"I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick." Ezekiel 34: 11-16

In the closing sentences of the preceding chapter, we indicated the possibility of a change in the experience of the believer—such as that which is now to form the theme for consideration. In the first of the two verses above selected, there is laid, as it were, the scene of this new pastoral picture. Dark clouds are represented brooding over the landscape—the thunder has burst over the valleys—and the sheep are scattered here and there over the gloomy mountains. Some are entangled in the thorns—some are lost in the misty shrouds filling the hollows, some are lying bleeding and wounded, at the foot of the precipices over which they have fallen. But wanderers and panic-stricken as they are, they are not forsaken. Amid wind and storm, the watchful eye of their Shepherd follows them; and, under new symbols, we have a fresh and tender unfolding of His loving dealings. Let us briefly consider, in their order, the fourfold classification here given of the scattered sheep. The lost, and the driven away: the broken, and the sick. Thus separately grouped, we have a figurative description of the two elements of Sin and Sorrow, which, in the experience of the flock of God, still give rise to "the cloudy and dark day."

The first in this enumeration are "THE LOST." It is not necessary that we attach to this term the meaning it has in other passages already considered—as denoting the Shepherd's first finding of "the lost sheep,"—the first rescue of the sinner from his state of condemnation and death. We may rather now cursorily notice it as referring to what will afterwards form the theme of a separate chapter—Christ's dealing with backsliders—truants, who, it may be, have long known the peace and security of the Fold—but who, by their own hapless estrangement, have forfeited, for a time, alike their happiness and safety.

Moreover, we may here regard the figure as descriptive of those who, little by little (by imperceptible degrees), have erred and strayed from the Shepherd's fold and presence—those who, to use a different Scripture figure, once did "run well," but who have been "hindered." Once their landscape was bathed in sunshine; the mountain-tops of God's faithfulness were clear—the summits of the heavenly hills sparkled gloriously—theirs were the green pastures and still waters—the Shepherd's voice to cheer them, and the Shepherd's steps to guide them.

But all is gloomy now—the storm-clouds have gathered in their once serene sky. The sun cannot disperse, as formerly, these floating vapors; they look around for their Shepherd—He is gone; for the fold—it is hidden in mist and fog; farther and yet farther they stray—going on, in the words of Jeremiah, "from mountain to hill;" but the clouds only seem to gather, and the distance and alienation to increase. And yet, to account for their wandering, there may be no very specific cause, no bold presumptuous sin. It may arise from their own sluggish unconcern—a drowsy, sleepy, callous frame—the result of a gradual, but ever-deepening insensibility to divine things—a trifling with their spiritual interests—languor in prayer—conformity with the world—tampering with sins of omission—venturing on forbidden or debatable ground. The issue, at all events, has been a painful, conscious distance from God. Behold them now among the scattered flock, in "the cloudy and dark day!"

The second class described by the prophet are those who are "DRIVEN AWAY." These have more marked and distinctive characteristics. Some overt act has been the cause of their scattering. Look at David as an illustration. One of the choicest of the flock of God, feeding on the richest pasture, he was in one guilty moment thus "driven away," a wanderer on the dark mountains. "Driven away!" His own guilty passion was the lash that drove him from his Shepherd's presence and love. His own iniquities separated between him and his God. He never after was the joyous believer he once was. He was indeed restored, pardoned, loved—but the memory of that sad day followed him to the grave, and mantled his whole moral landscape with clouds, even to the very entrance of the dark valley.

And how many among the true flock of the Shepherd have to tell a similar mournful tale! Some one guilty deed has laid the foundation of weeks and months—yes, years—of spiritual alienation and distance from the fold. The indulgence of a forbidden sin—a guilty companionship—an ungodly marriage—a resisting or wounding of conscience—a rejection of God's providential leadings. One or any of these may be the beginning of fatal disaster. How many a youth of fair promise—to take one example—has been "driven away" by evil companions! His opening years were bright with spiritual promise. The earliest psalm, it may be, his infant lips had been taught to utter was the psalm of the green pastures and still waters, and death's dark valley illumined with the Shepherd's presence; and his childhood's vow—the echo of a mother's prayers and tears, was, that from that fold he would never wander. But the siren voice, in a hapless moment, stole upon his ear, and smothered his better and nobler resolves. A godless associate smiled at his conscientious scruples, and mocked his superstitious fears. The forbidden path of wandering once entered—the clear sunlight of truth and a quiet conscience obscured—he was soon lost amid the mazy fogs of sin. Driven away by his own guilty forgetfulness of home-teachings and Bible warnings, and of all the fond memories of a childhood and youth of innocence and peace—behold him now, a wreck on a stormy ocean, a shattered, wounded, fleece-torn sheep, in the "cloudy and dark day!" Thus much for 'the scattered' in the cloudy and dark day of sin.

