ON THE GOSPEL OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, JOHN x., read on the Feast of ST. THOMAS OF CANTERBURY
Consider first, that the Son of God, by his incarnation and birth, did not only come amongst us to be our Father and to be our head – our king, our priest, and our sacrifice; our bother and our friend our physician and our advocate: – but also recommends himself to us in this gospel under the amiable quality of the good shepherd and pastor of our souls. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ saith he, verse 11: ‘the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and runneth away, and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep: but the hireling runneth away, because he is a hireling; and he hath no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep,’ &c. O, Christians, how happy are we in such a shepherd – so good, so loving, so careful of our true welfare! O he is the good shepherd indeed, that came down form heaven to seek the poor sheep that was lost, and when he had found it took it upon his own shoulders, to carry it home with joy to his heavenly fold, Luke xv. O how dearly have his sheep cost him! O how truly has he made good in himself that sentence, that ‘the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep!’ O let us ever embrace and love, follow and obey this true shepherd of our souls!
Consider 2ndly, in how many ways this heavenly shepherd is daily providing for all the necessities of his sheep, and the tender affection he perpetually shows them. ‘The Lord ruleth me,’ (or as it is in the original, is my shepherd,) saith the Psalmist, Ps xxi., ‘and I shall want nothing: he hath set me in a place of pasture.’ Yes, Christians, he has placed our souls here in the midst of rich pastures of his divine word and sacraments, in the communion of his church. He hath brought us up by the streams of the living waters of his grace, which are ever flowing to refresh and nourish us. He conducts us to the paths of justice, he converts our souls, he is with us even when we are walking in the midst of the shadow of death; his rod and his staff still comfort and support us. But O give ear, my soul, to what follows in the same Psalm: ‘Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and thy chalice, which inebriated me, how goodly is it!’ Here are benefits indeed of this divine pastor of our souls: he has prepared a table for us, in which he feeds his sheep with his own most sacred body and blood; he anoints our heads with the divine oil of his holy Spirit, and he inebriates us with the goodly chalice of his passion, continually offered up on our altars, to be a plentiful source to us of all heavenly grace. and in consequence of all these favours already bestowed on us he encourages us to conclude with the royal prophet, ‘that his mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days even to a happy eternity.’
Consider 3rdly, what we owe, in quality of the sheep of Christ, to this divine shepherd. He tells us, John x. 3, 4, 5, ‘That his sheep hear the voice of their shepherd; that he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out; that he goeth before them; and that the sheep follow him, because they know his voice; but a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.’ And again, verses 27, 28, ‘My sheep hear my voice; and I know them; and they follow me. and I give them eternal life; and they shall not perish for ever; and no man shall snatch them out of my hand.’ Christians, do we keep close to this heavenly shepherd? Do we follow him both by our faith, and by our life? Do we know him and hear his voice? Do we fly from strangers, the world, the flesh, and the devil? If so, we are his sheep indeed; and if we persevere, he will bring us in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the pastures of eternal life. But if we run away from our shepherd, to follow these strangers, we must expect to fall a prey to the wolves.
Conclude to embrace your divine Saviour, under this amiable character of the pastor and shepherd of your souls; and as nothing has been wanting on his side to fulfil, to the utmost perfection, even beyond all expression and imagination, every part of the character of the good shepherd; see nothing be wanting on your side to fulfil, by a perpetual correspondence with his grace, every part of the character of good sheep.