Christ, the Shepherd
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want." Psalm 23:1.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need." Psalm 23:1.
The Divinely-inspired lyre of David, "the sweet singer of Israel," never awoke its chords to melody more rich, or to truths more precious, than when he poured forth his soul in the utterances of this magnificent and comprehensive Psalm. And well was his heart attuned to the song! Himself a shepherd- the office he extols was to him sacred and significant; Christ the substance- his theme was elevated and entrancing. Recalling to memory his early history, when God "took him from following the ewes great with young," and tracing all the way he had thus been divinely led- from the sheep-fold to the throne- from the pastoral to the kingly office- we do not wonder that of all the strains which breathed from his magic touch, this should be, par excellence, the Nightingale Psalm of all.
The key-note of earth, is, Christ the Shepherd- as the key-note of heaven, is, Christ the Lamb. In that world of music the song is all and ever of Christ. His Name warbles from every tongue- His beauty resounds from every harp- His Atonement the substance of every anthem- His love the inspiration of every minstrel chanting the "new song before the throne" - "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." 'New' though that song will be, we yet are 'learning' it in the house of our pilgrimage. We read- "No man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, who were redeemed from the earth." The song was thus learned- learned on earth -the scene of our training for heaven. My soul! are you training for heaven? are you learning this song? have you caught the key-note? are you practicing its scales- rehearsing its music? Remember, it must be learned on earth, or it can never be sung in heaven! Put if thus learning it- learning it, it may be, in the humbling region of self-knowledge, or in the painful school of personal suffering, and beneath the shadow of the cross- when the first burst of this song shall fall upon your ravished senses, you will wonder how familiar to your ear were the notes it breathed, and how precious to your heart the truths it uttered! We now turn to the Psalm itself. And may the Divine Spirit, by whose inspiration it was penned, unseal our ear to the voice of the charmer!
"The Lord is my Shepherd." The office David thus assigns to Christ- and this is the key-note of the Psalm- is one of the most appropriate and expressive. It would seem to have been His own favorite designation, "I am the good Shepherd." Both Testaments, the Old and the New- Messiah's two faithful witnesses- unite in investing Him with this office. He was early revealed under this title. When the family of good old Jacob clustered around his dying bed, eager to catch the parting blessings breathing from his lips, the expiring patriarch pointed his offspring to the Author of all his mercies as the "Shepherd of Israel," who by covenant engagement had promised a continuance of those blessings to His posterity. Still more distinctly and emphatically is Christ spoken of by Evangelists and Apostles under this title. The evangelist John records the assumption of it by our Lord Himself; and the apostle Peter ascribes it to Him as the "Chief Shepherd and Bishop" of His Church. This passage infers the existence in the Church of subordinate, or under shepherds. Such are all Christ's true ministers whose office it is to call out of the world, gather into the fold, and feed, the one elect Flock of God. They are Christ's 'under-shepherds', or overseers, infinitely subordinate, and solemnly accountable to Him, the "Chief Shepherd and Bishop" of His Church, in the administrative authority which they wield, in the divine gifts which they possess, and in the spiritual functions which they perform. Their office is not priestly, but ministerial; they are anointed with no sacerdotal grace, and are clothed with no divine prerogative, and are ordained to present no sacrificial offering. Nevertheless, their office is holy and honorable; their responsibility, tremendous and solemn ; their duties, arduous and trying; their anxieties many, and their trials sore; and they are to be "esteemed very highly in love for their works' sake." Woe unto them if they preach not the gospel! woe unto those who reject the gospel they preach! and woe to the world who by slander, falsehood, and persecution touch God's anointed, and seek to do His prophets harm. My soul! has the Lord blessed you with a true and faithful gospel minister? Remember your duty to him, and your responsibility to God; and in both act as one who is soon to give an account at His bar. But let us turn from the 'subordinate' shepherds to Christ, the 'Chief' and "good Shepherd of the sheep."
