"For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." -- 1 Peter ii.25.
"Ye were as sheep going astray." This is evidently addressed to believers. We were like sheep, blindly, willfully following an unwise leader. Not only were we following ourselves, but we in our turn have led others astray. This is true of all of us: "All we like sheep have gone astray;" all equally foolish, "we have turned every one to his own way." Our first though has been, "I like this," or "I don't like that"; never thinking what the LORD would prefer, we have just followed our own inclinations. So terribly astray were we that nothing less than the life-blood of our good SHEPHERD could atone for our sin, and save us from its power and its penalty. In Isaiah liii., we learn the substitutionary character of the death of CHRIST unmistakably, as also in the verse before our text. The GOD of the Bible is a GOD who punishes sin, and cannot pardon without atonement. The substitution of the innocent victim for the guilty offerer is so clearly taught from Genesis to Revelation, that he must be blind indeed who does not see it. Praise GOD our KINSMAN-REDEEMER has paid our debt; and "with His stripes we are healed."
II. "BUT ARE NOW RETURNED UNTO THE SHEPHERD AND BISHOP OF YOUR SOULS." Far astray as we were, by His grace we have been brought back again, and now we are "returned" -- some of us scarcely returning so much as being carried to the fold by our loving SHEPHERD. And it is so blessed to realize that now we are not without a MASTER, a LEADER, a HEAD. We were intended to be followers. We always do follow; but, alas! We did not follow the right MASTER. Now the right MASTER has found us; and instead of following our own foolish lead, we want to follow His wise lead. And it is most restful to realize that we are not left to live a life at the mercy of circumstances, or to walk in our own wisdom. We can never foresee the future; we never fully understand the present. How dangerous would be our position were we left alone! But as believers we have been brought back; we "are now returned unto the SHEPHERD and BISHOP of our souls."
III. How blessed it is to have such a SHEPHERD, BISHOP, OVERSEER, One who is continually watching over us in order to provide and lead, to sustain and deliver, to meet and supply our every need! All is found in CHRIST JESUS; in His presence, in His power, in His love may we more and more rest!
I have frequently thought of words I had the privilege of hearing some years ago from Professor Charteris at a united Communion service for students in Edinburgh. He said that there had been one life on earth of steady, uninterrupted development from the cradle to the Cross; but that there had only been one such life, for the true Christian life always began where the life of CHRIST ended, at the Cross; and that its true development is towards the cradle, until the child of GOD in the child-like simplicity of faith can rest in the omnipotent arms of infinite WISDOM and LOVE. Is not this the growth and development we long for, in order that we may be among those to whom GOD will reveal the things which are hidden from the wise and prudent? The more we rest on this fact, -- that we do not know the way we are going, but that we have a GUIDE who does know; that we do not know how to accomplish our service, but that He never leaves us to devise our own service; -- the more restful does our life become. Then we find we have just to do this -- to look to our SAVIOUR to be filled with His perfections; not to be fretting and fuming as to how the divine life shall manifest itself, but to leave the life to work spontaneously through us. A heavy bunch of grapes on a tender shoot would break it; but let the shoot abide in the vine it will grow stronger, and as the fruit develops, the strength of the branch will increase also, and the life left to its own natural and healthy development will in due time be brought to perfection
As we look forward to the months of this year, we know not where the close will find us; whether here or in the eternal Home. We know not what burdens, perplexities, or difficulties it may bring; but we know Him, whose we are, and whom we serve. HE knows all; this suffices for us.
I have been looking at a few passages which bring out the care of our LORD for His people: --
(1) 2 Tim. ii.19, "The foundation of GOD standeth sure, having this seal, The LORD knoweth them that are His." -- The LORD knows every one of His own. We may not know them. We may make mistakes if we judge of others. Some may be His, and we may be unaware of it. The LORD knows them that are His. This is a safe foundation. We, too, know in our souls whether the LORD is indwelling us, whether His peace fills us, sustains and blesses us.
