The Good Shepherd
( Originally Published 1895 )
"I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father : and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold : them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. "—John x. 14—16.
THIS is a beautiful figure if we go back to the land where it was uttered and study it in the atmosphere that surrounded the Savior and those to whom he was speaking. Sheep-herding in this country, where the flocks often number many thousands, and the herders frequently ride on horseback and never lead, but rather drive the sheep before them, can give no idea whatever of the tenderness and love that was conveyed by these words to the people on whose ears they fell from the lips of Jesus. As Frederick Robertson so beautifully says, beneath the burning skies and the starry nights of Palestine there grows up between the shepherd and his flock a unique bond of tenderness. It is a country where at any moment the sheep are liable to be swept away by some mountain torrent, or carried off by the robbers who lurk in the hills, or torn by the wolves. And at any moment the shepherd may have to save their lives by risking his own. David before going out to fight Goliath astonished Saul with the story of how in defense of his father's flock he slew in one day both a lion and a bear. Jacob reminds Laban how tenderly he cared for his flocks when the drought consumed, and when no doubt it took many a long wandering among the rocky canons to find in the nearly dried-up springs the water to slake the thirst of the sheep. In this way there grows up in such a country between the shepherd and his flock a very beautiful friendship. t is natural for us to love those for whom we risk, and they love us in return. And in that country the shepherd does not drive his flock before him, but he leads and they follow him. They follow in perfect trust, even though he leads them away from a green pasture and by a steep, rocky path to an-other pasture which they cannot see and which maybe entirely unknown to them, and so it is that they come to love each other. The shepherd knows his flock; he knows every one. He knows each one's peculiar traits and characteristics. He knows each particular mark and spot on its fleece. He knows when such an one fell over the rock and broke its leg, and he carried it home on his shoulders and bandaged it up and nursed it back to health again. He knows when the wolves chased another and tore that gash on its flank, and how at the risk of his life he made a desperate fight in its defense. He carried it off wounded and bleeding, but still alive; and-through his loving care made it well again. And thus alone among the desert hills there comes to be this deep, tender sympathy between the shepherd and his sheep. One is the love of the protector; the other the love of the grateful life. And so between lives so distant there is woven by night and day, by summer suns and winter frosts, a living network of sympathy. The shepherd comes to know his sheep, and they come to know him, and will not follow any one else.
A gentleman traveling in Syria relates how he stopped to watch three shepherds who were at a well, watering their flocks. The three flocks were all mingling together at the watering place. The traveler could see no difference between them, and he wondered how they would ever get them separated again without great trouble. But presently one of the shepherds stood forth and called out, " Men-ah"—the Arabic for " Follow me" ; and, sure enough, thirty sheep immediately separated themselves from the indiscriminate mass and began to follow the shepherd off up the hill. Then a second shepherd lifted the cry, " Men-ah"; and a second flock separated themselves and started after him, while the rest of the sheep remained as unconcerned as if no one had spoken at all. The traveler was so astonished that, as he saw the third shepherd preparing to depart—laying his hand to his crook and beginning to gather a few dates fallen from the palm beneath which he had been resting —he stepped up to him and asked : " Would your sheep follow me if I called them?" The man shook his head. "Give me your shepherd's cloak and crook, and let me try," the traveler said. He even wound the shepherd's turban around his head, and standing forth began to cry "Men-ah! Men-ah"; but no sheep stirred. They only blinked at him lazily in the sunshine. "Do they never follow any one but you?" asked the traveler. "Only when a sheep is sick; then the silly creature follows any one," the shepherd said.
What a wonderful commentary this story is upon the figure which the Lord Jesus uses here to represent his relations to us ! And what a sure indication it is that we are sick with the deadly disease of sin when we refuse to heed the voice of the Great Shepherd, and go recklessly following strange voices into the dangerous ways of wickedness.
There is no figure used in the Bible which ought to show us more clearly the tenderness of God's heart for us than this which represents the Savior coming down from heaven to earth, living with us and watching over us like a shepherd, and giving his life for our salvation. Paul says, " God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Oh, I know there is that in every one of your hearts which in your best hours hungers for this great, satisfying love which the Savior alone can give! As another has well said, there are times that come in the lives of each one of us when we feel the want of a large and pure and perfect love. For we have hearts ourselves, sensitive, restless, pining with a deep, gnawing hunger hard to satisfy. The cravings of that hunger we may be able to lull for a while by the gains we make in life, by the comforts we gather around us, by the pleasures that brighten our path. But these are mere things, dead, unresponsive; they can give us no sympathy; they may cheer and please and help, but they can return no answer to the warm throbbings we are conscious of within. The heart yearns for something more than things, aches for another heart that can beat in perfect unison with itself. And it is only the perfect heart of our God, who knows the depths and possibilities of our nature, that can completely arouse our best self to life and satisfy our deepest longings and our loftiest aspirations.
