on Luke 15 :7
Just persons, which need no repentance - Who do not require such a change of mind and purpose as these do - who are not so profligate, and cannot repent of sins they have never committed. Distinctions of this kind frequently occur in the Jewish writings. There are many persons who have been brought up in a sober and regular course of life, attending the ordinances of God, and being true and just in all their dealings; these most materially differ from the heathens mentioned, Luke 15:1, because they believe in God, and attend the means of grace: they differ also essentially from the tax-gatherers mentioned in the same place, because they wrong no man, and are upright in their dealings. Therefore they cannot repent of the sins of a heathen, which they have not practised; nor of the rapine of a tax-gatherer, of which they have never been guilty. As, therefore, these just persons are put in opposition to the tax-gatherers and heathens, we may at once see the scope and design of our Lord's words: these needed no repentance in comparison of the others, as not being guilty of their crimes. And as these belonged, by outward profession at least, to the flock of God, and were sincere and upright according to their light, they are considered as being in no danger of being lost; and at they fear God, and work righteousness according to their light, he will take care to make those farther discoveries to them, of the purity of his nature, the holiness of his law, and the necessity of the atonement, which he sees to be necessary. See the case of Cornelius, Acts 10:1, etc. On this ground, the owner is represented as feeling more joy in consequence of finding one sheep that was lost, there having been almost no hope of its recovery, than he feels at seeing ninety and nine still safe under his care. "Men generally rejoice more over a small unexpected advantage, than over a much greater good to which they have been accustomed." There are some, and their opinion need not be hastily rejected, who imagine that by the ninety and nine just persons, our Lord means the angels - that they are in proportion to men, as ninety-nine are to one, and that the Lord takes more pleasure in the return and salvation of one sinner, than in the uninterrupted obedience of ninety-nine holy angels; and that it was through his superior love to fallen man that he took upon him his nature, and not the nature of angels. I have met with the following weak objection to this: viz. "The text says just persons; now, angels are not persons, therefore angels cannot be meant." This is extremely foolish; there may be the person of an angel, as well as of a man; we allow persons even in the Godhead; besides, the original word, δικαιοις, means simply just ones, and may be, with as much propriety, applied to angels as to men. After all, our Lord may refer to the Essenes, a sect among the Jews, in the time of our Lord, who were strictly and conscientiously moral; living at the utmost distance from both the hypocrisy and pollutions of their countrymen. These, when compared with the great mass of the Jews, needed no repentance. The reader may take his choice of these interpretations, or make a better for himself. I have seen other methods of explaining these words; but they have appeared to me either too absurd or too improbable to merit particular notice.
on Luke 15 :7
Likewise joy ... - It is a principle of human nature that the "recovery" of an object in danger of being lost, affords much more intense joy than the quiet "possession" of many that are safe. This our Saviour illustrated by the case of the lost sheep and of the piece of silver. It might also be illustrated by many other things. Thus we rejoice most in our health when we recover from a dangerous disease; we rejoice over a child rescued from danger or disease more than over those who are in health or safety. We rejoice that property is saved from conflagration or the tempest more than over much more that has not been in danger. This feeling our Lord represents as existing in heaven. "Likewise," in like manner, or on the same principle, there is joy.
In heaven - Among the angels of God. Compare Luke 15:10. Heavenly beings are thus represented as rejoicing over those who repent on earth. They see the guilt and danger of people; they know what God has done for the race, and they rejoice at the recovery of any from the guilt and ruins of sin.
One sinner - One rebel against God, however great may be his sins or however small. If a sinner, he must perish unless he repents; and they rejoice at his repentance because it recovers him back to the love of God, and because it will save him from eternal death.
That repenteth - See the notes at Matthew 9:13.
Just persons - The word "persons" is not in the original. It means simply "just ones," or those who have not sinned. The word may refer to angels as well as to people. There are no "just" people on earth who need no repentance, Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:10-18. Our Saviour did not mean to imply that there were any such. He was speaking of what took place "in heaven," or among "angels," and of "their" emotions when they contemplate the creatures of God; and he says that "they" rejoiced in the repentance of one "sinner" more than in the holiness of many who had not fallen. We are not to suppose that he meant to teach that there were just ninety-nine holy angels to one sinner. He means merely that they rejoice more over the "repentance" of one sinner than they do over many who have not fallen. By this he vindicated his own conduct. The Jews did not deny the existence of angels. They would not deny that their feelings were proper. If "they" rejoiced in this manner, it was not improper for "him" to show similar joy, and especially to seek their conversion and salvation. If they rejoice also, it shows how desirable is the repentance of a sinner. They know of how much value is an immortal soul. They see what is meant by eternal death; and they do not feel "too much," or have "too much anxiety" about the soul that can never die. Oh that people saw it as "they" see it! and oh that they would make an effort, such as angels see to be proper, to save their own souls and the souls of others from eternal death!
on Luke 15 :7
15:7 Joy shall be - Solemn and festal joy, in heaven - First, in our blessed Lord himself, and then among the angels and spirits of just men, perhaps informed thereof by God himself, or by the angels who ministered to them. Over one sinner - One gross, open, notorious sinner, that repenteth - That is, thoroughly changed in heart and life; more than over ninety and nine just persons - Comparatively just, outwardly blameless: that need not such a repentance - For they need not, cannot repent of the sins which they never committed. The sum is, as a father peculiarly rejoices when an extravagant child, supposed to be utterly lost, comes to a thorough sense of his duty; or as any other person who has recovered what he had given up for gone, has a more sensible satisfaction in it, than in several other things equally valuable, but not in such danger: so do the angels in heaven peculiarly rejoice in the conversion of the most abandoned sinners. Yea, and God himself so readily forgives and receives them, that he may be represented as having part in the joy.