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Nazareth Revisited


The Parables


The Sheepfold. -- The place where the sheep are collected and defended -- principally required at night. Paul says: "The night is far spent: the day is at hand." We are at no loss to recognise the night. It is now, while darkness prevails over all the earth in consequence of the hiding of the face of God (the glorious sun of the universe). During such a time, a fold for the sheep is necessary. If none had been provided, the sheep must have remained squandered and exposed to depredation and death. Literally speaking, if God had made no arrangement for the spiritual development and nurture of men and women, barbarism must have prevailed for ever, as in the dark places of the African earth at the present day. The provision of sons and daughters must have remained an impossibility. But He has not left the earth in so hapless a state, His purpose being to fill the earth with His glory, in the sense of ultimately populating it with a race which should ascribe to Him the glory of His own works. He arranged for their development in the due measure required by that purpose at various times. This arrangement, taking different forms at different times, according as His wisdom saw fit, took, in the days of Christ, the form of creating a community -- founding a church or ecclesia -- establishing a fold. This community by another figure is considered as a house or temple -- "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." By another figure, it is spoken of as a body of which Christ is the head. "There is one body," says Paul, "composed of many members." We are unfavourably placed in the 19th century for judging of the character and the beauty of this institution, and its adaptation to realise the object of its appointment. We are living at the end of a disastrous history. As the Israelitish nation departed from divine ways after the death of Joshua, and the elders who overlived Joshua, so the community founded by the apostles changed, when the apostles and their co-labourers had passed away, from being "the House of God, the pillar and ground of the truth" into "the synagogue of Satan," whose constituents "turned away their ears from the truth, and turned unto fables," as Paul had foretold (Acts xx. 30; 2 Tim. iv. 4). Ecclesiastical history is a history of the corruptions and bickerings that ensued upon this change -- the effect of which has been to blight and destroy, instead of conserving and invigorating the work of the Gospel. What was once the fold for the sheep has become a well-fortified enclosure of fat wolves and other noxious creatures, from whose association the sheep of the flock have fled in panic long ago. Whether we look at the Church of Rome or the Church of England, or other kindred communions, we see systems which suffocate, suppress, and destroy the truth, instead of nourishing and cherishing it. We see a different spectacle from what was presented to view in the first century, when the friends of Christ were organised into loving and enlightened communities, under the fostering care and guidance of shepherdly men, "feeding the flock of God, over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers" (Acts xx. 28). It is a day of devastation and downtreading for divine affairs, both in the national fold and the individual fold. It would be a beautiful and a glorious thing if God were to permit a clearing out and renovation and revival of the fold in which real and healthy sheep might multiply and dwell in safety. The prophetic word does not justify any hope of this sort, till the Great Shepherd of the sheep himself arrive, for, to the last, it speaks of darkness prevailing till the coming of Christ, and the prosperous ascendancy of ante-diluvian indifference till the very hour of his manifestation. The most to be done with present agency is for believers, in the spirit of loving co-operation, to approximate, as nearly as they can, to the primitive assemblies, doing all things decently and in order, and all things for the edification of all, in the spirit of mutual and affectionate submission in the fear of the Lord. By this co-operation, the one fold in little sections may be planted here and there, in which a little may be done in this evil day for the keeping alive of the testimony in the earth, and the development and preservation of a people controlled by the knowledge, love, and obedience of the truth. All such, in all time, are in the one fold in the highest sense; they are constituents of the one community that God is forming for Himself out of the mixed material of the passing generations, and every one of them will, at the appointed time, be gathered from the accomplished ages of probation, and set in his appointed place in the happy day when "there shall be one fold and one shepherd."

The Door. -- Jesus says, "I am the door." This is one of those graphic figures that carry their meaning home at a stroke. By Christ only, can we enter the sheep-fold. He immediately adds a comment to this effect: "By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved." This is enough. Men who work apart from Christ work without hope; that is, any hope they indulge must prove illusory. Men are naturally without hope, as Paul testifies in Eph. ii. 12. They are straying on the inhospitable mountains of sin-caused evil and death. Remaining there, they must perish. There is a fold in the mountains, entering which, there is safety. The door of this fold is Christ: and how we enter in was expounded by the apostles. It was their work to do so. The mode is too simple for most men. It was defined by Christ himself in the memorable words about the Gospel which he addressed to the apostles before he sent them forth: "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved" (Mar. xvi. 16). What this double process of faith and baptism does for the believer is stated by Paul, in terms which can only be read with one meaning; "As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. iii. 27). When a man believes the Gospel apostolically delivered, and submits to the baptism apostolically enjoined, he enters in by the door of the sheep-fold. He enters by Christ, than whom there is no other entrance -- a negative fact of the first importance to recognise. Men who think there are other doors are liable to neglect him. There are many such now-a-days. Almost all men nourish the idea that a fairly moral life will secure salvation (if there is any, of which many are in doubt). In this, they hold the views of "natural philosophy," which Paul, in his day, declared to be a foolish and a spoiling, because an untrue thing (1 Cor. iii. 18, 19; Col. ii. 8). The foolishness of the world's wisdom has not become the wisdom of God with the progress of time. "The simplicity that is in Christ" remains the truth, though unfashionable now as ever. Christ is the door, and "by him," and by him alone, "if any man will enter in, he shall be saved."

The Porter. -- "To him (the shepherd of the sheep) the porter openeth," Jesus says. If we are justified in giving a specific application to this, we might fix on Moses as the porter in the first degree, and John the Baptist in the second degree. Both acted in the porter capacity to Christ. As regards Moses, this may not be apparent on the first suggestion, but it will be found to be true. First, Jesus says, "He (Moses) wrote of me." Paul says, "Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after, but Christ as a son over his own house, whose house are we" (Heb. iii. 5). And again, "The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ" (Gal. iii. 24). Again, "To him gave all the prophets witness" (Acts x. 43), and again, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. x. 4).

Thus Moses, in whom the Jewish leaders made their boast, -- the great pioneer of the (shortly-to-be-finished) work of God with Israel, was the great opener of the way for Christ, whom they rejected. Moses expressly told Israel (Deut. xviii, 18) that God would raise them up such an one to whom they would listen (which they had not done to Moses); and in all the laws and institutions delivered by his hand there was a shadowing of the glorious realities connected with this greater "prophet like unto Moses." In the case of John the Baptist, the analogy to the porter is still more obvious. He stood at the very threshold of the work of Christ, calling direct attention to him, and introducing him to all in Israel who feared God. He was sent to "prepare his way." "He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light" (Jno. i. 8), and, having done his work, he announced: "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." He declared to them: "There standeth one among you whom ye know not. He it is that coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to unloose; -- that he might be made manifest to Israel, therefore I am come baptising with water." John's work attracted great attention and exercised a powerful influence with the whole nation, as we saw in the chapter devoted to the consideration of that matter. To him Jesus appealed in confirmation of his own claims as the good shepherd. "Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness to truth.... He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But I have greater witness than that of John; the works that my Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me" (John v. 33-36). To Jesus, the good shepherd, the porter-ministry of John the Baptist (which was known to the hearers of Christ's discourse), opened the door of the sheepfold, in which they might have recognised an incontestable evidence of his claims.

The Sheep. -- Who they are, Jesus makes plain: "My sheep hear my voice: and I know them, and they follow me" (Jno. x. 27). Here is their characteristic wherever found: men who submit to the word of Christ and do what he commands. This is a more cordial and distinct type of discipleship than is common among the multitude who recognise the lordship of Christ in the abstract. It is the only type of discipleship acceptable with him, and the type acceptable with him is the only type of ultimate value. He spoke very plainly on this subject more than once: "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (John xiv. 21). "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I have commanded" (xv. 14). "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. vii. 21).

The apostles spoke with equal plainness. Thus Paul: "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. viii. 9). Thus John: "He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk even as he walked" (Jno. ii. 6). Thus Peter: "If; after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Pet. ii. 20).

The men who submit to the word of Christ and obey his commandments are most aptly represented by sheep. The sheep is a strong but harmless animal, from which no living thing suffers injury. There could be no more powerful exhortation than the employment of such an animal to figure the disciples of Christ. He is himself the Lamb of God, and those who follow him are like him in the strength of their spiritual attachments and the guilelessness and inoffensiveness of their characters.

