by Octavius Winslow

The Restored Sheep

"He restores my soul" -Psalm 23:3.

David, the king of Israel, would, from his early occupation as a shepherd, be thoroughly conversant with the roaming instincts of his flock- its natural proneness to wander, and its utter inability, by any self-faculty, either of memory or skill- to retrace its steps back to the fold. His own spiritual history- as a sheep of Christ's flock- would supply Him with a striking and melancholy illustration of this fact in natural history. If ever there were a sad wanderer from the sacred fold- or one who, when restored, more sincerely deplored his backsliding- frankly confessed his sins- and deeply felt his inability by any self-effort to return to God– it was David.

What a confirmation of this fact is his close of the hundred and nineteenth Psalm- "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant!" Conscious of his departure, he was as deeply conscious that God alone could restore him. The points suggested by this verse for our present meditation are- the wandering sheep- the Restoring Shepherd- the path of righteousness in which He led him; in other words, the departure- the restoration- the walk. "He restores my soul"- a subdued, yet joyous note of our Song- penitence and praise sweetly blended!

Soul-restoration clearly and logically implies soul-departure. We speak not now of the life of the unregenerate. Alas! the life of an unconverted individual is one entire, unbroken, unrestored departure from God! What hue sufficiently dark can portray the life of an unrenewed man? He may be upright and honorable as a man of the world- faithful in all the relations of life- admired for his private, and honored for his public character and career. His morality, stainless- his virtue, unquestioned- his liberality, generous- his philanthropy, distinguished- his religion, admired; and yet, destitute of the converting grace of God- a stranger to the great change of the new birth- an unbeliever in the Lord Jesus Christ, his life is but a blank- a negation of all that is evangelically good- and with a 'righteousness not exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,' dying in this condition, he can in no way enter into the kingdom of heaven. Reader! marvel not that you must be born again!

But, our present view of the departure of the soul from God must be confined to the sheep of Christ's flock- accepting David's case as an instructive and impressive illustration. We are now to consider backsliding, not before, but after grace; not previous to, but succeeding, conversion; the wandering, not of a rebel, but of a child! And yet fidelity compels us to remark that this condition, though not finally fatal, is of an inexpressibly aggravated character. The soul-departures of the believer are from a God we have known- from a Savior we have loved- from pastures in which we have roamed with delight. We have tasted that the Lord was gracious- have heard His voice, and have fed at the Shepherd's hand- have walked in the footsteps of the flock- and have rested where they lie down at noon on the banks of God's river of love- and yet, we wandered! Is there a character of sin more aggravated, a turpitude of guilt more deep, than this? But our view of this sad state must assume a more limited range. Passing by the overt acts of backsliding Christians- which, like David's, beginning at the house-top, from the house-top are proclaimed- we direct our thoughts to the hidden declensions of the soul- the veiled backslidings of the heart, unseen by others, scarcely suspected by themselves, and therefore all the more insidious and fatal, and demanding yet more vigilance and prayer.

The word of God speaks of "the backslider in heart." It is there that all departure from God begins. The human heart is the most subtle and treacherous thing in the world; it is described as "deceitful above all things." The wind is unpredictable- the sea is treacherous- the serpent is subtle- but the heart of man is more fickle, and treacherous, and subtle than all! Thus, there may be growing in the soul-deeply veiled from every eye- a declension of faith, an alienation of love- a decay of grace- a restraining of prayer- a weakening of the power of spiritual life, while the believer may remain almost entirely unconscious that the 'grey hairs'- the unmistakable evidences of spiritual relapse and attenuated strength- are whitening and thickening upon him. Oh how should this fact lead to a close searching of heart- to honest probings of conscience- lest the sin, that lies at the door ready to avail itself of the slightest opening should enter, and, obtaining a momentary ascendancy, should dishonor God- wound the Shepherd- and bring deep and long distress into the soul!

All this declension, too- and this is one of its most startling aspects- may be advancing without any visible or marked disturbance of the external rites and duties of religion! These may be uninterrupted in their beautiful and hallowed continuity- the sanctuary attended- the sacrament observed- the district visited- the class instructed- the stereotyped forms of devotion rigidly honored- while the insidious process of spiritual decay may be silently and unsuspectedly, yet most surely and fatally, advancing in the soul. Oh it is here we have need to be whole nights on our watchtower- not so much guarding against an external and foreign invasion- as against the treacherous and never-slumbering foe of our own house. We may 'hold the fort' gallantly and successfully against a besieging foe, while the betraying enemy within may be undermining the very foundation of our faith, the evidences of our grace, and the stability of our hope!- and all this sickliness of spiritual life- chilled affection- distant walk from Christ- deadened devotion, and worldly-mindedness, exist in close alliance with religious observances, flaming zeal, and charitable gifts- its unhappy subject the 'observed of all observers,' and the admired of all admirers, in the Christian world- living, and yet dead!

Not the least evidence of the decay of spiritual life in the soul may be the carriage and spirit of the believer under the afflictive dealings of God. In the very height of your hidden declension you may be overtaken by some heavy dispensation of providence. The chastening hand of God is heavy upon you. He has frustrated some earthly plan- has withered some cherished flower- has disappointed some fond hope- has touched your health- has given wings to wealth- or taken from you all that lent to life its sweetest charm. And what is the effect? Alas! alas! your heart rises in rebellion against the God who has smitten! You deem His discipline harsh- His heart unsympathizing- His government arbitrary- you refuse to be comforted, and you do you think do well to be angry- and so you kick against God! What an evidence do you now afford- in thus flying in the face of your Heavenly Father, instead of falling down humbly and submissively at His feet- of the real and secret declension of the life of God in your soul!

