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BY CHARLES F. DEEMS, D.D., LL.D.
"AND HE SPAKE THIS PARABLE UNTO THEM, SAYING, WHAT MAN OF YOU HAVING AN HUNDRED SHEEP, IF HE LOSE ONE OF THEM, DOTH NOT LEAVE THE NINETY AND NINE IN THE WILDERNESS, AND GO AFTER THAT WHICH IS LOST, UNTIL HE FIND IT? AND WHEN HE HATH FOUND IT, HE LAYETH IT ON HIS SHOULDERS, REJOICING. AND WHEN HE COMETH HOME, HE CALLETH TOGETHER HIS FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, SAYING UNTO THEM, REJOICE WITH ME ; FOR I HAVE FOUND MY SHEEP WHICH WAS LOST.
" 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 REPENT ANCE.
"EITHER WHAT WOMAN HAVING TEN PIECES OF SILVER, IF SHE LOSE ONE PIECE, DOTH NOT LIGHT A CANDLE, AND SWEEP THE HOUSE, AND SEEK DILIGENTLY TILL SHE FIND IT? AND WHEN SHE HATH FOUND IT, SHE CALLETH HER FRIENDS AND HER NEIGHBORS TOGETHER, SAYING, REJOICE WITH ME ; FOR I HAVE FOUND THE PIECE WHICH I
"LIKEWISE, I SAY UNTO YOU, THERE IS JOY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH." — LUKE, XV. 3-IO.
My beloved brethren, the great object of all preaching is to bring us to God and keep us to God.
In all the teaching of Jesus we perceive that He never lost sight of that. His manners were simple: "The common people heard Him gladly." His manners were winning: "All the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him for to hear Him" His style was attractive. He taught them in parables. We never grow so old as not to be fond of pictures and of stories. Every parable of Jesus could be expanded into a three-volume novel. Every picture painted by our Lord is most graphic in its drawing and most fresh and natural in its coloring. He did not intend His religion to be repulsive and His people to be stupid.
Nothing is so intolerable as stupid preaching, because we feel that there must be some hypocrisy in it, that no matter how rude in his education any man may be, when he comes to talk of the things which connect with the soul and eternity it ought to arouse his powers and arrest the attention of the hearers. That is the reason why the teaching of Jesus is so engaging. His whole nature was poured out in it. He had come to seek and to save that which was lost, and was intent on the success of His undertaking.
He knew what was in man. He knew that man cannot love God until he believes that God loves him. In that the Son of God came to
seek and to save that which was lost, Christ shows the love of God, and He also shows that love by a representation of the joy which God has when a lost soul is saved. Sometimes a man has a sudden aspiration after holiness, which faints away almost immediately, the man
then having a profound discouragement, and saying, "If I loved Him perhaps He would love me." Have you never felt that ? And because you could not feel a high degree of enthusiastic attachment to Jesus and love for God in Jesus, you have abandoned all attempts at being heartily religious.
Let me tell you that you begin in the wrong way. You are striving to bring yourself into an emotional state which has either no basis 01 no sufficient basis in the convictions of your intellect. If you are endeavoring to love God by the mere force of your will, endeavoring to drive your heart into the position you think it ought to maintain toward God, this is no basis of love at all. Or if you undertake to erect a love for God on some foundation of opinions as to His general character or particular acts, either in creation or in providence, you have no sufficient basis. You must believe that He loves you.
That is absolutely indispensable. You are to love Him forever. You cannot keep your heart warm by the distant fires of His divine glory. You must feel that you are building the super-
structure of your hopes for all immortality on something that will endure forever, upon some
Rock of Ages. It must be upon something which does not depend upon you and upon your frail nature, which is hke shifting sands, but upon something in God, which is eternally enduring. You never will, you never can love Him until you fully believe that He loves you ; YOU, not some one else ; you, not some elect person, some good, righteous, lovely person, but you, the reprobate ; not when you are in penitence and f3;'.h. and hope and love, but when you are in hardness of heart, in rebellion, in infidelity, 'v. despair, in all hatefulness of heart and life, lo'^t, lost to all goodness, and all desire
Now I beg that you will recollect that this does not uidicate any indifference to distinctions on the pr.rt of God, but it does show an original, inherent, essential lovingnesson the part of God, and accords with St. John's most fundamental staterr.eut, GOD IS LOVE. If you choose to study the teachings of Jesus critically, you will perceive that He always keeps the moral differences of \r.':n in view whenever He presents the love of God to man. It was so in the text of last Sunday : " The Son of Man is come to seek and to save" shows the love of God ; "that which was lost" shows the clearness of His moral distinction. He does love the unworthy, but not blindly. He knows better than you and I do how utterly undeserving we are of love, if our moral characters be considered ; and knowing all this. He loves us.
