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TENDING THE FLOCK
The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according unto God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you.
“I exhort.” [Verse 1] Let me fix your eyes upon the counsellor. There is an evangel in the speaker, altogether apart from the inspiration of his message. “We are contemplating Simon Peter in the ripe, assured strength of his evening-time. “I exhort.” Shall we pause a moment that we may invite the ministry of reminiscence? By what chequered way has he 182reached this bourn of clear and quiet assurance? Let me recall some of the prominent landmarks. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” . . . “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” . . . “Even if I must die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee.” . . . “Then began he to curse and swear, saying, I know not the man.” . . . “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” . . . “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter, they marvelled.” . . . “I, a fellow elder, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” It is a wonderful evolution! From the call of the spring-time to the ripe, confident testimony of the autumn-time! And between the two extremes what a medley of sharp and changeful experience! The rough, untutored, impulsive character-force has been washed and disciplined into discerning and fruitful strength. And now I picture Simon Peter as an old saint, bearing the marks of the stern fight; sealed with the brands of the Lord Jesus; his face lit up with the sober light of chastening memory and glorious hope. “I am a witness of the sufferings.” Think of the content of the phrase when it falls from the lips of Simon Peter! How much he had seen which he now recalled in tears! “Could ye not watch with Me one 183hour?” He had seen that lonely and grief-filled Presence. “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” He had caught a glimpse of that betrayed face, and the features were burnt into his soul in lines of remorseful fire. “I am a witness of the sufferings.” All the black and heart-rending events of Gethsemane and Calvary crowd the witnessing, for they were never absent for an hour from the Apostle’s so penitent and regretful heart. But Calvary did not eclipse Olivet. The terrors of the Crucifixion were looked at in the soft light of the Resurrection dawn and in the startling wonders of the Ascension. And so yesterday became linked with the morrow. Memory was transfigured into hope. The witness became a herald. The denier became the heir. “I am a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.”
And now let us listen to the scarred old warrior’s counsel. He is giving fatherly instruction to the officers of the Church. He is speaking to the elders, the overseers, the appointed leaders of these hallowed primitive assemblies. I wish to give the counsel the widest application, that it may include the outermost circle of Christian service. If we limited the counsel to bishops, then we should 184all listen to the tremendous charge as critical or unconcerned spectators. If we included all pastors and deacons, still the unconcerned majority might listen with perilous relish to the implied indictment. The counsel applies to every kind of Christian leadership. Wherever man or woman assumes the post of leader of souls, guide to the home of God—whether it be among children or adults, in visiting the hospitals or in going from house to house, in the pastorate or in the class, in the obscure mission or in the conspicuous phases of cathedral labours—the Apostle’s counsel is pertinent, and unfolds the primary dispositions which are the secrets of prosperous service.
Mark, then, the opening word of the counsel. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” [Verse 2] It is a very wealthy and suggestive word which forms the initial note of the Apostle’s instructions. The Authorised Version translates it “feed,” the Revised Version translates it “tend.” Each element is significant of the shepherd, and both are essential to the full interpretation of the apostle’s mind. It is a wonderful sphere of service which is disclosed to me. I am told that I can be the nourisher of my brother; I am told that I can also be his defence. I can “feed” him; I can stand between him and his hunger. I can tend him; 185I can stand between him and his perils. That is a beautiful ministry which God entrusts to me. I can get in among my brother’s wants and take him bread. I can feed his faith, his hope, his love. I can lead him into “green pastures and by still waters,” and discover to him the means of growth and refreshment. I can get in among my brother’s perils and erect extra safeguards and defences. It is possible to love my way in between my brother and his appetites, between his spirit and his snares. That is our ministry, whatever be the precise character of the leadership we have assumed. It matters little or nothing whether we be called bishops, pastors, teachers, visitors; our mission is to feed and to fend, to take nourishing bread, and to offer protective shelter. If a man stand between his brother and spiritual necessity, or between his brother and spiritual peril, he is discharging the office of a day s-man, a mediator, a faithful under-shepherd, working loyally under the leadership of the “chief Bishop and Shepherd of our souls.”
How, then, is this ministry of feeder and fender to be successfully discharged? How is it to be saved from offence and impertinence? How shall we gain admission to move among the needs and perils of our brother’s soul? How shall we gain an entrance into his secret 186place? “What dispositions are required in order to back the ministry and make it spiritually effective? The apostle acts as our counsellor, and gives us detailed instruction in all these things.
First of all, it must be the service of willingness. “Not of constraint, but willingly.” [Verse 2] One volunteer is worth two pressed men. I am not quite sure whether the proverbial saying is pertinent. I am doubtful if an equation can be established. On the high planes of spiritual service no number of pressed men can take the place of a volunteer. But can men be pressed into unfruitful spiritual service? Yes, men are sometimes constrained by what they call “the pressure of circumstances.” They say that they “could not very well get out of it.” They had been importuned so frequently that for very shame they could decline no longer. If they could have found another excuse, another excuse would have been offered. But their inventiveness failed them. Their excuse-chamber was empty. They simply had to do it! Their wills had no part in the hallowed service. They were just pressed into the ministry by circumstantial constraint which they could no longer comfortably resist. What shall we say about it? Just this—that people whose wills are not in the service, are really 187not in the service at all. Where there is no spontaneity the fervour is fictional, and we shall never thaw the wintry bondage of men by painted and theatrical fires.