We come now to speak of the dark and cloudy day of sorrow. The first of the latter class here described, are "THE BROKEN." How numerous are these! Many of us in the midst of our bright enjoyments—our green and verdant pastures—our full cup—our uninvaded circles—are apt to ignore altogether the existence of breaking and broken hearts. We see the sunny hill-side, covered with sheep, feeding in reposeful security under the Shepherd's care—morning by morning, listening to the dulcet tones of the mountain-pipe—at evening quietly penned—protected from summer's draught and winter's cold.

But we are apt to forget that the world is not all sunshine—that there are members of the fold scattered by the wild winds of misfortune—lying wounded and broken—having no joy, no pasture, no rest. Some are "broken" by calamity—penury scattering them in its cloudy and dark day. Some are "broken" by bitter disappointment; an aching heart-wound, too sacred to be revealed, has left them bleeding and desolate, refusing to be comforted. Some are "broken" by bereavement. The mother has the bleating lamb plucked from her bosom—or the lamb goes bleating after the mother she cannot find—all the wealth of the living fold is nothing to either, because of those "who are not."

We have still another class in the cloudy day of suffering and sorrow. They are the "SICK". We might take this in a figurative sense; as descriptive of those who are sick at heart—sad and disconsolate with the trials, and sins, and sorrows of earth, and with the corruption of their own natures. But why not regard it literally, as applied to those laid on beds of sickness? Many among us, who inadequately appreciate the blessing of health, are apt also to forget and overlook this large section in God's world—the "poor afflicted ones," the maimed members of the flock—who, with drooping heads and wan countenance, loathe the richest pastures, and can get no rest or ease in the choicest fold—whose inward wail is heard in the long hours of wakeful darkness—"Would God it were evening; and in the evening, Would God it were morning"—pining flowers, around whom the sun shines, and the rain descends, and the birds sing in vain—the languid body exercising a like depressing influence on the mind—the gloomy sameness and silence of the sick-chamber tinging the whole life with inveterate sadness.

To one and all of these cases—to one and all of these "scattered ones"—the Great Shepherd comes. Yes! In the cloudy and dark day—the day He is most needed—"lo! He comes, leaping upon the mountains." He has a special word of comfort for each separate case. "Lost!" He "seeks" you. Though you have forgotten Him, He has not forgotten you. "A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel—for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God. Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings!"

You who have been "driven away," He will "bring you again." You who, like the Psalmist of Israel, have unwarily left the pastures of grace and security, and entangled yourselves in the midnight forest of danger and sin—the lion may have you in his fangs, but the grace of Him who first brought you to the fold is able to bring you back gain, and restore to you the joys of His salvation. Hear His own words by the mouth of His prophet, veiled under the favorite Shepherd-symbol, and in which He mingles judgment with mercy in the restoration of the erring—"I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open. Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart. O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in Me is your help."

Broken ones! You who are crushed and mutilated by the thousand ills of suffering and sorrow: rejoice! That Shepherd came to "bind up" breaking hearts; His name is "The Healer of the brokenhearted." His life was a grand living commentary on this the first text and opening sermon of His ministry. Weeping eyes and woe-worn spirits were ever following the wake of this mighty Vessel of mercy. The stranded, hapless barks on the world's shores He loved to set floating on the ever-flowing tide of His compassion. This was the motto of His life—it is the description of His ever-living love at this hour—"He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds."

"Sick!" You pining sufferers in earth's great hospital! You bleating sheep, lying languid and helpless in the fold—He, the Great Shepherd, comes to "strengthen you." A sick-bed—where the noisy world is shut out—where its cares, and anxieties, and aspirations, and ambitions are no longer present to hamper and harass—what a blessed season for converse with the Infinite! Then does the Shepherd of Israel specially love to come to the weak and weary with better than the balm of Gilead—fulfilling in the case of many "sick ones whom He loves," His own promise—"The Lord will strengthen him on the bed of languishing."

