Page images
PDF
EPUB

my text, in which the Apostle, who had been a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and was soon to be a partaker of the glory which was to be revealed, solemnly exhorts the bishops and pastors of the church to the discharge of their peculiar duties.

The language of the text is metaphorical. The image is taken from the watchful compassion and patient care of a shepherd over his flock-an office which throughout the Scriptures is associated with far higher ideas of importance and dignity than might be supposed from considering our modern usages and man

ners.

The character of the Apostle's injunctions is tenderness; and the chief points relate to the DUTIES and the TEMPER of the Christian shepherd.

I. Let us consider THE DUTIES OF THE CHRISTIAN SHEPHERD. These are two: a specific and primary one, Feed the flock of God: a general and subsequent one, Taking the oversight there. of

The specific and primary duty of a shepherd, that without which all other duties would be out of place and inefficient, is to feed his flock. For, however diligently a shepherd might busy himself with subordinate matters, yet if he neglected this first duty, he would act the most

cruel part, and violate the highest obligations of his office.

Accordingly, our Saviour, when he had thrice interrogated the very Apostle whose words we are considering, whether he supremely loved him, thrice added, as the best proof and primary effect of that love, Feed my sheep, feed my lambs. And when St. Paul exhorted the elders of Ephesus to take heed unto all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, he charged them, as the most indispensable part of their sacred calling, to feed the church of God which he had purchased with his

own blood.

The food which the Christian shepherd is to dispense to his flock is the doctrine of the Holy Gospel ; all the truths of that revelation which the mercy of God has bestowed upon fallen man to guide him to happiness and heaven. These doctrines are as much adapted to instruct and save the soul, as the green pastures and the still waters to nourish the tender sheep. The minister is to study deeply the Holy Scriptures for himself, and then to feed his people with knowledge and understanding according to them. He is not to set before them the unwholesome nutriment of human opinions, or the dogmas which may happen to be fashionable in his own age. He is not to propose doubtful notions, subtle refinements, critical disquisitions, or affected novelties. He is not io dwell principally on topics of natural religion, of cold ethics, or moral suasion. He is not to detail subordinate points of scriptural truth, or make overstatements on the sacraments and outward rites of Christianity, or present a confused and dangerous mixture of the law and the Gospel. All this would be to starve and poison, not to feed, the flock. But he is to set before them those plain, solid, undoubted, and most wholesome truths of God's word by which they may be nourished to everlasting salvation ; and he must propound these truths without fear, without concealment, without addition, without mutilation ; in the proportion and for the ends in which they lie in the inspired volume.

These main doctrines may be reduced to two great heads - the RUIN and the RECOVERY of

His ruin by sin, his recovery by divine mercy. His ruin in the first Adam, his recovery in the second. His ruin by his own folly and guilt, his recovery by the stupendous redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

In explaining the Ruin and misery of man, the minister will have to unfold the doctrines of man's reasonable and accountable nature, of the holy, just, and good law of God, of the evil and penalty of sin, of the unnumbered transgressions of every human being, since the fall of our first

man.

parents, in thought, word, and action; of the awful punishment of eternal death which awaits us, of the value of the soul, of the vanity and vexation inherent in all earthly things, and the near approach of judgment and eternity. He must further show, from the unvarying testimony of Holy Scripture and of experience, that man is not only a sinner, but a totally ruined creature; that he is “born in sin;" that he is

very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil';" that he is impotent and weak, as well as guilty; unable to save or recover himself; without will and without power to serve and love God as he ought; lost, undone, miserable; in other words, that his condition since the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God ?." In short, he must show him that he is by nature a wandering sheep that has left the fold, and is erring and straying from it in the wilderness of this world, incapable, as well as indisposed, to find his way

back to the flock 3. These truths are humiliating indeed, but salutary. They are not the Gospel, but they prepare for it. They are not, properly speaking, the food of the soul, but they are its medicine.

1 Article IX.

3 Confession.

2 Article X.

verance.

They directly tend to teach man his real state and danger, to destroy the fatal illusion of selfrighteousness, to lay a foundation for genuine humility, and thus to prepare him for coming back to the great Shepherd for safety and deli

A just perception of sin, original and actual, is the entrance to all practical knowledge.

For the doctrine of the RECOVERY of lost man by the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ thus becomes intelligible, necessary, appropriate. This, this is the peculiarity of the Christian revelation, that the good shepherd hath given his life for the sheep. O voice of terror and compassion uttered, in prophetic vision, by the divine majesty, Awake, 0 sword, against my SHEPHERD, against the man that is MY FELLOW, saith the Lord of hosts ! O astonishing and boundless love of our heavenly Father in the completion of this prophecy, when he spared not his owo son, but delivered him up for us all! O mysterious and matchless pity of the Son of God himself to stand in our place, to endure our punishment, to expiate our guilt, to suffer and die, as the heavenly shepherd, for his lost, sinful, helpless flock! Yes, my brethren, the word that was with God and was God, was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us; he was born of the Virgin Mary, he offered up himself a sacrifice without

« PreviousContinue »