"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

Here is another of the many precious "voices of the Shepherd." It may be regarded as an answer to the cry of the wanderer, which formed the subject of last chapter. A little flock; a fearful flock—such is Christ's own description of "His people and the sheep of His pasture." But He lulls their trembling apprehensions, by pointing them away from the sorrowing present, and the chequered future of earth, to the bright, unsinning, unsorrowing, glorious future of Heaven—"It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

There is something striking and significant in the mixed metaphor which is here employed. Though our Lord in these solacing words to His disciples, and to His Church in all ages, addresses them as His "Flock," He does not add, "It is your Shepherd's," but "It is your Father's good pleasure." The two favorite emblems of Old and New Testament are thus brought in conjunction. The well-known pastoral symbol of the one is coupled with the paternal symbol, which belongs preeminently, we may almost say exclusively, to the other.

"Give ear, O SHEPHERD of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock," was the form of adoration familiar to the saints and patriarchs of the former economy; and while, as we have abundantly seen, that Shepherd-emblem is not superseded in the Gospel, but rather retained, and lovingly enshrined in the utterances alike of inspired apostles and their Lord; there is yet super-added this new formula of invocation for "the children of the kingdom," "Our FATHER who is in heaven." "It is your Father's good pleasure!" Had that kingdom of future bliss been the bestowment of God as a munificent Sovereign, we could not have failed to prize the honor. But how is its value enhanced, when it comes to us as the gift and pledge of a Father's love—when the feelings which the Almighty Donor wishes those whom He has served, heirs to its riches to cherish regarding Him, are not those of awe towards an majestic Potentate, but of love and affection towards a tender Parent. "I will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

We shall not reiterate, what has been fully dwelt upon in former chapters, the various kinds and occasions of misgiving and "fear" which tend to discourage and terrify the little flock in "the way of the wilderness." Many of these form a necessary portion of their probation discipline. As shadows and half-tints are needed to give boldness and strength to the brighter parts of a painting, so in the spiritual life-picture—these are the shadings required to give expression and depth to the whole. We shall only advert, at present, to one additional cause of apprehension which not infrequently exercises a depressing influence on the minds of God's people, in the prospect of their Father's kingdom—that is, the sense of their utter unfitness and unworthiness to enter it—the discrepancy between the holiness which befits that kingdom, and the unholiness—the remnant corruption and vileness of their imperfectly sanctified hearts.

This is ofttimes their inward musing—the soliloquy of no shammed humility—'How can we, with all our wretched frailties and shortcomings, dream of admission into a heaven of unsullied purity, undimmed and undefiled by the intrusion of one unhallowed thought! The great Shepherd-Father may admit other sheep into His Eternal Fold, other children to His Eternal Home; but we stand debarred forever from entering its gates, or expatiating in its bliss.'

No, "fear not;" for, First, amid all your conscious unworthiness, remember, YOU ARE HIS CHILDREN. The soiled garments of earth which you may carry to the very portals of glory, cannot alter a Father's feelings towards you, or lead Him to refute or forego His promises. If there is joy in heaven (and that joy deepest in the Father's heart) over the sinner in the hour of his repentance; what will be that joy in the hour of his glorification, when, stripped of his travel-worn, sin-stained clothing, all his truant-wanderings and estrangements, and backslidings at an end, he enters the threshold of the paternal and eternal Home!

We have read somewhere a story in real life, regarding a long missing child, the heir to vast estates. The tale described how this innocent little one had been decoyed from the parental roof, and was last seen when a tribe of gypsies had been prowling about the neighborhood of his princely home. Golden bribes had a hundred times been offered for his restoration; but the cruel mystery remained hopelessly unsolved, all efforts were in vain to recover the valued life. The anguished parents, seeing the pride and hope of their household wrenched from their grasp, abandoned themselves to inconsolable grief. One day, years later, as the family carriage was, with these two saddened hearts, traveling along the highway, a gang of the wandering gypsies were passing by. In their midst, with a heavy burden on his shoulders, and attired in tatters, an eye and a countenance met theirs which could not be mistaken. A shriek of mingled terror and delight was heard—the mother, leaping in frantic joy from her seat, had, in a moment, that aggregate of rags and squalor in her arms—her son, who had been long dead, was alive again—long lost, he was again found. What did these years of degradation signify to her? It was her beloved boy, by whose cradle she had, in days gone by, sung her lullaby, and weaved visions of fond hope; and though the golden ringlets of his hair were now matted with filth—the tiny hands hardened and begrimed with boyish drudgery—and the face browned and weather-beaten by exposure to the hot sun by day, and the cold, dewy, houseless night; yet there he was, her own, her only one. Yonder castle, looking forth on the wide estate, kept high festal holiday that evening. Servants were gathered, and menial servants were feasted, and the firesides of the poor were made brighter and happier by the recovery of the wanderer!

So shall it be with the children of the heavenly kingdom, in entering the heavenly Home. What though, to the last, by these rags and tatters of nature—these souls begrimed with the remains of sin, we belie our lofty birthright, and render ourselves all unworthy of so glorious an inheritance—"Surely you are still our FATHER! Even if Abraham and Jacob would disown us, Lord, you would still be our Father. You are our Redeemer from ages past." That hallowed word is beautifully represented by the Prophet Jeremiah as forming the passport to the little flock at the gate of heaven—its utterance, in the case of those destitute of all personal claims to admission, unlocking the golden portals, and conferring right of entrance. "I thought to myself, 'I would love to treat you as my own children!' I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land—the finest inheritance in the world. I looked forward to your calling me 'FATHER.'" Jeremiah 3:19

But more, "Fear not, little flock," for your Shepherd-Father will prepare you for the KINGDOM. A glorious change will pass on your now partially renovated spirit at death. "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him." These, at present, drooping, lagging, groveling souls, will, by a transforming process which we cannot now venture to imagine or comprehend, be made fit for the holy Heaven of a holy God.

