Is the Great Shepherd to leave the stray sheep to wander and perish? or is He to pity and reclaim them? Glory can accrue to Him in either way. It is for Him, in the plenitude of His own sovereignty and omnipotence, to decide the alternative. In the Crimean war of bygone years, there were two ways, very different from each other, in which heroic deed manifested itself. The one was, by our soldiers' indomitable courage in the field, when brave men stood manfully to their guns, and poured the iron hail against fearful odds—when a thin gossamer line, as if it had been a rampart of brass, broke a murderous charge, and turned the fortunes of the day—when, often and again, the apparently retreating wave, gathering up its strength—rallying its fretted thunder—swept with awful retribution over the ranks of the enemy, leaving the trophies of its might still and silent on the plain! That was the one way; the stern glory of carnage and destruction.

The other unfolds a picture in strange and startling contrast with this. At midnight, in stifled hospital wards, amid the light of dim lamps and moans of sufferers, a gentle Form of pity flitted from couch to couch, with words and looks and deeds of mercy—pale lips kissing the shadow on their pillows as it passed. Both, I repeat, were heroic scenes and deeds. On which of the two does the mind love most to dwell? On that field of stern desperate valor; or on these hushed corridors, away from the roar of battle, with the one hero-heart moving like a ministering angel amid the congregated crowd of wounded and dying?

God's way regarding man (with reverence we say it) was the latter. He could, indeed, have glorified Himself, in the vindication of the awful righteousness of His nature and of His law, by the destruction of the world—by leaving the sheep of this distant fold to wander across the desolate mountains, and perish amid the precipices of ruin. BUT "the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." We may imagine the two alternatives presenting themselves before the Divine mind. The "ministration of condemnation;" by the battle of the warrior, with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood, to convert earth into a fearful Aceldama to the praise of the glory of His JUSTICE. Or, by a wondrous scheme of love and wisdom and pity, to turn it into one vast Hospital, with the inscription on its walls, "I am the Lord who heals you" a Magnificent Temple to the praise of the glory of His GRACE. Condemn or not condemn; destroy or not destroy; leave the sheep to perish, or reclaim the wanderer. Leave the revolted orb to travel on in its erratic course, amid the infinite of darkness, or bring it back within the sphere of the divine regards. The resolve is made and proclaimed, "God sent NOT His Son into the world to CONDEMN the world, but that the world, through Him, might be SAVED."

Let this be our present theme of meditation: that the whole glory of the restoration of the lost sheep belongs to the Shepherd. The whole glory of the sinner's salvation belongs to God. We may look to this truth, first, in its simplest aspect.

The soul as we have already noted, is ever and anon manifesting some undefined longing after its lost portion in God. But it has in itself a hopeless moral inability to return. It cannot retrace its lost way. Alas! often there is rather the plunging deeper and deeper amid the pathless wilds of ruin, until, in addition to inability, there is added disinclination to be restored to the long-lost fold. How often does the sinner become so habituated to these dark mountains of his wandering, as to spurn all thought of return! How sad it is to note the case of the old worldling, who has gone the round of guilty indulgence, who has drunk from every brimming bowl and chalice of earthly happiness! You would expect the dulled appetite and satiated eye willingly to turn to a nobler portion; like the flower long drooping under cloudy, weeping skies, lifting its head lovingly to the inviting gleam of heaven's sunshine. But how often is it the reverse! Anything rather than return to God. The empty chalice must be refilled by some new honeyed earthly potion. The prodigal, rather than dream of restoration to the lost home, must have some new artificial means of stopping the rage of hunger, now that the swine's husks are turned from with aversion. The sheep, rather than return to the Shepherd, will go roaming in search of other pastures—increasing its mournful distance from the fold, and bringing it only into more perilous vicinity to the lions' dens and the mountains of the leopards.

Alas! experience thus only too faithfully confirms and endorses the Bible's revealed doctrine of human depravity. Deny it as man may, and refine on the Scriptures as they may, this lies at the foundation of the sinner's wandering, that he dislikes his Shepherd. He does not "like to retain God in his knowledge." It is the would-be creed of his corrupt heart (though conscience refutes the heterodoxy—protests against the lying utterance), "there is no God." He lives as if there were none. "You have forsaken ME, the fountain of living waters."

How, then, can the sinner be reclaimed? It is manifest that by no self-originated effort can he return. If saved, it must be by another. Himself he CANNOT—himself he WILL not save. No sheep can effect its own restoration. You may listen to its bleating cry—the utterance of misery and felt dissatisfaction with strange pastures. But back one step, of itself it cannot go. It is as helpless as the ship lying aslant, with shivered keel and gaping planks, on the bare rocks. You may patch up these wrecked timbers—you may replace these broken masts—but nothing, save the lordly ocean sending in his tidal waves, can lift it from its place, and set it once more a living moving thing on the waters. It is easy enough to wreck that noble vessel. A drunken pilot—a deranged compass—a sunken reef—a sudden storm, may each do so; but not so easy to refit and restore it.