(2) Nahum i.7, "The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him." -- He has a special knowledge of those who put their trust in Him. Though our trust at times is very poor, yet, if there be any trust at all in Him, we can say, "Help thou mine unbelief." He knows we want to trust Him better.
(3) Psalm ciii.14, "He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust." -- Our SHEPHERD knows our weakness. He never lays more upon us than we are able to bear.
(4) Psalm i.6, "The LORD knoweth the way of the righteous." -- There may be difficulties in our path; we do not foresee them, but He knows them; and when He puts forth His sheep He does not leave them to meet difficulties as best they can, but He goes before them.
(5) Job said (xxiii.10) "He knoweth the way that I take." -- Job did not understand the way the LORD was leading him. He was bewildered by the LORD's dealings with him; but he had this comfort, "He knoweth the way that I take." So when we cannot understand GOD'S dealings with us we may rest on the same truth.
(6) Psalm xliv.21, "He knoweth the secrets of the heart." -- We are often brought into circumstances of trial and misunderstanding. People imagine that this or that discipline is the fruit of this or that sin. The LORD knoweth the secrets of the heart. If we are unjustly accused or suspected, if it is asserted that we have forgotten the name of our GOD, GOD knows the secrets of our hearts. Sometimes we have trials which we cannot put into prayer; the LORD knows the secrets of our heart. There are things that affect us, and yet we cannot understand how it is that we are so affected by them. "He knoweth the secrets of the heart."
(7) 2 Peter ii.9, "The LORD knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished." -- Sometimes we are involved in trial because of our connection with others. GOD knew how to punish the old world and save Noah -- how to punish Sodom and save Lot.
(8) Then we have many needs. We are like children, we need to be helped continually, and our SAVIOUR reminds us (Matt. vi.8, 32) that our "heavenly FATHER knoweth what things" we "have need of"; and that if we are only concerned to seek "first the Kingdom of GOD, and His righteousness," "all these things shall be added unto" us. So that we have no need to be anxious about to-morrow. It is quite sufficient that we have a SHEPHERD, OVERSEER, FRIEND who undertakes to provide for it all.
Nay, as he told us in Psalm lxxxiv.11, He himself is a "sun" to give us light in all times of darkness, and a "shield" to protect us in danger. The "grace" that we need for His service now, and the "glory" that shall soon crown it, are all in Him, and all for us; for, "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." Not, from them that walk perfectly, or sinlessly -- no on does that; not, from them that are blameless -- though we all should be that; but if we are honestly and uprightly seeking to serve Him, no good thing will he withhold. What a rich promise this is!
IV. In conclusion: Are we all enjoying this precious truth? Are we all able to take this passage to ourselves and say, "I was a sheep going astray, but I am returned"? Can we all feel it is true for ourselves? If there be one who cannot do so, the SHEPHERD, the BISHOP, is really present, though unseen; He is here ready to receive those who will return now. "Come unto Me," is His word. If there is one burdened with sin, He is ready to pardon. If there is one burdened with care, He is present to receive your care. The LORD JESUS is waiting: waiting to take every burden away, to accept every deposit, to fulfil every trust we confide in Him. He will be faithful to keep that which we commit to Him. We can entrust to Him the keeping of our hearts, the ordering of our lives, the care of our children, the converts whom GOD has given us, the word to which He has called us. We may trust Him to keep us, in employments in which we are brought into contact with the ungodly; yes, whatever we commit to Him, He is able to keep.
If we have come to Him, with what blessedness may we go forward into this year. We have not passed this way heretofore. We know not what burdens the LORD has for us to bear, or what blessings in store. We need not be afraid, if He gives great blessing that He will let us become puffed up; or that great difficulties will be too much for us while trusting in Him. That which was never meant for our strength will be met by His strength. May we be a docile flock, willing to be cared for by Him, and every blessing will then be ours!