"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." Isaiah 53:6

Mournful is this opening picture. It is composed of no quiet pastoral scene with verdant meadows and glassy waters—the watchful sheep reposing under the loving eye and guardianship of their Shepherd. Shepherd and fold are forsaken. Bleak desolate mountains or rugged wilds, stretching interminably on every side, are covered with the scattered flock!

The Bible contains many impressive descriptions of our state of alienation from God. The star wandering from its central sun—"wandering stars." The prisoner bound in fetters of iron pining in his dungeon. The vessel driven from its moorings plunging in the tempestuous sea. The prodigal, self-exiled from the joys and amenities of home, feeding on the garbage of the distant wilderness. But we question if any figure more simply yet more graphically delineates the natural estrangement of the heart than that of the stray sheep. There is not only conveyed the idea of our lost condition, but the tendency to wander further and further through the bleak dreary wastes of an ever-sadder ruin. The sheep is proverbially the most helpless of animals. Others, by the power of natural instinct, can succeed in avoiding danger; or, if they lose their way, they can retrace it with ease. The sheep can do neither. When once it has wandered from the Shepherd's eye, and from the footsteps of the flock, instinct seems to forsake it; is incapable of return.

What a graphic two-fold picture of apostasy is here! "We all like sheep have gone astray." ALL have strayed from the Shepherd (that is the universal characteristic), and then it is added, "We have turned every one to his own way." Each has some bye-way or separate track of sin, down which, or along which, he rushes, widening his distance from the Shepherd-love of God. You may perchance have seen, in early morning, the shepherd opening the gate of the fold, and the sheep scattering themselves over the mountain side. You can follow in thought a wayward company—some stragglers of the flock—wandering beyond their appointed pasture. For a while they keep together along the green sward or heathy common. But, by and by, they are broken up into separate groups; these again into smaller still; until wanderer by wanderer seems to pursue each its own lonely path of danger. The bleat of each of these lost sheep seems to express its misery and helplessness; its sense of utter loneliness and isolation—away from the flock, and (what was more than all to the sheep of eastern countries) away from the Shepherd; roaming the mountains conscious of the forfeiture of his protection and tender care.

And is this not a picture—a faithful and graphic picture—of every sinner by nature; a spiritual wanderer—away from God—uttering the inward cry of restless misery on the bleak mountains of alienation and sin? His state is one of utter loneliness and homelessness. He has lost his fold and his Shepherd-and in losing his God, he has lost his all.

Suppose that by some fearful catastrophe we were suddenly bereft of all our inlets of physical enjoyment—the organs of sight and hearing—of taste and smell, all the avenues by which the manifold pleasures of God's wondrous and lovely world open to us. If that glorious landscape, that azure sky, that gleaming sun, these spangled nightly heavens, were in a moment to be palled in blackness—the shadow of death. If the sweet perfume of flowers, wafted on the breath of the summer winds, were unfelt; if the pleasant tones of the human voice, the song of birds, the music of the waterfall, the noise of the forest, the wild cadence of the murmuring sea—suppose all these woke no responsive chords on the broken harp—the ear being closed to which they discoursed their melody.

No, more, let us suppose losses tenderer still. You who cling with doting fondness to your household treasures, enshrining them in your heart of hearts—suppose that, by some fell swoop, your hearth was in a moment swept and rifled, that death severed all you loved on earth from your embrace, and left you in a blighted world, isolated and alone. The son you expected to lean upon as your prop and staff taken from your side—the loving daughter, whose tender care smoothed the furrow on your brow, parted from you—her ingenious ministries of love and tenderness suddenly arrested. How intolerable the desolation resulting from one or all of these physical deprivations and domestic calamities! And yet, if we but pondered it aright, what would all be, compared with the thought of being severed from God; He who pities as a father; who loves as a mother; who comforts as a friend; who tends as a shepherd; who is as a God only can be! His favor is not only conducive to life, but it is life. To quench His light in the soul, is to quench the sun: it would be equivalent to plucking yonder blazing central fount of glory from the midst of its dependent planets, and leaving them to wheel their tortuous way in the blackness of darkness. Bereft of Him, we are bereft indeed. What a reality and deep pathos are there in the Psalmist's appeal—"How long will You forget me, O Lord, forever?" A lost sheep! a lost soul! lost its peace—its rest—its happiness—its eternal safety—"What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