And in all this, let us mark the gracious adaptation of Christ's dealings to the different needs, and trials, and necessities of His people. He "seeks" the lost; and on finding them, a look of love suffices to bring the conscience-stricken wanderers back. He "brings again" the driven away. Those cowering in terror at their own willful blindness and apostasy, their deep ingratitude and heinous guilt, need help, encouragement, guidance—they need being carried in the Shepherd's arms. Peter dreads to meet the Lord he has so injured; but He "brings him back again," first with a gentle message, and then with a gentle word. He "binds up" the broken; He stanches the bleeding wound with the application of tender restoratives—the balm-words of His own exceeding great and precious promises. He, the Brother born for adversity, teaches the wounded spirit, as He alone can, how to "bear" in this "dark and cloudy day;" He turns the shadow of death into the morning. He "strengthens" the sick—those who for years on years have been laid on couches of languishing—secluded from the gladsome light of day, on whose ear the tones of the Sabbath—bell fall only to tell of forfeited privileges.

They can best bear attestation, how a mysterious, sustaining strength, not their own, is imparted to them, which makes them wonders to themselves. Indeed, were we to go in search of the most touching proof of the Shepherd-Redeemer's upholding grace, it would be to the chamber of that wan and sickly sufferer. See him bowed down with paroxysms of excruciating pain—the iron ploughshare leaving deep furrows on his cheek, and banishing sleep from his pillow—yet all the time, while the cold drops are standing on his brow, and every nerve has become a chord of agony—no murmur escapes his lips. See how patience has her perfect work. Hear how the prayer trembles on his lips—"Father, may Your will be done!"

And say, can this be his own strength? No; it is the Shepherd coming with healing balm to the prostrate sheep of His fold. It is supporting grace given for the day of suffering. It is the Lord coming to the couch of languishing, and, in the expressive words of Scripture, "making all his bed in his sickness." There is no more beautiful study either in Holy Scripture or in the Scripture of experience, than this diversity of dealing on the part of God towards His people—His wise and discriminating treatment of each case, according to what He sees they require.

It is said of some Oriental kings, that they never appear in the same garment to those who seek an audience. Moreover, that whatever be the garment in which they are attired themselves, their attendants have a duplicate gift ready to present to the stranger or supplicant. It is even so with the Shepherd-King of Israel! He ever comes to His needy people, arrayed in the garb of some new promise or specially adapted blessing. He comes with the robe of righteousness to the spiritually naked. He comes with a garment of healing for the bruised and broken. He comes with the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness.

For every sorrowing thought of the heart He has a counterpart and corresponding comfort—"In the multitude of my thoughts within me," says the Psalmist, "Your comforts delight my soul." It is not one fountain only, but "springs" of water, the Shepherd has for his flock—according to the beautiful description of the Prophet Isaiah—"They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for He that has mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them."

Let us close with two practical reflections. The first is a CONSOLING one—the All-sufficiency of the Shepherd's power and love. There is no case He cannot meet. Lost ones, driven ones, broken ones, sick ones. It seems to exhaust the circle of human needs and necessities. He seems to anticipate every supposable case, so that none dare say "that Shepherd-love does not include me." It reminds us of that wondrous expression of the Great Apostle—that verse with its grand redundancy of words—its significant and touching tautology—"Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think." See how the gradation rises. See how he mounts to his magnificent climax. What a golden ladder is this verse! Christ is "able to do"—Christ is "able to do abundantly"—Christ is "able to do abundantly, above all that we ask or think." And then, as if he had not unburdened his soul of the full truth, the "goodly matter" his heart was inditing, he adds another stone to the pyramid—"Exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think."