But let us change our theme. Are we assuming too much in supposing that the Holy Spirit has interposed His power to arrest your wandering- to reveal to you your declension- and has awakened the cry in your heart- "Oh that it were with me as in days that are past, when the candle of the Lord shone round about me!"? If this be so, then chant to the plaintive note of the sweet songster- "He RESTORES my soul."

WHO is the Restorer, but the Shepherd, whose the sheep are, and from whom they have wandered! There is but one Being who would or could go in quest of the stray sheep- traversing the bleak mountains and the lonely valleys, and the dark, stormy night, until He finds it, bringing it back upon His shoulder rejoicing. Christ alone knows the existence and extent of our heart-declensions- our soul-backslidings. With His hand upon the pulse- His eye upon the heart- acquainted with every fluctuating thought and emotion of the soul- who so fitted as He to seek and restore the wanderer from His fold? Oh what a throb of gratitude should beat in our hearts at the thought that Jesus knows us altogether- all our infirmities, and all our graces- all our declensions, and all our revivings- when the pulse of love beats faintly-or when, in the sincerity of our hearts, we can appeal to His Omniscience, and exclaim- "You know that I love You!" "I know my sheep."

And what an evidence of the restoring grace of Jesus, and of David's restoration, do we possess in the fifty-first Psalm! Oh, it is a Psalm which should be read and pondered every day of the Christian's life! for there is no Psalm which so fully embodies and expresses the experience of the man of God as it. It is a portion upon which a child of God can lay his dying head, and depart peacefully. This was the experience of one distinguished for his gifts, eminent for his usefulness, and honored above many in the Church of God. When the time of his departure had come, and his life and labors passed in solemn review as from a dying bed, the only portion of God's word that seemed the most appropriately and fully to embody and express the humble feelings and prayerful utterances of his mind, and to impart comfort and peace to his departing spirit in the near prospect of eternity, was this penitential Psalm of David, so expressive of the feelings of a contrite soul- the acknowledgment of sin- the washing of the blood- restored joy- and renewed consecration to God.

Dear Shepherd, draw me to your fold;
 I am cold, cold!
I've wandered in forbidden paths,
 Far from your fold.
I left the "pastures" fresh and "green,"
 Where rest your sheep;
The sweet "still waters" of your love,
 For mountains steep.
I'm weary, and my soul does yearn
 For your embrace
Oh, bear me from this mountain pass,
 This dreary place!
You only can "restore my soul."
 Oh, hear my cry!
Nor let me in this wilderness,
 Forgotten die.
Dear Shepherd, draw me near to you;
 I am cold, cold!
And me in your warm arms of love,
 I pray, enfold.

"He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." The Shepherd that restores, leads the soul into higher and more advanced stages of grace, experience, and holiness; and thus by a sanctified result of arrested declension and more quickened life, the restored soul walks in a new and hitherto untrodden path of righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. Wanderer from the fold! return! The Shepherd calls you- seeks you- invites you, implores you to return. He waits to be gracious. Listen to His heart-melting words- "Return, backsliding Israel, says the Lord; and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord, and I will not keep my anger forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Restored! -wander no more from the Shepherd and the flock, lest a worse thing come unto you! Knowing the cause of your declension- the temptation which led to your departure- be prayerful, be vigilant. "Remember therefore, from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works." Was it unguardedness? unwatchfulness? -be vigilant, be sober. Was it undevoutness? -give yourself more constantly and earnestly to prayer. Was it the influence of the world? -come out from it, and touch not the unclean thing. Or, was it the power of some easy-besetting sin which overcame you? -lay it down beneath the cross, and with your eye of faith upon the Crucified One, exclaim, "By Your agony and bloody sweat, by Your cross and passion, I will henceforth die to sin, and live to You!" Thus, whatever the cause of your departure from God- your wandering from the fold of Jesus- the power of sin, the influence of the world-  the idolatry of the creature- the love of self- lay it at Jesus' feet, and exclaim–
"Is there a thing beneath the sun
That strives with You my heart to share?
Take it away, and reign alone,
The Lord of every motion there."

Oh bend your ear to the loving, entreating voice of the Shepherd- retrace your steps- return to the fold- once more feed and lie down with the flock- and saints below and angels above will be summoned to unite in the celebration of your recovery- "Rejoice with Me; for I have found my sheep that was lost."

"Return unto your rest, my soul,
Return unto your rest!
Too long these wandering feet have strayed
In paths, of God unblest;
The tempting gate stood open wide,
The way was broad and fair,
While breath of flowers and song of birds
Filled all the sunlit air.

"The flowerets faded before the noon,
The bird-song died away;
And, lowering over the tangled path,
The skies seem ashen gray.
Oh, weary, lonely, frighted soul,
By toil and storm distressed;
One only refuge waits for thee,
Return unto your rest!

"No chiding words of stern rebuke
Or anger wait for thee;
Your erring steps have grieved your Lord,
But pardon still is free.
Poor, trembling soul, 'look up and live!'
Obey such love's behest;
From downward paths of woe and sin,
Return unto your rest!

"The child upon its mother's heart
Forgets the weary day;
So love divine shall fold you close,
And soothe each grief away.
Come, burdened soul, your wanderings over,
Your follies all confessed,
With hastening feet that rove no more
Return unto your rest!"