We know, indeed, that one most sad and fearful feature, in connection with this truth of human alienation and depravity, is the utter recklessness and indifference of the wanderer—the lost consciousness that he is lost; the downward, heedless rush to ruin, without one desire to return. And, doubtless, it is so with vast multitudes. They have become so steeped in forgetfulness and insensibility—they have drunk so deeply of the waters of lethargy—that they settle down in these strange pastures in reckless contentment, without one thought of the old paths and the forgotten fold.

But we see also, in the Bible picture of the lost sheep, what is a truer and more faithful delineation of the lost human heart. The strayed sheep feels its loneliness. Those who have at times witnessed the living type in our own mountain glens, may have noted in the plaintive bleatings—the wild restless look—the rushing here and there, in hopeless effort, to regain the lost path—that the animal has the one absorbing feeling of estrangement and abandonment. If you could interpret that language of look and sound, you would find that it was the longing for restoration to the fold.

Men who have lost God, forget it and deny it as at times they may, yet, ever and anon, do feel (they MUST feel) that, by reason of that loss, they are not happy. Nothing will fill the infinite capacities of the soul of man, but the great Being from whom he has departed. You may try to fill that soul with lower and baser substitutes. You may lure it away from the heavenly fold by tempting it with the world's choicest pastures, the golden meadows of riches, and the pleasures of sin. It will tell you by a half-stifled bleat of fretful, restless disquiet, that it is not, and cannot be happy. And why? just because it has lost its true fold, its true home—in the friendship and love of God.

We always pity those who have seen "better days;" who have been reduced from opulence to chill penury; or who, from an ample competency and cheerful provisions, have now to sing their way in rags and wretchedness from door to door in the open street, in order to procure a pittance for themselves and the hungry orphans at their side. We pity the prodigal who had once enjoyed his father's house and hall, now seated at his humiliating fare with the swine of the far country. We pity the bird of the forest that was used to be singing up to heaven's gate, now lying struggling with broken wing in the furrow. There is a feeling akin to pity, even in regard to mute inanimate things, which have seen "better times." The old ancestral castle, where, in the days of chivalry, kings and nobles once held feast and tournament, whose tapestried walls minstrels sang; now a deserted ruin, where the winds howl at will through silent chambers and broken battlements and blackened hearths—its only tenant the crawling reptile—its only tapestry, festoons of damp and tangled ivy.

So it is with the sinner. We pity him. Made at first after the image of God, he has truly seen better days. His soul, like the glittering patch gleaming under the rags, bears testimony of former dignity and greatness. We pity him; for he too, like that wounded bird, once mounted on soaring pinions. We pity him; for he too, like that ruined castle, has his niches and loopholes and tapestried fragments, peering through the matted weeds and ivy, which still vindicate the grandeur of his original. We pity him; for he too, like that ruined sheep, was once folded in the Divine pastures. That shattered frame, that torn fleece, are not what once they were, when feeding on the Delectable Mountains, reposing under the Shepherd's love. Do any whose eye traces these pages feel that they are still astray—that they are still far from God—that they have no happiness where they are, and can have none in this state of guilty alienation? Oh! better to feel this, than to settle down in callous contentment, on these distant pastures, without God and without hope, and finally to perish there! Better surely to feel your danger and take timorous means to avert it, than to be like the ill-fated voyagers approaching all unaware and unwarned the fatal reef, in the midst of music and dancing. One other moment the crash, and then the wild cry—"We are lost!"

