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not how righteous or how unrighteous I am, but how I may come to Christ!
WHEREFORE all preaching must ever be adapted to the state and capacity of the hearers. For I have said, that this doctrine is not fitted for a carnal and hardened man, even as it is not fit that a laborious thresher should be fed on delicacies, (which are to be given only to comfort and restore sick persons,) but on black bread and cheese, the proper food for labouring men. Give the delicate meats, which are easy of digestion, to sick persons or children who can digest nothing that is hard.
So also, in this matter, the same difference is to be made, that thou mayest rightly administer these things, and give to each his portion as a prudent householder. For Moses and the doctrine of the law are still to be observed by thee, because, thou mayest fall in with proud, hardened, and intractable men, who live in security and without fear; and before these, thou art to set this strong and common food of labouring men ; that is, thou art to set forth Moses for them to hear, who thunders and lightens from Mount Sinai, who destroys the people of Israel, who leads them into the wilderness, and who drowns king Pharaoh in the Red Sea. But, whenever thou meet with troubled hearts, and weak and afflicted consciences, which have now become lost sheep; to them, say nothing whatever about Moses and all the works of God in his law, but begin to speak only about the works wrought by Christ in the kingdom of grace; and prove to, and diligently impress upon, the miserable conscience, how he shows himself towards the poor lost sheep; namely, that he is a kind and good shepherd, who is greatly concerned for the lost sheep; that he leaves all the rest, in his desire to find this one, and to bring it back into the right way; and that he never ceases to search for it until he has brought it home. For it is the deepest grief to him, that any man should remain under sin, and thus tremble and fear; nor can he endure, that any one should remain therein and perish. And therefore, he allures and calls thee most lovingly by his sweet Gospel to come to him, lay thyself upon his shoulders, and suffer him to carry thee and to call thee his dear sheep.
But, the rest of the multitude of those who live in security and negligence, and care not at all whether God be wrath or whether he be pleased, are not to be called the lost sheep, but rather the wild goat, which will neither suffer itself to be fed or tamed. But he whose sins are a burthen to him, and who is struggling under the conflict of faith; where the peril is not, whether he shall lose Moses, but whether he shall lose Christ himself the principal object; that is, where the conscience is in fear and straits, whether God be favourable and will shew mercy; this is the man, who, in truth, with sighs and groans seeks and cries after his shepherd, and entreats that he would stretch forth his hands to help, as David did, Psalm cxix. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep, seek thy servant,” &c. To the taste of such as these, this sugar and these sweet morsels are savoury, whereby their heart is revived and prevented from falling into desperation ; by such consolations as these it is refreshed and raised up, not through Moses, but through Christ; not because it is reconciled to Moses, or made able to appease him, but because it has found God reconciled in Christ, wheresoever Moses may come in with his consolations. Although, at the same time, it is an ornament to us, even as it also becomes us, not to give ourselves, contrary to the law, to theft, to robbery, to commit murder, or in any other way to injure or hurt our neighbour. This, however, is not a right consolation of the heart, but only a momentary tickling of the outward skin, as it were, which doth not abide or enter into the soul : because, if the devil come and attack the heart, all this consolation is utterly taken away: and although at any time thou mayest do what is right and good, yet he will bring forth tenfold more instances in which thou hast done evil : nay, he will even in the purest works find out much impurity, and turn the whole into sins.
Wherefore, we must not by any means rest upon such a consolation as this, but must rather reject it, and say, 'Whether I be good, or whether I be evil, I do not in the present case dispute; but I leave that till we come to that place where we teach and talk about works; but the ground on which I now stand, is not the place for talking about my works, and the goodness of my life, but concerning Christ and his works, which he has wrought for me his poor lost sheep. Wherefore, if thou ask whether or not I be a good and righteous man, I answer plainly, No! and therefore on this ground where I now stand, I will not be righteous. But if thou ask whether Christ be good and righteous, that I can, without doubting, and with all contidence, affirm; and I place this in the stead of my own goodness and righteousness; and to him alone, with all boldness, I appeal; seeing that, I am baptized in his name, the letters and seal of which, I have contained in his Gospel ; that I am his poor lost sheep, and that he is the good shepherd who seeketh the sheep that is lost, deals with me without any laws, and requires nothing of me; and does not, like Moses, drive, force, and compel me, but holds out to me pure and most sweet grace; for he puts himself under me, takes me upon his shoulders, and carries me. Why then should I fear the thunderings and lightnings of Moses and the devil, when I lie down under his protection, who has given me his righteousness and all other benefits, as a free gift, and who holds me safe and carries me? For now, there is no farther danger that I shall perish, while I remain a poor lost sheep, and do not refuse my shepherd, but fear to depart rashly from him!