I have been reading recently a very interesting article on the great violin-makers. It seems a strange thing that they all lived within the compass of one hundred and fifty years. They chose their wood from a few great timbers felled in the South Tyrol and floated down in rafts—pine and maple, sycamore, pear, and ash. They examined these to find streaks and veins and freckles valuable superficially when brought out by varnishing. They learned to tell the density of pieces of wood by touching them; they weighed them; they struck them and listened to judge how fast or how slow or how resonantly they would vibrate in answer to strings. Some portions of the wood must be porous and soft; some of close fiber. Just the right beam was hard to find. When found, it can be traced all through the violins of some great master, and after his death in those of his pupils. The piece of wood was taken home and seasoned, dried in the hot sun. The house of Stradivarius, the great master of all, is described as having been as hot as an oven. The wood was there soaked through and through with sunshine. In this intense heat the oil thinned and simmered slowly, and then it penetrated far into the wood, until the varnish became part of the wood itself.
The old violin-makers used to save every bit of the wood when they found what they liked—mending and patching and inlaying with it. So vibrant and so resonant is the wood of good old violins that they murmur and echo and sing in answer to any sound where a number of them hang together on the wall, as if rehearsing the music which once they knew. t is doubtless owing to this fact that when the people could not account for Paganini's wonderful playing they declared that he had a human soul imprisoned in his violin; for his violin sung and whispered even when all the strings were off.
As I meditated on this wonderful resonant and musical power in the wood of these old violins, I thanked God that his great ear could hear music in human souls even when they have been battered and mistreated by sin, even when all the strings were torn off by reckless hands; that still there was an imprisoned soul that appealed to him whose heart is that of a good shepherd, who giveth his life for the sheep. I may be speaking to some one to-night who is discouraged and disheartened and who feels that all the power to make the good mu-sic of a pure and holy life is gone, that the chords of life are broken and faith and hope are dead. Oh, I preach to you the tender heart that seeks after the lost and with his shepherd's crook and his generous plaid will nurse you back again to health and strength, to peace and victory.
The Savior bears with us, and is patient and long-suffering, because he is the Good Shepherd. He is not an hireling that fleeth when the wolf comes, but he is a shepherd for love's sake, and love makes all burdens light. Dr. Guthrie used to tell the story that he was one day passing up a street in Edinburgh, when he saw a little girl carrying a very heavy baby. He was a big-hearted man, and stopped and said, " Lassie, surely that child is too heavy for you." With an accent of surprise the girl replied: "No, sir; he is my brother." She could not understand how her brother could, by any means, be too heavy a bur-den. If the little girl could carry her baby brother so willingly because of the love she had for him, how much more will the Good Shepherd take your heavy burden of sin and sorrow off your soul to-night if you will only let him.
The Good Shepherd can comfort us in our deepest sorrows, because he loves us. It was recently recorded of a little lad in a London hospital, upon whom it was necessary to perform a surgical operation, and to whom it was impossible, owing to heart-weakness, to administer chloroform, that his father said to him, "Do you think you can bear it, my son?" " Yes, father," replied he, " if you will hold my hand." With the strength and love of his father given him in the tight grip of the hand, he could bear the pain. So there is no pain or sorrow that can come to a human life that cannot be borne with fortitude and with peace when the Good Shepherd holds us lovingly by the hand.
And then he is a seeking shepherd, who is not willing that any should perish, and who, if there be one lost or strayed away from the flock and in danger of destruction, will leave even the ninety and nine folded, and go and seek after the wanderer until he find it.
A beautiful story is related of General Garibaldi, the great Italian patriot. On evening, in 1861, as he was going to his headquarters, he met a Sardinian shepherd lamenting the loss of a lamb out of his flock. The great-souled Garibaldi at once turned to his staff and announced his intention of scouring the mountain in search of the lamb. A grand expedition was organized. The lanterns were brought, and old officers of many a campaign started off full of zeal to hunt the fugitive. But no lamb was found, and the soldiers were ordered to their beds. The next morning Garibaldi's servant found him in bed fast asleep. When he was awakened, the general rubbed his eyes; and so did the servant, when he saw the old warrior take from under the covering the lost lamb, and direct him to carry it back to the shepherd. The general had kept up the search through the night until he had found it.
And yet that was only once. It may have been but the whim of an evening. But the Savior has been seeking after you with infinite tenderness and love through all these years, and if you will yield yourself to him to-night, he will carry you in his arms, and all heaven shall ring with rejoicing.
No matter where you are lost amid the mountains of sin, nor what deadly wolf of lust or passion is pursuing you to destruction, the Good Shepherd is seeking you to-night, and if you will, you may be saved. Oh, I would to God I could make you see him as he stands near you in the dangerous canon where sin has led you, crying out to you in tenderness, " I am the Good Shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep." At the least opening of your heart he will come. He will count no risk too great; no peril will keep him from your side. Scarred and bleeding from the cross where he suffered for you, he will come to you though you are faint and ready to perish; and, lifting you to his shoulders, he will bring you home with joyous shout, crying to all the good people on earth and to all the angels and ransomed hosts in heaven : "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost !"