In the previous chapter, we spoke of God's grace manifested in diverse ways in the seeking of the lost; His unwearied patience in tracking the erring footsteps of the wanderers; not content with seeking for them, but searching "until He finds them." In what strange unwonted places and resorts the Shepherd of Israel often finds the members of His flock! As the traveler witnesses, at times, the blue gentian peeping up through the snow-wreaths in the heights of Alpine passes—a child of summer where winter wears his icy diadem; or, as the antiquary at times discovers some rare bit of carving, or painting, nestling amid the wreck and debris which encircle the old ivy-clad loop-holed ruin—so are God's sheep discovered often where we would have least expected them. Witness Manasseh, that stray wanderer on the hills of Judah. See how God searched him out "amid the thorns," where, we read, he first took refuge; and then in the dungeon vault of Babylon. See how He followed after him, "until He found him;" and the long-lost, but finally captured wanderer, leapt into the Shepherd's arms.

Look at Saul of Tarsus, the leader of a devious and destructive flock; not content to stray himself, but seducing others to follow. See how the Shepherd pursues him over the stony wilds of unbelief, self-righteousness, bigotry, and guilt; crying, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Why longer resist the grace that has marked you as its own?' The chief of erring wanderers responded to the call of shepherd-love. With bleating cry he too rushed panting and trembling to the feet and the fold he never deserted again.

Look at Zaccheus hiding amid the thick branches of the sycamore tree, until the Savior passed by. He was the one of all the Jericho flock least likely to be reclaimed. But the Shepherd's eye penetrated his place of concealment. He cried, 'Zaccheus! come down! Today, lost wanderer, you are to abide in my fold.'

Look at the adulterous woman from Samaria! "Simon, do you see this woman?" 'Do you see you this sheep, the brand of infamy on her brow, the stain of lost purity on her fleece?' If others scorn her bleating cries, the Divine Shepherd, who "gave His life" for her, does not.

Look at the dying thief. It was a sheep in the fangs of the wolf; death was already dimming his eye. It was the unlikeliest time to be saved. But the Shepherd rushes to the rescue, saying—"I have called you by your name, you are mine." That day he was with Jesus in the fold of Paradise!

And how many, doubtless, can tell the same tale of wondrous patience, forbearance, and love—that they are miracles of grace—their history this—"The chief of sinners, but I obtained mercy!"

How many and diverse, too, have been God's method of reclaiming the lost sheep! He has followed some with worldly calamity. He spoke to you—He "searched you out,"—by sickness—by making gaps in your household—by sudden and severe bereavements. You would not listen otherwise to your Shepherd's voice. He had sought you by gentler means; by tender compassion—unruffled prosperity—abounding mercies. But you spurned His calls; and He had to bring you back "by terrible things in righteousness!" Ah! If we but knew it, how often are these desolating afflictions only the louder tones of the Shepherd's voice—the wise and needful constraint of the Shepherd's love?

We have heard of the earthly shepherd who failed to induce the sheep to enter the door of the fold. It eluded all his attempts: it persisted in remaining on the outside pastures. After having exhausted every other expedient, his last resort was successful. He took its bleating lamb, and carried it in his arms inside the fold. The mother no longer resisted; obeying the instincts of nature, she followed her offspring. The Shepherd attained His object, and the wicket-gate closed them in against the storms of night. How often does the Great Shepherd take a tender lamb from a parent's side—a loved child—set it inside the gate of the heavenly fold, that He may tempt and constrain the other to follow after it!

But to pursue the more special subject of this chapter. We adverted, in the former, to the Shepherd's going after the sheep until He found it. Let us now attend to His dealing with it on finding it, and its restoration to the fold. "When He has found it, He lays it on His shoulders rejoicing." If we spoke of His patient, untiring perseverance as wondrous; there is something surely equally touching and beautiful in this next delineation in the Divine picture. If it had been the kindest and tenderest earthly father, meeting his wayward disobedient child, we could not have been surprised had the story depicted him with a frown on his countenance, displeasure in his eye, the rod of chastisement in his hand. He scarce could conceal or disguise how keenly he felt the filial ingratitude.

Kings and despots of the earth, in bestowing their favors and pardons, have done so, too frequently, with every mark of humiliation and disgrace. Edward the Third of England dispensed pardon at the gates of Calais, but it was when the crouching citizens came with halters round their necks—the degrading badges of servitude; and even this act of clemency was extorted by the intercession of his queen. Another sent his pardoned enemy home—but it was with rayless eyes—emptied sockets, the perpetual memorials of ignominious defeat.

How different the ways of God—the dealings of the Great Shepherd of souls towards the reclaimed wanderer from His fold! The history of these wanderers may have been sad indeed. A history of neglect, rebellion, waywardness. We may expect when the Shepherd overtakes, to hear nothing but words of upbraiding; harsh tones of deserved and merited rebuke. But no! the Lord upbraids not. If we were to select the most tenderly affecting part of the New Testament parable, it would be, when, in silent love, He lays the lost sheep on His shoulders rejoicing. The past with all its forgetfulness, and disobedience, and ingratitude, seems to be obliterated. The Shepherd is so immersed in His own joy in the rescue, that He has no leisure to think of its waywardness. Days, and weeks, and years may have been spent in weary pursuit after the erring sinner, but all the distance, and fatigue, and difficulties of the journey seem forgotten in the moment of ecstasy, when the wanderer is clasped in His arms, and when the Shepherd rejoicing, exclaims, "This my sheep was dead, and is alive again; it was lost and is found."

Mysterious, wondrous silence! What! will He say nothing about grace despised, privileges abused, conscience resisted, mercy scorned? Will He say nothing about those dark memories of sin, that have been ever haunting some, like fearful spectres, driving them onwards and onwards to the black rocks, the hideous precipices of despair? No! we listen in vain for words of harshness; we look in vain for strokes of chastisement. There are none. When He grasps the forlorn, panting fugitive, it is to take it up in His arms. When He does break silence—wit is to exclaim, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My Sheep which was lost!"

Let us look at Christ's recorded dealings with some of these. Nor can we do better than take for illustration the very cases to which we have already referred. Let us see, when He finds those sheep, what He says—what He does; for as He dealt with them, so is He willing to deal with every lost one still.

Is it the sinful woman in the Pharisee's house? Who more utterly lost than she? Scorned and hooted by those in whose company she then was—like the maimed or diseased member of the flock we may have seen on our own mountain-sides—persecuted by the others—thrust aside from their pastures, and set upon with cruelty if daring to venture within reach. She had listened, doubtless, somewhere, to the true Shepherd's voice, He who "calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out!" She had heard His gentle sayings. She had probably heard Him drop those gracious balm-words of comfort—(Oh, to one whose bleating cry was ever this, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep," what could have been more soothing to these weary, wandering feet of sin and wretchedness), "Come unto me, and I will give you rest!" She may have heard Him say, "I am the door; by me if any man enters in he shall be saved." Might she not enter? Yes! others may exclude her—scornful brows may frown upon her, and bid her to go away. But she knows that a kinder Shepherd and a better Fold than earth can give her wherein to rest her weary spirit, are at hand. She will throw herself at the wicket-gate, and let her tears plead her suit. The Shepherd sees her; and what does He say? Does He dwell upon her flagrant life of sin? does He mock her anguish by bitter upbraidings? No! with all her foul black stains, He yet lifts her from the dust, throws open the gates of His fold, and tells her to go in and out and find pasture!

Is it Zaccheus? He too was a guilty, aggravated wanderer; his character blackened with extortion and fraud. But the Shepherd calls him to His presence. When the guilty publican heard the name pronounced by that Infinitely Pure One, "Zaccheus!" the whole unworthy memories of a past life-time may at the moment have rushed before him. He may have expected to hear from these lips of burning holiness nothing but severe reproach and unmeasured invective. The detected lost one would perhaps gladly have plunged back into the bramble thicket, from which (prompted by curiosity) he had incautiously ventured. But he is also taken and laid on the Shepherd's shoulders rejoicing. Christ has not one angry word to utter. He speaks kindly to him. That poor, hardened soul, unaccustomed to one look or word of complacency; scorned—hateful and hated—pointed at by his fellows, with the odious title, "The extortioner of Jericho!" When he hears that gracious Healer saying, 'Zaccheus! I am coming to be a dweller in your house—to share your meal—to tell you of better pastures than your hungry soul has ever fed upon,' he lifts his drooping head, as do the leaves of the flower, to the gleam stealing through the grated dungeon. This trembling sheep leaps into the Shepherd's arms; and if the crowd around wonder, and raise the unkind taunt; if they whisper aloud the old history of his sins; the Redeemer only lifts His eyes from a scorning earth to a sympathizing heaven, as He thus silently addresses the angel spectators, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost."