Rejoice in such a full Savior as this, sufficient for all temporal and all spiritual necessities: who can bind up the broken body; who can bind up the broken soul; ease the aching head, and quiet the aching spirit; who can reclaim the wandering and save the lost. What earthly friend can help us so? Who else, save He, can fill with His presence and love the gap in the sorrow-stricken heart? But He can; He does! Lover and friend may be put far from us; all we once cherished and doted on may be smitten with inevitable change; the roof where childhood reveled may be a heap of ruins, or habited by strangers; the trees, under whose shadow we reposed, may have long been felled to the ground; the parents' arms that clasped us as we lisped our infant prayer, or which smoothed our pillows in sickness, may be mouldering in the dust; voices that cheered us on the pilgrimage may be hushed in awful silence. But here is One who is Father, Brother, Physician, Friend, Shepherd, Home, ALL!

No one can fell the Tree of Life! No storm can overturn that Home of unblighted love! No envious whisper can estrange that true Friend! No King of terrors can paralyze the Everlasting Arms! "The Lord lives, and blessed be my Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted." Oh! blessed it is for the broken, blighted, downcast, bereft, in that moment of their sorest agony, when returning from the grave to the silent house of bereavement—entering the lessened fold, and marking the blank in the flock—blessed it is to feel the Abiding Friend filling the empty place and the aching heart. The sheep has gone, but the SHEPHERD remains!

Our concluding practical reflection is one of WARNING. This precious passage, so full of tenderness and love to the erring, the backsliding, the suffering, ends with a brief but most solemn utterance of 'judgment" on the impenitent, the self-righteous, and unbelieving. "He that has rest for disquieted saints," says Matthew Henry in his comment on this verse, "has terror to speak to presumptuous sinners." That Shepherd of Israel adds (it is a thrilling postscript), "But I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment."

This seems to refer to those who are living in guilty independence of God; disowning His hand—resisting His grace—self-satisfied and self-contented—fancying themselves rich and increased with goods, and having need of nothing; no tear of penitence in their eye—no consciousness of distance from the fold—no longings for return. How many such there are! And strange it is those often who are the most abundant recipients of the Shepherd's love—on whom worldly prosperity has most richly descended—"the fat and the strong," are frequently most apt to live this life of guilty atheism, saying in their hearts, "Who is the Lord that we should obey Him."

"Jeshurun," we read, "waxed fat and kicked." Like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, fed and pampered in the stalls of earthly prosperity, that prosperity has often proved a curse. It has nurtured a rebel, restless, ungovernable spirit. The gifts which should have drawn upwards to the Giver, have, alas! drawn downwards to perdition. "I will destroy" such, says God. Judgment, indeed, does not often descend now, under a present economy. These obdurate are allowed to live on “feeding"—"nourishing their hearts for the day of slaughter." But that day of retribution will come; and the Great Being, whose love they have slighted, and whose pleadings they have scorned, will be true to His own solemn declaration—"He that, being often reproved, hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy!"

"Turn, turn, why will you die?" God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Presume not, however, on His forbearance and mercy. You lost ones!—wandering up and down the desert of the world seeking rest and finding none—see that you refuse not Him that speaks. The Shepherd may now be abroad seeking you in some cloudy and dark day; but remember, these "seeking" seasons dare not be lightly tampered with. They are the days of His "merciful visitation." If they be allowed to pass by unimproved, the echoes of His voice may be heard no more. The clouds may only gather more deeply and lour more gloomily, and you may be hopelessly lost amid the dark mountains of your wandering. David's men, when they heard "the sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees," rushed on to battle, and routed the host of the Philistines in the valley of Rephaim. If they had neglected the signal—if they had delayed until that wild music had died away—the victory would have been forfeited—the sun would have set on their vanquished and panic-stricken ranks—the opportunity would have been lost.

Oh! how many neglect the voice of God "in the mulberry trees!" How many miss and forfeit the sanctified use of affliction! The Spirit of God is moving amid the rustling foliage—to advance would be to conquer; resolute deed would end in spiritual advantage. But the day of grace, the hour of solemn pleading, is allowed to pass. They have become weak as other men, who out of weakness might have been made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

While that gracious Shepherd of the flock is now abroad, seeking to gather in the weary, the wandering, the perishing—while judgment still lingers, let us not be among the number of those who continue to wander deeper and yet deeper amid the cloud-lands of sin—to whom, at last, will be reserved the mist of darkness forever; and on whose forlorn graves will be inscribed the mournful epitaph—(words which the Great Shepherd Himself uttered, through His tears, over the doomed fold of Israel), "You knew not the time of your visitation."

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