The Wolf. -- The nature of this animal is well known. He will stop at nothing in the gratification of his hunger, provided he runs no risk. He attacks the weak and shies at the strong. In contrast to the sheep, he represents the rapacious character which is common in the world -- headstrong, unscrupulous, merciless men who will sacrifice everything but their own skins in the accomplishment of personal ends. They prefer the weak for their prey. Therefore, the sheep are their especial victims, because the true sheep are not given to fighting. "The wolf catcheth the sheep and scattereth them." The wolf may be taken to represent any danger that arises to the sheep, but more particularly the one danger with which the name of the wolf is particularly associated in the sayings of Christ and the apostles -- the spiritual wolf. This wolf is given to disguises. If he came in his open character, the sheep would flee. So he puts on the fleece. He professes to be a true and humble sheep, and above all, g tending sheep, a bell wether, a kind of shepherd sheep. With holy tone and pious grimace, he gets on the weak side of his victims, and has them in his maw before they are aware, and feeds and feasts on them without them knowing it, for he has the art of magnetising his subjects so that they feel no pain in the process of deglutition, and see not that their bones and flesh are slowly disappearing down his gullet. These are false teachers, clever men of shallow intellect and no conviction, who live by their wits in the religious realm. They have always been a numerous tribe, as at this day. Jesus foresaw their activity, and forewarned his disciples. "Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits." Paul also foretold their advent and success when the restraint of his presence should be removed: -- "I know this, that after my departing shall grevious wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Even of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts xx. 29, 30). Elsewhere, he speaks of them as "evil men and seducers," who should "wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. iii. 13). By their ravages, the sheepfold of the apostolic age became emptied and desolate soon after the apostles' death. The fleece-clothed wolves "caught the sheep and scattered them," because of the officialism of

The Hireling. -- The apostles were not hirelings, nor the men who came immediately after them. They were men in earnest love with the work for Christ's sake, at the peril not only of their living, but of their lives, serving in the spirit enjoined by Peter, who said to them, "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" (1 Pet. v. 2). A hireling is a man who is paid for his job, and who works because he is paid, and ceases to work when he is not paid. This class of worker has been numerously developed by the clerical system. Paid work in spiritual things is liable to become poor Work and mercenary. Paul, who had a right to be maintained, refused on this ground, "lest the gospel of Christ should be hindered" (1 Cor. ix. 12). He did not refuse occasional help, prompted by love and the appreciation of his labours (Phil. iv. 10-17). But he declined a set maintenance, as all wise men have done since his day. The hirelings have no objection to a set maintenance. On the contrary, it is what they most particularly appreciate and aim to secure. The consequence is seen in what Jesus says happens in times of peril: "The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling and careth not for the sheep." When he sees the wolf coming in the shape of any danger, "he leaveth the sheep and fleeth." How little he cares for the interests he professes to have in charge becomes apparent when he cannot turn them to his personal advantage. To be out of pocket or put up with disgrace is quite out of the line of what he feels himself called upon to submit to. This is quite beyond his calculations of prudence. The least smell of danger in this shape makes him look round for a decent pretext to get away. In complete contrast to this is

The shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. -- This primarily refers to Christ himself, who offered himself a sacrifice of "sweet smelling savour" to Him who required this declaration of His righteousness, "that he might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Rom. iii.). But it is true of all shepherd-men who have received the truth in the love of it, and estimate the work of Christ as their sweetest occupation and their highest honour. There is "a chief shepherd" (1 Pet. v. 4), viz., "that great shepherd of the sheep," our Lord Jesus, who was "brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb. xiii. 20). This implies under-shepherds, namely, the apostles and all who enter into their work in the line of things indicated to Timothy in the words of Paul: "The things that thou hast heard of me, among |many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. ii. 2). Men of this qualification are the true "successors of the apostles," and they have been found wherever faithful men of ability have received and espoused the faith of Christ with the ardent appreciation and disinterested aims of the apostles. They require no hiring to look after the sheep, and when the wolf of danger in any shape presents itself, they sally forth with clubs to beat off the beast at the peril of their lives.

