Although by another saying of the Lord, it is rendered certain that hired, and even in a sinister sense "hireling," shepherds were known at the time in the country, the presumption that the flock which this shepherd tended was his own property is favoured both by the specific phraseology employed in the narrative, and the special circumstances of this particular case. The size of this flock, consisting of only a hundred sheep, points rather to the entire wealth of a comparatively poor man, than to the stock of a territorial magnate. The conduct of the shepherd, moreover, is precisely the reverse of that which is elsewhere ascribed to the "hireling whose own the sheep are not." The salient feature of the man's character, as it is represented in the parable, constitutes a specific proof of his ownership, -- "he careth for the sheep," and that too with a peculiar and self-sacrificing tenderness.
 In the nature of the case a great and incurable defect adheres to the method of employing a hired servant to keep a flock of sheep, without giving him a material interest in the prosperity of his charge. Such is the nature of the occupation, and such its sphere, that the servant is necessarily far and long removed from the master's inspection, and if suspicion should arise, proof of unfaithfulness could hardly be brought home to the accused. It is the interest of the owner to contrive some method of linking the profit of the shepherd to the prosperity of the flock. It was by attempting to accomplish this object by a defective plan, that Laban afforded to Jacob the opportunity of prosecuting his subtle policy. While conversing lately with some shepherds on the Scottish Cheviots, I learned that masters and servants in that district arrange the matter easily to their mutual profit and satisfaction. The wages of the shepherd are not paid in money; a certain number of the sheep, between forty and fifty according to circumstances, are his own property, and their produce constitutes his hire. Thus his own interest is an ever present motive pressing the man to do his best for the flock, and so to do his best for the master.
We assume, therefore, according to the terms of the narrative in their literal acceptation, that this is a man "having an hundred sheep," -- that the sheep are his own. He is feeding them on pasture land far from cultivated fields and human dwellings. Hills impervious to the plough, and patches of vegetation interspersed through rugged stony tracts, have in all countries and ages constituted the appropriate pasture for flocks of sheep. These are indicated here by one word, "the wilderness." The term is obviously used not in a strict but in a free popular sense; it means simply the region of pasturage, consisting generally of hills and moors, not suitable for being ploughed and sown.
A flock of a hundred sheep, although small, is yet sufficiently considerable to render it impossible for the shepherd to detect the absence of one by merely looking to them in the lump and from a distance; he must have minutely inspected them ere he discovered that one was amissing. Knowing them all individually, he knows the one that has strayed; he loves them all as his children, and grieves when one goes out of sight.
It was no mark of carelessness in the shepherd, as some have erroneously imagined, to leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness while he went to seek the one that was lost. The main body of the flock was left in its own proper place, where it is often left from morning till night by the most careful shepherd, even when he is not employed on the urgent duty of recovering wanderers.
The shepherd knows the nature of the country in which the sheep is straying; and also the nature of the sheep that is straying there. He knows the roughness of the mountain passes, and the silliness of the solitary truant sheep; he divines accordingly what track it will take. He conjectures beforehand, with a considerable measure of accuracy, the pit in which it will be found lying, or the thicket in which it will be seen struggling. He follows and finds the fugitive. Wearied by its journey, and perhaps wounded by its falls, the sheep, when discovered, cannot return to the fold even under the shepherd's guidance; he takes it on his shoulders and bears the burden home. He does not upbraid it for its straying; he does not complain of its weight. He is glad that he has gotten his own again, after it was "ready to perish." Happy while he bears it homeward, and happy when he has gotten it home, he invites all his neighbours to share in his joy.
Such is the simple and transparent outline of this ancient eastern pastoral scene; let us now endeavour to see in the symbol those lessons which it at once veils and reveals.
The parable is spoken expressly for the purpose of determining and manifesting the character and work of the Son in the salvation of sinful men; it declares the design, the method, and the terms of the incarnate Redeemer in his intercourse with the creatures whom he came to save. But in the fact of accomplishing this its immediate object, it strikes also a chord which runs through the centre -- constitutes, as it were, the medulla of the divine government in all places and all times. The parable spoken in order to afford a glance into the heart of Jesus, incidentally at the same time sketches the outline of God's universal rule; as in drawing the figure of a branch you necessarily exhibit, in its main features and proportions, an image of the tree. This wider subject, certainly and accurately outlined, although incidentally introduced, demands some notice at our hand.