HERE then you have a representation set before you, in the most lovely manner that it could possibly be described. And now the only thing that is wanting, is faith: this is indispensably necessary. For the description is beautiful and most full of sweet consolation, and is truth itself; but the deficiency is, that it is not at once felt and enjoyed when it ought to be. For while the sheep is wandering; that is, while the man feels that he is burthened with his sins, and knows not where to abide, and is thrown by thc devil into a confusion of mind, in this state, he always runs in a contrary direction, and cannot receive into his mind or hold fast that these things are true, for all that he has here heard, falls away from his mind by reason of his present feelings and experience. For the devil has blinded his eyes, so that he can conceive of nothing else but the wrath and indignation of God. Whereby, his heart is so weighed down, that he cannot raise himself up in mind to turn his eyes another way. Nay, he lies so deeply drowned in this state of thought, that he can perceive in Christ nothing but an angry judge; in the same way as he has been hitherto ever painted forth and impressed upon all men's hearts by the ungodly Papists--as sitting upon a bow in the clouds with a sword proceeding out of his mouth.
For one of the most insidious and impious devices of the devil that he practises upon the miserable sheep, is, to pervert these sweet representations of Christ, and to blind its eyes, that it might not know its shepherd, and that he might thus lead the man to Moses under the pretence of leading him to Christ; and might then dispute concerning Christ, as he did before concerning Moses. Therefore, there is need of strong faith, when the man has to fight against himself, and to believe that these things are true. For his own feelings of sin are strong enough of themselves, and to these, in addition, comes the devil, and exaggerates sin and terror in a wonderful manner: under the greatness and straits of which, even the very marrow in the bones, and the heart in the body, may melt away. Therefore, this faith is not so easily attained unto as some may imagine. When all things are quiet, it is an easy matter to believe that Christ is sweet and amiable; but when anxiety and terror break in and overwhelm the mind, then the man is blind and heartless, and will orfly believe according to what he feels and experiences in his heart; which feeling he follows, and thus confirms himself in his error; for tie is overtaken by it, and cannot think otherwise, than that things are really as he feels them, although it is no
WHEREFORE, this is a skill, by which the man may say to his heart,— If thou confess that thou art a lost sheep, in that thou sayest rightly. But, seeing thou wouldst run away from Christ, and wouldst conceive of him in thy mind that he is a man who would drive thee away and terrify thee, that is a suggestion and temptation of the devil. For if thou didst rightly behold and confess him, as thy true shepherd, thou would not be afraid at the sight of him, nor wouldst thou conceive terror in thy mind, but wouldst run up to him with all gladness and confidence. For he does not come unto thee to condemn thee, but he comes to seek thee; that he may lay thee upon his shoulders and carry thee, and deliver and rescue thee from thy sins, from all errors, from the devil and his power, and from every peril. Dost thou feel therefore that thou art a sinner, and deservest indignation? Then thou oughtest to call upon that shepherd the more diligently, that he would deliver thee from it; nor shouldst thou conceive of him in thy mind otherwise than a sheep conceives of its shepherd ; whom it cannot fear, but is rendered glad and happy as soon as it sees or hears him ; although it might have run from him, and might have, on that account, a most just cause of fear. But it knows full well, that the shepherd cannot be angry with the straying sheep, and therefore it promises to itself nothing but the greatest love and good-will.'--Therefore, the force of the whole lies in this alone, that thou rightly learn Christ, and view him according to the word of God, and not according to the thoughts and feelings of thine own mind: for the thoughts of man are vain and lies, but the words of God are true and cannot deceive. Moreover, he has confirmed the same by lively operations and by examples, and continues to confirm it daily throughout the whole of Christendom. Wherefore, the word only is to be engrafted in our hearts, and we must cleave to it with a steady mind, that we may prove our own hearts to be liars, and set this article of truth against them. For that alone will stand as truth, and all that is contrary to it will be found vanity and lies.