"The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." John 10:3-4

Beautiful is the feeling of fondness, we had almost said of affection, which from time to time we see displayed by man towards the lower animals. The cottager in the lonely abode has his faithful dog to tend him in his hours of labor, or to share morning and evening his frugal fare and the caresses of his children. Even in the dense city, the poverty-stricken inmate of the upper loft has her hours of solitude cheered by the tiny warbler hung up with dusty plumage in its cage. It is no simulated sorrow on her part when the note falters and the wing droops; and the cage is suspended empty and songless.

The same feeling, on a more remarkable scale still, may be seen in the case of the Hindu with his elephant, or the Arab with his horse; and, most of all, in that of the Oriental shepherd with his fleecy companions. We would require to be among the hills of Judah and Gilead, or amid the vast valleys and forests of Bashan and Hermon, rightly to appreciate and understand the exquisite beauty of the figure which we are now to consider in the Pastoral parable. In these wide sheep-walks and mountain-ranges the shepherd occupies very much the relation of a parent to his offspring. He has a tender solicitude for each member of his flock. He is not the rough hireling or stern custodian, but the kind protector and provider. He knows every sheep. He has a name for each. By night and by day he is at their side. During the hot months of summer they are taken on the cool mountain heights to a temporary fold, composed of a palisade of intertwined branches of thorn. He sleeps armed in the midst of them. He is ready to give battle to any prowling lord of the forest who (as is sometimes the case) clears at a bound the temporary rampart—"The wolf comes and scatters the sheep."

Instances are on record where he has cheerfully given his life in deadly conflict, either with human plunderers or wild animals, for the protection of his flock. During the continuance of long drought, when the heavens are as brass and the earth as iron—when the herbage is dried and the sheep go bleating and pining over the withered pastures—he climbs the rock to the verdant turf fringing the hidden watercourse, and brings at his own peril a scant handful for the most needy. At other seasons, when the northern forests are alive with flocks gathered underneath the trees, the faithful shepherds mount the branches, and, stripping them of their leaves, cast them down to the companions of their solitude.

Can we wonder that the sheep follow the Shepherd-that they gather round him as their friend—love to hear his voice, and implicitly trust his guidance? Moreover, can we wonder, that to the mind of the Divine Redeemer, this lovely image, so familiar to every Hebrew, should be touchingly suggestive of the trustful love—the hallowed interchange of affection between Himself and His true people? "WHEN HE PUTS FORTH HIS OWN SHEEP HE GOES BEFORE THEM." Let us gather a few comforting reflections veiled under this symbolism.

There is, first of all, the general truth, that all our pastures—our lots our positions and spheres of life—are appointed and meted out for us. That the Gracious Shepherd of Israel precedes us. That He does not put us outside the wicket-gate of the fold, and then leave us to select our own destiny; but that all which concerns us is His righteous ordination and decree. "The lot may be cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." As surely as the pillar of cloud and fire preceded Israel in their marches, directing every encampment of the pilgrim army, so have we the Invisible Pillar of covenant faithfulness going before us in all our journey. True, it is with us, as with Moses. On his return to the spot in the Sinai desert where he first saw the bush burning with fire, the bush was probably visible no more. He would look for it in vain. But the sacred flame in which it formerly was enveloped, still lived in the spiral column which rose up before him by night, and in the pillar-cloud by day.

Christ in His human nature—Christ the lowly bush of the desert "the tender plant"—"the root out of the dry ground;" Christ in His humiliation—"manifest in the flesh"—we can see no more. But the Pillar of fire still remains. The Shepherd of the Flock—the invisible Redeemer—is still preceding the camp of His covenant Israel: and we can say with reference to our spiritual journeyings, as it was said of old of the Hebrew Exodus, "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation."

Oh! it is well for us that we are not left to choose our own pasture—to thread at will the mazy labyrinths of life! "My Presence", He says, "shall go with you, and I shall give you rest." It is the Shepherd going armed before His sheep—not only pointing out the way, but seeing that it is practicable. It is the Master Husbandman going before with the ploughshare, His servants tracking His steps and inserting the seed in the upturned furrow. It is the General going before his soldiers, himself the first to scale the ladder and enter the opened breach, encouraging his troops to follow after him.

The Great Shepherd asks us to tread no path which has not already been trodden by Himself. Think of the varied incidents in His life of human love and sympathy and suffering on earth—and, connecting these with every possible diversity of circumstance and experience of sorrow among ourselves, remember "HE goes before us!" Is it infancy? He went before us here, in being Himself the Babe of Bethlehem! Is it youth? He 'goes before us' in the nurturing home of Nazareth, sanctifying early toil and filial obedience! Is it hours of weariness and faintness and poverty? He 'goes before us' an exhausted traveler to the well of Jacob, 'weary with His journey!' Is it temptation we have to struggle with? He 'goes before us' to the wilderness of Judea, and to the awful depths of the olive-groves of Gethsemane, to grapple with the hour and power of darkness! Is it loss of friends? He 'goes before us' to the grave of Bethany to weep there! Is it Death (the last enemy) we dread? He 'goes before us' wrapped in the cerements of the tomb—descending into the region of Hades—uncrowning the King of Terrors—trampling his diadem in the dust! Is it entrance into Heaven? He 'goes before us' there. Having overcome the sharpness of death, He has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He shows us the path of life leading into His own blessed presence, where there is fullness of joy, and to His right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore.

But it is the individual, personal solicitude of the Shepherd in the well being of each of His people, which forms one of the loveliest inspired touches in John's parable. "He calls His own sheep by name." As the Oriental Shepherd has a distinguishing name for each separate member of his flock, so Christ has His eye on each individual believer, loves him, leads him, feeds him, "names" him, as if he were the alone object of His care and regard. It is not as with the husbandman, who can call his field of grain by name, but cannot discriminate each separate stalk. It is not as with the astronomer, who, although he can name some stars or groups of stars, leaves myriads unnamed in the wide field of immensity. It is not as with the general, who, though he can name a few of the more illustrious of his soldiers and officers, knows the rest of his brave thousands only in the mass. But as sheep by sheep passes in review before the Good Shepherd-He knows all their cases—their circumstances—their trials—their sorrows—their joys. He calls them "friends," "brethren," "peculiar treasure"—"I have called you by your name: you are mine!"

Yes! let us not lose the unutterable comfort of this, by resolving all into the doctrine of a mere superintending Providence—that God takes a general oversight and supervision of His creatures and their actions, but that of the minute circumstances and accidents of their daily life He takes no cognizance. His is a minute, personal, discriminating love. The individual is not lost in the mass or the aggregate. Believer! He loves you as if you stood alone in His world, and as if He had none other but you on whom to lavish His solicitudes!

This same Great Leader, on another occasion takes yet a smaller member of the lower creation than that spoken of in this parable, to teach the same truth. He points to one of the sparrows of the housetop, lying with fluttering wing in the highway or in the furrow—and He says, "Not one of these fall to the ground without my Father knowing of it. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Most comforting and consoling truth! Jesus—the Shepherd-Savior—the Brother in my nature—"mighty to save" as God, mighty to compassionate as man, ever preceding me—marking out all that befalls me; appointing and controlling the minutest events in my personal history, and loving me with an affection of which earth's tenderest relationships afford the feeblest type.

See the mother seated by the couch of her suffering child! Watch her tender unremitting care—the hours and nights of sleepless vigilance, she bends over the cherub form—smoothing its pillow, and moistening its fevered lips. What a picture! It is earth's most touching symbol of love and sacred affection. God points to that watchful parent and says—"She MAY forget, yet will I not forget you!"

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