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for the complete overthrow, as they imagined, of his cause. Nothing short of his death would satisfy them. Wonderful to tell, God himself seemed to favour, in this respect, their design! The Shepherd himself, too, knew that unless he sacrificed his life, he could not save his sheep from destruction. "He loved them, and," therefore, "he gave himself for them." "I am the good Shepherd," said he; "the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."-" Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the Shepherd." Now his enemies had their wish; for their eyes saw his crucifixion, and the earth drank his blood. But, though when the Shepherd was smitten, the sheep were, in the literal sense, and for a season, scattered, it was in consequence of his being smitten, that "the Lord turned his hand upon the little ones," to shelter and save them.
Farther, Christ has got himself a flock by actually bringing his people into his fold. Our Shepherd not only opens the door, by his meritorious obedience and death, but proceeds, by his grace, to incline and enable them to enter; that is, he, by his Spirit, applies the benefits of his purchase, giving light, faith, repentance, pardon, peace, and every blessing. Mark his love;-he came "to seek and to save' those who were lost. He follows them, so to speak, through the wilderness, and over the mountains of vanities, where they wander; and, having found them, he leaves them not, till, by all the eloquence of his love, and by the power of his Spirit, he brings them into his fold. Being the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world," in the divine purpose, and in retrospective efficacy, he was employed in this benevolent search, long before his appearance in human form. Soon as man was expelled from paradise, did the Shepherd begin to court his return. In every age he had some success. Many who had not received the promises, except in believing prospect, were, nevertheless, the happy objects of his tender care. During his personal ministry on earth, he showed himself most earnest to bring in sinners. If any thing can convince you of the difficulty of this work, and of the extreme depravity and obstinacy of the human heart, it must, probably, be the consideration, that he who spake as never man spake, was unsuccessful with the rality. Still he had a flock. "My sheep," said he, "hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Alluding to the greater success of the gospel afterwards, he said, "Other
sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring in, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd." This one fold is just the true Church. By means of his ministers, and all his converting ordinances, he has brought in, and is still bringing in, multitudes. Nor shall his zeal decline, till he has accomplished all his pleasure. The time is hastening on, when his flock shall be prodigiously increased. Thus saith the Lord, “I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth."-"I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from far; and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim." From all the winds of heaven they shall crowd to this Shepherd, as the centre of their happiness and affection. His flock, however, are by no means so numerous now, as this would imply: far less were they so at the time he spoke the words now under consideration.
This leads us to consider, secondly, the designation here given of Christ's people as a "little" flock. They were, plainly, but very few in number, at the time Jesus was speaking. When he "came to his own, his own received him not.' But, the same thing has held true, more or less lamentably, in every age of the world. How few pious persons were there at the time of the flood! How low was the state of religion at different subsequent periods of the Old Testament history! Even after our Lord's ascension, the number of the disciples that assembled in Jerusalem, was only about a hundred and twenty. It is true that the number of the flock has been much increased since, and it may be considered as great now, when compared with what it was then, and, as already noticed, it will hereafter be amazingly increased: but, it is as true, that it is yet small compared with the world lying in wickedness. The words of the prophet may be here applied: "Gleaning grapes shall be" left, and found "in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five, in the outmost fruitful branches thereof." But, is not this a very affecting circumstance? Let it be considered, not as a point of dry arithmetic, or of dogmatical and uncharitable condemnation of others, but as a melancholy fact, that should awaken yourselves. Is it so that Christ's flock
is a little flock? then the way of the multitude of mankind is not the way for you to follow if you would be saved, but you must follow the way of the peculiar people. "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
But let us consider, thirdly, the encouraging exhortation here addressed by Christ to his little flock, "Fear not." Distinguished as man is, over the lower animals, by forethought, he is thereby often rendered needlessly unhappy, by too great anxiety to secure the good he desires, and to avert the evil which he dreads. The scope of this whole passage is to discountenance such anxiety and fear; and here Christ expressly forbids his own people to give way to them. There are several things of which believers are, at times, afraid, which yet they have no reason to fear.
