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(For the Spiritual Magazine.) THE SHEPHERD AND HIS LITTLE FLOCK. * He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry
them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with yourg.”—Isaiah xl. 11.
The foregoing passage exhibits an inimitable portrait of the Shepherd of Israel and his little flock. A more appropriate emblem could not have been selected to pourtray his paternal affection, or evince his tender regard for its interest. The description is adorned in all the eloquence of chaste and intelligible language, and painted with the most animating colours, so as to attract the esteem of every humble follower of the cross. If it be admissible, in comparing spiritual things with spiritual, to estimate one portion of the holy oracles above another, the subject before us seems to surpass every other in importance. In the comparison, (to use a familiar figure) it may be said to resemble the radiance of the sun, as he goeth forth from the womb of the morning, from the chambers of the east; in his course he shines with a refulgence pre-eminently resplendent, amidst the innumerable constellations which surround it. And, as those inferior lights retire into shades of darkness on his rising, so the theme in our text eclipses every other topic; and, like the illustrious diamond of the Ganges, outvies in brilliancy and effect all the sparkling gems inclosed in the valued casket. It is as “apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
The prophetical writings of Isaiah are a summary of glad tidings to Zion; they contain the very marrow of the gospel of the Redeemer. Herein is foretold in lively characters the matchless love of a Triune Jehovah, in the incarnation, life, and sufferings, and vicarious sacrifice of the sin-atoning Lamb; and the grace and wisdom of every appointment for unfolding in their degree, his infinite and unmeasurable perfections and glory to the wondering eyes of immortal spirits in time, and throughout eternity. In this inestimably precious record are beheld, as through a glass darkly, the design and end of Jehovah in the creation of the world ; the dire effects resulting from man's apostacy; and the emancipation of the mystic body of the Redeemer from the thraldom of sin. Herein Jesus is revealed, as the light which enlightens the spiritual hemisphere. Here he is contemplated as “God manifest in the Aesh," or God and man in one Christ; in which glorious character he possesses all the refined sensibilities of human nature, abstracted from its sinfulness, and the glorious combination of every perfection essential to Deity. This complex union of natures, which forms a sublime and unfathomable mystéry, renders him peculiarly suited to fill the pastoral office. But for this union, he could not sustain the celestial appellation ascribed to him : for, were he only a divine person he could not stoop to hold converse with guilty worms: if only human, there would be no virtue in his blood to atone for sin and expiate transgression.
Besides the similarity of natures subsisting between the Shepherd of Israel and his sheep, considered in their regenerate state, they have Vol. IV.No. 46.
also an inseparable union and oneness of interest and property in each other. The eternal and unchanging love of God forms and establishes this sacred bond, and is the grand moving cause of their mutual affection. The platform of time is the mere stage of action where it becomes manifest, not created. The vessels of mercy which were given 10 the Redeemer by God the Father, constitute but one flock, though it is widely scattered abroad, and divided into several folds. It is very small comparatively; yet when these precious jewels shall be collected together, they will be a countless number. It is indeed lightly esteemed by men; and, like their great Shepherd, its members are often overlooked and despised by the great and noble of the earth; yet, what infinitely counter-balances all is, they are greatly beloved and enriched by him.
The duties of a shepherd consist, First, in providing his flock with suitable pastures, and refreshing streams, to promote their health and comfort.
Secondly, in assiduously watching over and guarding them from the assaults of their enemies; in seeking after and restoring the lost; in healing the diseased; in carrying the lame, the weak, the halt, and the maimed; and in bringing home to their native resting-place those who have strayed from their accustomed pasture. And,
Thirdly, in ushering them into the fold as the shadows of the night approach, and securing them from the reach of their outward enemies during the cold and chilling fogs incident to that darksome season; and in supplying them with food when the green herbage of summer is cut off by the wintry blast, and hidden from their view. .
Does the parental tenderness of a compassionate shepherd dictate conduct similar to this ? How infinitely more transcendant is the grace of Jesus manifest in this respect; and how delightfully does he support the dignity of this official character. In the grand charter of the covenant it is provided that all his chosen sheep shall be supplied with wholesome pasture. To this end, in every age of time and under every dispensation, the Holy Ghost has delegated, raised up, qualified, and sent forth under shepherds to feed his flock on " the high mountains of Israel,” with “knowledge and understanding.” Jer. i. 15. In the earthly tabernacle, or fold of Zion, the Redeemer of Israel pitches their tent or resting-place, and under its sacred canopy he unremittingly protects them from the overwhelming heat of temptation by day, and the storms of night, causing them to lie down in safety underneath its roof. Into this sequestered spot he gathers them from the wilderness of sin; feeds, waters, and effects their growth; and this he usually accomplishes by the ministry of his Spirit and his word. It is of the utmost importance to Zion that her pastors should receive their commissions from God, and be taught of him. And, surely, it is among the most appalling events of this day of great and general profession of godliness, that so many should run into the sacred office of the ministry unsent and unordained by God the Holy Ghost. It is an awful usurpation! it is arrogant presumption !
An ambassador of Christ should be a scribe well instructed in the mysteries connected with salvation; and should know the narrow way to Calvary in all its stages, and the tranquility its shady summit diffuses when deliverance from the burden of sin is sovereignly proclaimed and freely wrought. He will then be constrained to invite the dear lambs or humble penitents thither. He will then direct their footsteps in the beaten way; not by the awful thunders of Sinai, or the rod of the law, but by the gentle whispers of celestial love, and by the hand of mercy : and this duty forms no inconsiderable part of his embassy. He should be able rightly to distinguish, by its operation, that which is “ born of God and sinneth not,” from the action of its opponent, which is only carnal and depraved. He should often visit his flock with freedom, and be gravely familiar with them, particularly the afflicted; and water them with savoury converse of the Redeemer ; remembering that this is a mean of grace the Holy Ghost often employs to comfort, edify, and refresh their spirits. By this course he will gain their esteem, and become acquainted with their wants; and if he is alive to their real interests will bear them to the King. And that the young and tender sucklings may be matured in knowledge, and ripened to the age of spiritual understanding, it is indispensable that both his subjects for discussion, and the matter of them, should be sought by prayer and supplication from the wells of salvation that flow in him.
This heavenly instruction is solely derived from the Holy Ghost, and forms his credentials of office. He that sends forth an ambassador furnishes him with matter for his embassy, appoints his station, and qualifies him for the work. A non-possession of divine tuition and direction, and an experimental knowledge of the mysteries of redemption, are primary causes of the sickly state and leanness of the flock : and, it is much to be feared that their frequent wanderings from the fold are mainly attributable to a spiritual dearth of pasture to meet their wants. Those plains that are too often traversed, and fed upon, though essentially good in themselves, soon become barren. There are many branches of truth to explore, and many mysteries to look into in the subject of redeeming love ; but, if there be a manifest darkness of apprehension in the shepherd and leader of the sheep, as to the infinite glories which beam from their blessed antitype, he cannot ministerially reveal them, but must dilate on other subjects of inferior note, and less harmonious; substituting orations, which, traced to their legitimate source, savour of self, and terminate in legal bondage.
This is a sad picture; but it is a natural consequence when no advancement of knowledge has been attained, beyond the first forms in the school of Christ.
The Redeemer's flock cannot rest content without the banner of his cross is richly unfurled to their admiring view; or, if the name of Jesus is not super-eminently exalted above every other, as infinitely more precious than every consideration, even salvation itself. Pastures less fertile than the well-watered plains of Canaan will never nourish the sheep of Israel; here their Redeemer shines amidst the valley, and every thing out of him is barrenness, deficiency, and misery. To be perpetually dwelling on painful experience as evidences of life, and recounting the aberrations of fallen nature, as though the redeemed were some extraordinary race of beings, and as though the dominion of sin had never been subdued, (which is the manner of some,) this, like converse of ourselves, does not produce an attraction to Gethsemane. But, let the shepherd tune his lute to the anthem of incarnate love, as he reclines on the mossy banks and verdant mount of covenant favour, by the still waters which proceed from the everlasting hills throughout the winding valley;- let him tell his flock of the agonizing sufferings of their Lord, and resound his finished work far and near; let him trace, with the pencil of the wise, the inestimable stores of grace and love which dwell in their dying Lord; and in his progress recite the gracious effects which result to Zion through his imputed righteousness, free justification, and perfect pardon :-it is then the sheep may be said to lie down in a rich and abundant pasture, and to repose in green and fertile meads.
