On the Nature of Sheep, and Thoughts regarding the Sheep of His Pasture

Written by Samuel Rutherford.
Edited for thought and sense.

untitledThe sheep are passive creatures, and can do little for themselves; so can believers in the work of their salvation: as,

 

They have not of themselves more knowledge of the saving way than sheep…

…and so cannot walk, but as they are taught and led. “Teach me, O Lord.” (Psalm 119:33.) “Lead me in thy truth.” (Psalm 25:5.) (1.) Like a blind man holding out his hand to his guide, so they: “Lord, lead me in thy righteousness.” (Psalm 5:8.) (2.) It is not common leading, but the leading of children learning to go by a hold. “When Ephraim was a child, I loved him.” (Hosea 11:1.) “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms;” but Ephraim, like a child, knew not his leader: “But they know not,” saith the Lord, “that I healed them.” (verse 3.)

Leading may suppose some willingness; but we must be drawn:

“No man can come to me, except the Father draw him,” (John 6:44). “Draw me, we will run after thee.” (Cant. 1:4.) (4.) There is a word of special grace, which is more than teaching, leading, drawing; and that is, Leaning: “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” (Cant. 8:5.) (5.) There is a word yet more, and that is Bearing: when the good shepherd hath found the lost sheep, “He layeth it on his shoulders with joy.” (Luke 15:5.) “Hearken to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are born (by me) from the belly and carried from the grey hairs:” (Isa. 46:3:) So also, “God beareth them on eagles’ wings.” (Deut. 32:11.) Grace, grace is a noble guide and tutor.

The life of sheep, is the most dependent life in the world:

No such dependent creatures as sheep: all their happiness is the goodness, care, and wisdom of their shepherd; wolves, lions, leopards, need none to watch over them. Briers and thorns grow alone; the vine tree, the noble vine, is a tender thing, must be supported. Christ must bear the weak and lambs in his bosom. (Isa. 40:11.)

The shepherd’s bosom and his legs, are the legs of the weak lamb.

Even the habit of grace is a creature, and no independent thing; and so, in its creation, in its preservation, it depends on Christ: grace is as the new-born bird; its life is the heat and warmness of the body, and wings of the dam. It is like a chariot; though it have four wheels, yet it moves only, as drawn by the strength of horses without it. It is a plough of timber only, without iron and steel it breaks up no earth. The new seed of God acts, as acted by God: hence repenting Ephraim, “Turn thou me and I shall be turned.” (Jer. 31:18.) Renewed David is often at this: “Quicken me, quicken me:” Solomon says of the swooning Church; “Stay me with flagons, and comfort me with apples.” (Cant. 2:5.) 3. Sheep are docile creatures. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27.) 

There are two things here considerable; one within, and another without.

How knoweth the lamb its mother amongst a thousand of the flock? Natural instinct teaches it. From what teacher or art is it, that the swallow builds its clay house and nest, and every bee knoweth its own cell and waxen house? So the instinct of grace knoweth the voice of the Beloved amongst many voices, (Cant. 2:8). And this discerning power is in the subject. There is another power in the object. Of many thousand millions of men, since the creation, not one, in figure and shape, is altogether like another; some visible difference there is: amongst many voices, no voice like man’s tongue: amongst millions of divers tongues of men, every voice hath an audible difference printed on it, by which it is discerned from all other. To the new creature, there is in Christ’s word some character, some sound of heaven, that is in no voice in the world, but in his only: in Christ represented to a believer’s eye of faith, there is a shape, and a stamp of divine majesty: no man knoweth it but the believer; and in heaven and earth Christ hath not a marrow [match] like himself. Suppose there were a hundred counterfeit moons, or fancied suns in the heaven; a natural eye can discern the true moon, and the natural sun from them all. The eye knoweth white, not to be black nor green. Christ is offered to the eye of faith, and stamps on faith’s eye little images of Christ, that the soul dare go to death and to hell with it, that this, this only was Christ, and none other but he only. 4. Sheep are simple: fancy leadeth them much, therefore they are straying creatures. (Isa. 53:6; Psalm 119:176; 1 Peter 2:25.) There is nothing of the notion of death, or of another life in the fancy of sheep; a mouthful of green grass carries the sheep on to a pit, and the mouth and teeth of lions and wolves.