They have no reason to fear want. This is what the previous connexion of the words more particularly shows that our Lord here intends. He had been cautioning against sinful anxiety about what they should eat and drink, and how they should be clothed; he had assured them that their heavenly Father knew that they needed such things; and then, after exhorting them to seek first the kingdom of God, and telling them that, if they did so, all these things would be added unto them, he says, "Fear not." His flock have no occasion to fear that he will suffer them to want what is necessary for their bodies, or souls. It is one of the offices of the good Shepherd to feed his flock. In the course of his providence, he will support them: "their bread shall be given them, and their water shall be sure:" and, as we formerly observed, they shall, in general, have whatever degree of worldly prosperity may be conducive to God's glory and their own good. Nor will he fail to supply them with the bread of life. He will feed them with the various blessings of the gospel covenant. "He that cometh unto me," says he, "shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
But want is not the only thing which they may be ready to fear: they may fear the various other afflictions and calamities of life; and yet they have no reason to fear them. Not but that they are subject to the common trials of life, and are sometimes exposed to trials peculiar to themselves: but they have no occasion to be overcome with terror at the
thought of them, nor even to deprecate them any farther than may be consistent with their Father's will. He will keep them from all troubles that would be injurious to them, and he will assist them, and bear them safe through those through which he has determined that they shall pass. "The Lord is on my side," says the Psalmist; "I will not fear what man can do unto me.'
Nor need Christ's people fear that they shall be overcome by their spiritual enemies, or be left to fall finally from grace. They are, indeed, beset with many spiritual dangers, but they have a mighty and faithful helper. They are like 'sheep in the midst of wolves," or in a land of wild beasts; for, their "adversary the devil, is going about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." But their Shepherd will defend them; and Satan "shall be bruised under their feet shortly." It is true, also, that their own hearts are weak, and would soon cause them to wander away to their ruin; but, though they ought to be jealous over themselves, and keep their hearts with all diligence, they have no occasion to dread that they will be so left as to depart entirely and finally from the fold. They may forget, for a season, the necessity of remaining constantly under the guidance of their Shepherd, and may set out in search of pasture where it is not to be found. Unhappy thus to stray along barren mountains, and among dangerous pitfalls and poisonous herbage, forgetful of the place of safety, and of the pastures wholesome and ever green! If left to themselves, they would never find their way back. If the Shepherd abandoned them, they would continue to wander off for ever. But he who brought them in at first, also brings them back. They may be contented at a distance, but he is not. Peter denied that he belonged to the fold, and, in so doing, for a season wandered from it; but no sooner did he behold the piercing look of Jesus, and feel the gathering arm of his grace, than he wept bitterly, and returned, so to stray no more. Such, also, has been the experience of many of Christ's flock: and it is not easy to say whether grief or joy should then predominate in their minds.
Nor, these things being so, need they fear death. To them, the last enemy should appear as stripped of his terrors; and each of them may say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me."
Nor, finally here, need they fear coming short of heaven,
and being consigned to endless misery. It is true that they are all, in themselves, still deserving of condemnation: but, there is no condemnation to them as they are in Christ Jesus, and walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and therefore, they shall obtain final salvation. Now, this is what our Lord himself declares, and subjoins, as the great reason why they should not fear, and this let us consider, fourthly, "Fear not, little flock,"
"For it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The kingdom of God, thus spoken of, includes the blessings of the gospel here, and of heaven hereafter. With regard to the former-these are already bestowed on all true believers, in the sense of actual possession: with regard to the latter-they are given to them in reversion, the title to them is made over, and they are the certain consequences of the former, and very much of the same nature with them. Grace has been said to be glory begun. We are told that "God is not ashamed to be called their God," the God of believers; "for he hath prepared for them a city." They shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world." Their final salvation is secured. Speaking of them under the figure of a flock, Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all, and no man," none, "is able to pluck them out of my
We must observe, too, the force of the word "give." Salvation is not of merit, but of grace. It is of God's sovereign and free favour. "The free gift comes on them to justification of life:" and hence, while "the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The expression, " It is" his "good pleasure," is very full of meaning and emphasis. It includes two ideas-purpose and pleasure; in other words, it teaches us that it is the determination of God to bestow the kingdom on Christ's flock, and also that it is his delight to do so. The same
word is used in the original, where it is said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased:" and, "It hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem."
* Rom. xv. 26.