That is the redeeming fact. The thorough conviction of that proposition, with any reasonable conception of its meaning, must produce in us a real love for God. It is the basis of the Christian religion, it is the reason of the Chris-
tian experience. "We love Him because He first loved us."
You will see this same fundamental principle of religion set forth in the two parables in this morning's text, as well as in that of the prodigal son, of none of which we propose an exposition at this time, but in all of which reigns this idea that God loves what He knows does not love Him, that He loves the erring, the straying, the bad, the lost, and has joy when He saves them.
Let us come still more closely, if possible, to this idea. Let us look at the figures in which it is embodied. A woman has a piece of money. A man has a sheep. Another man has a son. Here is ownership, in some sense. We notice also that the woman had nine other pieces of money, the shepherd ninety-nine other sheep, the father at least one other son. The lost was
not all that belonged to the owners. But some were lost and others were not. One piece of
silver was lost, nine were not. One sheep was lost, ninety and nine were not. One son was lost, the other was not. Here is a distinction. It was a distinction which the owners recognized, a distinction which brings out the reg/rd in which they severally held that which was lost.
Now, the first thing to notice, it seems to me, is that something was really "lost." We have used that fearful word — oh ! it is a most fearful word ! — so often that I fear the edge has been taken off its exceedingly strict and sharp meaning. We regard men as in peril and likely to be lost, and suppose that some will be lost, but what that losing is seems quite a vague and indefinite idea to us.
Jesus says that we were "lost." To that dread word in our own language we give at least eight meanings, each having some painful element. Let us review them and then apply them.
1. Whenever one has wandered out of his way through bewilderment or perplexity, he is lost ; as a traveller or a mariner, one lost in forest or desert, the other wandering over the seas, not
able, by reason of loss of instruments or the condition of the weather, to ascertain his bearings.
2. Another use of the word denotes alienation. A man's wife or child may live in his house and eat at his table and yet become so utterly weaned from him that he may be said to have lost his child or his wife. Or, a person may have become alienated from all right purposes, and is said to be lost to virtue, lost to honor.
3. We call that lost which has physically been so changed that it is ruined for any purposes for which it is intended. Thus a ship that has been wrecked is a lost ship. Bank-bills thrown in the fire are thus lost. It does not mean annihilation. It means simply a change of form which deprives the lost thing of its original value. We know that not a particle of matter is annihilated. The coal is reduced to ashes. It is no longer capable of combustion, and therefore all its uses as coal have ceased. It is not annihilated, but it is lost.
4. When anything has been once in the pos-
session and the owner is deprived of it, even if by his own act, it is said to be lost, as a lost limb, lost character, lost reputation.
5. The word is used when what was owned has been parted with unintentionally or unwillingly, as the money which the woman in the parable lost, or the sheep which the shepherd lost.
6. When anything has been wastefully squandered, so that the good which might have been had from it is not, it is said to be lost, as a lost opportunity or a lost day.
7. When there has been an effort to gain
something, or to win souiething, as the stakes in a bet or victory in a battle, or reciprocity in love, when the eff^ort has failed, the bet, the battle, and the bride are said to be lost.
8. There is one other meaning, stated by the lexicographers and familiar to us all. When anything has passed to such a distance that it has ceased to be visible, it is said to be lost. The ship has not gone down at sea, but she has passed into a fog and is lost. So a man may be lost in a crowd. The vvord here implies the effect uf>on another person, not upon himself. He has no sense of lostness. It is the friend who is looking for him that feels the perplexity.
Now, in some or in all of these senses must the word be used in the high connections of thoughts in which Jesus employed it. You will observ^e that three of these meanings have direct bearing on that which is lost, and five cm the loser. We shall return to that thought. Is there a single signification of the word which is not applicable to the relation which sin has made between God and the soul of man ?
I. The bewilderment of senses implied in the word, the perplexity in which one goes astray, is seen, it seems to me, very painfully in the great diversity of the answers we give one another when we begin to inquire the way out of the deep dark forest in which we have lost ourselves. The very word has passed over into metaphysics. "Error" is a guideless wandering, a wrong going, a departure from the path which leads us where we desire to go and where we ought to go.