But there is a loftier constraint than the pressure of importunity and the failure of the supply of excuse. There is the constraint of conscience, which sends men into service impelled by the sense of duty. But even the conscience-labourer may toil and toil away in a fruitless task. Men may do their duty unwillingly, and the absence of the will deprives their service of the very atmosphere which would render it efficient. Duty, without the inclination of the will, is cold and freezing, and never makes a warm and genial way into the hidden precincts of another’s soul. If I were stretched in pain and sickness I would not care to be nursed by duty. All the attentions might be regular and methodical, and yet I should mourn the absence of the something which makes the ministry winsome and alive. “I just love to have her near my bed,” said a hospital patient to me the other day, speaking of her Christly and consecrated nurse. That is duty with an atmosphere. It is duty transfigured. Duty may make people righteous; alone it will not make them good. “And scarcely for a righteous man, will one die; yet peradventure 188for a good man some would even dare to die.” I do not think that duty will carry us far into the deep hungers and weaknesses of our fellow-men. We need the “plus,” the gracious inclination of the will, the leaning of the entire being in the line of service. We need to be swayed, not by the compulsion of external pressure, not even by the lonely sovereignty of the moral sense, but by an inward constraint, “warm, sweet, tender,” the unfailing impulse of grace, abiding in us as “a well, springing up into eternal life.” “Not of constraint, but willingly.”
Secondly, our service must be the service of affection. “Nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” [Verse 2] We are not to be moved in our service by any hunger for external reward, and do not let us think that external rewards are exhausted under the single category of money. Men may take up Christian service to enrich their purse, to enlarge their business, and in many ways to advance a transient interest, But we may also labour in the hunger for recognition and applause, and I am not sure which of the two occupies the lower sphere, he who hungers for money, or he who thirsts for applause. A preacher may dress and smooth his message to court the public cheers, and labourers in other spheres may bid for prominence, 189for imposing print, for grateful recognition. All this unfits us for our task. It destroys the fine sense of the shepherd. It destroys his perception of the needs and perils of the sheep. It despoils us of our bread, and robs us of our staff, and we have neither food nor protection to offer to our hungering and endangered fellow-man. “Not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” Do thy service, not for the praises and rewards of men, but as Martin Luther says, “from the very bottom of the heart, out of love to the thing itself, out of joyous devotion to the work which the Lord thy God gives thee.”
The service of willingness! The service of affection! It must also be the service of humility! “Neither as lording it over the flock . . . gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another.” [Verses 3-5] That is most subtle and needed counsel. Who would have expected that spiritual pastors would be warned against lordliness and pride? Who would have imagined that men who are ministering the gospel of lowliness should themselves be exalted in pride! It is one of the most insidious temptations which beset the working disciple of Christ. Pride ever lurks just at the heels of power. Even a little authority is prone to turn the seemly walk into a most offensive strut. But the peril is subtler 190still. While I assume to feed my brother, my own soul may be a-hungered. While I am helping his defence, the enemy may be ravaging my own land. The peril is subtler still. Some how we come to find a virtue in preaching and teaching, and our preaching and teaching become our doing. Teachers and preachers are somehow allured outside their own message—its evangel and its warnings—and we are solaced and soothed by the lonely fact that we have shared in its proclamation. It is a terrible temptation, and if we yield to it, it swells the heart with lordliness and pride. What is our security? “All of you gird yourselves with humility.” Put on the apron of the slave! Go into the awful presence of the Lord, and contemplate His glory until the vision brings you wonderingly to your knees! “Go, stand on the mount before the Lord.” That is the place where we discover our size! No man speaks of his greatness who has been closeted with God. Lordliness changes into holy fear, and pride bows down in reverent supplication. Oh, we must come from the Presence-chamber into the pulpit! Nay, the pulpit itself must be the Presence-chamber, and the man must preach in the consciously realised presence of the Almighty and Eternal God. The Lord will have no proud men in His service. Such men are self-appointed. “I never knew 191you.” Their names are not to be found in the Lamb’s Book of Life. “God resisteth the proud.” He stands in the way and fights them! “The angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary.” It is an appalling thought; our strongest antagonist may be the Lord whom we are professing to serve. “God resisteth the proud.” Let us hasten to add the complementary evangel. “And giveth grace to the humble.” It is the humble, kneeling soul that receives ineffable outpourings of Divine grace. Grace ever seeks out the lowliest.
It streams from the hills,
It descends to the plain.
To the humble soul God gives the very dynamics of fruitful service. In all spiritual ministry it is only grace that tells. Nothing else counts! Other gifts may amuse, may interest, may allure, but grace alone can engage in the labour of spiritual redemption. The servants of the Lord are to be filled with grace, and their overflow will constitute their influence upon their fellows. Out of them shall flow “rivers of water of life.” ” God giveth grace to the humble.”
Lastly, it must be the service of trustfulness. “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you.” [Verse 7] Take your alarms to Him. Talk out your fears with him. Lay them upon 192Him in quiet assurance. And this must be done in the interests of spiritual economy. Terrible is the waste of spiritual energy which results from anxiety and fear. To allow anxiety to rear itself in the soul is like permitting rank weeds to grow in the flower-bed; and the worthier growths, being deprived of nutriment, grow faint and droop away. “He careth for you.” In these high matters the Lord is doing the thinking.
Oh, could we but relinquish all
Our earthly props, and simply fall
On Thine almighty arms!
And what is to be the reward of such services? “When the chief Shepherd shall be manifested . . .” [Verse 4] Some day we are to see Him face to face. What then? “Ye shall receive the crown of glory.” The victory crown will be composed of leaves and flowers which will never fade away; of leaves which are the tokens of abiding spring; of flowers which are the tokens of ever-enriching glory.193
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