It is easy to drive the sheep away from the fold. A base companion—a master lust—indulgence in one guilty passion—some sudden gust of temptation, may account for a lifetime of wandering; but Omnipotence alone can bring it back. It is easy enough to take the tiara of priceless diamonds, or the necklace of gold, and plunge it down in mid-ocean; but it is not so easy to descend through that traversed barrier—that liquid rampart which rolls defiantly between, and get them up again.

The soul, the true casket of lost treasures, by reason of its own sad principle of moral gravitation, sinks easily downward. But it is He alone who "takes up the waters in the hollow of His hand" that can rescue it from the depths of ruin and despair. Here, then, is the gospel's glorious history of the restoration of the wanderer—"God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ: by grace are you saved." "Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out."

It is not Angels. They may afterwards be employed subordinately as ministering spirits, encamping round about the lost one, and bearing him up in all his ways, "sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation." But it is the Almighty Shepherd Himself who has the whole glory of the seeking and finding. The words of Peter, when he says, "You were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls," are generally misinterpreted. The "return" here spoken of is not used in an active, but passive sense; the return is not the self-originated voluntary return of the wanderer; but it is brought back, or returned, it knows not how, to the fold of the Good Shepherd. "Not unto us, O God, not unto us, but unto Your name we would give glory, for Your mercy and for Your truth's sake!" Marvelous condescension—unspeakable grace! He speaks in one of the verses which precede this chapter, as if it were something wondrous—something well-near incredible: "Behold I, even I."

The spot is still pointed out with pride, amid the rocky wilds of Dauphine, where an eagle bore in its talons the infant which had been left smiling in fearless innocence in its cradle by the cottage door. One stalwart form after another tried to climb that giddy height for the rescue, but had to abandon it in despair. At last, a fleet and nimble foot spurns all difficulties. Up she climbs, from crag to crag, until, reaching the dizzy eminence, she buries the yet living child in her bosom, saying, as a mother's tongue in such an hour alone could say, "This my child was dead, and is alive again—was lost, and is found!" But that was a mother's speechless affection for her offspring. As she brought her "loved and lost" back to her cottage home, and replaced it in the emptied cradle, we would think it strange to hear her saying, "Behold I, even I, have done this." Who could have done it but she?

We could imagine a father's love for a prodigal boy taking him over half the world in the endeavor to seek and find him out. He would forget all the prodigality and sin, in the memories of hallowed "childhood;" when his little one climbed on his knee, or plucked flowers with him in the meadow, or walked by his side, and with playful prattle wiled away hours of care and sorrow!

We can picture the soldier's wife out in the starry night and the pale moonshine, gazing wistfully amid the heaps of unburied slain, searching for the silent heart that can respond to her love no more.

We can understand many a kind footstep going amid homes of wretchedness on errands of pity and love—entering the beggar's hovel, or penetrating the alley where filth and crime hold perpetual sway. We can understand how such experience a luxury in doing good—in lifting up these miserable outcasts from their dens and lives of misery and guilt; recognizing under these piteous rags the claim of degraded brotherhood; yes, hearts which, under genial influences, would have been as warm, or warmer than their own!

But what does the Infinite Jehovah see in us?—What claim have these sheep on this Shepherd of the universe—these sinners on their God?—None! The natural heart is a den of pollution, a haunt of evil, the nurturing home of rebellion. "I have not rejected you," He seems to say, "but you have rejected Me!" I might have ratified your guilty apostasy. I might have left you to perish. I might have stamped eternity on your wanderings from the fold. This would have been the case at any human tribunal; in the dealings of man with his fellow man. "But my ways are not as your ways, nor my thoughts as your thoughts." "Behold I, even I, both search my sheep and seek them out."

Not only, however, are we called to note and admire God's grace and condescension; but to admire the SOVEREIGNTY of that grace as shown in the selection of its objects. Mankind were not the only fallen family in the universe. Other sheep, not of the earthly fold, had also strayed from the Shepherd. Might we not have expected, that in resolving on the ransom and recovery of any lost ones, He would have made choice rather of a different race of wanderers! Fallen angels (the aborigines of Heaven), were greater than man. They were swift of wing in fulfilling the divine behests; and the very nobility of their natures, which made them glorious in their state of holiness and purity, would make them in proportion formidable, when they became demons in depravity. For both these reasons—the excelling in strength, whether for good or for evil, would (we might have supposed on human calculations) have made the angelic nature rather than the human—the lost sheep of heaven, rather than the lost sheep of earth—the object of the divine restitution.

Well may we pause and ponder this wondrous manifestation of sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners of the dust! Well may we love to gaze on that picture which the Great Shepherd Himself, in His own parable, holds up to view—"leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness" (leaving apostate angels and fallen devils to perish), and Himself "going after that which was lost," in this remote corner of His creation. Not the sheep seeking the Shepherd; but the Shepherd seeking the sheep. Not the dove, with weary wing and wailing cry, traversing the wilderness of waters seeking the Ark; but the Ark in search of the dove. Not the vagabond coming to your door hanging in rags, with cheeks gaunt with hunger, and shivering in the wintry blast; but the King going and seeking out the beggar's dwelling, and putting sunshine and joy into his abode of misery.