We do not know whether our home is behind or before us, or to the right hand or to the left. And when we meet in groups in the dark forest, we have no light. We may see now and then a star, glinting up among the dark branches of the weird overgrowth, but we can take no bearings from such an observation. " Which way, brethren, does heaven lie ?" is the question of our hearts. Scores of different answers come to us, and we plunge forward, sometimes nearing the outrance, sometimes plunging deeper into the woods. Then we are suffering. We are lost, and are conscious of it. We may become so thoroughly lost as not to be conscious of our
condition, may settle down satisfied with the dark morass and grim forest figures, and believe that there is no day, no open landscape, no high
heaven, no better home for the soul. Then we have grown dull and do not suffer, but we are enduring vast unperceived injury.
2. Alienation from right principles and purposes is one of the earliest developments of sin in a human life. The soul is a lost subject of the kingdom of God, because it does not give voluntary service to the Rule of Right. All the injury of being in conflict with its own life and welfare comes to the lost soul.
But this also leads to suffering on the part of others, because there is always herewith the violation of some relation. When a child becomes alienated from the parent the child is a sufferer, if conscious that the alienation exists. Even when hardened it is a loser. The wife who feels that she is losing love for her husband out of her heart, suffers until she becomes hardened,
and even then she endures the loss of all the beauty and sweetness that conjugal love brings to the character. In both cases the father and the husband is a sufferer, because he is a loser. He has lost a daughter and a wife, although both women may be quite virtuous otherwise, so far as they could be in this state of heart.
So, just in proportion as a man's love for God diminishes he is lost, and when that love totally ceases the man is totally lost. The Heavenly Father is the loser. The man suff'ers while he has any vividness of conscience, and then lives a dead-life, because he has in his life none of the beauty and sweetness which loving the Father brings.
3. The soul of man is in some measure lost when it ceases to do that which it came into existence to do. It was born to reproduce the image and beauty of the Heavenly Father, to enjoy His love and to give Him love. It is for love that human beings exist. All other things grow out of this. A man may not be annihilated. We have no more reason to believe that spiritual substance will undergo annihilation
than that material substance will, but it may undergo as many transformations. Some of those transformations may be such as to fit it still more for its main functions, as leaves, when they undergo that change which transforms them to coal, become more useful for all the ends gained by combustion.
Some of those transformations may be such as shall utterly and forever incapacitate the soul from resuming the discharge of the functions of what we may call organic spiritual life, being such a transformation as coal has undergone when it has been reduced to ashes. This seems a state of irretrievable loss. We have no means
of ascertaining scientifically whether any human soul has undergone such a transformation, but no soul whose state we have investigated has yet done so, and the searching of the Holy Scriptures is adverse to any such supposition. If it did, God would be the loser in the final end.
4. Man can never pass out of the power of God. The Almighty can deal with him as with any mere creature. But man is not simply a creature of God : he is a child of God. A man may have possession of the person of his child or his wife, and be able to inflict upon that person any pains his skill and strength can contrive to cause. But the body is not the child, the body is not the wife. He can chastise, cut, maim, burn, bruise, and thoroughly destroy that body, but he cannot reach his child: he cannot reach his wife. He has lost his child. He has lost his wife. What can it be to the Heavenly Father to look down on me and see only such a creature as he sees in a hog or a
worm, a being no more a child to Him than those brutes that perish ? He has lost His child and kept only His creature. The offspring of His spirit has gone and He has left only the product of His power.
5. Whenever the word "lost" is used in regard to any article of property, it always implies that the separation between it and its owner was wholly unintentional on the part of the owner. That is precisely the case with the human soul. God has had no part in losing it. This must be kept perpetually in mind. We are apt to forget it. We are apt to feel that God is a party in some measure to all the damage which the soul sustains, that it is His system of irreversible law which crushes the soul until it is lost.
This is terribly to the prejudice of the Heavenly Father. And, it is utterly false. What interest can He have in losing His own child which never would have been begotten but for His love ? Why, if I should go into the woods or the waves with my child, and come out without her and she should be lost, and any man should say that it was in any degree my fault, I should
vehemently resent it as the most intolerable slander and stigma on my manhood. And Jesus, in the parable before us, appeals to this humanity in us even as regards a sheep, which is so much less than a child: " What jnan of you, havinga hundred sheep, if he lose one — ?"
