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I have not till very lately had recourse to the expedient of descanting upon a text ; but I believe it the best method I can take to avoid ringing changes upon a few obvious topics, which I suppose uniformly present themselves to my mind when I am about to write to your Lordship. Just now, that sweet expression of David occurred to my thoughts, The Lord is my Shepherd!
Permit me, without plan or premeditation, to make a few observations upon it; and may your Lordship feel the peace, the confidence, the blessedness, which a believing application of the words is suited to inspire.
The Socinians and others, in their unhappy laboured attempts to darken the principal glory and foundation-comfort of the Gospel, employ their critical sophistry against those texts which expressly and doctrinally declare the Redeemer's character; and affect to triumph, if in any manuscript or ancient version they can find a variation from the received copies which seems to favour their cause.
But we may venture to wave the authority of every disputed or disputable text, and maintain the truth against their cavils, from the current language and tenor of the whole Scripture. David's words in Psa. 23, are alone a decisive proof that Jesus is Jehovah, if they will but allow two things, which I think they cannot deny : 1. That our Saviour assumes to Himself the character of the Shepherd of his people ; and, 2. That He did not come into the world to abridge those advantages which the servants of God enjoyed before His incarnation.
Upon these premises, which cannot be gainsayed without setting aside the whole New Testament, the conclusion is undeniable; for if Jehovah was David's Shepherd, unless Jesus be Jehovah, we who live under the Gospel have an unspeakable disadvantage in being intrusted to the care of one who, according to the Socinians, is a mere man; and upon the Arian scheme, is at the most a creature, and infinitely short of possessing those perfections which David contemplated in his Shepherd. He had a Shepherd whose wisdom and power were infinite, and might therefore warrantably conclude he should not want, and need not fear. And we also may conclude the same, if our Shepherd be the Lord or Jehovah, but not otherwise.
Besides, the very nature of the Shepherd's office respecting the state of such frail creatures as we are, requires those attributes for the due discharge of it which are incommunicably divine. He must intimately know every individual of the flock. His eye must be upon them every one, and His ear open to their prayers, and His arm stretched out for their relief, in all places, and in all ages. Every thought of every heart must be open to His view, and His wisdom must penetrate, and His arm control and overrule all the hidden and complicated machinations of the powers of darkness.
He must have the administration of universal Providence over all the nations, families,
and persons upon earth, or He could not effectually manage for those who put their trust in Him, in that immense variety of cases and circumstances in which they are found. Reason, as well as Scripture, may convince us, that He who gathereth the outcasts of Israel, who healeth the broken in heart, who upholdeth all that fall, raiseth up all that are bowed down, and upon whom the eyes of all wait for their support, can be no other than He who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names, who is great in power, and whose understanding is infinite. To this purpose likewise the prophet Isaiah describes this mighty Shepherd, chap. 40: 9-17, both as to His person and office.
But is not this indeed the great mystery of godliness? How just is the apostle's observation, that no man can say Jesus Christ is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost! How astonishing the thought, that the Maker of Heaven and earth, the Holy One of Israel, before whose presence the earth shook, the Heavens dropped, when He displayed a faint emblem of His majesty upon Sinai, should afterwards appear in the form of a servant, and hang upon a cross, the sport and scorn of wicked men! I cannot wonder that to the wise men of the world this appears absurd, unreasonable, and impossible; yet to right reason, to reason enlightened and sanctified, however amazing the proposition be, yet it appears true and necessary, upon a supposition, that a holy God is pleased to pardon sinners in a way suited to display the awful glories of His justice.
The same arguments which prove the blood of bulls and goats insufficient to take away sin, will conclude against the utmost doings or sufferings of men or angels. The Redeemer of sinners must be mighty; He must have a personal dignity to stamp such a value upon His undertakings, as that thereby God may appear just, as well as merciful, in justifying the ungodly for His sake; and He must be all-sufficient to bless and almighty to protect those who come unto Him for safety and life.
Such a one is our Shepherd. This is He of whom we, through grace, are enabled to say, we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. We are His by every tie and right; He made us, He redeemed us, He reclaimed us from the hand of our enemies, and we are His by our own voluntary surrender of ourselves ; for though we once slighted, despised, and opposed Him, He made us willing in the day of His power: He knocked at the door of our hearts; but we (at least I) barred and fastened it against Him as much and as long as possible.
But when He revealed His love, we could stand out no longer. Like sheep, we are weak, destitute, defenceless, prone to wander, unable to return, and always surrounded with wolves. But all is made up in the fulness, ability, wisdom, compassion, care, and faithfulness of our great Shepherd. He guides, protects, feeds, heals, and restores, and will be our Guide and our God even until death. Then He will meet us, receive us, and present us unto Himself, and we shall be near Him, and like Him, and with Him for ever.
Ah, my Lord, what a subject is this! I trust it is the joy of your heart. Placed as you are by His hand in a superior rank, you see and feel that the highest honours, and the most important concernments that terminate with the present life, are trivial as the sports of children, in comparison with the views and the privileges you derive from the glorious Gospel; and your situation in life renders the grace bestowed upon you the more conspicuous and distinguishing. I have somewhere met with a similar reflection of Henry the Fourth of France, to this purpose, that though many came into the world the same day with him, he was probably the only one among them that was born to be a king.
Your Lordship is acquainted with many, who, if not born on the same day with you, were born to tides, estates, and honours; but how few of them were born to the honour of making a public and consistent profession of the glorious Gospel ! The hour is coming, when all honours and possessions, but this which cometh of God only, will be eclipsed and vanish ; and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind. How miserable will they then be who must leave their all! What a mortifying thought does Horace put in the way of those who disdain to read the Scripture Linquenda tellus, et domus, et placens Uxor: neque harum, quas colis, arborum Te, pueter invisas cupressos, Ulla brevem doininurn sequetur.
But grace and faith can make the lowest state of life supportable, and make a dismission from the highest desirable. Of the former, I have many living proofs and witnesses around me. Your Lordship, I trust, will have sweet experience of the latter, when, after having fulfilled the will of God in your generation, you shall be called (I hope in some yet distant day) to enter into your Master's joy. In the meantime, how valuable are life, talents, influence, and opportunities of every kind, if we are enabled to improve and lay out all for Him who has thus loved us, thus provided for us!
As to myself, I would hope there are few who have so clear a sense of their obligations to Him, who make such unsuitable and languid returns as I do. I think I have a desire to serve Him better: but, alas! evil is present with me. Surely I shall feel something like shame and regret for my coldness, even in Heaven ; for I find I am never happier than when I am most ashamed of myself upon this account here.
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