentance?

1. First, then, who are to be understood by the “ ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance ?

In strictness of speech, no such persons are to be found. The Scripture expressly declares, that “all have sinned and come short “ of the glory of God :” and every one has reason to say, with Job, “ If I justify myself, 66 mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me

perverse b.” But the expression may be considered either as ironically glancing at the arrogance

of the Pharisees; or, as denoting persons who are really such proficients in holiness and virtue, and so blameless in their conduct, as not to stand in need of those extraordinary calls to penitence and conversion which are rendered necessary by long-continued habits of departure from God.

Taken in the former sense, the expressions very aptly describe, not what the Pharisees really were, but what they affected to be ; just persons, who needed no repentance:"persons, who “ thanked God that they were not as other men are c;" ready on every occasion “ to justify themselves,” as if no charge b Job ix. 20.

c Luke xviii. 14.

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could be brought against them; professing extraordinary strictness and sanctity of character, but instead of bringing forth fruits meet for repentance,thinking it sufficient to

say within themselves, that they had Abraham to their father,” and were consequently numbered among the chosen people of God.

But there seems to be no substantial reason, why the words should not be interpreted in their more obvious signification, to denote persons sincerely endeavouring to attain to that perfection which Christianity requires:persons,brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,and, by God's grace, continuing steadfast in his faith and fear. Of such persons, though it cannot be affirmed that they are exempt from sin, or from the danger of falling away, yet it may not untruly be said, that they are not “servants of sin ;” that they do not wilfully and perversely transgress the Divine laws; and therefore that they stand in a very different predicament from such as follow their own perverse imaginations, and are regardless of their Christian calling.

There appears indeed to be no foundation for the notion which some have entertained,

d Matth. ii. 9.

that every man, however regular and unoffending in his ordinary course of conduct, must, at some period of his life, undergo certain violent emotions and even agonizing convictions of sin, filling him with dread and horror of his condition, before he can be converted and live. For, if it be true that such conversion as this is necessary in every case, where would be the distinction between the lost sheep and those which still remained in the fold ? It is true, indeed, that to a great extent, all we like sheep have gone astray, 6 and have turned every one to his own “ way®;" so that repentance is continually necessary to all. But those whom our Lord here characterizes as lost sheep, appear to be such as have entirely abandoned the way of truth and righteousness, and who require some extraordinary means of grace to reclaim them from their evil ways. To this latter description of persons the term conversion most properly applies; and not to those whose habitual course of life may warrant us in saying that they “ walk worthy of the vo“ cation wherewith they are called'; giving “ all diligence to make their calling and elec66 tion sure 8.”

But, secondly, let us consider the next e Isaiah liji. 6. f Ephes. iv. 1. 8 2 Peter i. 10.

question arising out of the parable ;–What is meant by the owner of the sheep " going after that which is lost, until he find it?

Some conceive that the number of persons to be saved through Christ is limited to certain favoured individuals, preordained to eternal life by an absolute decree of God. According to this theory, all mankind are supposed to be irretrievably lost except these chosen few ; and with regard to these, it is presumed that they shall certainly at some time or other be called and converted by God's special grace, which will overcome all difficulties by its sovereign and irresistible power. In confirmation of which opinion, the expression in the parable, leaving the

ninety and nine in the wilderness, and going

after that which is lost, until he find it,is considered to be a significant intimation.

There are circumstances, however, in the parable itself, which strongly militate against any such interpretation. The ninety and nine evidently represent those who have not wandered from the fold, and who are, therefore, not in a lost condition, but hear the voice of the great Shepherd and are obedient to his word. To these, therefore, the ordinary means provided for their safety and support are supposed to be sufficient. But

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it is not so with those who have departed from their heavenly Guide, and are estranged from his counsel and his protection. These are exposed to innumerable dangers from their own heedless and perverse inclinations, , and from enemies which beset them on every side. Their destruction indeed is inevitable, unless the goodness of God lead them to repentance by some extraordinary act of mercy. And since it is not the will of our heavenly Father “ that any should perish, but that all “ should come to repentance "," this merciful disposition is described by his “going after that which is lost until he find it;" and, in the parable of the lost piece of money, by

seeking diligently till it is found.These expressions strongly characterize the infinite compassion of God towards sinners, and his earnest desire to recover them from their evil ways. But to infer that even these methods of God's grace will in any case be necessarily and irresistibly effectual, is to suppose man to have no will or power of his own; and to be incapable either of a concurrent or an opponent operation in this great concern. It is also holding out an expectation even to the most inveterate offenders, that the Spirit of God will still continue to strive with

h 2 Peter ji. 9.

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