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Ever since scientific observation discovered the true system of the material universe, and so, as it were, changed those twinkling sparks of light into central suns, the rulers of tributary worlds, philosophy apart from faith has been, more or less articulately, scattering the question, at once a fruit and a seed of unbelief, How could the Creator of so vast a universe bestow so much of his care on one small spot? Some have been disposed to say, and perhaps more have been disposed to think, with fear or joy according to their predilection, that modern discovery is gradually putting the Bible out of date. A feeling, if not a judgment, has in some quarters arisen, that in view of the vastness of creation, the Scriptures ascribe to this globe and its concerns a share of its Maker's interest disproportionately great.
This phase of unbelief is refuted both by the necessary attributes of God and by the written revelation of his will. What relation, capable of being appreciated or calculated, subsists between material bulk and moral character? The question between great and small is totally distinct from the question between good and evil. Number and extension cannot exercise or illustrate the moral character either of God or of man. We should ourselves despise the mischievous caprice which should give to the biggest man in the city the honours that are due to the best. Right and wrong are matters that move on other lines and at higher levels than great and small, before both human tribunals and divine.
There is, perhaps, as much reason for saying that this earth is too large, as for saying that it is too small, for being the scene of God's greatest work. The telescope has opened a long receding vista of wonders, where the observer is lost in the abyss of distance and magnitude; the microscope has opened another long receding vista of wonders, where the observer is lost in the abyss of nearness and minuteness equally beyond his reach. Between the great and the small, who shall determine and prescribe the centre-point equidistant from both extremes, which the Infinite ought to have chosen as a theatre for the display of His greatest glory?
In the divine government generally, as well as in revealed religion particularly, the aim is not to choose the widest stage, but on any stage that may be chosen to execute the Creator's purpose, and achieve the creature's good. A battle is fought, an enemy crushed, and a kingdom won on some remote and barren moor: no man suggests, by way of challenging the authenticity of the record, that a conflict waged between hosts so powerful, and involving interests so momentous, could not have taken place on an insignificant spot, while the continent contained many larger and more fertile plains: neither can the loss incurred by the sin of men, and the gain gotten through the redemption of Christ, be measured by the size of the world in which the events emerged. It is enough that here the first Adam fell and the second Adam triumphed; -- that here evil overcame good, and good in turn overcame evil. There was room on this earth for Eden and for Calvary; this globe supplies the fulcrum whereon all God's government leans. The Redeemer came not to the largest world, but to the lost world: "even so, Father."
"He took not on him the nature of angels." In aggregate numbers they may, for aught we know, be the ninety and nine, while we represent the one that strayed; but though all these shining stars were peopled worlds, and all their inhabitants angels who kept their first estate, he will leave them in their places in the blue heaven afar, like sheep in the wide moorland, and go forth in search of this one shooting star, to arrest and bring it back. It is his joy to restore it to law and light again. Rejoice with great joy, O inhabitants of the earth! the Saviour Almighty has passed other worlds and other beings, some of whom do not need, and some of whom do not get, salvation, -- has passed them and come to us. He has taken hold of the seed of Abraham, that we who partake of Abraham's sinful flesh may partake also of Abraham's saving faith. There is much in this mystery which we do not know, and in our present state could not comprehend; but we know the one thing needful regarding it, -- that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."
 "Should not that great and glorious Shepherd, whose millions of bright sheep fill the universe, leave these millions in order to seek the slightest, poorest, most infirm of those who need his care, and without that care would utterly perish; does not his boundless love require him to go after it?" Stier, after quoting this sentence in reference to the parable from Kurz, Bibel und Astronomie, remarks, "This is a thought quite permissible in itself, but as an exposition of what Eternal Wisdom has spoken, it is not valid." Here, however, the learned critic has incorrectly apprehended the state of the question. A secondary relation is as real in its own place as a primary. It is quite true that the parable, under the picture of the one sheep that strayed and the ninety-nine that remained on the pasture, points directly and immediately to two distinct classes of human kind; but it brings up as legitimately, although more remotely, the distinction, governed by the same principle, which has in God's universal sovereignty been made between the human race on the one hand, and angelic spirits on the other. One expositor may legitimately confine his view to the more immediate and narrower sphere; but another may as legitimately take a wider range, provided he make and mark the necessary distinctions as he proceeds; as one inquirer in physics may limit his speculation to the solid body of this globe, while another, under the same general designation, may, with perfect logical exactness, include also the atmosphere that surrounds it.
