“I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” John 10:11.
Our Lord here appropriates to Himself the title under which He had been foretold by the Prophets. “David My servant shall be king over them,” says Almighty God by the mouth of Ezekiel: “and they all shall have one Shepherd.” And in the book of Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts; smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” And in like manner St. Peter speaks of our returning “to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.” (Ezek. 37:24. Zech. 13:7. 1 Pet. 2:25.)
“The good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” In those countries of the East where our Lord appeared, the office of a shepherd is not only a lowly and simple office, and an office of trust, as it is with us, but, moreover, an office of great hardship and of peril. Our flocks are exposed to no enemies, such as our Lord describes. The Shepherd here has no need to prove his fidelity to the sheep by encounters with fierce beasts of prey. The hireling shepherd is not tried. But where our Lord dwelt in the days of His flesh it was otherwise. There it was true that the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep—”but he that is an hireling, and whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”
Our Lord found the sheep scattered; or, as He had said shortly before, “All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers;” and in consequence the sheep had no guide. Such were the priests and rulers of the Jews when Christ came; so that “when He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matt. 9: 36.) Such, in like manner, were the rulers and prophets of Israel in the days of Ahab, when Micaiah, the Lord’s Prophet, “saw all Israel scattered on the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd, and the Lord said, These have no Master, let them return every man to his house in peace.” (1 Kings 22:17.) Such, too, were the shepherds in the time of Ezekiel, of whom the Prophet says, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherd feed the flocks? … They were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered:” (Ezek. 34:2, 5.) and in the time of the Prophet Zechariah, who says, “Woe to the idle shepherd that leaveth the flock!” (Zech. 11:17.)
So was it all over the world when Christ came in His infinite mercy “to gather in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” And though for a moment, when in the conflict with the enemy the good Shepherd had to lay down His life for the sheep, they were left without a guide (according to the prophecy already quoted, “Smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall he scattered”), yet He soon rose from death to live for ever, according to that other prophecy which said, “He that scattered Israel will gather him, as a shepherd doth his flock.” (Jer. 31:10.) And as He says Himself in the parable before us, “He calleth His own sheep by name and leadeth them out, and goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice,” so, on His resurrection, while Mary wept, He did call her by her name, and she turned herself and knew Him by the ear whom she had not known by the eye. So, too, He said, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” (John 21:15.) And He added, “Follow Me.” And so again He and His Angel told the women, “Behold He goeth before you into Galilee … go tell My brethren, that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.”
From that time the good Shepherd who took the place of the sheep, and died that they might live for ever, has gone before them: and “they follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth;” (Rev. 14:4.) going their way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feeding their kids beside the shepherds’ tents (Cant. 1:8.).
No earthly images can come up to the awful and gracious truth, that God became the Son of man—that the Word became flesh, and was born of a woman. This ineffable mystery surpasses human words. No titles of earth can Christ give to Himself, ever so lowly or mean, which will fitly show us His condescension. His act and deed is too great even for His own lips to utter it. Yet He delights in the image contained in the text, as conveying to us, in such degree as we can receive it, some notion of the degradation, hardship, and pain, which He underwent for our sake.
Hence it was prophesied under this figure by the Prophet Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him … 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 young.” (Isa. 11:10, 11.) And, again, He promises by the mouth of Ezekiel, “Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” (Ezek. 34:11, 12.) And the Psalmist says of Him, “The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.” (Ps. 23:1, 2.) And he addresses Him, “Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, show Thyself also, Thou that sittest upon the Cherubims.” (Ps. 80:1.) And He Himself says in a parable, speaking of Himself, “What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4, 5.)
Observe, my brethren, it is here said that Christ, the Lord of Angels, condescends to lay the lost sheep on His shoulders: in a former passage of the Prophet Isaiah it was said that He should “gather them with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.” By carrying them in His bosom is meant the love He bears them, and the fulness of His grace; by carrying them on His shoulders is signified the security of their dwelling-place; as of old time it was said of Benjamin, “the beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him … and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders;” (Deut. 38:12.) and again, of Israel, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” And again, in the Prophet Isaiah, “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth; their idols were upon the beasts and upon the cattle … hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob … which are carried by Me from the womb … Even to your old age I am He, and even to hoary hairs will I carry you; I have made and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Deut. 32:11. Isa. 46:1-4.) He alone, who “bowed Himself and came down,” He alone could do it; He alone could bear a whole world’s weight, the load of a guilty world, the burden of man’s sin, the accumulated debt, past, present, and to come; the sufferings which we owed but could not pay, the wrath of God on the children of Adam; “in His own body on the tree,” (1 Pet. 2:24.) “being made a curse for us,” (Gal. 3:13.) “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us unto God,” “through the Eternal Spirit offering Himself without spot to God, and purging our conscience from dead works to serve the Living God.” (1 Pet. 3:18. Heb. 9:14.) Such was the deed of Christ, laying down His life for us: and therefore He is called the Good Shepherd.
And hence, in like manner, from the time of Adam to that of Christ, a shepherd’s work has been marked out with special Divine favour, as being a shadow of the good Shepherd who was to come. “Righteous Abel” was “a keeper of sheep,” “and in process of time” he “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” (Gen. 4:2, 4.) And who were they to whom the Angels first brought the news that a Saviour was born? “Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8.) And what is the description given of the chosen family when they descended into Egypt? “Thy servants,” they say, “are shepherds, both we and also our fathers;” (Gen. 47:3.) and what, in consequence, was their repute in Egypt, which surely is a figure of the world? “Every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” (Gen. 46:34.)
But there are three favoured servants of God in particular, special types of the Saviour to come, men raised from low estate to great honour, in whom it was His will that His pastoral office should be thus literally fulfilled. And the first is Jacob, the father of the patriarchs, who appeared before Pharaoh. He became, as Abraham before him, a father of many nations; he “increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maid-servants, and men-servants, and camels, and asses,” (Gen. 30:43.) and he was visited by supernatural favours, and had a new name given him—Israel for Jacob. But at the first he was, as his descendants solemnly confessed year by year, “a Syrian ready to perish;” and what was his employment? the care of sheep; and with what toil and suffering, and for how many years, we learn from his expostulation with his hard master and relative, Laban—”This twenty years have I been with thee,” he says; “thy ewes and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; … and thou hast changed my wages ten times.” (Gen. 31:38-41.)
Who is more favoured than Jacob, who was exalted to be a Prince with God, and to prevail by intercession? Yet, you see, he is a shepherd, to image to us that mystical and true Shepherd and Bishop of souls who was to come. Yet there is a second and a third as highly favoured in various ways. The second is Moses, who drove away the rival shepherds and helped the daughters of the Priest of Midian to water their flock; and who, while he was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, saw the Angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. And the third is David, the man after God’s own heart. He was “the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet Psalmist of Israel;” (2 Sam. 23:1.) but he was found among the sheep. “He took him away from the sheep-folds; as he was following the ewes great with young ones, He took him; that he might feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them with a faithful and true heart, and ruled them prudently with all his power.” (Ps. 78:71-73.) Samuel came to Jesse, and looked through his seven sons, one by one, but found not him whom God had chosen: “And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.” And when he came “he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to; and the Lord said, Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (1 Sam. 16:11, 12.) And again, after he had been in Saul’s court, he “went and returned from Saul, to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem;” (1 Sam. 17:15, 28, 35-37.) and when he came to the army his brother reproached him for “leaving those his few sheep in the wilderness;” and when he was brought before Saul, he gave an account how a lion and a bear “took a lamb out of the flock,” and he went after them, and slew them both, and delivered it. Such were the shepherds of old times, men at once of peace and of war; men of simplicity, indeed, “plain men living in tents,” “the meekest of men,” yet not easy, indolent men, sitting in green meadows, and by cool streams, but men of rough duties, who were under the necessity to suffer, while they had the opportunity to do exploits.
And if such were the figures, how much more was the Truth itself, the good Shepherd, when He came, both guileless and heroic? If shepherds are men of simple lives and obscure fortunes, uncorrupted and unknown in kings’ courts and marts of commerce, how much more He who was “the carpenter’s Son,” who was “meek and lowly of heart,” who “did not strive nor cry,” who “went about doing good,” who “when He was reviled, reviled not again,” and who was “despised and rejected of men”? If, on the other hand, they are men of suffering and trial, how much more so He who was “a man of sorrows,” and who “laid down His life for the sheep”?