The Shepherd's Voice and the Listening Flock. -- "The sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." These are the natural facts in the case. Their spiritual meaning is plain. The shepherd's voice is what Christ has said for the guidance of men, but with this is bound up much more than the precepts that actually came out of his own mouth. What he said himself is only part of the message of God to man. For the rest of the message, he refers us to Moses and the prophets: "Think not," said he, "that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matt. v. 17). "They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them. If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke xvi. 29). "If ye believe not his writings (the writings of Moses), how shall ye believe my words?" (Jno. v. 47). "The Scripture cannot be broken" (Jno. x. 35). "The Scripture must be fulfilled" (Mark xiv. 49).

Such are a few illustrations of the way in which, in so many words, he binds up the message of God in the "Old Testament" with his own personal word in the New. In addition to these, the instances in which he does so by implication, and in which such an association results of necessity from his teaching and his work, are more numerous and weighty than the casual reader of the Bible can be aware. The conclusion resulting from them all is that the Shepherd's voice is co-extensive with the Bible. The Shepherd's voice is the voice of the Spirit, as especially manifest from the pendant to each of the messages sent by Jesus to the seven ecclesias: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: "concerning all of which messages, he says "I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches" (Rev. xxii. 16). Because, therefore, the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets are given by inspiration of God -- because their authors were "holy men of God who spoke (and wrote)as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" and not as impelled by human will (2 Pet. i. 21), those only truly listen to the voice of the shepherd who listen to those Scriptures, as interpreted and applied by the Spirit in Jesus and the Apostles. The voice of Jesus is not a different voice from the Holy Scriptures which were read in the Jewish synagogues every sabbath day in the days of Jesus, and now placed in the Providence of God in the hands of Christendom. The voice of the personal Jesus is but a supplementary and explanatory expression of the same Eternal mind. The Old Testament Scriptures, in conjunction with the Apostolic testimony to Jesus as their fulfiller, were able to "make men wise unto salvation" in the days of Paul (2 Tim. iii. 15); and they are still able to work that great result for men if they will allow them. God not only spake by Jesus, but the prophets also, as Paul says: "God, who at sundry times and divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" (Heb. i. 1). So also Jesus teaches in the parable of the vineyard -- the proprietor of which sent first various messengers, and then his son.

Now, the voice of the shepherd being of this amplitude, we have to note how the fact bears on the claims of many in our own day who are regarded as his sheep. If that which constitutes and distinguishes men as the sheep of Christ's parable is the hearing of the shepherd's voice, and if that voice be the voice of God in the entire Scriptures of Moses, the prophets and the Apostles, where do myriads stand professing his name, who not only neglect making the acquaintance of these Scriptures, but who actually, in an increasing multitude of cases, discard them as the obsolete and infantile conceptions of a past age? They are manifestly not even hearers of the Word, let alone doers. They do not recognise the voice of the Shepherd, and therefore follow him not. The sheep are to be found among those who are enlightened in this matter -- who discern the voice of the shepherd in the "whatsoever things" that have been written aforetime for our learning -- who "hear what the Spirit saith," whether through Jesus, or the apostles, or the prophets. Such are strongly characterised by that other sensibility of which Jesus speaks, when he says his sheep "know not the voice of a stranger." "A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him." A knowledge of the Scriptures, in the understanding thereof, gives them a quick sense of the alien element. They quickly detect what is foreign to the mind of God. Philosophy in all its branches comes under their reprobation, where it claims to guide in divine matters. They see with clear eye that Paul uttered no empty flourish when he spoke of philosophy as a spoiling thing, of which believers had to beware. They can exactly tell why. They can define the limits of philosophy in relation to religious truth, and demonstrate the radical distinctness of the two realms of thought. They know the whereabouts of the natural thinker, while the natural thinker cannot place the sheep, except by a blundering hazard which attributes their conceptions to mental peculiarity bordering on aberration. Paul expresses the fact well when he says, "He that is spiritual judgeth (discerneth) all men, but he himself is judged (discerned) of no man." The eyesight of the spiritual man not only covers the ground occupied by the natural man, but extends much further, like the visual range of the man at a higher altitude than his fellows, e.g., a mountain observatory overlooking a plain. They know enough to know that Christ is the only guide for man in relation to the things of God and futurity. Therefore they hear his voice and follow him, while they flee very determinedly from any man or system who poses as a substitute, or rival, or equal. These things are discerned by all who truly know Christ. They know his voice, and they know all counterfeits.

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