« PreviousContinue »
We find the like connection between the crown of life and
present trial in the message of the Lord Himself to the Church in Smyrna “ I know thy tribulation.” “Behold, the Devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
“ The Crown of Glory.” “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock; and when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." There is something exceedingly touching in this, coming as it does through one now matured in the school of Christ. God has His heritage here, and it is exposed to waste. God has His flock here, and it is exposed to present danger. It is very difficult indeed for us to get our thoughts into the channel of God's thoughts, so as to become interested in that which belongs to Him, because it belongs to Him. It is a thought too large for selfish man to entertain, to be interested in the flock of God, so that the elders themselves were in danger of falling back on the littleness of their own hearts, so as to care for the sheep, not because they belonged to God, but as though they belonged to themselves. Hence the danger of lording it over God's heritage. The actual state of the Church painfully proves the total disregard of the Apostolic admonition. There is a present reward in taking the oversight, or feeding the sheep of Christ as a congregation. It tends to produce much reciprocity of kindness and sympathy. But the human element so predominates, justified as it is supposed by necessity, and unquestioned from its generality, that the accidents of locality and of congregations have become the essentials of pastoral care; so that even the thought of caring for the flock of God is scarcely entertained. We are all great losers by this.
The attempt to care for Christians as the flock of God appears almost hopeless and chimerical; so much so, that if a servant of God is led of the Spirit to act simply for the flock of God, he is regarded either as a suspected person or a disturber of peace and order.
The flock of God has ever been " a little flock.” It is of little consequence in the estimation of men, and has its only claim to be cared for, that it belongs to God. But what a claim this is; and how happy, as well as honourable, any service rendered to “ the poor of the flock" on such a claim. It is the thought of the value and preciousness of the flock to the chief Shepherd which gives such an interest to any present care of them. Who can estimate the sheep as He does, who says, they are
my sheep”; “ I lay down my life for the sheep”-“ My Father gave them me”? He is responsible for bringing every sheep safe to the Father; and among His many crowns, His Shepherd crown will not be the least, when He shall say—“Of those which thou gavest me, I have
It will be His crown of joy and glory too, that not one of the feeblest of the flock — not one of the most erring, has, through His vigilant and tender care, been plucked out of His hand. True pastoral care may perhaps appear more rare than it actually is, because it's exercise is often most unobtrusive. There are, however, occasions when the watchful Shepherd sees the wolf coming, when the sheep are unsuspecting, and even dislike to be alarmed. Nothing short of the deep persuasion that the sheep of Christ are to be cared for because they are His, and because His affections and interests are occupied with them, can lead either to efficient oversight or diligent feeding. It is the lack of this essential element-namely, responsibility to Christ, in caring for that which belongs to Christ—which so enfeebles pastoral ministry in our day. The true genius of such ministry is that the flock of God is of more consequence than the individual who tends it. The present glory of the Christian Shepherd is thus expressed : “Your servant for Jesus' sake." To watch over the flock, to warn of coming danger, and if the wolf is coming boldly to meet
him, is not to lord it over God's heritage, but to act in duty to Christ. The glory of Christ personally, and care for the sheep as being His, are inseparably connected; but when the thought of man having propriety in the sheep is introduced, so that they are regarded as flock” or “his people,” the glory of Christ often becomes
" secondary to the desire of keeping the flock together, and Christ's own sheep are cast out. When the Shepherd of Israel Himself visited His people, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and “were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”
” The shepherds of that day “ fed themselves, and not the flock."
They had trodden down the pastures and fouled the waters.” When one sheep heard the voice of the chief Shepherd and followed Jesus, the accredited shepherds “cast him out" (John ix.) It is a mournful spectacle when the honour of Christ is sacrificed professedly for the care of the flock; for true care for the flock of God cannot exist without a paramount regard to the honour of Christ Himself. Jesus was forced to lead out “ His own sheep" from that fold which was maintained against His own honour, and to set up a new fold in heaven, because the old earthly fold afforded no longer any security for His sheep (John x.) In heaven He is now known, as "the great Shepherd of the sheep brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant"; and His own sheep on earth own Him in the same blessed title. He not only exercises His Shepherdly care, and oversight, as risen and glorified, but as having laid down His life for the sheep, the sheep being thus His own by purchase, as well as by distinct gift of the Father. What deep interest, what loving care must He necessarily take in the sheep; and now, as “ seen of angels,” what glory must be His, in not losing sight of the feeblest saint, and in counteracting all the power and wiles of the adversary. Faith now owns Him as “the good” and “the great Shepherd,” and will He not be manifested as the crowned Shepherd ? And Israel will then know their rejected Shepherd, whose heart yearned with compassion over the multitudes, as the only true
Shepherd-King Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your
God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold His reward is with Him, and His work before 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."
How perfect is the order of divine teaching! It is Peter the Elder who speaks to the elders. He had been a witness of the sufferings of Christ, when He laid down His life for the sheep. He duly estimated the value of those sufferings, and could speak with divine certainty on such a ground, as about himself to partake of the glory to be revealed. But he knew how closely connected that glory was with the flock of God. It was after he had witnessed the sufferings of Christ, and had seen the Lord alive from the dead, that he had learned how dear to the heart of Christ were His sheep. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest
· thou me more than these? he saith unto Him; Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto Him, Yea Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto Him, Lord, thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep." Peter thus learned the value and preciousness of the sheep of Christ to Christ Himself. He could very feelingly associate the flock with the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow; and how suitable for him who had received the thrice repeated commission to feed the flock, to say to the elders with his own eye on the glory, “ Feed the flock of God.” How suitable, also, for him, in the deep knowledge of the value of the sheep to Christ Himself, to connect the humble service of tending the flock with the crown of glory! It was the shepherd lad whom his father thought not of bringing before the prophet, on whom the Lord
had set his eye.
" He chose David, also, his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes great with young, he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands." The humble office of tending the flock was the suited preparation for the crown of royalty. David, the shepherd, becomes the Lord's anointed king, - true picture of the great and good Shepherd King! And where can the varied grace of Christ be so deeply learned as in tending the sheep of Christ? No trial, no sorrow, no temptation, no feebleness has escaped His forethought; and tending the flock is the application of the manifold grace of God in Christ, to the manifold need of His sheep. Such ministry may be very unobtrusive, and one which brings no present honour; its proper sphere is by no means necessarily one of publicity. Public ministry has its honoured place; but tending the flock will lead a great deal more into private and individual ministry. An elder physically disabled for the active ministry of public testimony, may still find an honourable retirement in watching over the flock of God; warning of coming danger, comforting the feeble-minded, restraining the impatience of youth, rectifying disproportioned truth. If an elder be indeed “ a father," he knows “ Him that was from the beginning;" having learned, by long experience, his own need of all that Christ is, he will be jealously alive to His glory, and will often see a danger unperceived by others, of some passing subject of interest displacing Christ. How many once absorbing objects, even in the Church of God, have passed away; how many fond expectations have been disappointed. The interest in Christ's sheep, in that which they were to the elder himself, has been superseded by the more healthful interest in them as belonging to Christ; and the crown of glory which fadeth not away is held out as an encouragement. A pet-lamb often grows to be mischievous, whilst the flock, which has had the common care of the shepherd, are gentle and docile. Christians have been injured almost