Is it the Thief on the cross? a sheep bleating in the agonies of death! He sees his Shepherd bleeding by his side—the Good Shepherd, giving that moment His own life for the sheep. When he cries, "Lord, remember me!" is the Shepherd's taunting reply—"Yes, I remember you—I remember all your guilty wanderings—your cursings—your murders—your life-long villainies—perish in righteous retribution for your crimes"? No! In that hour of mysterious anguish, the dying Savior lays the dying thief on His shoulders, and they enter together the golden wicket-gate of the fold of paradise!

Or shall we take, yet once more, a different example? Look at Peter. His, indeed, was but a temporary wandering from the pastures in which he had long reposed, and from the Shepherd he had long loved. Yet, in one sense, this very fact fearfully aggravated the crime of his ingratitude and desertion. But when the risen Savior meets the trembling backslider, what does He say? Does He rehearse all the miseries of that wretched alienation, since the night he broke loose from the fold, when the Shepherd was smitten and the sheep scattered? Does He recall to him all his pledged, but sadly-broken vows of inviolable fidelity, on lake and mountain, and at quiet communion season? Does He aggravate the pangs of his sorrowing spirit by recounting the oaths, and curses, and presumptuous falsehood in Pilate's judgment-hall? Does He upbraid him for his guilty coward-absence from the foot of the cross, when the bolder hearts of the Marys and the gentle spirit of John confronted that awful scene? Listen; "Simon, son of Jonah! DO YOU LOVE ME?" That broken bosom was not needlessly lacerated by speaking of sins too deeply felt to need being laid bare. The threefold denial draws forth no severer, no more cutting or wounding rebuke, than the threefold challenge of LOVE, 'Simon'—as if He said, 'I forget the past—I bury it in oblivion. Come, stray sheep, into your Shepherd's arms. Give the silent promise of faithful obedience for the future. Go back amid the flocks of your companions—teach them by word, and warning, and example, never to stray! When you are "turned again"—"when you are 'converted,' strengthen your brethren." "Simon son of Jonah! Do you love Me?" "Feed My lambs—feed My sheep!"

Oh! how tender, how winning is the Great Shepherd in all these and such-like dealings! "The love of Christ constrains us." Nothing but love will draw the sinner—melt the heart, and subdue its enmity. The goodness of God leads to repentance. Sinai—the mount of terror—gives forth its stern utterance, "You shall follow the Shepherd:" it threatens its curses on those who fail to follow Him. Calvary gives forth its voice of love; and we love Him and follow Him because He first loved us. Can it be said of us, "You were as sheep going astray, but have now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls?" If so, how happy our condition! How great the contrast between these hours of bitter alienation and wandering, and those attending this joyous restoration! It is the difference between the furious lava-stream, burning up and blighting everything before it, in its fiery path; but whose surface, a few years hence, is carpeted with verdure, on which purple grapes pillow their ripe clusters.

Astray from the fold, away from the Shepherd, you cannot be happy. No! with death and immortality before you, you cannot be satisfied with the poor 'painted joys' of the present, if you have nothing better with which to fill the aching voids of your soul. Too truthful and suggestive is the symbolic truth conveyed by a painter in an allegorical picture of the world—children in a churchyard, sporting with soap-bubbles by the side of an opened grave! The bubbles are beauteous—lustrous with rainbow tints; but, one by one, they burst, some in the air, others as they touch the fringing grass; the vapoury moisture of all, falling into that dark hollow at their feet.

No, no! the true repose of the heart is in God. The true rest of the soul is in the clefts of the Rock! To revert to the figure already employed, you cannot detain the eagle in the forest. You may gather around him a chorus of choicest birds—you may give him a perch on the goodliest pine—you may charge winged messengers to bring him choicest dainties—but he will spurn them all. Spreading his lordly wings, and, with his eye on the Alpine cliff, he will soar away to his own ancestral halls amid the munitions of rocks and the wild music of tempest and waterfall! The soul of man, in its eagle soarings, will rest with nothing short of the Rock of Ages. Its ancestral halls are the halls of Heaven. Its munitions of rocks are the attributes of God. The sweep of its majestic flight is Eternity! "Lord, YOU have been our dwelling-place in all generations!"