“That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee,” says Jacob; “I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it.” And has not Christ undertaken the charge of our souls? Has He not made Himself answerable for us whom the devil had rent? Like the good Samaritan, “Take care of him,” He says, “and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.” (Luke 10:35.) Or, as in another parable, under another image: “Lord, let it alone this year also … and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:8, 9.) “In the day the drought consumed me,” says Jacob; and who was He who at midday sat down at that very Jacob’s well, tired with His journey, and needing some of that water to quench His thirst, whereof “Jacob drank himself, and his children and his cattle”? Yet whereas He had a living water to impart, which the world knew not of, He preferred, as became the good Shepherd, to offer it to one of those lost sheep whom He came to seek and to save, rather than to take at her hand the water from the well, or to accept the offer of His disciples, when they came with meat from the city, and said, “Master, eat.” “The frost” consumed me “by night,” says Jacob, “and my sleep departed from mine eyes;” and read we not of One whose wont it was to rise a long while before day, and continue in prayer to God? who passed nights in the mountain, or on the sea? who dwelt forty days in the wilderness? who, in the evening and night of His passion, was forlorn in the bleak garden, or stripped and bleeding in the cold judgment hall?
Again: Moses, amid his sheep, saw the vision of God and was told of God’s adorable Name; and Christ, the true Shepherd, lived a life of contemplation in the midst of His laborious ministry; He was transfigured on the mountain, and no man knew the Son but the Father, nor the Father but the Son.
Jacob endured, Moses meditated—and David wrought. Jacob endured the frost, and heat, and sleepless nights, and paid the price of the lost sheep; Moses was taken up into the mount for forty days; David fought with the foe, and recovered the prey—he rescued it from the mouth of the lion, and the paw of the bear, and killed the ravenous beasts. Christ, too, not only suffered with Jacob, and was in contemplation with Moses, but fought and conquered with David. David defended his father’s sheep at Bethlehem; Christ, born and heralded to the shepherds at Bethlehem, suffered on the Cross in order to conquer. He came “from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah;” (Isa. 63:1-3.) but He was “glorious in His apparel,” for He trod the people “in His anger, and trampled them in His fury, and their blood was sprinkled upon His garments, and He stained all His raiment.” Jacob was not as David, nor David as Jacob, nor either of them as Moses; but Christ was all three, as fulfilling all types, the lowly Jacob, the wise Moses, the heroic David, all in one—Priest, Prophet, and King.
My brethren, we say daily, “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” Again, we say, “We have erred and strayed from Thy ways, like lost sheep:” let us never forget these truths; let us never forget, on the one hand, that we are sinners; let us never forget, on the other hand, that Christ is our Guide and Guardian. He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6.) He is a light unto our ways, and a lanthorn unto our paths. He is our Shepherd, and the sheep know His voice. If we are His sheep, we shall hear it, recognize it, and obey it. Let us beware of not following when He goes before: “He goes before, and His sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” Let us beware of receiving His grace in vain. When God called Samuel, he answered, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” When Christ called St. Paul, he “was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Let us desire to know His voice; let us pray for the gift of watchful ears and a willing heart. He does not call all men in one way; He calls us each in His own way. To St. Peter He said, “Follow thou Me;” of St. John, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Nor is it always easy to know His voice. St. John knew it, and said, “It is the Lord,” before St. Peter. Samuel did not know it till Eli told him. St. Paul asked, “Who art Thou, Lord?” We are bid, “try the spirits, whether they be of God.” But whatever difficulty there be in knowing when Christ calls, and whither, yet at least let us look out for His call. Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert, who, unless they follow the shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye; but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!
Blessed are they who give the flower of their days, and their strength of soul and body to Him; blessed are they who in their youth turn to Him who gave His life for them, and would fain give it to them and implant it in them, that they may live for ever. Blessed are they who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honour, come dishonour—that He shall be their Lord and Master, their King and God! They will come to a perfect end, and to peace at the last. They will, with Jacob, confess Him, ere they die, as “the God that fed them all their life long unto that day, the Angel which redeemed them from all evil;” (Gen. 48:15, 16.) with Moses, that “as is their day, so shall their strength be;” and with David, that in “the valley of the shadow of death, they fear no evil, for He is with them, and that His rod and His staff comfort them;” for “when they pass through the waters He will be with them, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow them; when they walk through the fire, they shall not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon them, for He is the Lord their God, the Holy One of Israel, their Saviour.”
PPS VIII, Sermon 16.