“The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need!” Psalm 23:1. The shepherd is a favorite Scriptural picture of the divine love and care. In the Old Testament, the twenty-third Psalm gathers the whole wonderful truth in exquisite lines, which are dear to young and old wherever the Bible is known. Then in the New Testament, when our Lord would give His friends the sweetest revealings of His heart toward them, and tell them what they are to Him, and what He would be to them–He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11. The Hebrew shepherd lives with his sheep. If they are out in the storm–he is with them. If they are exposed to danger–so is he. Just so, Christ lives with His people. He enters into closest relations with them. The shepherd knows his sheep. He has a name for each one and calls them all by their names. Just so, Christ knows each one of His friends, and has intimate personal knowledge of each one. He knows the best in us–and also the worst. He knows our faults, our sins, our wanderings. Yet, knowing us as we are–He loves us still and never wearies of us! The shepherd is most gentle with his sheep. He does not drive them–but goes before them and leads them. When they need rest on the way–he makes them lie down, and chooses for their resting-place, not the dusty road–but green pastures. He is especially kind to the lambs, gathers them in his arms and carries them in his bosom. All this is an exquisite picture of the gentleness of our Good Shepherd in His care of His sheep. He is thoughtful toward the weak. He loves the lambs and makes room for them in His bosom. Whatever the need is, there is something in the heart of Christ which meets its craving and supplies its lack! “He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” Isaiah 40:11. The shepherd defends his flock in all danger. Often he had to risk his own safety, even his life, in protecting his sheep. Just so, the Good Shepherd gives His life–for His sheep! Christ’s sheep are absolutely safe in His keeping. “I give unto them eternal life,” He said; “and they will never perish–ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!” Then at last, He will bring His own all safely home, “and they shall become one flock–with one Shepherd!” (J.R. Miller “Bethlehem to Olivet” 1905)
“How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God!” Genesis 39:9. “After hearing his wife’s story, Potiphar was furious! He took Joseph and threw him into the prison!” Genesis 39:19-20. Sometimes it costs very dearly to be true to God. Joseph lay now in a dungeon. But his loss through doing right, was nothing in comparison with what he would have lost–had he done the wickedness to which he was tempted. His prison gloom, deep as it was–was as noonday, compared with what would have been the darkness of his soul under the blight of evil, and the bitterness of remorse. The chains that hung upon him in his dungeon, were but like feathers–in comparison with the heavy chains which would have bound his soul, had he yielded to the temptation. Though in a prison, his feet hurt by the fetters–he was a free man because his conscience was free and his heart was pure! No fear of consequences should ever drive us to do a wrong thing. It is better to suffer any loss, any cost, any sacrifice–than be eaten up by remorse! Better be hurled down from a high place for doing right, than win worldly honor by doing wrong. Better lose our right hand, than lose our purity of soul. Better to rot in prison, than to sin against God! It was the prayer of a young queen, which she wrote with a diamond point on her castle window, “Keep me pure–make others great.” That is the lesson of Joseph’s victory over temptation: dishonor, loss, dungeon, death–anything before sin! (J.R. Miller, “Practical Lessons from the Story of Joseph”)
“On hearing it, many of His disciples said: This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” John 6:60. Many people reject Christ because of the radical self-denying nature of His precepts. The very first condition He imposed on His disciples was to “Deny themselves, and take up their cross daily, and follow Him.” He told them plainly that they must be no more of the world than He was. He warned them that He would acknowledge none as His disciples unless they were truly willing, at any time and in any manner, to lay down their lives for Him. How offensive these precepts and injunctions were to the carnal hearts of His hearers, we may judge by the conduct of the Rich Youth, who, though convinced in his judgment that Jesus was the Messiah, could not prevail upon himself to follow Him–but abandoned all his hope in Christ, rather than make the sacrifice that was demanded of him.And what is it that at this day forms the principal ground of offence against the Gospel? It is the purity and radicalness of its precepts. If only we would leave men at liberty to indulge their corrupt desires and to retain their earthly and sensual dispositions, they might listen to us. But, if we require from our hearers the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and a conformity to His heavenly example and holy precepts–we put a stumbling-block before them which they fall over to their eternal ruin! They cannot, they will not endure to hear of such requisitions; and on account of their aversion to such restraints, they reject the Gospel altogether. It is impossible for the human mind, blinded as it is by innumerable lusts and prejudices, to see the truth and excellence of the Gospel–unless it has been first enlightened by the Holy Spirit. “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear!” To have the mind brought to a cordial acquiescence to all the precepts of Scripture, is indeed a reason for thanksgiving. Blessed is that man who has attained it, for that acquiescence clearly shows that he is taught of God. Psalm 19:8. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. Psalm 119:4. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. V. 15 I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways. V. 40 How I long for Your precepts! V. 56 This has been my practice: I obey Your precepts. V. 93 I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have preserved my life. V. 104 I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. (Charles Simeon, 1759-1836)