No, dear brethren. The woman did not intentionally, did not even willingly, lose her piece of rioney, nor the shepherd his sheep ; nor does the Heavenly Father intentionally or willingly lose us. If we want His word for it, He
puts it on the ground of reason: "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?" How could He have? What gain is there to Him that a soul is lost? But He puts it more tenderly in the language of entreating love: "Why will ye die, O house of Israel ? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, said the Lord God : wherefore turn and live !" And then He solemnly mingles an oath with the entreaty,
saying, " As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked ; but that the wicked turn from his way and live : turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways ; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" His unwillingness to lose is further manifested in what He does to save. Jesus said, "The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost." Does that look like willingly losing it ? Does that look like an intention to inflict a loss on one's self?
6. The Heavenly Father never loses a child by reason of any carelessness on His part. He does not squander what is more precious to Him than all the star jewelry of the splendid material heavens. But a man may lose himself that way. He may squander time and powers and soul, so that he loses his life and makes no gain ; all life gone, all vigor, all soul energy gone, — the man effete in mind and heart and will and soul, man lost utterly, all gone away, lost, until he is worthless to himself and to humanity. If he could hold the title-deeds for all the real estate in all the worlds of God, he would be utterly poor. " What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his
own soul ?"
7. A man may peril his soul to the losing thereof in some contest in which he stakes himself against some object or end which seems to him to be desirable. The loss of the game in which he is engaged is the loss of his life ; that is to say, if he do not succeed, he will be in such circumstances as will deprive his life of being what life is intended to be.
The idea of the peril is presented, and the idea of the loss is suggested by a sketch of remarkable power by the German artist Retzsch, in which a young man of goodly person and admirable face is engaged in a game of chess with the Devil, while the guardian angel of the youth stands by with folded hands, watching the result with intense interest. Men have rushed from gambling-hells and shot themselves by the stroke of suicide into other hells, because the deadly sensation of being lost rushed upon them over-
poweringly as soon as they discovered that their fortunes had been lost.
So on a single battle and its results have empires hung and been won or lost as the tide of battle turned.
Life is such a contest, such a battle. The beaten player stands appalled as the stakes of inestimable value are swept off into the lap of his opponent, and the discrowned loser of a Waterloo goes away, to eat his heart out on some lone Helena of the sea.
All these significations of the word "lost" apply with great intensity to the condition in which one places the soul. They are grouped in three parables, two of which are in the text. There may be a distinction intended by the
three figures under which a soul is represented, as a coin, as a sheep, as a son. I will not repeat to you the queer fancies of some commentators about these, some of which, however, are very suggestive of important spiritual truths. But you must notice the gradation and the lesson which that teaches.
The coin is inert. It cannot wander. It cannot riot. It may fall out of the hand. Just so some men read their spiritual history. They did not intend to go astray. They did not intend to wound a father's love. But they seem dropped from the hand of God and rolled into an obscurity in which they can be of no use, although of full spiritual value and stamped with the image and the superscription of God. That represents one class of the lost.
Another is presented under the figure of the sheep which wanders from the fold at first through mere silliness and through ignorance of the perils outside. So are rr. any lost. Men and boys do not consider how easy it is to take one wrong step, and that after that it is much easier to take the next wrong step than to re-
turn ; and that when a sheep is once in the woods, and the frights of wandering have begun, how, even the shepherd's voice, God's loving call to the lost, may drive the wandering sheep into greater distance, darkness, and distress. In all ages and all literatures the wandering of a lost sheep has been used to represent the unguardedness of ourweak and ignorant hearts. " All we like sheep have gone astray," mourned David, and all the singers of the songs of the soul have echoed the lamentation.
The perversity of the heart in loving evil rather than good is painted to us in the picture of the prodigal son. Here is a man lost by fighting against love, lost by wilfully throwing himself out of safety into certain peril, lost by
precipitating himself over the edge of danger down into the chasm of a spiritual ruin.
In the money there is the loss of material value. In the sheep it is this value and life which propagates the valuable. In the son it is both,
together with all the sentiments of parental and filial love, all the holiest ties, torn, lacerated, and profaned. This represents the completest loss of all. I have not taken the parable of the prodigal into this morning's text, because it is intended rather to represent the penitential return of the sinner caused by the seeking love of the Saviour, but use it with the other parables for so much of it as bears upon the subject we are now considering.
