"The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it." John 10:12

The figure employed by the Good Shepherd, which is to form the theme of consideration in this chapter, is one that would be familiar to all His hearers. "The sheep in the midst of wolves"—The wolf coming and "scattering the sheep," were pertinent symbols of the fierce temptations with which His disciples then, and His people in every age, might expect to be assailed. Who can attempt to describe these wolf-like temptations? Apart from those more peculiar to the world around us—the countless absorbing influences and interests of sense and time—a man's worst foes are too
often those in his own bosom. We have wolves in our own hearts, lurking insidiously—fettered vices, longing to burst their bands, and go forth on missions of death and ruin. There are the wolves of temper—envy—jealousy—hatred—malice—each hidden in his den—crouching in his lair—ready to make the spring when temptation offers.

Covetousness—the wolf with the golden fleece—how it has strewed earth's highway with the bones of men! Even our daily business and avocations may become to us a dangerous foe. Our very prosperity may turn into a ravening wolf. But we cannot attempt to particularize. Wherever we look, the world is bristling with temptations. Wolves lurk on every side—"The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," each the leader of a hungry pack waiting for their prey.

When we think of the earth as in the hands of Satan—as one of the old writers expresses it, "the hunting-ground of the god of this world"—these wolves ready at his bidding to pursue and devour—do not the words of our motto verse seem strange and startling? Do we not rather expect to hear the Shepherd giving directions as to surrounding His fold with lofty walls or secure enclosures, to prevent the possibility of the sheep falling a prey to the Destroyer? Would it not have been better—we are apt at first sight to think—had He either made provision for keeping His flock safely within the fold of earth, or for at once translating them to the fold of heaven—sanctifying and glorifying them at the moment of their justification?

Would it not be in every respect preferable for the believer—would it not conduce to a saintlier, more heavenly life—if away from the world's perilous snares—'the loud stunning tide of human care and crime'—shut up in peaceful and secluded retirement—holding converse with pure nature—like Elijah at his Cherith, lulled asleep by brook, and waterfall, and song of bird—gazing on golden skies and everlasting mountains—would not all this, it might be thought, be safer and better for the Christian, than having his spirit soiled with the degrading contacts of a debased and debasing world—confronting temptation in its thousand forms—open profligacy—mean-souled selfishness—pitiful jealousies—superficial follies—frivolous excitements—debasing pleasures?

Such, we know, was the theory of the early Church; such was the development of Christian life in those successive ages, when the deserts of Palestine and Syria, and many parts of Europe, not excepting our own country, were crowded by hermits' cells and monastic establishments. Mistaken visionaries! We do all honor to the purer motives of these earlier devotees. They were the victims of a devout delusion. Theirs, however, was not the ideal of the saintly life, as prescribed and portrayed by their Lord and Master. Christ's description of His Church—the Shepherd's description of His flock is this—"These are in the world"—"I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one"—"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves."

We see the same truth illustrated and embodied in one of the 'acted' parables—if we may so designate one of the many incidents which occurred in the course of His life and ministry, and which veiled, under the outward drapery, some great moral or practical lesson—He specially commanded His disciples to launch forth on the tempestuous sea of Galilee. We might suppose at first that they would have been exempted from the "toiling in rowing"—the contrary wind—the midnight storm. They might have gone with their Lord to the quiet adjoining mountain-top, or accompanied the multitude, peacefully and without peril, along the shore to Capernaum. No! "Jesus constrained them to get into the ship." It was a miniature picture of the Christian life—the spiritual Voyager reaching the distant haven, through wind and storm and buffeting waves; the sheep reaching the fold of heaven through a desert haunted by beasts of prey.

We may profitably inquire for a little into the reason and wisdom of such an appointment. Why is the Christian thus called on to mingle with the world, and grapple with its fierce temptations? Why, instead of granting to the flock immunity from all assaults of evil, why has Jesus "sent forth His sheep into the midst of wolves?" Many reasons might be assigned. At present we shall confine ourselves to one. Jesus sends forth His people into the world FOR THE NURTURING OF THEIR CHRISTIAN GRACES. The plant or shrub is hardened, not by being secluded from outer influences—shut up in the hothouse—but by being left to wrestle with wind, and rain, and storm. The soldier is hardened, not by being pillowed in luxurious ease in the camp or barracks, but by the stern discipline of trench and night-watch.

So it is with the Christian. He reaches the crown by the way of the cross. He enters heaven, not like Elijah, borne up in his fiery chariot, but rather battling his way, inch by inch, step by step, up the typical ladder of an older saint. When the man out of whom Christ had cast the legion of devils came and threw himself at the feet of his Deliverer, with the importunate request to be permitted to follow Him, the reply was a decided negative. He wished at once to be housed in the fold; but the Good Shepherd sent him back to the wilderness of temptation—to the old (and likely adverse) contacts of his own home. When Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, in the ecstasy of his joy, would have had three permanent tents erected for his Lord and the two Heavenly Envoys, the proposal was immediately rejected. It was seeking the crown before the cross. It was seeking to reach the haven by overleaping the intervening billows. Earth had its duties still to be performed. The morning light found Master and disciple once more descending the hill; and the crowd at the foot of the mountain too plainly told them they were back again amid the old world of misery, and sin, and sorrow—the appointed training-ground for a sinless, sorrowless heaven.