Having noticed cursorily that grand characteristic feature of God's universal government to which the principle of the parable is applicable, we proceed now to examine more particularly the recovery of lost men by the Lord our Redeemer, to which the lesson of the parable is, in point of fact, specifically applied.
1. The shepherd misses one when it has strayed from the flock. The Redeemer's knowledge is infinite; He looks not only over the multitude generally, but into each individual. When I stand on a hillock at the edge of a broad meadow, and look across the sward, it may be said in a general way that I look on all the grass of that field; but the sun in the sky looks on it after another fashion, -- shines on every down-spike that protrudes from every blade. It is thus that the Good Shepherd knows the flock. Knowing all, he misses any one that wanders. He missed a world when it fell, although his worlds lie scattered like grains of golden dust on the blue field of heaven, -- the open infinite. When the light of moral life went out in one of his worlds, he missed its wonted shining in the aggregate of glory that surrounds his throne. With equal perfectness of knowledge he misses one human being who has been formed by his hand, but fails to hang by faith upon his love. The Bible speaks of falling "into the hands of the living God," and calls it "a fearful thing" (Heb. x.31); but an equally fearful thing happened before it, -- we fell out of the bosom of the living God. He felt, so to speak, the want of our weight when we fell, and said, "Save from going down to the pit." But the omniscience of the Saviour does not stop when it passes through the multitude, and reaches the individual man; it penetrates the veils that effectually screen us from each other, and so knows the thoughts which congregate like clouds within a human heart, that he misses every one that is not subject to his will. When the mighty volume is coursing along its channel towards the ocean, he marks every drop that leaps aside in spray. It is a solemn thought, and to the reconciled a gladsome one, that, as the shepherd observed when one sheep left the fold, the Shepherd of Israel, who slumbers not nor sleeps, detects every wandering soul, and in that soul every wandering thought. The Physician's thorough knowledge of the ailment lies at the very foundation of the patient's hope.
2. The shepherd cared for the lost sheep; although he possessed ninety and nine, he was not content to let a unit go. A species of personal affection and the ordinary interest of property, combine to cause grief when the sheep is lost, and to contribute the motive for setting off in search of the wanderer.
In attempting to apply the lesson at this point, we very soon go beyond our depth. Our own weakness warns us not to attempt too much; but the condescending kindness of the Lord, in speaking these parables, encourages us to enter into the mystery of redeeming love on this side as far as our line can reach. In that inscrutable love which induced the Owner of man to become his saviour when he fell, there must be something corresponding to both of the ingredients which constituted the shepherd's grief. There was something corresponding -- with such correspondence as may exist between the divine and the human -- to the personal affection, and something to the loss of property. When we think of the Redeemer's plan and work as wholly apart from self-interest, and undertaken simply for the benefit of the fallen race, we form a conception of redemption true as far as it goes, but the conception is not complete. The object which we, from our view-point, strive to measure, has another and opposite side. For his own sake as well as for ours, the Redeemer undertook and accomplished his work. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame." When he wept over Jerusalem, mere pity for the lost was not the sole fountain of his tears. Those tears, like some great rivers of the globe, were supplied from two sources lying in opposite directions. As the possession of the ransomed when they are brought back affords the Redeemer joy, the want of the lost, while they are distant, must cause in his heart a corresponding and equivalent grief. It is true, that if we too strictly apply to the divine procedure the analogy of human affairs at this point we shall fatally dilute our conception of the generosity displayed in the Gospel; but on the other hand, if do not apply this analogy at all, we shall inevitably permit some of our sweetest consolation to slip from our grasp. To be merely pitied does not go so kindly or so powerfully about our hearts as to be loved; Christ's regard for fallen men is not merely the compassion of one who is loftily independent. When an infant is lost in a forest, and all the neighbours have, at the mother's call, gone out in search of the wanderer, it would be a miserably inadequate conception of that mother's emotion to think of it as pity for the sufferings of the child: her own suffering for want of her child is greater than the child's for want of his mother; and by the express testimony of Scripture, we learn that the Saviour's remembrance of his people is analogous to the mother's remembrance of her child. If you press the likeness too far, you destroy the essential character of redemption, by representing it as a self-pleasing on the part of the Redeemer; but if you take away the likeness altogether, you leave me sheltered, indeed, under an Almighty arm, but not permitted to lie on a loving breast. My joy in Christ's salvation is tenfold increased, when, after being permitted to think that he is mine, I am also permitted to think that I am his. If it did not please him to get me back, my pleasure would be small in being coldly allowed to return. No: the longing of Christ to get the wanderer into his bosom again, for the satisfaction of his own soul, is the sweetest ingredient in the cup of a returning penitent's joy.