"The Lord is my Shepherd." A brief enumeration of some of CHRIST'S ATTRIBUTES is necessary to our due appreciation of this His office as the Shepherd of His flock. We need every view of Christ that will elevate our thoughts of His person, strengthen our faith in His work, and expand our view of His glory. And if Christ is "made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption"- if our knowledge of the Son is the measure of our knowledge of the Father- and if in proportion to the clearness of our views and the closeness of our intimacy will be the silvery flow of our peace and the golden brightness of our hope- then, it follows that we cannot pay too great and earnest heed to the apostle's injunction, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
What, then, are some of the attributes of the Lord our Shepherd? Christ is a Divine Shepherd. We place this view of Christ in the foreground of our exposition. It is the loftiest and sweetest note in our song. Our Shepherd derives His office, authority, and fitness, exclusively from His personal dignity. The entire superstructure of the Work of Christ rests upon the foundation of the Person of Christ. A denial and rejection of the one, involves a denial and rejection of the other- they stand or fall together. The title our psalmist applies to Christ expresses His personal Divinity, "The Lord" -JEHOVAH- "is my Shepherd." Divinity was essential to His office. A mere human shepherd would have been inadequate to the requirements of His office and to the demands of His flock. Divine knowledge is an essential perfection. He must possess a perfect knowledge of His sheep, collectively and individually. He must know their persons, their names, their requirements; in a word, all their individual circumstances, positions, and needs. How else could He meet the demands of each and all of a flock composed of countless numbers, and scattered far and wide over the face of the earth? "I know my sheep," is His own declaration of this glorious truth, and a more precious truth- one more replete with assurance and comfort- never flowed from His grace- anointed lips. My soul, ponder this truth in the light of your individuality, and reason the matter with yourself thus: Jehovah, my Shepherd, knows me individually. He calls me by my name; recognizes my person; is acquainted with my needs; and is cognizant of the path I tread. And although others may but imperfectly know me, or know me not at all; my actions misunderstood, my motives misconstrued; ignorant of my daily cross, my veiled sorrow, and the narrow and difficult path I tread; nevertheless, Jesus the Shepherd has declared; "I know my sheep." Enough, my Lord! Not a path perplexes me; not a cloud shades me; not a difficulty embarrasses me; not a need grieves me; not a grief distresses me; not a being wounds me; but You, the Lord my Shepherd, know it altogether. He knows the way that I take; and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
Christ is a guiding Shepherd. "He leads Joseph like a flock." It is a part of His office as a Shepherd to go before His sheep. He knows the way to heaven- Himself the Way- through the entangled wilderness- across the dreary desert- down the deep valley- over the swelling flood- and up the steep ascent- Jesus knows all the way! Confide yourself to His convoy. He will lead you in no path which God's purpose has not ordained, which His wisdom has not mapped, and for which the everlasting covenant has not provided; yes more, you will tread no path in which you may not trace the travel of Him who, "when He puts forth His own sheep, goes before them." It is no untrodden path you tread. Lonely and footsore, Jesus has left the imprint of His weary, dust-sandled, nail-pierced feet along that very road, that you might follow His steps, and have fellowship with His sufferings. Oh! what a privilege- what an honor this! Lord! the way I travel is solitary, tearful, and suffering; but Your wisdom has appointed, and Your love has planned, and Your grace sustains it; and, toilsome and dreary though it be, it blooms with the flowers, and is fragrant with the perfume of Your own travel of love; and you will lead me along no more darksome or thorny way than You Yourself have trod. "You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory."
Divine power is equally a perfection of Christ our Shepherd. A shepherd powerless to cope with every circumstance of His flock, would be unequal to his office. In this respect, Christ is the perfection of power. "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth"- given to Him irrespective of His divine power as God, in view of His office as the Shepherd of His sheep. The conduct of His saints to heaven demands the utmost resources of Deity. Nothing short of this could bring a single saint to glory. "Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation," is the history and the testimony of every saved sinner. Not a foe invades the fold- not a beast of prey worries the sheep- not a storm-cloud threatens them- but the power of Christ is present to cover with its shield the flock entrusted to His keeping. How strikingly David, as a personal type of Christ the Shepherd, foreshadowed this! Narrating his exploits as a shepherd, he thus addressed Saul the king: "Your servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Your servant slew both the lion and the bear. The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." The apostle records a similar rescue by the same Divine power on his behalf: "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; . . . and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." The same Divine power is momentarily exerted on our behalf. "You have given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him," is the assertion in His intercessory prayer of our Divine-human Shepherd.
What need have we of this power! "Without me you can do nothing." Corruption within- temptations without- a subtle foe never sleeping- the world ever alluring- and grace ever decaying- O how could we hold our own were Christ our Shepherd to withdraw His Divine power for one moment? But fear not, you assailed and trembling sheep! You have the assurance of the Shepherd- "They shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of m y hand."
But Jesus' power to save is the crowning view of this perfection. "He is ABLE to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him." In no part of His mission is His power so appropriately and sublimely exerted- no, not even in the creation of the universe- as in saving from guilt and condemnation one poor lost sinner. Oh, it is the costliest and brightest gem in the mediatorial diadem of His glory! Do you think, then, O you sin-burdened one, laden with the iniquities and bowed down with the guilt of years, that Jesus is not able to save you? Do you doubt the love of the mother who bore you? Do you doubt the affection of the being who wedded you? Doubt, if you will, your very existence; but cast not one cruel, dishonoring doubt upon the POWER of Jesus to SAVE you from the guilt, dominion, and condemnation of all the transgression you have ever committed from the first breath you drew until now. The "blood that cleanses from all sin," in its divine efficacy, in its sovereign virtue, in its gracious freeness, has a present and unlimited power to wash you, even you, whiter than snow. In view of this divine attribute of our Shepherd- His power to convert, His power to keep, His power to deliver, His power to save- may we not blend our voice with the chorus of the apostle- "Unto Him that is ABLE to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Anon."