Go to the garden, from which winter has just been removing its icy mantle—and over which the first breath of genial spring has been passing. Watch on the gravel-walk or nestling on the rockery, that hideous, repulsive insect (a caterpillar)—you half wonder how God, the infinite Architect, in the plenitude of His skill, could not have devised something more beauteous than that little mass of inert life. But bend your steps to that same sunny nook when the balmy zephyrs of a July morning are wafted by. What do you see now? That black lethargic shell has unlocked its secret—that little prison-house has sent forth a joyous captive, radiant with beauty. See it with spangled body and golden wings, reveling amid the luscious sweets and the play of sunshine—each flower opening its cup and making it welcome to its daintiest treasures. What a feeble image of the transformed, metamorphosed spirit, in that hour when, life's winter-storms all past, it bursts its prison-bars—"leaves its encumbering clay;" and, gifted with angel wings, soars aloft to "summer high," in the bliss of the beatific presence!

Meanwhile, fear not. "O you of little faith, why do you doubt?" "God will perfect that which concerns you." In that last solemn moment—"in the twinkling of an eye"—He will fit you, by "the working of His mighty power," for taking your place among the spirits of the just made perfect, and for being one of the rejoicing multitude who are "without fault before the throne." The gifted author of the "Pilgrim's Progress" represents Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt, after all their timorous thoughts, as safe at last. He describes the post as sounding his horn at their chamber doors. "I am come to you," says the postman, addressing the latter—"I am come to you from Christ, whom you have followed on crutches. He expects you at His table to sup with Him in His kingdom;" and then be pictures him, on reaching the brink of the river, as throwing away his crutches.

So will it be with many of God's true people, who are indulging needless apprehensions, because of the oppression of the enemy. If fearful now, the day is coming when, like the pilgrim Hebrews of old, you will stand triumphant on the further shore, exulting in the truth of your heavenly Father's assurance, which you may at present be so slow to credit—"Your enemies whom you have seen today, you shall see them again no more forever." You may now be wailing, in notes of sadness—your weakness and feebleness. Like some captive bird, you may imagine—that your wings are disabled—your energies cramped and paralyzed—your song silenced. But not so! In God's own time the cage will be opened, and on new-born wings of faith and love, you will go singing up to the gate of Paradise!

Finally—Believers, rejoice in the assurance, not only of certainty that you shall enter the heavenly fold, but that once entered, "you shall no more go out." The Father who "gives" you the kingdom will "keep" you in it. Not one member of the little flock will ever stray from the celestial pastures—not one member of the glorified family will ever be missed from the household—none will ever go forth weeping as from the gates of the first Eden.

How different our Father's house on high from the father's home on earth! As years roll on, how sad and mournful the family blanks! The empty arm-chair, where the venerable parent used to sit, tells of one vacancy—the closed bookcase, with the dust-covered school volumes, tells of another—the unused toy—(most touching of all)—tells of another—that portrait on the wall, on which ever and again a tearful glance is cast, tells of another. The once joyous catalogue in the old family Bible is blotted and saddened with many a mournful entry—or rather, these are transferred to the marble memorials of buried affection, crowding the silent land of forgetfulness.

But not so in that blessed kingdom! There, there will be no blanks—no missing names—no harrowing separations—no memories of buried love. No citizen of the New Jerusalem will ever be called to surrender his charter-rights. The road to the city, and the streets of the city, are paved with golden promises of the God who cannot lie—golden tower on golden tower of immutability and truth render inviolable the safety of its glorified inhabitants. Not only will an abundant entrance at last be given, but once allocated, it will be forever secured. The saying of the Good Shepherd regarding the flock on earth will be equally applicable to the flock of heaven—"Even so, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish!"

One word in closing. Though this kingdom—this heritage of the little flock, as we have seen, is a covenant-gift—sealed and secured by the eternal love and promise of God the Father, we repeat the caution and qualification stated in a recent chapter—its privileges and immunities can be enjoyed only by those who "strive to enter in." "The kingdom of heaven," says the Divine Purchaser, "has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." The processes in the kingdom of grace, as in the kingdom of nature, are developed and matured by the diligent use of appointed means. Indeed, the commonest occurrences and transactions of every-day life remind us that we are under an economy of means, and that by foregoing or rejecting the employment of these, we are sure to forfeit the end.

A rope will save a drowning man—but he must stretch out his hand to grasp it—otherwise he is lost. The fire-escape will save a man enveloped in the flames—the iron ladder is shot up by the side of the burning building—and the sleeper, roused by the crackling fires, is told to rush to the provided means of safety. But saved he cannot be, if he folds his arms in indifference, and resigns himself to his fate. The man basking on the sea-beach on a summer day, when the tide is out, is warned that if he continues where he is and falls asleep, the rising waters will inevitably overtake him. Were he so foolish as to laugh to scorn the warning, we know that nothing could prevent the relentless, remorseless waves sweeping him away.

God puts us, like Jacob, at the ladder's base, and says—'There is the ladder of salvation; but if you would reach heaven, you must climb it.' In providing a Zoar for Lot, He could easily have commissioned the angels to bear him miraculously through the air, and deposit him in safety on the adjoining hill. But He tells him to arise; and, staff in hand, to climb to the refuge—"Hasten! flee for your life!" Reader, be up and doing; while the gift of the kingdom is God's, yet, in one sense, it rests with ourselves whether we are to be crowned or beggared. The throne of that kingdom God promises only "to him that overcomes." "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."

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