 You may measure a square surface and find it to contain so many feet of superficial area: suppose you discover afterwards that it has depth as well as length and breadth; to take in also this new measurement does not diminish the old. If we discover that, for his own sake, the Redeemer accomplished his saving work, it was not on that account less for our sakes.
 "In the centre of all lies the profound thought, that in God and Christ love is one with self-interest, and self-interest one with love; no such contrariety existing between them as is found in the case of man." -- Stier, Words of the Lord.
3. The shepherd left the ninety and nine for the sake of the one that had wandered. I find no difficulty in the interpretation of the parable here. The doctrinal difficulty which some have met at this point, has been imported into the field by a mistake in regard to the material scene. The leaving of the ninety and nine in the wilderness, while the shepherd went out to seek the strayed sheep, implied no dereliction of the shepherd's duty, -- no injury to the body of the flock. In this transaction neither kindness nor unkindness was manifested towards those that remained on the pasture; -- it had no bearing upon them at all. Nor is it necessary, at this stage, to determine who are represented by the ninety and nine. Be they the unfallen spirits, or the righteous in the abstract, or those who, in ignorance of God's law, count themselves righteous, the parable is constructed for the purpose of teaching us that the mission of Christ has for its special object, not the good, but the evil. As the specific effort of the shepherd, which is recorded in this story, had respect not to the flock that remained on the pasture, but to the one sheep that had gone away, the specific effort of the Son of God, in his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, has respect, not to the worthy, but the unworthy.
Thus the Pharisees were entirely at fault in regard to the first principle of the Gospel. They assumed that, because the publicans and sinners had gone astray, Jesus, if he were the true Messiah, would not have any dealings with them; without either conceding or expressly denying their assumption of superior righteousness -- that being precisely the point on which he determined that then and there he would give no judgment -- he intimates that the strayed sheep is the peculiar object of his care, and that because it is the strayed sheep, and he is the Good Shepherd; -- he intimates, taking the Pharisees at their own word, that the sinners are the objects whom a Saviour should follow, and seek, and find, precisely because they are sinners. It concerns us more to know who are represented by the strayed sheep, than to know who are represented by the sheep that did not stray, for to the former class, and not to the latter, we most certainly belong.
4. How does the shepherd act when he overtakes the wanderer? He does not punish it -- he does not even upbraid it for straying; his anxiety and effort are concentrated on one point -- to get it home again. Would that guilty suspicious hearts could see through this glass the loving heart of Jesus, as he has himself presented it to their view! He takes no pleasure in the death of them that die. His ministry in general, and this lesson in particular, proclaim that Christ's errand into the world is to win the rebellious back by love. You may suppose the truant sheep to have dreaded punishment when it was overtaken by the injured shepherd; but his look and his act when he came must have immediately dispelled the helpless creature's fears. The Lord has held up this picture before us that in it we may behold his love, and that the sight of his love may at length discharge from our hearts their inborn obdurate suspiciousness.
5. The shepherd lays the sheep upon his shoulders. This feature of the picture affords no ground for the doctrine which has sometimes been founded on it, that the Saviour is burdened with the sinners whom he saves. His suffering lies in another direction, and is not in any form represented here. He weeps when the sinful remain distant and refuse to throw their weight on him; he never complains of having too much of this work in hand. The parable here points to his power and victory, not to his pain and weariness.
The representation that the shepherd bore the strayed sheep home upon his shoulder, instead of going before and calling on it to follow, is significant in respect both to this parable and its counterpart and complement, the Prodigal Son. In as far as the saving of the lost is portrayed in this similitude, the work is done by the Saviour alone. First and last the sinner does nothing but destroy himself: all the saving work is done for him, none of it by him. This is one side of salvation, and it is the only side that is represented here. It seems hard to conceive how any converted man can be troubled by doubt or difficulty concerning this doctrine. Every one whom Christ has sought and found, and borne to the fold, feels and confesses that, if the Shepherd had not come to the sheep, the sheep would not have come to the Shepherd. If any wanderer still hesitates on the question, Who brought him home? it is time that he should begin to entertain another question, Whether he has yet been brought home at all? The acknowledgment of this fundamental truth, that salvation is begun, carried on, and completed by the Saviour alone, does not, of course, come into collision with another fundamental truth, which expatiates on another sphere, and is represented in another parable, that except the sinful do themselves repent, and come to the Father, they shall perish in their sins.