Truly, indeed, this salvation of man is a story of grace. Turn the moral kaleidoscope as we may, the gleaming words still stand radiant before our eyes, "By the grace of God we are what we are." God needed no sheep, no sinners, no angels, no universes to add to His glory. Kings of the earth have to add kingdom to kingdom; they have to give rein to the lust of conquest and aggression, to gain themselves renown. The glory of the old Roman conquerors, as, charioted in triumph, they rode up, laurel-wreathed to the Capitol, was measured by the uncrowned potentates who walked in chains beside their chariot wheels, or dragged the car of victory up the steeps. But if we can compare the shadowy greatness of earth with that of Him by whom kings reign; who "makes the clouds His chariot, and who walks upon the wings of the wind;" worlds on worlds—myriads of blazing stars and systems—could not add one ray to His underived glory. And were these worlds annihilated—blotted out from the map of creation; were these stars of night swept away into nonentity; by Him, the blank would be unfelt. He would be once more Alone. Glorious in the unpeopled solitudes of immensity; infinitely happy in His own underived happiness!

Once more. God's grace and compassion are further manifested in His untiring love and patience in the pursuit of the lost, until restoration and safety be ensured. In other words, we have to admire, not only His free grace and His sovereign grace, but what the old writers call His irresistible grace. "Thus says the Lord God, Behold I, even I, will BOTH search my sheep AND seek them out." He will not only search for them, but He will search until He discover them. Or, as this is more beautifully expressed by the lips of the Great Shepherd Himself in His parable—"He goes after that which was lost until He finds it." Until! There is a world of pathos and meaning in that word. It gives us a wondrous glimpse of the Savior's love, and forms the turning-point in the touching story. Until! Its very indefiniteness as to time and toil are expressive. It may be days, weeks, months, years, He has been in unwearied pursuit after the wanderer. It may describe a sad history of scornful rejection stubborn waywardness, persistent ingratitude.

The parable pictures to us the Oriental shepherd climbing over jagged precipices, toiling in the burning sun over unsheltered wilds, or braving the perils of pathless forests—the wayward sheep rushing farther on, plunging deeper and deeper into destruction, and lengthening the weary distance he has to carry it back to the fold.

When a shepherd in our own country discovers that a member of his flock is missing, how does he generally reclaim the wanderer? He sends his dogs in pursuit of it. You may watch their track as they bound along the mountainside or up the craggy steep. By and by the panting fugitive, driven before them, enters, trembling, fleece-torn, and weary, the fold from which it had strayed. Not so, however, the Hebrew shepherd. He would leave the restoring of his lost one not even to a hireling or servant. He cannot rest until the truant-sheep be clasped in his own arms. He grudges not the labor of a long journey. On he pursues his often arduous task, and he continues to pursue "until he finds it!"

Touching emblem and parable of the Good Shepherd, and of His persevering love and compassion! Had it been any other than He—had it been, not God, but man—the pursuit would, long ago, have been abandoned in despair; seeing that, heedless of all entreaties, the sheep seemed to love its own death, and, regardless of the Shepherd's voice, rushed onwards to destruction. But, unmoved by all its indifference; with an importunity that never wearies, and a love that never grows cold, He still pursues. The forgetfulness and ingratitude of the wanderer only seem to quicken His desire to have it folded in His arms. It does not say how long His importunity is to last. The Savior's love is bounded by no distance, is cooled by no difficulties, is repulsed by no obstacles.

Many an earthly shepherd goes after his sheep, but he has missed its track; or, if not, he discovers, alas! as he gazes on the bones which strew the mouth of the den, that a fleeter foot than his has found the prize. Not so the Heavenly Shepherd. He not only searches, but "seeks them out." He goes after it "until He finds it."

One of the noblest records of true heroism in England's annals is of comparatively recent date; when a gallant vessel, manned with gallant hearts, went forth amid the frowning icebergs of the Northern Seas, to search for a band of missing explorers. They sailed there, buoyed with the faint, feeble hope, that the object of their search might still be found, battling bravely with ceaseless winter. Alas! they went after the lost "until they found them;" but they found them with the stiffened snow and ice as their winding-sheet! They brought not back the living, but only some sad mementos and memorials of the dead.

Not so is the journey, not so the pursuit, of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. His omniscient eye follows every wanderer. Those whom He has marked for His own, He will, without fail, bring home. Not one can elude His pursuit, nor evade His loving scrutiny. Cannot many a wandering sheep rehearse, through tears, all this, as a personal story; how God tracked their footsteps through the bleak quagmire of their wandering, repelled by no obduracy, chilled by no ingratitude. Think of these journeys after lost sinners, embracing a period of 6000 years. What an aggregate of human ingratitude! What a gigantic record of divine patience and mercy! Oh! If all these journeys of Shepherd-love could be told! If a volume were to be written with this title—"until He found them," I suppose that all the world could not contain the books that should be written.

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