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XVI

HOW TO TEND 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: Tend 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."—1 Peter v. 1-4.

St. Peter's last lesson was full of consolation. He showed that it was from God's hand that judgements were sent upon His people to purify them and prepare them for His appearing. With this thought in their minds, he would have the converts rejoice in their discipline, confident in the faithfulness of Him who was trying them. He follows this general message to the Churches with a solemn charge to their teachers. They are specially responsible for the welfare of the brethren. On them it rests by the holiness of their lives and the spirit in which they labour to win men to the faith. 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: Tend the flock of God which is among you. Therefore—because I know that the202 blessed purpose of trial is not always manifest, and because the hope of the believer needs to be constantly pointed to the faithfulness of God—I exhort you to tend zealously those over whom you are put in charge. "Elders" was the name given at first to the whole body of Christian teachers. No doubt they were chosen at the beginning from the older members of the community, when the Apostles established Churches in their missionary journeys. "They appointed for them elders in every Church" (Acts xiv. 23); and it was the elders of the Church of Ephesus that Paul sent for to Miletus (Acts xx. 17). And St. Peter here contrasts them very pointedly with those of younger years, whom he addresses afterwards. But after it became an official title the sense of seniority would drop away from the word.

It is clear from this passage that in St. Peter's time they were identical with those who were afterwards named bishops. For the word which follows presently in the text and is rendered "exercising the oversight" is literally "doing the work of bishop, or overseer." And in the passage already alluded to (Acts xx. 15-28) those who at first are called elders are subsequently named bishops: "The Holy Ghost hath made you bishops to feed the Church of God" (R.V.). As the Church grew certain places would become prominent as centres of Christian life, and to the elders therein the oversight of other Churches would be given; and thus the overseer or bishop would grow to be distinct from the other presbyters, and his title be assigned to the more important office. This had not come about when St. Peter wrote.

The humility, which he is soon about to commend to the whole body, the Apostle manifests by placing203 himself on the level of those to whom he speaks: "I, who am a fellow-elder, exhort you." He has strong claims to be heard, claims which can never be theirs. He has been a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He might have made mention of his apostleship; he might have told of the thrice-repeated commission which soon supplies the matter of his exhortation. He will rather be counted an equal, a fellow-labourer with themselves. Some have thought that even when he calls himself a witness of Christ's sufferings he is not so much referring to what he saw of the life and death of Jesus, as to the testimony which he has borne to his Master since the pentecostal outpouring and the share which he has had of sufferings for Christ's sake. If this be so, he would here too be reckoning himself even as they, as he clearly intends to do in the words which follow, where he calls himself a sharer, as they all are, in the glory to which they look forward. Thus in all things they are his brethren: in the ministry, in their affliction, and in their hope of glory to be revealed.

He opens his solemn charge with words which are the echo of Christ's own: "Feed My sheep"; "Feed My lambs." Every word pictures the responsibility of those to whom the trust is committed. These brethren are God's flock. Psalmists and prophets had been guided of old to use the figure; they speak of God's people as "the sheep of His pasture." But our Lord consecrated it still more when He called Himself "the good Shepherd, that giveth His life for the sheep." The word tells much of the character of those to whom it is applied. How prone they are to wander and stray, how helpless, how ill furnished with means of defence against perils. It tells, too, that they are easy to be led. But that is not all a blessing, for though204 docile, they are often heedless, ready to follow any leader without thought of consequences.

But they are God's flock. This adds to the dignity of the elder's office, but adds also to the gravity of the trust, a trust to be entered on with fear and trembling. For the flock is precious to Christ, and should be precious to His shepherds. To let them perish for want of tending is treachery to the Master who has sent men to His work. And how much that tending means. To feed them is not all, though that is much. To provide such nurture as will help their growth in grace. There is a food store in God's word, but not every lesson there suits every several need. There must be thoughtful choice of lessons. The elders of old were, and God's shepherds now are, called to give much care how they minister, lest by their oversight or neglect—

"The hungry sheep look up, but are not fed."