More glorious than the return of the mightiest conqueror from the field of triumph, more glorious than the proclamation and coronation of kings and emperors. These occurrences are but faint emblems of “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” It will be magnificent and glorious. “When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed!” 2 Thessalonians 1:10. He will not appear then as the subject of poverty and weakness, and contempt, as he did at his first coming, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not!” Isaiah 53:2-3. “There were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness!” Isaiah 52:14. But he shall come the second time very differently, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory!” Matthew 24:30. He will come with a personal glory and majesty exceeding that described in Isaiah 6:1-4, or that by Daniel 7:9, or that by John, Revelation 1:13, etc.Compared with Christ’s power, the power of all earthly kings is but the power of the moth. And compared with his glory, the splendor of regal pomp is but the glimmering of the glowworm! He shall come with the power of Omnipotence. That power by which he made the universe, he shall bring with him to punish his foes. He shall come with all the glory of his perfections shining brighter than ten thousands suns! He shall come with the glory of his spotless and exalted humanity, and with all the glorious majesty of his divinity! (William Nicholson, 1862)
“Fear not, I have chosen you!” Isaiah 41:9, 10. Christian reader, God says to you, “I have chosen you!” This is a great mystery–but it is a comforting truth. God does not tell you WHY He chose you. He only tells you the simple fact. It is not for you to question it, or to shrink from it–but to receive it, and be thankful. God was free to love you–or free to loathe you. He was free to choose you–or free to reject you. He says, “I have chosen you!” Believe what God says, and rejoice. “Before the mountains were brought forth, before He had formed the earth and the world,” God had chosen you! “From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.” From everlasting to everlasting He loved–He chose, Hedelighted in His people. Fellow-sinner, if God says, “I have chosen you,” He says it to encourage you; to strengthen you; to sanctify you; that you may rest upon the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, that you may look away from self, and see that salvation is altogether of the Lord. God chose you, “not according to your works; but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given you in Christ Jesus before the world began.” 2 Timothy 1:9. Fellow-sinner, you are loved in Christ; chosen in Christ; called in Christ; saved in Christ! Here is your foundation; here your hope; here your safety–you were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world!” This is to humble you–as well as to exalt you. This is to make you weep–as well as cause you to rejoice. You are vile in yourself–but chosen to indescribable honor! You are poor in yourself–but chosen to unspeakable riches! You are naked in yourself–but chosen to eternal glory! Child of God, never lose your hold of this precious truth. God has revealed it, that you might delight in it. Let this be the brightest jewel in your crown. This the sweetest cordial to your heart–that God says to you, “Fear not, I have chosen you!” As you sit at the feet of Jesus;
as you lay your mouth in the dust, and cry, “Unclean, unclean!”
as you take all the shame to yourself, and give all the glory to God,
let this comfort delight your soul–God has said, “Fear not, I have chosen you!” “God chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world!” Ephesians 1:4 (amplified bible) (George Mylne, “Fear Not!” 1854)
A hand, a divine and omnipotent hand! The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He is mighty to comfort as well as to sanctify. His name is “the Comforter.” His office is to console. In the discharge of this office He puts forth His power, not only mediately and indirectly through the Word, but immediately and directly upon the soul, sustaining and strengthening it when fainting and troubled. It is an unspeakable consolation to know that there is a hand, a divine and omnipotent hand, laid upon our wounded spirit–not only upholding it, but drying up, as it were, the very springs of grief within. In the day of oppressive sorrow, when bowed down to the dust, what is it that we feel so much our need of, as a hand that can come into close and direct contact with our souls to lift them up and strengthen them? It is here that human consolation fails. Friends can say much to soothe us, but they cannot lay their finger upon the hidden seat of sorrow. They can put their arm around the fainting body, but not around the fainting spirit. Here the heavenly aid comes in! The Spirit throws around us the everlasting arms, and we are invincibly upheld. We cannot sink, for He sustains, He comforts, He cheers. And who knows so well as He how to sustain, and comfort, and cheer? (Horatius Bonar, “The Night of Weeping”)
“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24. Let the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, work us into a gracious willingness to embrace sufferings for His sake, and cheerfully and resolutely to take up His cross and follow Him. Did Christ suffer, who knew no sin–and shall we think it strange to suffer, who know nothing but sin?