Go, return to the forsaken Shepherd! Return to the fold; and remember, in doing so, you are, in the truest, sense, "going Home." Home! what a gush of thought there is in that word to all of us! What will the man, long exiled—reluctantly domiciled in the far country not give to be at Home! How often do home memories and home countenances flit before him! How do time and distance only increase the longings once more to be back amid these cherished haunts—to be seated by the trees which boyhood climbed, and by the murmuring streams which sang the first and sweetest music in his ear! That is your home, to be folded in the love and in the heart of God.

We have read somewhere, of the wild but touching raving of a maniac, which expressed itself ever in the one utterance "I am going Home." A thousand questions might be asked, and a thousand expedients employed, to recall dethroned reason from its wild soliloquy. But in vain—the one key-note of the ever-recurring doleful wailing was—"I am going Home." Ah! It is the indefinite inarticulate longing of wandering humanity. It was the cry of the self-abandoned prodigal "when he came to himself"—when he awoke from his madness, "I am going HOME"—"I will arise and go to my father."

I repeat, you cannot be happy in your present state. You are like the troubled sea which cannot rest. These waves of old ocean are a type of your own restless disquietude, seeking rest, but finding none. The ocean's dimpled bosom is ever "seeking rest." These waves that rise and sink, swelling and tossing themselves in a thousand tortuous forms, are only by nice and accurate physical laws trying to rock themselves into a calm. Emblem of the restless soul of man! Its very heavings and agitations and fretful disquietude, what are these, but just its own giant efforts to rock itself to repose on an Infinite God!

Remember, moreover, what aggravates the guilt and folly of your present departure and unrest, is the fact that you are yourself alone responsible for "going astray." You were not driven from the fold—you wandered from it. It was an act of self-exile, self-banishment. That is one of the most touching scenes of Old Testament story, when, in presence of assembled Israel, on a day of high festival, the scape-goat went forth from the camp, "led by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness." We can follow in thought the forlorn animal, wandering, with panting sides and bleating cry, through the sandy waste, until it reached the still more desolate shores of the Dead Sea. There it stands, with hot eyeballs and blistered feet; haggard with hunger and travel; faint with thirst; mocked with the waters of the briny lake, which is unsheltered by shrub or rock; the furnace glow of the sands drying up the juices of its body—the hidden springs of life. That famished creature excites our pity. It was no voluntary exile—no spontaneous desertion of the flocks of its companions which brought it there. It was thrust out—it was led resisting from the camp. While, therefore, typical of a reality more solemn and significant still, the scape-goat is not the type of the lost sinner. We must seek for this rather in some wandering sheep, which, in stupid forgetfulness and wayward folly, has forsaken its pastures—disowned its Shepherd-and rushed on madly and wildly to ruin and death.

The Shepherd is not responsible for your present distance and alienation. He says now regarding each individual truant wanderer, as He said of old, from the brow of Mount Olivet, through His tears, regarding a nation of such, "How often would I have gathered you, and you would not!" But—(although in this we are anticipating the theme of subsequent chapters)—blessed be His name, His mission also was to proclaim, not through His tears but His blood, salvation to the perishing. In the case of the scape-goat of old, there was no possibility of return. It was consigned to a hopeless banishment—a lonely death; the bones of the outcast were left to bleach on the desert sands—its carcass to be food for the fowls of heaven. But, in the case of the most abject and hapless spiritual wanderer, there is hope—yes, to all who will—there is the glorious certainty of return and restoration. The last clause of our motto-verse unfolds to us the wondrous expedient of mingled love and wisdom. The scape-goat stands forth the awful type of the true Substitute. All the sins of the guilty flock are laid upon Him—and by Him are borne away forever into a land of oblivion. "The Lord has laid upon Him" (on the head of a Surety-Savior) "the iniquities of us all." Go! confess over HIM "all your iniquities in all your sins." Hang up, in the gallery of your hearts, the picture of the Scape-goat, bearing the invisible imputed load of sin into the region of forgetfulness; and inscribe under it the New Testament writing and interpretation—(it is a glorious warrant—a gospel contained in a single sentence)—"HE HAS MADE HIM TO BE SIN FOR US WHO KNEW NO SIN, THAT WE MIGHT BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. "

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