A solemn and important question comes now to be considered : Who is the loser? My answer is, God. It is to that view so strongly presented in these parables that I call your attention. In our private thoughts, in our public prayers, in our religious books, in our sermons, it seems wholly ignored. It is never alluded to. I cannot now point you to a paragraph urging this thought, if I ever saw it. Every mind seems taken up with the sinner. The sinner is selfishly absorbed in contemplating the spiritual disaster to himself. Appeals are made to him on selfish grounds. He is urged to strive to be saved because it is such ruinous loss to himself not to be saved. The coin, the sheep, the prodigal, are
all cared for. They have all the sympathy of the pulpit, the prayer meetings, and the press, while the woman, the shepherd, and the father have none. As if the coin suffered as much as the woman ! As if the sheep suffered as much as the shepherd ! As if the reprobate son suffered as much as the wronged and dishonored father ! As if the sinner suffered as much as the Saviour !
We know that this is not so in our social relations. The innocent suffer more than the guilty. The pure mother is all night tossing and rolling upon the arrows infixed in her heart by her lost daughter, who is spending those same hours of darkness in boisterous orgies. When a ship goes down at sea, the sufferings of the drowned are brief, bui the survivors suffer through long years. The loser is the sufferer. Let us remember that. If we throw ourselves away and become lost, let us not forget that we are doing more injustice to God than to ourselves.
We must rectify our thoughts of God. To most of us is He not a high, serene, feelingless Being, as destitute of sentiment as the cold
firmament over our heads? Do we not regard what we call His "love" rather as an absence of
anger and hate than as a positive passion of affection ? But is that true ? Is that the Scriptural representation of our God ? Can God be as happy if His children are lost as if they are saved ? "What 7nan oi you,'''' asked Jesus, putting the question on the ground of common humanity. If a human shepherd feel so for his sheep, will not the Divine Shepherd feel for all His flock ?
See again how He loves us in the exertion He makes to save us. In the case of the woman see how picturesquely her carefulness is portrayed.
She "lights a candle," she "sweeps the house," she "seeks diligently," she perseveres until she tind it. You can almost see her moving every article of furniture, examining the cracks and crannies, and turning up the carpets from cellar to garret. You can almost hear the sweep of her broom and see the flying dust. And who then has ever seen a shepherd hunting for a lost sheep can ever forget how the interest in the sheep is intensified as the shepherd pursued his way after the wanderer ? And could the Heavenly Father lose us and not seek us ? Would He simply look out to see if we were returning ? Would He merely invite us to return? "Till she find it" is said of the woman and her coin. " Till he find it" is said of the shepherd and his sheep. And does not this imply the persevering seeking of Infinite Love ?
See how the Great Teacher draws us nearer and nearer to the heart of God. The shepherd had a hundred sheep. If one were lost the rich man would still have ninety and nine. The woman had ten pieces of silver. She would not be greatly impoverished if one-tenth of her money were gone ; but still in this case is a
larger proportion of loss than in the case of the sheep. But the father had only two sons. If one were gone, half the life and light of his home would have departed. Is there any earthly parent that loves more than the Heavenly Father?
Above all, there is the joy at the saving of the lost, not the joy of the lost that is saved, not th« joy of the angels, but the joy of God. Here
is love drawn in lines of sublimity a.id painted in colors of surpassing splendor. This is the utmost loftiness and augustness of love. The infinite heart of the Infinite Father throbs and glows with the holiest passion. His essential nature intensifies. He has His most majestic bliss. It is too vast to be comprehended. He has had a child lost. He has a child saved. Think of it, mother, whose boy was supposed to have been crushed in the late railway disaster, but who came back to you next day and nearl} broke your heart with the gladness of his coming ! Think of it, wife, whose husband was
lost in intemperance, but is saved now and sits in manly love beside you, while you are so full that if you speak you seem foolish with a delightful craziness ! O men and women, lift your hearts to heaven and see how glad the good God and Father is when the tidings of the salvation of a sinful soul goes flying up to heaven. The angels know that it will give Him joy, therefore they watch over the processes of salvation in any soul and rush up into the heavens to proclaim the gladdest of all glad news there. He does not conceal His majestic sweetness from the angels. He lets them know the joy wherewith He rejoices. He calls His friends about Him, as the woman and the shepherd did. He gives vent to His great joy as the earthly father did, and says to all the happy sympathizing angels, ' ' This my son was lost and is found !"
Dear people, let me ask you two questions to be carried home in your hearts :
Have you permitted the Heavenly Father to lay His hand on your head and say, " This, my son, was lost and is found" ?
Are you striving to give God that divine joy by endeavoring to save other souls ?
Remember that you may accumulate immense fortunes, and build hospitals and churches, and do many wonderful things, which Heaven may not disapprove and which may fill the world with your praise, \iViX.you must be saved if you would fill the heart of God with joy and shake all the heavens with shouts of inextinguishable rapture.
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