6. Far from being oppressed by the burden of his strayed sheep, the shepherd rejoices when he feels its weight upon his shoulder. His joy begins not when the work is over, but when the work begins. While the lost one is on his shoulder, and because it is on his shoulder, the shepherd is glad. The doctrinal equivalent of this feature is one of the clearest of revealed truths, and yet it is one of the last that a human heart is willing to receive. The work of saving, far from being done with a grudge in order to keep a covenant, is a present delight to the Saviour. This lesson falls on human minds like a legend written by the finger on dewy glass, which disappears when the sun grows hot; but when it is graven on the heart as by the Spirit of the living God, it is unspeakably precious. When I habitually realize not only that Christ will keep his word in receiving sinners, but that he has greater delight in bearing my weight than I can ever have in casting it on him, I shall trust fully and trust always. There is great power in this truth, and great weakness in the want of it. Let even an experienced Christian analyze carefully the working of his own heart, not in the act of backsliding towards the world, but in its best efforts to follow the Lord, and he will discover among the lower folds of his experience a persistent suspicion that the great draft which a sinner makes on the Saviour's mercy will, though honoured, be honoured with a grudge because of its greatness. Look on the simple picture of his love which Jesus has in this parable presented -- look on the words, "He layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing," -- look till you grieve for your own distrust, and the distrust melt in that grief away.
7. The shepherd on reaching home not only himself rejoiced, but invited his neighbours to rejoice with him over his success. To this last intimation of the parable the Lord immediately adds an express exposition of its meaning, -- Ver.7, "I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance." In the parallel explanation appended to the next parable (ver.10), an additional feature is expressed, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;" both obviously refer to the same fact, and should be taken together as one announcement.
The kingdom of God recognises two successive homecomings in the history of every citizen. The exile discovered and borne back by the discriminating mercy of the Redeemer, comes home when through the regeneration he enters a state of grace; and he comes home under the leading of the same chief, when in the resurrection he enters a state of perfect glory. It is instructive and comforting to observe that, while both homecomings are joyful, it is of the first that the Lord expressly speaks when he intimates that over it himself and the hosts of heaven will rejoice. It is over the repentance of a sinner that a jubilee is held in heaven; they do not wait till the ransomed one shall appear in bodily presence near the great white throne. There is no need: the entrance into grace ensures the entrance into glory. The children will all get home. No slip can come between the cup of the Redeemer's glad anticipation when a sinner is renewed, and the lip of his complete satisfaction when he welcomes the ransomed at length into the mansions of the Father's house.
In this brief but lucid exposition of his own similitude which the Lord gave at the moment, and the evangelist has preserved for us, something is taught first regarding the companions, and second regarding the measure of his joy. Both present points of interest which require and will repay more particular attention.
(1.) In regard to the participation of the angels, in the Redeemer's joy over the salvation of the lost, the intimations bear that there is joy "in heaven," and "in the presence of the angels of God." It seems unaccountably to those who look carefully into the terms of the record, to be universally assumed from these expressions that the angels, in the exercise of their inherent faculties, are in some way cognisant of conversion as it proceeds in human souls upon the earth, and that they rejoice accordingly when another heart melts, and another rebel submits to God. Capital has even been made out of this passage by Romanists in support of prayers addressed to unseen created spirits. All this proceeds upon an exegesis, which is, I believe, demonstrably erroneous. In order to settle all questions that can arise here, nothing more is necessary than a simple straight-forward examination of the terms. The rejoicing takes place "in heaven," and "in presence of the angels" ([Greek: enopion ton angelon]). This is not the form of expression that would naturally be employed to intimate that the angels rejoiced. Expressly it is written, not that they rejoice, but that there is joy in their presence, -- before their faces. The question then comes up, Who rejoices there? In as far as the terms of the exposition go, the question is not expressly decided; but its decision can be easily and certainly gathered from the context. Both in the case of the lost sheep and in that of the lost money the comparison is introduced by the term "likewise" ([Greek: houto].) In this manner there is joy before the angels; in what manner? Obviously in the manner of the rejoicing which took place after the strayed sheep was brought home, and the piece of money found. He who sought and found the lost, rejoiced over his gain; but, not contented therewith, he told his neighbours about his happiness and its cause; he manifested his joy in their presence, and invited them to rejoice in sympathy with himself. It is after this manner that joy in heaven over a repenting sinner begins and spreads. We are not obliged, -- we are not permitted to guess who the rejoicers are, or how they came by the news that gladdens them. The shepherd himself, and himself alone, knows that the strayed sheep is safe in the fold again, for he has borne it back on his shoulder: his neighbours did not know the fact until he told them, and invited them to participate in his joy. It is expressly in this manner, and none other, that there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. The angels do not become aware of the fact by a species of subordinate omniscience. He who saved the sinner knows that the sinner is saved; rejoicing in the fact, he makes it known to his attendants, and invites them to share in his joy.
