…Thus terminates the Epistle for today, speaking of the lost sheep who have returned to the Shepherd of the soul; and then the Gospel gives our Lord’s own account of the good Shepherd who dies for His sheep, Who knows them all, and brings them that have been scattered abroad into the one fold. And thus again is He brought before us in a new and endearing character and relationship, over and above all that was said in the Epistle. For in the Epistle He is as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; He would fix our eyes on Himself in His sufferings, that when we see Him upon the Cross we may learn to be of the same spirit, and derive inexpressible comfort and strength from His atoning Blood. But in the Gospel for to-day the Lamb that was slain hath become the good Shepherd. And indeed, in the Book of the Revelation, St. John describes the Lamb that was slain as Himself feeding His sheep, and leading them unto living waters, (Revelation 7:17). The same He Himself teaches us in the character of the good Shepherd; for already He hath shown His love in dying for them. As the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world, so is He ever the good Shepherd that gives His life for the sheep; it is His own inseparable attribute.
I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep. He that died for us, and gave us that proof of His love, has not gone away, and departed, and left us in the wilderness, but is even now with us as the good Shepherd. He is not indifferent about us, of our ways and doings, but as a man careth for his own, which he hath bought at an exceeding high price, so He, as the good Shepherd, careth for us. Nothing can describe this to us more forcible than His own parable of the lost sheep. He knows no rest until He has found it; it is the object of all His care and thoughts; He wanders seeking for it; and when He has found it, what does He do? He bears it, rejoicing, on His shoulders; He cannot withhold His joy; He calls on all to rejoice with Him. No less tender and affectionate are the many descriptions of Him as the good Shepherd through the Old Testament, where, as if in allusion to our Lord’s taking little children into His arms, it is said, “He shall gather the Lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom;” to which is added, “and shall gently lead those that are with young;” (Isaiah 40:11) as with a particular watchful care for each one, as if He had none other but that one to care for.
Blessed is he who knows Christ, not only as the Lamb of God, but also as the good Shepherd, Who once died and now careth for him, and in Whose care he can lack nothing, (Psalm 23:1). He gave His life for the sheep, that they by His dying may live; that they may feed on Him and have life. And what if in this new life in Him He should require them to die with Him to their former life; to be “dead to sin?” what if after recovering His sheep that had strayed He should hereafter make a hedge about Him with thorns, is He less on that account the good Shepherd?
How soothing and comforting to us all to think of God under this His gracious title! When the evil spirit was upon Saul, the shepherd son of Jesse was the minstrel at whose strains he was comforted and refreshed. And what if his twenty-third Psalm sounded even then in the melodies of “the sweet Psalmist of Israel”? What could have been more healing balm to the wounded spirit, or more like a gale from Heaven, than those harmonies which speak of “the Lord” as “my Shepherd,” Who shall lead me forth by the still waters; Whose pastoral rod and staff shall comfort me, and through the valley of the shadow of death shall keep me from evil. As were those strains to Saul, such to us are the accounts of the good Shepherd; such soothing in the words of Scripture that speak of Him as such; the troubled spirit of pride and envy, of lust and anger, are fled as we listen to its Divine accents so full of consolation.
And now let us hear the contrast. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. This, I think, we may apply, not only to the unfaithful pastor who serves God for gain, and to the false prophet, such as Balaam – to those who for profit’s sake or pride enter into the office of the ministry – but also more generally, to everything that for a time pretends to be as the good Shepherd, but will flee and forsake us in the season of danger, and when the wolf is seen approaching. And, indeed, my Christian friends, I know of nothing that will not do so except the good Shepherd: for we are His, and His only; nothing else can be to us as He is; He lays an especial stress on this, that we are His own, in a way that we cannot belong to anyone else, or anything to us. If we have forgotten this, He has not; if we have forgotten it, we have gone astray from Him, but He has not forsaken us; He is still seeking us, because we are His own. Everything else will forget us, but He will not. No one else can care for us as He does.