The crowning attribute of our Shepherd remains to be considered- His redeeming character. We have pronounced this the crowning perfection of our Lord. What were all His other perfections- illustrious though they are- were He not a Redeeming Shepherd? His intelligent knowledge, His guiding skill, His shielding power had not met the necessities of His flock apart from its redemption by the sacrifice of Himself. And now were to be fulfilled the remarkable prophecies concerning this sacrifice. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." "Awake, O sword, against any shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand upon the little ones." Our Shepherd claims the verification of these wonderful predictions. "I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep." "I lay down my life for the sheep." Oh what a precious view does this present of the love of Christ for the flock of His pasture! We needed a sin-bearing; a sin-atoning; a sin-sacrificing Shepherd; one who by His sinless obedience would honor the rigid claims of the law, and by His sacrificial death would satisfy the righteous demands of Justice; be, the plague of death, and the destruction of the grave, on behalf of His elect church. The Lord our Shepherd did all this. All the sins of His church were made to meet upon Him. Your sins, oh you doubting, trembling sheep! Fear not! Christ, your Redeeming Shepherd, has ransomed you- died for you- has paid all your great debt- has drowned all your sins in the fathomless sea of His blood- and has clothed you with the robe of His righteousness, making you in God's eye lovely through His loveliness put upon you. "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Hold fast this doctrine of substitution- Christ dying in our stead. It is the marrow and pith of the gospel- our sanctification in life, our hope in death, our song in eternity.
"MY Shepherd," the sweetest note in our nightingale song! It is the privilege of faith to turn a general into a particular truth, a collective blessing into an individual one. The apostle illustrates this, " Who loved ME, and gave Himself for ME." My soul! put in your claim to a personal proprietorship in a personal Shepherd. He is as much you as though there were not another sheep of His flock. He loves you individually, chose you individually, died for you individually, called you and lives for you individually; and it is your privilege to join in the lofty melody of David the king- "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." "MY Lord and MY God," echoed Peter the apostle.
There is no reasoning so logical and accurate as that of faith. What inference could be more natural, what deduction more true? Mere human reason is sure to err when it attempts to solve the mysteries and grapple with the truths of divine revelation. But the moment we summon faith to the study- faith accepting what reason discards- the heart believing what the mind cannot understand- the whole soul bowing down to revelations and facts which infinitely transcend, but do not in the least degree contradict, reason, that moment we are made to know the doctrine whether it be of God. All our difficulty then vanishes, the mist dissolves, the soul is uplifted, and a landscape of divine truth, clothed with beauty, bathed in sun-light, and vocal with song, bursts upon our view. Receive the Bible as a little child, not citing it to the bar of your reason, but prostrating your reason unquestioningly and humbly before it, and you shall be saved. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." "Your word is truth." Such, then, is the deduction of faith– "The Lord is my Shepherd "- and because He is my Shepherd- "I shall not be in need." It is impossible that it should be otherwise, since it is the office of a shepherd to look well to the needs of his sheep. We shall not lack temporal supply. He instructs us to watch the sparrow lighting upon the earth in quest of its morning meal- to admire the lily clothed with a beauty eclipsing the most gorgeous attire of Solomon- bids us not be anxious what we shall eat or what we shall drink, or wherewithal we shall be clothed, since our heavenly Father knows we have need of all these things; and that He, as our Shepherd, is pledged to meet our every temporal necessity. Faith may be tried- and its very trial be found among our most precious blessings- yet sooner or later the supply of His providence will come, and the promise be verified, "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Still more, is He pledged to meet all the soul's requirements. What are our temporal needs in comparison to our spiritual? In this light we interpret those wonderful words, "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell," "Full of grace and truth." Christ, our Divine-human Shepherd, holds the keys of all the resources of Deity, of all the provisions of the covenant, of all the supplies of the Church. What is your need, O my soul? Is it grace? Christ is "full of grace." Is it power? "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." Is it comfort? Christ is "the Consolation of Israel." Is it supply? "He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd." Is it counsel? "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor." Is it sympathy? "He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities." "Jesus wept." In view of these precious declarations confirmatory of the all-sufficiency of Christ our Shepherd, let faith exclaim in every circumstance- "I shall not lack."
When I come with troubled heart,
Jesus bids me not depart- Until He stills it.
When I come with empty urn,
Jesus bids me not return- Until He fills it.
Once I came in tattered dress,
And the God of holiness- Did not loathe me.
Bringing nothing for the payment.
When I came for change of raiment- He did clothe me.
When I dared not nearer draw,
For the terrors of the law- He compelled me.
Then He showed me how the Son
Has my full salvation won- By His dying.
How the law's demand He met,
The poor bankrupt's total debt- Satisfying.
Still He bids me to draw near,
With my every grief and fear- And He quells it.
All unworthy, yet I learn,
Just to bring my empty urn- And He fills it.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want."