But tending speaks of watchfulness. The shepherd must yield his account when the chief Shepherd shall appear. Those who are watchmen over God's flock must have an eye to quarters whence dangers may come, must mark the signs of them and be ready with safeguards. And the sheep themselves must be strengthened to endure and conquer when they are assailed; they cannot be kept out of harm's way always. Christ did not pray for His own little flock of disciples that they should be taken out of the world, only kept from the evil. Then all that betokens good must be cherished among them. For even tiny germs of goodness the Spirit will sanctify, and help the watchful elder, by his tending, to rear till they flourish and abound.

To his general precept St. Peter adds three defining205 clauses, which tell us how the elder's duty may be rightly discharged, and against what perils and temptations he will need to strive: exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according unto God. How would the oversight of an elder come to be exercised of constraint in the time of St. Peter? Those to whom he writes had been appointed to their office by apostolic authority, it may have been by St. Paul himself; and while an Apostle was present to inspire them enthusiasm for the new teaching would be at its height: many would be drawn to the service of Christ who would appear to the missionaries well fitted to be entrusted with such solemn charge and ministry. But even an Apostle cannot read men's hearts, and it was when the Apostles departed that the Churches would enter on their trial. Then the fitness of the elders would be put to the test. Could they maintain in the Churches the earnestness which had been awakened? Could they in their daily walk sustain the apostolic character, and help forward the cause both by word and life? Christianity would be unlike every other movement whose officers are human if there were not many failures and much weakness here and there; and if the ministrations of elders grew less accepted and less fruitful, they would be offered with ever-diminishing earnestness, and the services, full of life at the outset, would prove irksome from disappointment, and in the end be discharged only as a work of necessity.

And every subsequent age of the Church has endorsed the wisdom of St. Paul's caution, "Lay hands hastily on no man." Fervid zeal may grow cool, and inaptitude for the work become apparent. Nor are those in whom it is found always solely responsible206 for a mistaken vocation. As St. Paul's words should make those vigilant whose office it is to send forth men to sacred ministries, so St. Peter's warning should check any undue urging of men to offer themselves. It is a sight to move men to sorrow, and God to displeasure, when the shepherd's work is perfunctory, not done willingly, according to God.

In some texts the last three words are not represented, nor are they found in our Authorised Version. But they have abundant authority, and so fully declare the spirit in which all pastoral work should be done that they might well be repeated emphatically with each of these three clauses. To labour according to God, "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye," is so needful that the words may be commended to the elders as a constant motto. And not only as in His sight should the work be done, but with an endeavour after the standard which is set before us in Christ. We are to stoop as He stooped that we may raise those who cannot raise themselves; to be compassionate to the penitent, breaking no bruised reed, quenching no spark in the smoking flax. The pastor's words should be St. Paul's, "We are your servants for Jesus's sake," his action that of the shepherd in the parable: "When he findeth it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing." Such joy comes only to willing workers.

Nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. We do not usually think of the Church in the apostolic age as offering any temptation to the covetous. The disciples were poor men, and there is little trace of riches in the opening chapters of the Acts. St. Paul, too, constantly declined to be a burden to the flock, as though he felt it right to spare the brethren. The lessons of the New Testament on this subject are very plain. When our207 Lord sent forth His seventy disciples, He sent them as "labourers worthy of their hire" (Luke x. 7); and St. Paul declares it to be the Lord's ordinance that they which proclaim the Gospel should live of the Gospel (1 Cor. ix. 14). To serve with a ready mind is to seek nothing beyond this. But it is clear both from St. Paul's language (1 Tim. iii. 3; Titus i. 7) and from this verse that there existed temptations to greed, and that some were overcome thereby. It is worthy of note, however, that those who are given up to this covetousness are constantly branded with false teaching. They are thus described by both the Apostles. They teach things which they ought not (Titus i. 11), and with feigned words make merchandise of the flock (2 Peter ii. 3). The spurt of self-seeking and base gain (which is the literal sense of St. Peter's word) is so alien to the spirit of the Gospel that we cannot conceive a faithful and true shepherd using other language than that of St. Paul: "We seek not yours, but you."

Neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock. This, too, is a special peril at all times for those who are called to preside in spiritual offices. The interests committed to their trust are so surpassingly momentous that they must often speak with authority, and the Church's history furnishes examples of men who would make themselves lords where Christ alone should be Lord. Against this temptation He has supplied the safeguard for all who will use it. "My sheep," He says, "hear My voice." And the faithful tenders of His flock must ever ask themselves in their service, Is this the voice of Christ? The question will be in their hearts as they give counsel to those who need and seek it, What would Christ have said to this man or to that?208 The same sort of question will bring to the test their public ministrations, and will make that most prominent in them which He intended to be so. Thus will be introduced into all they do a due proportion and subordination, and many a subject of disquiet in the Churches will thereby sink almost into insignificance. At the same time the constant reference to their own Lord will keep them in mind that they are His servants for the flock of God.

While he warns the elders against the assumption of lordship over their charges, the Apostle adds a precept which, if it be followed, will abate all tendency to seek such lordship. For it brings to the mind of those set over the flock that they too are but sheep, like the rest, and are appointed not to dominate, but to help their brethren. Making yourselves ensamples to the flock. Christ's rule for the good shepherd is, "He goeth before them, and the sheep follow him" (John x. 4). The weak take in teaching rather from what they see than from what they hear. The teacher must be a living witness to the word, a proof of its truth and power. If he be not this, all his teaching is of little value. The simplest teacher who lives out his lessons in his life becomes a mighty power; he gains the true, the lawful lordship, and—

"Truth from his lips prevails with double sway."

The Apostles knew well the weight and influence of holy examples. Hence St. Paul appeals continually to the lives of himself and his fellow-workers. We labour, he says, "to make ourselves an ensample unto you that ye should imitate us" (2 Thess. iii. 9); Timothy he exhorts, "Be thou an ensample to them that believe" (1 Tim. iv. 12), and Titus, "In all things209 showing thyself an ensample of good works" (Titus ii. 7). Nothing can withstand the eloquence of him who can dare to appeal to his brethren, as the Apostle does, "Be ye imitators together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample" (Phil. iii. 7), and "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. xi. 1). Such pattern shepherds have been the admiration of every age. Chaucer, among his pilgrims, describes the good parson thus:—

"The lore of Christ and His Apostles twelve

He taught, and first he followed it himself."

Such are the lives of shepherds who remember that they are even as their flocks: frail and full of evil tendencies, and needing to come continually, in humble supplication, to the source of strength and light, and to be ever watchful over their own lives. These men seek no lordship; there comes to them a nobler power, and the allegiance they win is self-tendered.

And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away. For their consolation the Apostle sets before the elders their Judge in His self-chosen character. He is the chief Shepherd. Judge He must also be when He is manifested; but while He must pass sentence on their work, He will understand and weigh the many hindrances, both within and without, against which they have had to fight. Of human weakness, error, sin, such as besets us, He had no share; but He knows whereof we are made, and will not ask from any of us a service beyond our powers. Nay, His Spirit chooses for us, would we but mark it, the work in which we can serve Him most fitly. And He has borne the contradiction of sinners against Himself. In judging210 His servants, then, He will take account of the wilfulness of ears that would not hear and of eyes that would not see, of the waywardness that chose darkness rather than light, ignorance rather than Divine knowledge, death rather than life.

Therefore His feeble but faithful servants may with humble minds welcome His appearing. He comes as Judge. Ye shall receive. It is a word descriptive of the Divine award at the last. Here it marks the bestowal of a reward, but elsewhere (2 Peter ii. 13) the Apostle uses it for the payment to sinners of the hire of wrong-doing. But the Judge is full of mercy. Of one sinner's feeble efforts He said, "She hath done what she could. Her sins are forgiven." And another who had laboured to be faithful He welcomed to His presence: "Enter into the joy of thy Lord." To share that joy, to partake of His glory, to be made like Him by beholding His presence—this will be the faithful servant's prize, a crown of amaranth, unwithering, eternal.

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