The gladness that thrills in the angels is a secondary thing, caught by sympathy from that which glows in the heart and beams in the countenance of Jesus. The Son of God the Saviour having won a sinner by the power of his love, and brought the wanderer back forgiven and renewed, rejoices on his throne over this fruit of his soul's travail. Ere the ransomed sinner has risen from his knees or wiped his tears away; -- ere he has had time to sing a hymn or sit down at the communion table on earth, the Lord in heaven, feeling life flowing from himself into that living soul, rejoices already in the fact, and calls upon his friends, whether the spirits of just men or angels unfallen, or both in concert, to participate in his joy. The Apocalyptic witness saw no sun in the new heaven; "the Lamb is the light thereof:" from that sun the light streams down on the sea of upturned faces that surround the throne, and the sympathetic gladness that sparkles in the members is a reflection from the gladness that first glows in the Head, as a separate sun glances on the crest of every wavelet, when the breeze is gentle and the sky is bright.
(2.) The intimation that there is greater joy in heaven over the return of a single wanderer than over ninety and nine who never strayed, presents indeed a difficulty; but here, as in many other similar cases, the difficulty lies more in the way of the scientific expositor, whose task is to express the meaning in the form of logical definitions than in the way of the simple reader of the Bible, who desires to sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn the one thing needful from his lips. In this, as in many other portions of Scripture, a hungry labourer may live upon the bread, while it may baffle a philosopher to analyze its constituents, and expound its nutritive qualities. A devout reader may get the meaning of the parable in power upon his heart, while the logical interpreter expends much profitless labour in the dissection of a dead letter.
Who are the just persons who need no repentance? The suggestion that they are the members of the Old Testament Church, who really possessed the righteousness of the Law, although they had not attained the righteousness of the Gospel, creates a greater difficulty than that which it proposes to remove. There is not any such essential difference between the righteousness of Abraham, who looked unto Jesus coming, and the righteousness of Paul, who looked unto Jesus come.
 Made or adopted by Dr. Trench.
The true solution I apprehend to be that in the mind of the Lord this declaration had a double reference. It expressed an absolute and universal truth, known to himself and to his enlightened disciples; and also, at the same time, took the Pharisees on their own terms, condemning them out of their own mouth. The parable was spoken expressly to the Pharisees, and spoken specifically in answer to their objection, "This man receiveth sinners." They meant to intimate that it became the Messiah to shun the evil and associate only with the good. From their own view-point he exposes their mistake; even granting their assumption that themselves were the righteous, their sentence was erroneous. According to the principles of human nature, and the ordinary practice of men, they might have perceived that the chief care of the shepherd must be bestowed on the sheep that has gone astray, and his greatest joy be experienced when it has been discovered and restored. The Saviour's delight over a publican's return to piety should be more vivid than his joy over a Pharisee, who, by the supposition, has been pious all his days.
Had the Lord then and there intimated to the Pharisees that they were deceiving themselves in regard to justifying righteousness, -- that they needed repentance as much as the publicans, his word would have been true, but that truth, he perceived, was not suitable in the circumstances. It pleased him at this time not to fling a sharp reproof in their faces, but rather to drop a living seed gently into their ears, that it might find its way in secret to some broken place in their hearts. A certain portion of the truth he communicated to them; more they would not have received. The whole truth on this subject, if it had been bluntly declared, would have driven them away in disgust.
Elsewhere the Master expresses his mind very clearly, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven;" but it pleased him on this occasion to teach another lesson, namely, that even although they were as righteous as they deemed themselves to be, the recovery of a lost one would afford the Redeemer a greater joy than the retention of the virtuous. Beyond expression precious is the doctrine unequivocally taught here that so far from receiving prodigals with a grudge, the Saviour experiences a peculiar delight when a sinner listens to his voice and accepts pardon at his hand. This doctrine we learn is divine; we know it is also human: almost every family can supply an example of the familiar principle that the mother loves most fondly the child who has cost her most in suffering and care.