The hireling fleeth, adds our Blessed Savior, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. This, again, is the mark of Himself as the Good Shepherd, as distinguished from anything besides; that He knows each one of His sheep with a very intimate, peculiar knowledge. He searcheth the inmost thoughts. As the sunbeam in a dark room, so is His eye in the heart of hearts. And now, this point of His intimate knowledge might be to each of us no subject of comfort and encouragement, but of alarm and despair, were it not that He is “the good,” the merciful and loving Shepherd. His eye in the heart is not only light, but it is likewise love. Therefore, He says not only that He knows His own, but also that He is known of them. They that are His by intimate communion with Him, know Him with a Divine and unearthly knowledge; they know Him as “good” – as good in a sense that nothing else can be good. They know Christ as the good Shepherd, for they know Him as God, Who only is good. To know God, is to know that God is love. The faithful Christian has a knowledge of God, not merely from the study of His Word or His works, but from a secret revelation of Himself which God makes to the heart. In the same way as you may know a man from reading an account of him, or from his writings; but this is a very different matter from knowing him by long intimacy as a friend. Nay, the knowledge of God is infinitely more than this – that pearl of great price – that hidden manna which the Christian gains, when he knows Christ and is known of Him as His own. This union is not like that of man with man, but is like that of the Blessed Trinity, which is unspeakable.
As the Father knoweth me, adds our Lord, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. He says, on another occasion, in His prayer to the Father, “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may be One in Us.” And, again, “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you.” And, “the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me.” So now His own unspeakable knowledge of the Father, and the Father of Him, is connected with His laying down His life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; others which are not of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but among the Gentiles throughout the world, even unto the end; them that “have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” (Ezekiel 34:12) He has them in His eye from the beginning; He has them in His hand, even each one of us that are His; they are His own in the predestination and foreknowledge of God. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; all that the Father giveth Him shall come to Him; they that are of God hear His words, they hear His voice, they “know not the voice of the stranger,” but their own Shepherd they at once know by His voice; they hear, they obey, they follow Him. Oh, the wonderful mystery of God, by which the soul of the penitent is knit to his Savior, and made one with Him in everlasting union! And, as made one with Him, they are made one with each other also, and know no earthly distinction of Jew or Gentile, of rich or poor, of learned or ignorant, on account of a far greater, more intimate, eternal union and fellowship.
They shall hear My voice and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd. Not only hereafter, when the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, but even now, amidst all the divisions of the world, they are “one fold.”
O blessed bond of that one true fold! O sweet harmony of heavenly music, heard in the heart amidst the jarring discords of this world! peace without we need not; nay, rather, peace from without our own good Shepherd had not, and the more that we may be like Him, let us too have it not, so that we may have more abundantly His won peace within. Nay, moreover, neither peace nor love from without do we need, for His love burned the brightest when there was no love for Him, but enmity on every side; and it is under such circumstances that He most of all vouchsafes His blessing of peace. If we are His sheep, if we are His own, His words to us are, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
If only the good Shepherd will but take us for His own, make us more like unto Himself, and keep us in His own one fold–keep us as His own forever!
“I hearkened and heard,” says the Prophet, “but they spake not aright.” (Jeremiah 8:6) So it is with us; “we speak not aright;” we have a language of our own, which is not that of God; we imperceptibly contract a mode of talking of things as if the world were true, and God were not true; as if the truth were not according to “the mind which was in Christ Jesus.” We speak of disappointments, of troubles, of enemies, and quarrels; nay, even of death itself, in another manner to that of Scripture. For what is sorrow of heart within but the voice of the good Shepherd seeking us? What is affliction but His struggle in order to free and disentangle us from the thorns of the world? What are dissensions and ill-will from without but the means by which He would mold us more in conformity with Himself? What are worldly dangers but occasions of His drawing us more nearly unto His side? And what is death itself to the good Christian but the gathering of His own more securely into His arms, from which nothing hereafter shall ever draw them away?
Only let us be “as He was in this world,” as followers of “the Lamb, withersoever He goeth,” by a lamb-like spirit under all provocations; then shall the good Shepherd know us for His own, as belonging to that “little flock” to whom it is their Father’s good pleasure to give the Kingdom; and when He separates His sheep, then shall He set us at last on His own right hand.