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back : It is the voice of the shepherd : I discover him standing on the top of the hill; I now perceive those sheep have been straying in forbidden paths, which has occasioned the shepherd to use his dogs for bringing them back.
The wicked in scripture are called dogs, Psal. xxii. 16. Isa. lvi. 10, 11. Matt. vii. 6. Rev. xxii. 15. These the great Shepherd often useth in chastising his flock when they go astray, and in turning them back from forbidden paths; as we see in the case of the rebellious Israelites, when they assayed to go up into the land of Canaan, contrary to the command of the Lord and his servant Moses ; the Amalekites and Canaanites came down, fought against them, and turned them back, Num. xiv. 40---45. AlSo, when the flock of Israel in the land of Canaan went astray after idol gods, feeding on high places and under every green tree, contrary to the will of the great Shepherd, he sent against them Nebuchadnezzar with the Chaldeans, who like dogs did hunt them so severely, that they were driven away out of their own land for the space of seventy years : And this woeful hunting had
such a blessed effect upon them, that they were never known to stray in such paths afterwards. The wicked in no age of the church could ever run one step against the flock of God, till they were either ordered or permitted by the great Shepherd ; which indeed he hath often done for the best of purposes, but hath always stayed such dogs, and called them off in his own due time; so that they have never yet devoured, nor shall ever be able to devour, any of his flock, though they may harass and terrify them much. When such dogs run with the open mouth of persecution against the people of the Lord, whether as individuals, or as a body, it is either for turning them back from forbidden paths, preventing them from going astray, recovering them from lukewarmness, trying their stedfastness in the faith, their zeal for the cause of Christ, keeping them humble, weaning their affections from the things of this life, or for some good end or other. A wise shepherd will not send his dogs upon the sheep' wantonly; much less will the good Shepherd of Israel, who laid down his life for his sheep, John x. 15. suffer the wicked to persecute his people without having the best of reasons for so doing; therefore, when any of the flock of God are persecuted, slandered, or in any ways evil entreated, they ought to eye the great Shepherd standing on Mount Zion, ordering and over-ruling all for their good.
But now the shepherd appears to have lost some of his flock, for I behold him on the summit of the hill, running from one eminence to another, looking anxiously around him : Anon he descends the steep towards the place where I stand: but all on a sudden, with hasty steps, he turns aside the other way, round the corner of the hill, and is lost to my yiew, While I stand gazing the way which he ran, on the farther side of the hollow, at a great distance, I perceive him rising to my sight, up the side of a neighbouring mountain : With how much assiduous care does he seek the wanderer? This putteth me in mind of that beautiful parable uttered by our Lord, “ What “ man of you, having an hundred sheep, if “ he lose one of them, doth not leave the “ ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go “ after that which is lost until he find it? “s and when he hath found it, he layeth it " on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he " cometh home, he calleth together his
friends and neighbours, saying unto them, " Rejoice with me, for I have found my “ sheep which was lost,” Luke xv. 4, 5, 6. As the parable itself is highly delightful, the inference which our Lord draweth from it is no less beautiful, and full of comfort to sinners : " I say unto you, that likewise joy 5 shall be in heaven over one sinner that re“ penteth, more than over ninety and nine “ just persons which need no repentance,” ver. 7. When shepherds are so careful of their flocks, which are but dumb animals ; and above all, when the great Shepherd, our Lord and Saviour, hath done so infinitely much for his people, his flock; nay, even laid down his own life for them, that they might be gathered from their wanderings, and brought to his fold above, and rejoiceth over the conversion of every sinner: What an awful reproof doth this reach to careless under-shepherds, ministers of the gospel, who are at little or no pains to keep their flocks together in the green pastures and way of holiness; neither to seek them back when they go astray in the way of the ungodly! Nay, on the contrary, often, by their erronepus principles and loose examples, drive them
away, and scatter them in the cloudy and dark day, Ezek. xxxiv. 12.“ As I live, saith “ the Lord God, surely because my flock be“ came a prey, and my flock became meat to “every beast of the field, because there was “ no shepherd, neither did my shepherds “ search for my flock; but the shepherds fed “ themselves and fed not my flock : There“ fore, Oye shepherds, hear the word of the “ Lord; thus saith the Lord God, behold I “ am against the shepherds; and I will re“ quire my flock at their hands, and cause " them to cease from feeding the flock, nei“ther shall the shepherds feed themselves “ any more,” Ezek. xxxiv. 8, 9, 10.
And, on the other hand, what an excellent lesson doth it teach those under-shepherds of care and diligence, not only to keep their flocks together, but to feed them with wholesome doctrine, and use all means in their power to bring them back to the good pastures, when they have gone astray on the mountains of sin and vanity. How ought not I also, who desire to be one of the sheep of Christ's pasture, to be careful in following the footsteps of the flock, feeding beside the shepherds tents, Cant. i. 8. in the green