Shall He lie sweltering under His Father’s wrath–and shall we cry out under men’s anger? Was He crowned with thorns–and must we be crowned with rose-buds? Was His whole life, from the cradle to the cross, made up of nothing but sorrows and sufferings–and must our lives, from the cradle to the grave, be filled up with nothing but pleasures and delights? Was He despised–and must we be admired?Was He debased–and must we be exalted? Was He poor–and must we be rich? Was He low–and must we be high? Did He drink of a bitter cup, a bloody cup–and must we have only cups of consolation? Let us not think anything too much to do for Christ, nor anything too great to suffer for Christ,
nor anything too dear to part with for such a Christ, such a Savior–who thought nothing too much to do, nor too grievous to suffer–so that He might accomplish the work of our redemption! He left Heaven for us–and shall not we let go of this world for Him? He left His Father’s bosom for us–and shall not we leave the bosoms of our dearest relations for Him? He underwent all sorts of sufferings for us–let us as readily encounter with all sorts of sufferings for Him. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich–yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich!” 2 Corinthians 8:9. (Thomas Brooks, “The Golden Key to Open Hidden Treasures”)
All plenitude is in Christ, to answer all the needs of His people. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, that out of His fullness I may receive all spiritual blessings! Have I destroyed myself by sin? I have deliverance from Him who is mighty to save from sin and wrath! Is my foolish mind darkened; am I a guilty, polluted and ruined wretch? Jesus is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption! Is my life fleeting and passing away like a shadow? Jesus is the Ancient of days, and endures forevermore! Are my days short-lived and full of trouble? Jesus is my life, the length of my days, and the joy of my heart! Am I exposed to contempt? Jesus shall be my crown of glory, and diadem of beauty! Am I traveling through the wilderness? Jesus is my staff, and on Him I lean all the way! Am I on my last journey to my long home? Jesus is my leader, and my rewarder! Am I a sheep? Jesus is my pasture, and my green pasture too! Am I hungry and thirsty? Jesus is my heavenly manna, and gives me to drink of the water of life! Am I weary? Jesus is my rest and refreshing! Am I weak? Jesus is my strength! (James Meikle, May 24, 1757)
“The first person to whom he showed himself alive after the resurrection was a weeping woman who had no greater claim upon him than any simple penitent sinner has. No eye except that of the angels had as yet rested upon his form. The time was as solemn and majestic as that of the first creation when light burst out of chaos and darkness. Heaven and earth were concerned in this event; it was the turning-point of the ages. Nor was this merely objectively so: Jesus felt himself the central figure in this newborn universe; he tasted the exquisite joy of one who had just entered upon an endless life in the possession of new powers and faculties such as human nature had never known before. Would it have been unnatural had he sought some quiet place to spend the opening hour of this new unexplored state in communion with the Father? Can there be any room in his mind for the humble ministry of consolation required by Mary? He answers these questions himself. Among all the voices that hailed his triumph no voice appealed to him like this voice of weeping in the garden. The first appearance of the risen Lord was given to Mary for no other reason than that she needed him first and needed him most. And what more appropriate beginning could have been set for his ministry of glory than this very act? Nothing could better convince us that in his exalted state he retains for us the same tender sympathy, the same individual affection as he showed during the days of his flesh.” Geerhardus Vos
“How is your Beloved better than others?” Song of Songs 5:9. Does not our Friend as far excel all other friends as Heaven exceeds earth, as eternity exceeds time, as the Creator surpassesHis creatures? See all the fullness of the Godhead–dwelling in One who is as meek and mild as a child.See His countenance beaming with ineffable glories–full of mingled majesty, condescension and love.Hear the soul-reviving invitations and gracious words which proceed from His lips. See that hand in which dwells everlasting strength–swaying the scepter of universal empire over all creatures and all worlds.
See His arms expanded to receive and embrace returning sinners.
While His heart, a bottomless, shoreless ocean of benevolence–overflows with tenderness, compassion, and love. Such, O sinner, is our Beloved–and such is our Friend. Will you not then embrace Him as your Friend? If you can be persuaded to do this–you will find that half, nay, that the thousandth part has not been told to you! All the excellency, glory and beauty which is found in men or angels, flows from Christ–as a drop of water from the ocean, or a ray of light from the sun. If, then, you supremely love the creature–can you wonder that Christians should love the Creator! Can you wonder that those who behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, should be sweetly drawn to Him by the cords of love, and lose their fondness for created glories? All that you love and admire and wish for in creatures, and indeed infinitely more–they find in Him! (Edward Payson) Do you wish for a friend possessed of power to protect you? Our Friend possesses all power in Heaven and earth, and is able to save even to the uttermost! Do you wish for a wise friend? In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Do you wish for a tender, compassionate friend? Christ is tenderness and compassion itself.Do you wish for a faithful, unchangeable friend? With Christ there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His unchangeable love will ever prompt Him to make His people happy! His unerring wisdom will point out the best means to promote their happiness!His infinite power will enable Him to employ those means. In all these respects, our Beloved is more than any other beloved! (Edward Payson, 1783-1827, former pastor of what is now Second Parish)