Fancy is often the guide of weak believers, rather than faith:

…little care we by nature, what we shall be in the next generation. Fancy and nature cannot out-see time, nor see over or beyond death. Fair and green-like are our hopes of gain; for to us, they are to us the very hope of good: but we see two moons in one heaven. There is a way that seems good, yet it deceives us; for black death is in the night lodging of it.

Alas! we are journeying, and know not our night-inns, and where we shall lodge when the sun is going down: poor soul! where shall you be all night? Faith is leisurely to look to Christ, in bringing his work out of the mold, and taking the new ship off the stocks as a perfected vessel.

We conceive erroneously that faith only eyes Christ as pardoning; and that it has no eye, no activity and no influence on our own gracious acts wrought in us by Christ. But faith is an agent, and it is patient, and joins with Christ and with free will, to be an active agent in the purifying of the heart: it believes heaven, and works the work of heaven.

We often go on, imagining that we are in a way of backsliding.

Deserted souls not conscious of the reflex acts of believing and longing for Christ, think themselves apostates, when they are advancing in their way. In great water-works, where there be a great multitude of wheels, the standing of some five or six is the advancing of the work in other twenty, or forty wheels. In desertion, some wheels are at a stand, and move not; as often acts of feeling, joy, self-delight in the actual beholding of Christ, are at a stand; and then it is thus:—“I said, I am cast out of his sight;” yet other wheels are moving, as (1.) Humble and base thoughts of himself. (2.) Broad and large thoughts of Christ, and his grace. (3.) Hunger and longing for Christ. (4.) Self-diffidence is much. (5.) Care and love-sickness: “Saw you him whom my soul loves?” is vehement. (6.) Sense of sin, and of wants and spiritual poverty, increases now. (7.) Sense of the misery of the combat, is much more than before: “O miserable man that I am!” (8.) Believing under hope, and against hope, is strongest now. (9.) There is more tenderness and humble fear now than before. (10.) A stronger resolution to entertain Christ more kindly, when he shall return again in his fullness of presence. (11.) Sorrow, that remembering, he said, “My head is full of dew, and my locks with the drops of the night,” (Cant. 5:6,) yet the sleeping soul kept him at the door.

We are to adore that dispensation, which will have us not stepping one foot to heaven, but upon grace, and upon grace’s charges.

He could make saints to be sinless angels: but what haste? We should then, not yet being habituated with glory, nor confirmed in heaven, and think little of Christ.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 30 March 1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author, and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.

Rutherford was educated at Jedburgh Grammar School and Edinburgh University, where he became Regent of Humanity (Professor of Latin) in 1623. In 1627 he was settled as minister of Anwoth in Kirkcudbrightshire,Galloway, where it was said of him ‘he was always praying, always,preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying’, and from where he was banished to Aberdeen for nonconformity, ‘being very powerful on the side of the Reformed faith and of God living’, there in Aberdeen, ‘his writing desk’, was said to be, ‘perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in Christendom’. His patron in Galloway was John Gordon, 1st Viscount of Kenmure. On the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in 1638 he was made Professor of Divinity at St. Andrews.

Rutherford was chosen as one of the four main Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London taking part in in formulating the Westminster Confession of Faith completed in 1647, and after his return to Scotland he became Rector of St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews in 1651. Rutherford was a staunch Protester during the controversy in the Scottish Presbyterian church between the Resolutioners and Protesters in the 1650s, and at the Restoration of Charles II his Lex Rex was burnt by the hand of the common hangman, and the “Drunken Parliament” deprived him of all his offices and voted that he not be permitted to die in the college.

His epitaph on his tombstone concluded ‘Acquainted with Immanuel’s song’.

Rutherford’s has been described as ‘Prince of Letter writers’ and C. H. Spurgeon described Rutherford’s letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men, continuing in an 1891 review of Rutherford’s (posthumously published Letters (1664) ‘when we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men’. Andrew Thomson, a Scottish minister, in a 19th-century biography observed ‘the letters flash upon the reader with original thoughts and abound in lofty feeling clothed in the radiant garb of imagination in which there is everything of poetry but the form. Individual sentences that supplied the germ-thought of some of the most beautiful spiritual in modern poetry’ continuing ‘a bundle of myrrh whose ointment and perfume would revive and gladden the hearts of many generations, each letter full of hope and yet of heartbreak, full of tender pathos of the here and the hereafter.’  Rutherford was also known for other spiritual and devotional works, such as Christ Dying and drawing Sinners to Himself, “The Trial and Triumph of Faith”.

 

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