Take one other Scripture illustration. Many would have condemned the saints in Nero's household, as being out of their places and sphere while remaining in that godless palace. 'Wrong and perilous,' many would have said, 'for these sheep to continue in the midst of wolves—these Christians to be under the roof of a heathen master, whose golden crown and scepter cannot gild or mask his villainy and crime. Let them come out forthwith, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing.' Not so thought Paul. He sends his "chief" greetings to these very saints. Noble was it in subsequent years, to hear the bands of devoted believers, shut up in the Roman catacombs, singing hymns of faith and hope in subterranean dungeons.

But equally noble and saintly is the spectacle of these early Christians, retaining their unflinching fidelity to a higher Power while resident within the palace of Nero; who, despite the unscrupulous persecutors—the ravening wolves around them—could keep faithful to their Great Shepherd, rendering to Caesar the things that were Caesar's, while they rendered to God the things that were God's. Paul was not the man to send honied words, unmeaning and unmeant salutations. His bold and honest tongue would have been the first to denounce to these courtiers or servants of the Roman palace their adherence to place and pay, if this was inconsistent or incompatible with the profession and practice of the religion of Jesus. But from the very warmth and specialty of his greetings, he would seem to assure them, that if faithful to their great principles, theirs was Christianity in its loftiest type and form.

"IN the world, and yet not of it." Caesar's servants, but the uncompromising haters of Caesar's sins! In his great general discourse on this subject, which he gives in one of the Corinthian epistles—"Let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God." And this is religion's loftiest manifestation—its most difficult triumph—to maintain, it may be, in the midst of an ungodly circle of worthless and wolf-like associates—a holy, pure, upright heavenly life—for the Christian merchant to remain the merchant still, and yet to infuse a gospel spirit into daily business transactions. The shopkeeper to remain behind his counter still, but to show the power of gospel motives in determined hate of underhand dealings equivocal ways, immoral bargains, illicit trade, knavish practices. The soldier to remain the soldier still—earth's noblest specimen of generous self-sacrifice for the good and safety of others—but to show, by purity of conduct, loftiness of principle, kindness and forgivingness, that he is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

All professions may thus be hallowed and consecrated. Whatever our worldly callings may be, let us not be guilty of uttering the vain and futile wish, 'If my lot had been cast otherwise, I would have better served my God.' Serve Him where you are. Show how your Christian graces and principles can grow and flourish, despite of all difficulties and temptations. It is a remarkable saying of Moses in his farewell address to the tribes—"Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and Issachar in your tents." Zebulun was the maritime tribe. Their possessions lay along the shores of the Mediterranean. They had their commercial port—their sailors—their traders. "They went to sea in ships, and did business in great waters." Moses does not say to them, 'I cannot bid you God-speed until you abandon that sailor life—that seafaring existence.' No. He says, 'God bless you in your pathway through the deep! God speed your sails! God waft your vessels to the ports of the Great Sea! May you see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep, and may He bring you to a quiet haven! Go—stretch your canvas to the gale.' "Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out!"

Issachar was at one time in Hebrew history a tribe of farmers, at another a tribe of warriors. What says he to them? Is it 'You vine-dressers and ploughmen, if you would serve God, you must cast the pruning-hook and sickle away! You warriors, if you would get to heaven at last, these battle plains must be abandoned—sword, and shield, and spear must be thrown aside; religion is compatible only with the arts of peace.' No! "Rejoice," he says, "Issachar, in your tents." Let the husbandman and the vine-dresser cultivate his vineyard, but let him glorify all the while the Great Husbandman, "whose vineyard is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant." Let the ploughman cleave the furrows, and sow the seed, and reap his harvests, and think all the while of Time as the seed ground of Eternity. Let the warrior of Issachar come forth, like his brave ancestors, by the great river—the river Kishon. Let the chariot-wheels roll over the plain as in the heroic chivalrous age of Barak and Deborah. But let him "fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life."

Let not Zebulun covet Issachar's tents, as if he could serve God better in them than in his ships. Let not Issachar covet Zebulun's commerce and active life—as if be could serve God better there than under the vine and fig-tree. Let each rejoice in their God-appointed calling and lot. Reader, whatever be your trade, profession, worldly circumstances, take them as His appointments; use them so; and hear His voice bidding you speed, and saying, "Rejoice!" Zebulun, rejoice in your going out! If yours be like Zebulun, an active life, consecrate that activity to God's glory. If your business takes you from home and country to traverse foreign shores, and live in distant climates—rejoice! God's own way is said to be in the sea, and His path in the deep waters. He will be with you; and if temptations assail you, the Shepherd of Israel will be with His own sheep in the midst of wolves.

