1.Verily, verily, I say to you. As Christ had to do with scribes and priests, who were reckoned pastors of the Church, it was necessary that they should be divested of the honor of this title, if he wished his doctrine to be received. The small number of believers might also diminish greatly the authority of his doctrine. He therefore contends that we ought not to reckon, in the number of shepherds or of sheep, all who outwardly claim a place in the Church. But we shall never be able, by means of this mark, to distinguish the lawful shepherds from the reprobate, and the true sheep from the counterfeit, if all have the same object, and beginning, and end.
This warning has been highly useful in all ages, and in the present day it is especially necessary. No plague is more destructive to the Church, than when wolves ravage under the garb of shepherds We know also how grievous an offense it is, when bastard or degenerate Israelites pretend to be the sons of the Church, and, on this pretense, insult believers. But in the present day, there is nothing by which weak and ignorant persons are more alarmed, than when they see the sanctuary of God occupied by the greatest enemies of the Church; for it is not easy to make them understand, that it is the doctrine of Christ which the shepherds of the Church so fiercely resist. Besides, as the greater part of men are led into various errors by false doctrines, while the views and expectations of each person are directed to others, scarcely any person permits himself to be conducted into the right path.
We must therefore, above all things, guard against being deceived by pretended shepherds or counterfeit sheep, if we do not choose, of our own accord, to expose ourselves to wolves and thieves The name of “ Church” is highly honorable, and justly so; but the greater the reverence which it deserves, so much the more careful and attentive ought we to be in marking the distinction between true and false doctrine. Christ here declares openly, that we ought not to reckon as shepherds all who boast of being such, and that we ought not to reckon as sheep all who boast of outward marks. He speaks of the Jewish Church, but what he says applies equally well to our own. We ought also to consider his purpose and design, that weak consciences may not be alarmed or discouraged, when they perceive that they who rule in the Church, instead ofpastors or shepherds, are hostile or opposed to the Gospel; and that they may not turn aside from the faith, because they have few fellow-disciples, in listening to Christ, among those who are called Christians.
He who entereth not by the door. It is useless, I think, to scrutinize too closely every part of this parable. Let us rest satisfied with this general view, that, as Christ states a resemblance between the Church and a sheepfold, in which God assembles all his people, so he compares himself to a door, because there is no other entrance into the Church but by himself. Hence it follows that they alone are good shepherds who lead men straight to Christ; and that they are truly gathered into the fold of Christ, so as to belong to his flock, who devote themselves to Christ alone.
But all this relates to doctrine; for, since
all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ,
he who turns aside from him to go elsewhere neither keeps the road nor enters by the door. Now, whoever shall not despise Christ or his instructor will easily rid himself of that hesitation which keeps so many in a state of perplexity, what is the Church, and who are they to whom we ought to listen as shepherds For if they who are called shepherds attempt to lead us away from Christ, we ought to flee from them, at the command of Christ, as we would flee from wolves or thieves; and we ought not to form or maintain intercourse with any society but that which is agreed in the pure faith of the Gospel. For this reason Christ exhorts his disciples to separate themselves from the unbelieving multitude of the whole nation, not to suffer themselves to be governed by wicked priests, and not to allow themselves to be imposed upon by proud and empty names.