Thus the King and Supreme in Zion leads his flock, by his servants, like a shepherd. But, he frequently feeds and waters them by the Holy Ghost, independent of the ordinary means; sometimes in the silent watches of the night, and the retirements of the closet ; sometimes amidst the bustling avocations of the day; and not unfrequently before they are aware, they are suddenly introduced into the company of their Beloved, and hold communion with him in the secret chambers of his love. These are refreshing streams, all flowing from the Rock of Ages; and to this blessed Rock his Holy Spirit leads them, to exhilarate their weary minds and help them onwards.
The conduct of Jesus, moreover, appears endearingly lovely, in watching over and protecting the best interests of his inheritance. And this he does every moment, and never slumbers on his post. The peculiar property he has in his little ones, prompts him to the diligent fulfilment of this engagement. He constantly supplies their various needs, and from a perfect acquaintance with their circumstances, he is never at a loss to bless them with help equal to their day. He proceeds before them with the utmost delight, and is never absent from them. His omniscient eye beholds every assault inflicted by their enemies; his power and wisdom invert their malignancy and cause their arrows to fall pointless to the ground. Is it his will that any of his chosen should suffer in the combat ? it is that they may feelingly deplore the bitterness of sin, and more effectually know and appreciate by experience the superlative skill of their heavenly Physician. Does he suffer them for a season to wander from him he will again restore them to the fold with brokenness of spirit; and at length by the balm of his blood beget the desired peace. At the appointed period he singles them out as he did Zaccheus, and brings them in from the wilderness of sorrow to his feet. They individually hear his
voice and follow him. There is such an indescribable sweetness in his call, that the soul who hears it is constrained to come, being captivated by it; and who can decribe the transports they feel when he exhibits to them his hands and feet, and wounded side, and says, with a tenderness peculiar to him, “ all this I bore for thee !" Will any strain-is it possible, believer, for any earthly melody to equal this? Is he not beloved, (for I appeal to thy experience) is he not precious to thee in his Person, his mediatorial work, and pastoral engagements, and as the anointed of God?
How truly boundless then is the compassion of Jesus! He not only gathers his lambs with his mighty arm, from a bleak and barren desert into the sheep-fold by effectual vocation, but carries them in his bosom all their journey homeward, and gently leads those who are pregnant with desires after him. Herein is seen the climax of affection, infinitely beggaring finite description. And who can reveal the complacency and joy with which he views them in himself at the throne of his heavenly Father There he presents them to him in his arms, and represents them fully; there he effectually pleads the merit of his blood, and pressing them to his bosom, reiterates the wonders of his grace; and there he advocates their cause, and proclaims before assembled myriads of angelic spirits their eternal pardon from sin, and free justification by his everlasting righteousness imputed to them.
Lastly. The love of Jesus is specially apparent in bringing his flock to the fold as the dark shadows of the night draw on, when the wolves of nature creep from their secret ambush, and by their prowling affright them. How delightful to behold him in such seasons with his crook and staff, on the hills of Zion, gathering in his chosen, gently driving them before him with a captivating influence into the sacred inclosure, where he sweetly constrains them to pass under his own hand, telling their number as they enter, and penning them up therein until the dawning of the day. In the dark and mysterious dispensations of his providence and grace, he causeth them to lie down at his feet in safety ; but especially when the night of death for ever excludes the twilight of time, and cuts short their earthly pilgrimage, then they shall in a more animating sense pass under his divine hand into the eternal fold, to dwell with him
· Let the watchmen in Zion weigh well the responsibility of their stations, and seriously enquire whether the effects of their ministry will warrant the conclusion that they are sent of God; and that the flock underneath their charge and care, are fed and watered by them, edified and comforted, established and built up in the faith of the mysteries of the cross. Let them remember that the leader of a flock should be before them in knowledge, experience, judgment, and gifts, so as to say with Paul, “ Be ye followers of me." To have a pastor who, in these respects, follows his flock instead of leading them, is