"Issachar, rejoice in your tents!" If yours be a sedentary life, if you tarry at home to divide the spoil—saved from the perils, and temptations, and hardships of distant lands—rejoice in your quiet tents, your peaceful home-habitations and pursuits. There will be temptations everywhere; and the grand thing is to carry the fear of God and an eye to the glory of God along with you in the midst of these temptations. When you hear the howling of the ravening wolves, keep close by the guiding footsteps of the Shepherd.

It is the great aim of apostolic teaching, and it ought to be the main aim of what is called Christian training, to inculcate principles—to store the youthful mind especially with lofty motives of action, the fear of God and the love of God—and the identity of holiness and purity with happiness. So that, even though the gate of access be left open to the forbidden haunt, he may be deterred from entering, by having been taught the grand heroic lesson of self-restraint, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God!"

Let Christians try to be Christians despite of the world's allurements. "In the world you shall have tribulation." "If any man will come after Me, he must deny himself." The lily raises its head among thorns. The sheep goes onwards to the heavenly pastures in the midst of wolves. No ship-owner would ever dream of keeping his vessel locked up in harbor in case of storms. It would lie there as a worthless, useless thing. What does he do? He equips it well. Before leaving dock he sees that every timber and bolt and rivet is in its place. He provides it with helm and compass, strong masts, sails, and rigging; and, more than all, an experienced pilot. Forth it goes on its mission, to grapple with storm and tempest and wild tornado!

So it is in the Christian life. No spiritual vessel would ever reach heaven by lying inert—sleeping on its shadows in the earthly harbor. The Heavenly Pilot sends it out in the midst of these moral hurricanes, saying, as He does so, "Fear not, it is I; do not be afraid!" "Behold, I send you forth;" and it is well worth noting that the "I" of this verse is specially expressed in the original Greek—as if He would have His disciples then, and His people still, to extract comfort and encouragement from the fact that He sends them on the warfare, and that they go not that warfare on their own charges.

Yes, trembling sheep of the fold of God, that Shepherd will not forsake you. He will not allow any temptation to go too far, but will, with the temptation, make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it. He will not allow the wolf to devour. He holds every such wolf, as it were, in a chain. They can approach no farther than He permits. "Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not!" "I will be a wall of fire around," says He, speaking of His flock. As the shepherds in Eastern countries, by night, encircle their folds with fires to scare off the wild beasts, 'I,' says Christ the Great Shepherd, 'will be like that fire!'

Believer, privileged member of His fold, if He is faithful to you, you be faithful to Him. Make no compromises to appease the world, abjuring your lofty principles, submitting to a temporizing policy, rushing headlong into temptation. How many seem to love walking, as near as they can, to the wolf-thickets! How many venture to wander in strange pastures, where the dews of heaven rarely if ever fall! Remember it is said, "Whoever is a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Let these wolf-temptations rather drive you closer to the Shepherd.

"Come with Me," says Christ, in the Song, "Come with Me from Lebanon, look from the top of Amana; from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards." Lebanon was the border mountain. It formed part of the border-land between Palestine and Syria, between Israel and heathendom. It was there the haunts of the wild beasts were—the roaring lion and the treacherous leopard. And it is the "border-country," of which it becomes Christians specially still to beware—neutral territory—the border-country of Satan—the confines between the kingdoms of light and darkness. "Come with Me from Lebanon;" He repeats it, "with Me from Lebanon." He is the true "Refuge of the Flock.' There would be no hope for us but for His promised strength and guidance. The sheep has no chance in the unequal conflict with a wolf, nor the dove with the vulture. But He that is for us is greater than he that is in the world. The Intercessory Prayer of Christ was a prayer to His Father to 'keep' His sheep in the midst of wolves. The whole burden of the prayer is this—'They have no strength of their own. Father, keep them! Keep, through Your own Name, those whom You have given Me!'

And, in the midst of these fiery trials and conflicts, think of the consolatory truth we spoke of in last chapter, of the Great and Good Shepherd Himself being exposed to these ravening wolves—think of these same temptations assaulting the soul of that spotless Savior—and let this nerve you in passing through kindred experiences of trial. Follow the print of His suffering footsteps—"Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds." Feel honored in thus having, in any feeble degree, fellowship with Him in His sufferings. Hear Him pointing you away from the haunts of wild beasts to the unassailable security of the Heavenly fold. How will the rest and peace of these celestial pastures be enhanced and augmented, by contrast with the dangers and temptations of the earthly wilderness—the corruption of the world, which will then be entirely escaped!

"Jesus, blessed Mediator!
You the trial-path have trod,
You the Judge, the Consummator,
Shepherd of the fold of God.
"Blessed fold! No foe can enter,
And no friend departs from thence;
Jesus is their sun, their center,
And their shield Omnipotence!"

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