Nor let any unworthy doubts, any unbelieving surmises, be harbored as to the Shepherd's willingness to save. If we have been taught anything by the subject of this chapter, it surely is that blessed truth which is too often overlooked and disowned—"The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost." Mark, it is Himself in these words who speaks! It is not man. Man has too often only a harsh verdict for the penitent. As was the case with the unfeeling guests in the house of the Pharisee, the cruel whisper is often all that goes round when the trembling sheep is seen crouching at the Shepherd's feet. Too many deal with the outcast and fallen as the watchman in the Song dealt with the weeping bride—tearing off her veil and loading her with reproaches.

But the Chief Shepherd is more tender and loving than His under-shepherds. He has no words but forgiveness—"Behold I, even Incarnate Purity. I, who on account of sin had to shed My life's blood, and therefore who hate it with a perfect hatred. Yet even I am ready to say to all who seek My mercy—"Your sins, which are many, are forgiven!" Every such drooping, withered flower in His garden He tells to lift up its head. It reminds one of the decayed and decaying leaves of the rose, which the gardener would have cast among the rubbish, or left the autumn winds to strew on the ground; but which loving hands gather in baskets, that they may be stored up for years in some treasured vessel to shed perfume through all the house!

Do not think of God in the light of a gloomy and unscriptural theology, as the Romans thought of their Jupiter as a wrathful Being, with the bolt in his hand, ever delighting to launch the thunder. Think of Him rather as the Seeker of the LOST; "not willing that any should perish;" calling sinners to His feet—not, as we might have dreamt or expected, with the halter round their neck, the brand on their brow, and the chains dangling at their side—but speaking to them as a Father—dealing with them as a Shepherd; saying to them with the authority of a King—"As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies."

Mock no longer the Shepherd's entreaties. His expostulations may even now be addressed to you. He may be pursuing you by the voice of His providence. He may be showing you, as you never saw it before, the desolateness of this wilderness—the awful isolation of the spirit away from Himself! He may be robbing you of your substance, or blighting your earthly hopes—opening graves for your children, or putting an impressive mockery on the vain magnificence of a dead and dying world; one or all of these may be the footsteps of the pursuing Shepherd.

Do you never pause to think, that the farther you stray from His fold, you are increasing His toilsome journey—adding to the travail of His soul, vexing and saddening a loving Savior's heart? On the other hand, think of the joy which your restoration and return would cause to that Divine Shepherd! Here is His own delineation of that joy—"When he comes home he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost." Encouraging, sustaining thought to those who may be now returning back to the fold. You are thereby causing Jesus to rejoice! The breakings of heart—the penitential sighings and tears of the closet—have a glorious counterpart in heaven. For every sinner that stands weeping at the Cross, there is a Savior rejoicing on the throne! As He hurries back with you along the wilderness path in the arms of His everlasting love, He says, "I am glorified in them!"

No, more—His own beautiful parable tells us, that it is no common joy which greets the return of the wanderer. "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents—more than over ninety-nine just people who need no repentance." This would seem, among other suggestive truths, to announce to us, that the salvation of the sinner is the marvel of marvels—the prodigy of prodigies! The tears of the lowly penitent are matter of loftier rejoicing than the songs and adorations and unfaltering obedience of those angels who have never swerved from their steadfastness. From the ninety-nine orbs tenanted by principalities and powers, there rolls not into the throne of God a tide of glory so wondrous as that from a ransomed world. Hence we read, that when the heavenly inhabitants would find throughout the universe the noblest theme for their praises—the grandest and most majestic display of Jehovah's glory—they look, not upward to the throne, but stoop downwards to the cross. This is the theme of their ascription—"The whole EARTH" (not heaven) "is filled with His glory,"—"Unto principalities and powers in heavenly places is made known by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God."

Finally, you who are now reposing safely within the sacred enclosure, ever give God all the glory of your restoration. It was He who sought you out when your feet were stumbling on the dark mountains. It was by Him alone that you, lost one, were brought home. This may well be your ever-grateful testimony, "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would have dwelt in silence; when my foot slipped, your mercy, O Lord, held me up." Blessed Savior, to whom can I go but unto You? The wandering sheep may turn scornfully from its restoring shepherd; the eagle may cling to its ignoble cage and despise its rocky strongholds; the prodigal may mock a parent's entreaties, and recklessly cleave to his alien home and beggar's fare; the parched pilgrim may turn with averted head from the gushing stream; but O, Restorer of this lost and ruined soul! let me never be guilty of the foul ingratitude of forgetting YOU. "Great" (oh, how great!) "is Your mercy toward me; and You have delivered my soul out of the lowest hell!"

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS