GOD MENDS ALL FENCES

The Broken Fence

Stone Wall 3

Stone Wall 3 (Photo credit: Mike_tn)

“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.”—Proverbs 24:30-32.

HIS slothful man did no hurt to his fellow men: he was not a thief, nor a ruffian, nor a meddler in anybody else’s business.  He did not trouble himself about other men’s concerns, for he did not even attend to his own,—it required too much exertion.  He was not grossly vicious; he had not energy enough to care for that.  He was one who liked to take things easily.  He always let well alone, and, for the matter of that, he let ill alone, too, as the nettles and the thistles in his garden plainly proved.  What was the use of disturbing himself?  It would be all the same a hundred years hence; and so, he took things just as they came.  He was not a bad man, so some said of him; and yet, perhaps, it will be found at last there is no worse man in the world than the man who is not good, for in some respects he is not good enough to be bad; he has not enough force of character about him to serve either God or Baal.  He simply serves himself, worshipping his own case and adoring his own comfort.  Yet he always meant to be right.  Dear me! He was not going to sleep much longer, he would only have forty winks more, and then he would be at his work, and show you what he could do.  One of these days he meant to be thoroughly in earnest, and make up for the last time.  The time never actually came for him to begin, but it was always coming.  He always meant to repent, but he went on in his sin.  He meant to believe, but he died an unbeliever.  He meant to be a Christian, but he lived without Christ.  He halted between two opinions because could not trouble himself to make up his mind; and so he perished of delay.     This picture of the slothful man and his garden and field overgrown with nettles and weeds represents many a man who has professed to be a Christian, but who has become slothful in the things of God.  Spiritual life has within in him.  He has backslidden; he has come down from the condition of healthy spiritual energy into of listlessness, and indifference to the things of God; and while things have gone wrong within his heart, and all sorts of mischiefs have come into him and grown up and seeded themselves in him, mischief is also taking place externally in his daily conduct.  The stone wall which guarded his character is broken down, and he lies open to all evil.  Upon this point we will now meditate.  “The stone wall thereof was broken down.”     Come, then, let us take a walk with Solomon, and stand with him and consider and learn instruction while we look at this broken-down fence.  When we have examined it, let us consider the consequences of broken-down walls; and then, in the last place, let us try to rouse up this sluggard that his wall may yet be repaired.  If this slothful person should be one of ourselves, may God’s infinite mercy rouse us up before this ruined wall has let in a herd of prowling vices.     I.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            First let us take a LOOK AT THIS BROKEN FENCE.     You will see that in the beginning it was a very good fence, for it was a stone wall.  Fields are often surrounded with wooden palings which soon decay, or with hedges which may very easily have gaps made in them; but this was a stone wall.  Such walls are very usual in the East, and are also common in some of our own counties where stone is plentiful.  It was a substantial protection to begin with, and well shut in the pretty little estate which had fallen into such bad hands.  The man had a field for agricultural purposes, and another strip of land for a vineyard or a garden.  It was fertile soil, for it produced thorns and nettles in abundance, and where these flourish better things can be produced; yet the idler took no care of his property, but allowed the wall to get into bad repair, and in many places to be quite broken down.     Let me mention some of the stone walls that men permit to be broken down when they backslide.     In many cases sound principles were instilled in youth, but these are forgotten.  What a blessing is Christian education!  Our parents, both by persuasion and example, taught many of us the things that are pure and honest, and of good repute.  We saw in their lives how to live.  They also opened the word of God before us, and they taught us the ways or right both towards God and towards men.  They prayed for us, and they prayed with us, till the things of God were placed round about us and shut us in as with a stone wall.  We have never  been able to get rid of our early impressions.  Even in times of wandering, before we knew the Lord savingly, these things had a healthy power over us; we were checked when we would have done evil, we were assisted when we were struggling towards Christ.  It is very sad when people permit these first principles to be shaken, and to be removed like stones which fall from a boundary wall.  Young persons begin at first to talk lightly of the old-fashioned ways of their parents.  By-and-by it is not merely the old-fashionedness of the ways, but the ways themselves that they despise.  They seek other company, and from that other company they learn nothing but evil.  They seek pleasure in places which it horrifies their parents to think of.  This leads to worse, and if they do not bring their fathers’ grey hairs with sorrow to the grave it is no virtue of theirs.  I have known young men, who really were Christians, sadly backslide through being induced to modify, conceal, or alter those holy principles in which they were trained from their mother’s knee.  It is a great calamity when professedly converted men become unfixed, unstable, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.  It shows great faultiness of mind, and unsoundness of heart when we can trifle with those grave and solemn truths which have been sanctified by a mother’s tears, and by a father’s earnest life.  “I am thy servant,” said David, “and the son of thy handmaid”: he felt it to be a high honour, and, at the same time a sacred bond which bound him to God, that he was the son of one who could be called God’s handmaid.  Take care, you who have had Christian training, that you do not trifle with it.  “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.”     Protection to character is also found in the fact that solid doctrines have been learned.  This is a fine stone wall.  Many among us have been taught the gospel of the grace of God, and they have learned it well, so that they are able to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.  Happy are they who have a religion that is grounded upon a clear knowledge of eternal verities.  A religion which is all excitement, and has little instruction in it, may serve for transient use; but for permanent life-purposes there must be a knowledge of those great doctrines which are fundamental to the gospel system.  I tremble when I hear of a man’s giving up, one by one, the vital principles of the gospel and boasting of his liberality.  I hear him say, “These are my views, but others have a right to their views also.”  That is a very proper expression in reference to mere “views,” but we may not thus speak of truth itself as revealed by God: that is one and unalterable, and all are bound to receive it.  It is not your view of truth, for that is a dim thing;  but the very truth itself which will save you if you faith embraces it.  I will readily yield my way of stating a doctrine, but not the doctrine itself.  One man may put it in this way, and one in another; but the truth itself must never be given up.  The spirit of the Broad School robs us of everything like certainty.  I should like to ask some great men of that order whether they believe that anything is taught in the Scriptures which it world be worth while for a person to die for, and  whether the martyrs were not great fools for laying down their lives for mere opinions which might be right or might be wrong?  This Broad-churchism is a breaking down of stone walls, and it will let in the devil and all his crew, and do infinite harm to the church of God, if it be not stopped.  A loose state of belief does great damage to any man’s mind.     We are not bigots, but we should be none the worse if we so lived that men called us so.  I met a man the other day who was accused of bigotry and I said, “Give me your hand, old fellow.  I like to meet with bigots now and then, for the fine old creatures are getting scarce, and the stuff they are made of is so good that if there were more of it we might see a few men among us again and fewer molluses.”  Lately we have seen few men with backbone; the most have been of the jelly-fish order.  I have lived in times in which I should have said, “Be liberal, and shake off all narrowness”; but now I am obliged to alter my tone and cry, “Be steadfast in the truth.”  The faith once delivered to the saints is now all the more attractive to me because it is called narrow, for I am weary of that breadth which comes of broken hedges.  There are fixed points of truth, and definite certainties of creed, and woe to you if you allow these stone walls to crumble down.  I fear me that the slothful are a numerous band, and that ages to come may have to deplore the laxity which has been applauded by this negligent generation.     Another fence which is too often neglected is that of godly habits which had been formed: the sluggard allows this wall to be broken down.  I will mention some valuable guards of life and character.  One is the habit of secret prayer.  Private prayer should be regularly offered, at least in the morning and in the evening.  We cannot do without set seasons for drawing near to God.  To look into the face of man without having first seen the face of God is very dangerous: to go out into the world without locking up the heart and giving God the key is to leave it open to all sorts of spiritual vagrants.  At night, again, to go to your rest as the swine roll into their sty, without thanking God for the mercies of the day, is shameful.  The evening sacrifice should be devoutly offered as surely as we have enjoyed the evening fireside: we should thus put ourselves under the wings of the Preserver of men.  It may be said, “We can pray at all times.”  I know we can: but I fear that those who do not pray at stated hours seldom pray at all.  Those who pray in season are the most likely persons to pray at all seasons.  Spiritual life does not care for a cast-iron regulation, but since life casts itself into some mould or other, I would have you careful of its external habit as well as its internal power.  Never allow great gaps in the wall of your habitual private prayer.     I go a step farther, I believe that there is a great guardian power about family prayer, and I feel greatly distressed because I know that very many Christian families neglect it.  Romanism, at one time, could do nothing in England, because it could offer nothing but the shadow of what Christian men had already in substance.  “Do you hear that bell tinkling in the morning?”  “What is that for?”  “To go to church to pray.”  “Indeed,” said the Puritan, “I have no need to go there to pray.  I have had my children together, and we have read a passage of Scripture, and prayed, and sang the praises of God, and we have a church in our house.”  Ah, there goes that bell again in the evening.  What is that for?  Why, it is the vesper bell.  The good man answered that he had no need to trudge a mile or two for that, for his holy vespers had been said and sung around his own table, of which the big Bible was the chief ornament.  They told him that there could be no service without a priest, but he replied that every godly man should be a priest in his own house.  Thus have the saints defied the overtures of priestcraft, and kept the faith from generation to generation.  Household devotion and the pulpit are, under God, the stone walls of Protestantism, and my prayer is that these may not be broken down.     Another fence to protect piety is found in week-night services.  I notice that when people forsake week-night meetings the power of their religion evaporates.  I do not speak of those lawfully detained to watch the sick, and attend to farm-work and other business, or as domestic servants and the like; there are exceptions to all rules; but I mean those who could attend if they had a mind to do so.  When people say, “It is quite enough for me to be wearied with the sermons of the Sunday; I do not want to go out to prayer-meetings, and lectures, and so forth,”—then it is clear that they have no appetite for the word; and surely this is a bad sign.  If you have a bit of wall built to protect the Sunday and then six times the distance left without a fence, I believe that Satan’s cattle will get in and do no end of mischief.     Take care, also, of the stone wall of Bible reading, and of speaking often one to another concerning the things of God.  Associate with the godly, and commune with God, and you will thus, by the blessing of God’s Spirit, keep up a good fence against temptations, which otherwise will get into the fields of your soul, and devour all goodly fruits.     Many have found much protection for the field of daily life in the stone wall of a public profession of faith.  I am speaking to you who are real believers, and I know that you have often found it a great safeguard to be known and recognized as a follower of Jesus.  I have never regretted—and I never shall regret—the day on which I walked to the little river Lark, in Cambridgeshire, and was there buried with Christ in baptism.  In this I acted contrary to the opinions of all my friends whom I respected and esteemed, but as I had read the Green Testament for myself, I felt bound to be immersed upon the profession of my faith, and I was so.  By that act I said to the world, “I am dead to you, and buried to you in Christ, and I hope henceforth to live in newness of life.”  That day, by God’s grace, I imitated the tactics of the general who meant to fight the enemy till he conquered, and therefore he burned his boats that there might be no way of retreat.  I believe that a solemn confession of Christ before men is as a thorn hedge to keep one within bounds, and to keep off those who hope to draw you aside.  Of course it is nothing but a hedge, and it is of no use to fence in a field of weeds, but when wheat is growing a hedge is of great consequence.  You who imagine that you can be the Lord’s, and yet lie open like a common, are under a great error; you ought to be distinguished from the world, and obey the voice which saith, “Come ye out from among them, be ye separate.”  The promise of salvation is to the man who with his heart believeth and with his mouth confesseth.  Say right boldly, “”et others do as they will; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  By this act you come out into the king’s highway, and put yourself under the protection of the Lord of pilgrims, and he will take care of you.  Oftentimes, when otherwise you might have hesitated, you will say, “The vows of the Lord are upon me; how can I draw back?”  I pray you, then, set up the stone wall, and keep it up, and if it has at any corner been tumbled over, set it up again, and let it be seen by your conduct and conversation that you are a follower of Jesus, and are not ashamed to have it known.     Keep to your religious principles like men, and do not turn aside for the sake of gain, or respectability.  Do not let wealth break down your wall, for I have know some make a great gap to let their carriage go through, and to let in wealthy worldlings for the sake of their society.  Those who forsake their principles to please men will in the end be lightly esteemed, but he who is faithful shall have the honour which cometh from God.  Look well to this hedge of steadfast adherence to the faith, and you shall find a great blessing in it.     There is yet another stone wall which I will mention, namely, firmness of character.  Our holy faith teaches a man to be decided in the cause of Christ, and to be resolute in getting rid of evil habits.  “If thine eye offend thee”—wear a shade?  No; “pluck it out.”  “If thine arm offend thee”—hang it in a sling?  No; “cut it off and cast it from thee.”  True religion is very thorough in what it recommends.  It says to us, “touch not the unclean thing.”  But many persons are so idle in the ways of God that they have no mind of their own: evil companions tempt them, and they cannot say, “No.”  They need a stone wall made up of noes.  Here are the stones “no, no, NO.”  Dare to be singular.  Resolve to keep close to Christ.  Make a stern determination to permit nothing in your life, however gainful or pleasurable, if it would dishonour the name of Jesus.  Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixedly upright.  If God’s grace sets up this hedge around you, even Satan will feel that he cannot get in, and will complain to God “hast thou not set a hedge about him?”     I have kept you long enough looking over the wall, let me invite you in, and for a few minutes let us CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF A BROKEN-DOWN FENCE.     To make short work of it, first, the boundary has gone.  Those lines of separation which were kept up by the good principles which were instilled in him by religious habits, by a bold profession and by a firm resolve, have vanished, and now the question is, “Is he a Christian, or is he not?”  The fence is so far gone that he does not know which is his Lord’s property and which remains an open common: in fact, he does not know whether he himself is included in the Royal domain or left to be mere waste of the world’s manor.  This is for want of keeping up the fences.  It that man had lived near to God, if he had walked in his integrity, if the Spirit of God had richly rested on his in all holy living and waiting upon God, he would have known where the boundary was, and he would have seen whether his land lay in the parish of All-saints, or in the region called No-man’s-land, or in the district where Satan is the lord of the manor.  I heard of a dear old saint the other day who, when she was near to death, was attacked by Satan, and, waving her finger at the enemy, in her gentle way, she routed him by saying, “Chosen! Chosen! Chosen!”  She knew that she was chosen, and she remembered the text, “The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee.”  When the wall stands in its integrity all round the field, we can resist the devil by bidding him leave the Lord’s property alone.  “Begone!  Look somewhere else.  I belong to Christ, not to you.”  To do this you must mend the hedges well so that there shall be a clear boundary line, and you can say, “Trespassers, beware!”  Do not yield an inch to the enemy, but make the wall all the higher, the more he seeks to enter.  O that this adversary may never find a gap to enter by.     Next, when the wall has fallen, the protection is gone.  When a man’s heart has its wall broken, all his thoughts will go astray, and wander upon the mountains of vanity.  Like sheep, thoughts need careful folding, or they will be off in no time.  “I hate vain thoughts,” said David, but slothful men are sure to have plenty of them, for there is no keeping your thoughts out of vanity unless you stop every gap and shut every gate.  Holy thoughts, comfortable meditations, devout longings, and gracious communings will be off and gone if we sluggishly allow the stone wall to get out of repair.     Nor is this all, for as good things go out so bad things come in.  When the wall is gone every passerby sees, as it were, an invitation to enter.  You have set before him an open door, and in he comes.  Are there fruits?  He plucks them, of course.  He walks about as if it were a public place, and he pries everywhere.  Is there any secret corner of your heart which you would keep for Jesus?  Satan or the world will walk in; and do you wonder?  Every passing goat, or roaming ox, or stray ass visits the growing crops and spoils more than he eats, and who can blame the creature when the gaps are so wide?  All manner of evil lusts and desires, and imaginations prey upon an unfenced soul.  It is of no use for you to say, “Lead us not into temptation.”  God will hear your prayer, and he will not lead you there; but you are leading yourself into it, you are tempting the devil to tempt you.  If you leave yourself open to evil influences the Spirit of God will be grieved, and he may leave you to reap the result of your folly.  What think you, friends?  Had you not better attend to your fences at once?     And then there is another evil, for the land itself will go away.  “No,” say you; “how can that be?”  If a stone wall is broken down round a farm in England a man does not thereby lose his land, but in many parts of Palestine the land is all ups and downs on the sides of the hills, and every bit of ground is terraced and kept up by walls.  When the walls fall the soil slips over, terrace upon terrace, and the vines and trees go down with it; then the rain comes and washes the soil away, and nothing is left but barren crags which would starve a lark.  In the same manner a man may so neglect himself, and so neglect the things of God, and become so careless and indifferent about doctrine, and about holy living, that his power to do good ceases, and his mind, his heart, and his energy seem to be gone.  The prophet said, “Ephraim is a silly dove, without heart”: there are flocks of such silly doves.  The man who trifles with religion sports with his own soul, and will soon degenerate into so much of a trifler that he will be averse to solemn thought, and incapable of real usefulness.  I charge you, dear friends, to be sternly true to yourselves and to your God.  Stand to your principles in this evil and wicked day.  Now, when everything seems to be turned into marsh and mire and mud, and religious thought appears to be silently sliding and slipping along, descending like a stream of slime into the Dead Sea of Unbelief,—get solid walls built around your life, around your faith, and around your character.  Stand fast, and having done all, still stand.  May God the Holy Ghost cause you to be rooted and grounded, built up and established, fixed and confirmed, never “casting away your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.”     Lately, I want, if I can, TO WAKE UP THE SLUGGARD.  I would like to throw a handful of gravel up to his window.  It is time to get up, for the sun has drunk up all the dew.  He craves “a little more sleep.”  My dear fellow, if you take a little more sleep, you will never wake at all till you lift up your eyes in another world.  Wake at once.  Leap from your bed before you are smothered in it.  Wake up!  Do you not see where you are?  You have let things alone till your heart is covered with sins like weeds.  You have neglected God and Christ till you have grown worldly, sinful, careless, indifferent, ungodly.  I mean some of you who were once named with the sacred name.  You have become like worldlings, and are almost as far from being what you ought to be as others who make no profession at all.  Look at yourselves, and see what has come of your neglected walls.  Then look at some of your fellow-Christians, and mark how diligent they are.  Look at many among them who are poor and illiterate, and yet they are doing far more than you for the Lord Jesus.  In spite of your talents and opportunities, you are an unprofitable servant, letting all things run to waste.  Is it not time that you bestirred yourself?  Look, again, at others who, like yourself, went to sleep, meaning to wake in a little while.  What has become of them?  Alas, for those who have fallen into gross sin, and dishonoured their character, and who have been put away from the church of God; yet they only went a little further than you have done.  Your state of heart is much the same as theirs, and if you should be tempted as they have been, you will probably make shipwreck as they have done.  Oh, see to it, you that slumber, for an idle professor is ready for anything.  A slothful professor’s heart is tinder for the devil’s tinder-box: does your heart thus invite the sparks of temptation?     Remember, lastly, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Shall he come and find you sleeping?  Remember the judgment.  What will you say to excuse yourself, for opportunities lost, time wasted, and talents wrapped up in a napkin, when the Lord shall come?     As for you, my unconverted friend, if you go dreaming through this world, without any sort of trouble, and never look to the state of your heart at all, you will be a lost man beyond all question.  The slothful can have no hope, for “if the righteous scarcely are saved,” who strive to serve their Lord, where will those appear who sleep on in defiance of the calls of God?  Salvation is wholly and alone of grace, as you well know; but grace never works in men’s minds towards slumbering and indifference; it tends towards energy, activity, fervour, importunity, self-sacrifice.  God grant us the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, that all things may be set in order, sins cut up by the roots within the heart, and the whole man protected by sanctifying grace from the wasters which lurk around, hoping to enter where the wall is low.  O Lord, remember us in mercy, fence us about by thy power, and keep us from the sloth which would expose us to evil, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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We like sheep have gone astray

The Sheep Before the Shearers

Vine Bk of Life

“As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”—Isaiah 53:7.

UR LORD Jesus so took our place that we are in this chapter compared to sheep: “all we like sheep have gone astray,” and he is compared to a sheep also,—”As a sheep before her shearers is dumb.” It is wonderful how complete was the interchange of positions between Christ and his people, so that he became what they were in order that they might become what he is. We can well understand how we should be the sheep and he the shepherd; but to liken the Son of the Highest to a sheep would have been unpardonable presumption had not his own Spirit employed the condescending figure.     Though the emblem is very gracious, its use in this place is by no means singular, for our Lord, had been long before Isaiah’s day typified by the lamb of the Passover. Since then he has been proclaimed as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world;” and indeed even in his glory he is the Lamb in the midst of the throne.     I. In opening up this divine emblem I would invite you to consider, first, OUR SAVIOUR’S PATIENCE, set forth under the figure of a sheep dumb before her shearers.     Our Lord was brought to the shearers that he might be shorn of his comfort, and of his honour, shorn even of his good name, and shorn at last of life itself; but when under the shearers he was as silent as a sheep. How patient he was before Pilate, and Herod, and Caiaphas, and on the cross. You have no record of his uttering any exclamation of impatience at the pain and shame which he received at the hands of these wicked men. You hear not one bitter word. Pilate cries, “Answerest thou nothing? Behold how many things they witness against thee”; and Herod is wofully disappointed, for he expected to see some miracle wrought by him. All that our Lord does say is in submissive tones, like the bleating of a sheep, though infinitely more full of meaning. He utters sentences like these,—”For this purpose was I born, and came into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth,” and, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Otherwise he is all patience and silence.     Remember, first, that our Lord was dumb and opened not his mouth against his adversaries, and did not accuse one of them of cruelty or injustice. They slandered him, but he replied not; false witnesses arose, but he answered them not. One would have thought he must have spoken when they spat in his face. Might he not have said, “Friend, why doest thou this? For which of all my works dost thou insult me?” But the time for such expostulations was over. When they smote him on the face with the palms of their hands, it would not have been wonderful if he had said, “Wherefore do you smite me so?” But no; he is as though he heard not their revilings. He brings no accusation to his Father. He needed only to have lifted his eye to heaven and legions of angels would have chased away the ribald soldiery; one flash of a seraph’s wing and Herod had been eaten by worms, and Pilate had died the death he well deserved as an unjust judge. The hill of the cross might have become a volcano’s mouth to swallow up the whole multitude who stood there jesting and jeering at him: but no, there was no display of power, or rather there was so great a display of power over himself that he restrained Omnipotence itself with a strength which never can be measured.     Again, as he did not utter a word against his adversaries, so he did not say a word against any one of us. You remember how Zipporah said to Moses, “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me,” as she saw her child bleeding; and surely Jesus might have said to his church, “Thou art a costly spouse to me, to bring me all this shame and bloodshedding.” But he giveth liberally, he openeth the very fountain of his heart, and he upbraideth not. He had reckoned on the uttermost expenditure, and therefore he endured the cross, despising the shame.

“This was compassion like a God, That when the Saviour knew, The price of pardon was his blood, His pity ne’er withdrew.”    No doubt he looked across the ages; for that eye of his was not dim, even when bloodshot on the tree: he must have foreseen your indifference and mine, our coldness of heart, and base unfaithfulness, and he might have left on record some such words as these: “I am suffering for those who are utterly unworthy of my regard; their love will be a miserable return for mine. Though I give my whole heart for them, how lukewarm is their love to me! I am sick of them, I am weary of them, and it is woe to me that I should be laying down my heart’s blood for such a worthless race as these my people are.” But there is not a hint of such a feeling. No. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end,” and he did not utter a syllable that looked like murmuring at his suffering on their behalf, or regretting that he had commenced the work.     And again, as there was not a word against his adversaries, nor a word against you nor me, so there was not a word against his Father, nor a syllable of repining at the severity of the chastisement laid upon him for our sakes. You and I have murmured when under a comparatively light grief, thinking ourselves hardly done by. We have dared to cry out against God, “My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death; not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure.” But not so the Saviour; in his mouth were no complaints. It is quite impossible for us to conceive how the Father pressed and bruised him, yet was there no repining. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” is an exclamation of astonished grief, but it is not the voice of complaint. It shows manhood in weakness, but not manhood in revolt. Many are the Lamentations of Jeremiah, but few are the lamentations of Jesus. Jesus wept, and Jesus sweat great drops of blood, but he never murmured nor felt rebellion in his heart.     Behold your Lord and Saviour lying in passive resignation beneath the shearers, as they take away everything that is dear to him, and yet he openeth not his mouth. I see in this our Lord’s complete submission. He gives himself up; there is no reserve about it. The sacrifice did not need binding with cords to the horns of the altar. How different from your case and mine! He stood there willing to suffer, to be spit upon, to be shamefully entreated, and to die, for in him there was a complete surrender. He was wholly given to do the Father’s will, and to work out our redemption. There was complete self-conquest too. In him no faculty arose to plead for liberty, and ask to be exempted from the general strain; no limb of the body, no portion of the mind, no faculty of the spirit started, but all submitted to the divine will: the whole Christ gave up his whole being unto God, that he might perfectly offer himself without spot for our redemption.     There was not only self-conquest, but complete absorption in his work. The sheep, lying there, thinks no more of the pastures, it yields itself up to the shearer. The zeal of God’s house did eat up our Lord in Pilate’s hall as well as everywhere else, for there he witnessed a good confession. No thought had he but for the clearing of the divine honour, and the salvation of God’s elect. Brethren, I wish we could arrive at this, to submit our whole spirit to God, to learn self-conquest, and the delivering up on conquered self entirely to God.     The wonderful serenity and submissiveness of our Lord are still better set forth by our text, if it be indeed true that sheep in the East are even more docile than with us. Those who have seen the noise and roughness of many of our washings and shearings will hardly believe the testimony of that ancient writer Philo-Jud‘us when he affirms that the sheep came voluntarily to be shorn. He says; “Woolly rams laden with thick fleeces put themselves into the shepherd’s hands to have their wool shorn, being thus accustomed to pay their yearly tribute to man, their king by nature. The sheep stands in a silent inclining posture, unconstrained under the hand of the shearer. These things may appear strange to those who do not know the docility of the sheep, but they are true.” Marvellous indeed was this submissiveness in our Lord’s case; let us admire and imitate.     II. Thus I have feebly set forth the patience of our beloved Master. Now I want you to follow me, in the second place, to VIEW OUR OWN CASE UNDER THE SAME METAPHOR AS THAT WHICH IS USED IN REFERENCE TO OUR LORD.     Did I not begin by saying that because we were sheep he deigns to compare himself to a sheep? Let us look from another point of view: our Lord was a sheep under the shearers, and as he is so are we also in this world. Though we shall never be offered up like lambs in the temple by way of expiation, yet the saints for ages were the flock of slaughter, as it is written, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter!” Jesus sends us forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, and we are to regard ourselves as living sacrifices, ready to be offered up. I dwell, however, more particularly upon the second symbol: we are brought as sheep under the shearers’ hands.     Just as a sheep is taken by the shearer, and its wool is all cut off, so doth the Lord take his people and shear them, taking away all their earthly comforts, and leaving them bare. I wish when it came to our turn to undergo this shearing operation it could be said of us as of our Lord, “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” I fear that we open our mouths a great deal, and make no end of complaining without any apparent cause, or with the very slenderest reason. But now to the figure.     First, remember that a sheep rewards its owner for all his care and trouble by being shorn. There is nothing else that I know of that a sheep can do. It yields food when it is killed, but while it is alive the one payment that the sheep can make to the shepherd is to yield its fleece in due season. Some of God’s people can give to Christ a tribute of gratitude by active service, and they should do so gladly every day of their lives; but many others cannot do much in active service, and about the only reward they can give to their Lord is to render up their fleece by suffering when he calls upon them to suffer, submissively yielding to be shorn of their personal comfort when the time comes for patient endurance.     Here comes the shearer; he takes the sheep and begins to cut, cut, cut, cut, taking away the wool wholesale. Affliction is often used as the big shears. The husband, or perhaps the wife, is removed, little children are taken away, property is shorn off, and health is gone. Sometimes the shears cut off the man’s good name; slander follows; comforts vanish. Well, this is your shearing time, and it may be that you are not able to glorify God to any very large extent except by undergoing this process. If this be the fact, do you not think that we, like good sheep of Christ, should surrender ourselves cheerfully, feeling, “I lay myself down with this intent, that thou shouldst take from me anything and everything, and do what thou wilt with me; for I am not mine own, I am bought with a price”?     Notice that the sheep is itself benefited by the operation of shearing. Before they begin to shear the sheep the wool is long and old, and every bush and briar tears off a bit of the wool, until the sheep looks ragged and forlorn. If the wool were left, when the heat of summer came the sheep would not be able to bear itself, it would be so overloaded with clothing that it would be as uncomfortable as we are when we have kept on our borrowed wool, our flannels and broadcloths, too late. So brethren, when the Lord shears us, we do not like the operation any more than the sheep do; but first, it is for his glory; and secondly, it is for our benefit, and therefore we are bound most willingly to submit. There are many things which we should have liked to have kept which, if we had kept them, would not have proved blessings but curses. A stale blessing is a curse. The manna, though it came from heaven, was only good so long as God’s command made it a blessing, but when they kept it over its due time it bred worms and stank, and then it was no blessing. Many persons would keep their mercies till they turn to corruption; but God will not have it so. Up to a certain point for you to be wealthy was a blessing; it would not have been a blessing any longer, and so the Lord took your riches away. Up to that point your child was a boon, but it would have been no longer so, and therefore it fell sick and died. You may not be able to see it, but it is so, that God, when he withdraws a blessing from his people, takes it away because it would not be a blessing any longer.     Before sheep are shorn they are always washed. Were you ever present at the scene when they drive them down to the brook? Men are placed in rows, leading to the shepherd who stands in the water. The sheep are driven down, and the men seize them, throw them into the pool, keeping their faces above water, and swirl them round and round and round to wash the wool before they clip it off. You see them come out on the other side frightened to death, poor things, wondering whatever is coming. I want to suggest to you, brethren, that whenever a trial threatens to overtake you, you should entreat the Lord to sanctify it to you. If the good Shepherd is going to clip your wool, ask him to wash it before he takes it off; ask to be cleansed in spirit, soul, and body. That is a very good custom Christian people have of asking a blessing on their meals before they eat bread. Do you not think it is even more necessary to ask a blessing on our troubles before we get into them? Here is your dear child likely to die; will you not, dear parents, meet together and ask God to bless the death of that child, if it is to happen? The harvest fails; would it not be well to say—”Lord, sanctify this poverty, this loss, this year’s bad harvest: cause it to be a means of grace to us.” Why not ask a blessing on the cup of bitterness as well as upon the cup of thanksgiving? Ask to be washed before you are shorn, and if the shearing must come, let it be your chief concern to yield clean wool.     After the washing, when the sheep has been dried, it actually loses what was its comfort. The sheep is thrown down, and the shearers get to work; the poor creature is losing its comfortable fleece. You also will have to part with your comforts. Will you recollect this? The next time you receive a fresh blessing call it a loan. Poor sheep, there is no wool on your back but what will have to come off; child of God, there is no earthly comfort in your possession but what will either leave you, or you will leave it. Nothing is our own except our God. “Why,” says once, “not our sin?” Sin was our own, but Jesus has taken it upon himself, and it is gone. There is nothing our own but our God, for all his gifts are held on lease, terminable at his sovereign will. We foolishly consider that our mercies belong to us, and when the Lord takes them away we half grumble. A loan, they say, should go laughing home, and so should we rejoice when the Lord takes back that which he had lent us. All our possessions are but brief favours borrowed for the hour. As the sheep yields up its wool and so loses its comfort, so must we yield up all our earthly properties; or if they remain with us till we die, we shall part with them then, we shall not take so much as one of them across the stream of death.     The shearers take care not to hurt the sheep: they clip as close as they can, but they do not cut the skin. If possible, they will not draw blood, even in the smallest degree. When they do make a gash, it is because the sheep does not lie still: but a careful shearer has bloodless shears. Of this Thomson sings in his Seasons, and the passage is so good an illustration of the whole subject that I will adorn my discourse with it:—

“How meek, how patient, the mild creature lies! What softness in its melancholy face, What dumb complaining innocence appears! Fear not, ye gentle tribes! ‘Tis not the knife Of horrid slaughter that is o’er you waved; No, ’tis the tender swain’s well guided shears, Who having now, to pay his annual care, Borrow’s your fleece, to you a cumbrous load, Will send you bounding to your hills again.”It is the kicking and the struggling that make the shearing work at all hard, but if we are dumb before the shearers no harm can come. The Lord may clip wonderfully close: I have known him clip some so close that they did not seem to have a bit of wool left, for they were stripped entirely, even as Job when he cried, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” Still, like Job, they have added, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”     Notice that the shearers always shear at a suitable time. It would be a very wicked, cruel, and unwise thing to begin sheepshearing in winter time. There is a proverb which talks about God “tempering the wind to the shorn lamb.” It may be so, but it is a very cruel practice to shear lambs while winds need tempering. Sheep are shorn when it is warm, genial weather, when they can afford to lose their fleeces, and are all the better for being relieved of them. As the summer comes on sheepshearing time comes. Have you ever noticed that whenever the Lord afflicts us he selects the best possible time? There is a prayer that he put into his disciples’ mouths, “Pray that your flight be not in the winter”: the spirit of that prayer may be seen in the seasonableness of our sorrows. He will not send us our worst troubles at our worst times. If your soul is depressed the Lord does not send you a very heavy burden; he reserves such a load for times when you have joy in the Lord to be your strength. It has come to be a kind of feeling with us that when we have much delight a trial is near, but when sorrow thickens deliverance is approaching. The Lord does not send us two burdens at a time; or, if he does, he sends double strength. His shearing time is chosen with tender discretion.     There is another thing to remember. It is with us as with the sheep, there is new wool coming. Whenever the Lord takes away our earthly comforts with one hand, one, two, three, he restores with the other hand six, a score, a hundred; we are crying and whining about the little loss, and yet it is necessary in order that we may be able to receive the great gain. Yes, it will be so, we shall yet have cause for rejoicing, “joy cometh in the morning.” If we have lost one position, there is another for us: if we have been driven out of one place, a better refuge is prepared. Providence opens a second door when it shuts the first. If the Lord takes away the manna, as he did from his people Israel, it is because they have the old corn of the land of Caanan to live upon. If the water of the rock did not follow the tribes any longer, it was because they drank of the Jordan, and of the brooks. O sheep of the Lord’s fold, there is new wool coming; therefore do not fret at the shearing. I have given these thoughts in brief, that we may come to the last word.     III. Let us, in the third place, endeavour to IMITATE THE EXAMPLE OF OUR BLESSED LORD WHEN OUR TURN COMES TO BE SHORN. Let us be dumb before the shearers, submissive, quiescent, even as he was.     I have been giving, in everything I have said, a reason for so doing. I have shown that our shearing by affliction glorifies God, rewards the Shepherd, and benefits ourselves. I have shown that the Lord measures and tempers our affliction, and sends the trial at the right time. I have shown you in many ways that it will be wise to submit ourselves, as the sheep does to the shearer, and that the more completely we do so the better.     We struggle far too much, and we are apt to make excuses for so doing. Sometimes we say, “Oh, this is so painful, I cannot be patient! I could have borne anything else but this.” When a father is going to correct his child, does he select something pleasant? No. The painfulness of the punishment is the essence of it, and even so the bitterness of our sorrow is the soul of our chastening. By the blueness of the wound the heart will be made better. Do not repine because your trial seems strange and sharp. That would in fact be saying, “If I have it all my own way I will, but if everything does not please me I will rebel”; and that is not a fit spirit for a child of God.     Sometimes we complain because of our great weakness. “Lord, were I stronger I would not mind this heavy loss; but I am frail as a sere leaf driven of the tempest.” But who is to be the judge of the suitability of your trial? You or God? Since the Lord judges this trial to be suitable to your weakness, you may be sure that it is so. Lie still! Lie still! “Alas,” you say, “my grief comes from the most cruel quarter; this trouble did not arise directly from God, it came through my cousin or my brother who ought to have treated me with gratitude. It was not an enemy: then I could have borne it.” My brother, let me assure you that in reality trial comes not from an enemy after all. God is at the bottom of all your tribulation; look through the second causes to the great First Cause. It is a great mistake when we fret over the human instrument which smites us, and forget the hand which uses the rod. If I strike a dog, he bites my stick; poor creature, he knows no better: but if he could think a little he would bite me, or else take the blow submissively. Now, you must not begin biting the stick. After all, it is your heavenly Father that uses the staff; though it be of ebony or of blackthorn, it is in his hand. It is well to have done with picking and choosing our trials, and to leave the whole matter in the hand of infinite wisdom. A sweet singer has put this matter very prettily; let me quote the lines:—

“But when my Lord did ask me on what side I were content, The grief whereby I must be purified, To me was sent,”As each imagined anguish did appear, Each withering bliss Before my soul, I cried, ‘Oh! Spare me here, Oh, no, not this!’

“Like one that having need of, deep within, The surgeon’s knife, Would hardly bear that it should graze the skin, Through for his life.

“Nay, then, but he, who best doth understand Both what we need, And what can bear, did take my case in hand, Nor crying heed.”

    This is the pith of my sermon: oh, believer, yield thyself! Lie passive in the hands of God! Yield thee, and struggle not! There is no use in struggling, for our great Shearer, if he means to shear, will do it. Did I not say just now that the sheep, by struggling, might be cut by the shears! So you and I, if we struggle against God, will get two strokes instead of one; and after all there is not half so much trouble in a trouble as there is in kicking against the trouble. The Eastern ploughman has a goad, and pricks the ox to make it move more actively; he does not hurt it much by his gentle prodding, but suppose the ox flings out its leg the moment it touches him, he drives the goad into himself, and bleeds. So it is with us, we shall find it hard to kick against the pricks; we shall endure much more pain by rebelling than would have come if we had yielded to the divine will. What good comes of fretting? We cannot make one hair white or black. You that are troubled, rest with us, for you cannot make shower or shine, foul or fair, with all your groaning. Did you ever bring a penny into the till by groaning. Did you ever bring a penny into the till by fretting, or put a loaf on the table by complaining? Murmuring is wasted breath, and fretting is wasted time. To lie passive in the hand of God brings a blessing to the soul. I would myself be more quiet, calm, and self-possessed. I long to cry habitually, “Lord, do what thou wilt, when thou wilt, as thou wilt, with me, thy servant: appoint me honour or dishonour, wealth or poverty, sickness or health, exhilaration or depression, and I will take all right gladly from thy hand.” A man is not far from the gates of heaven when he is fully submissive to the Lord’s will.     You that have been shorn have, I hope, received comfort through the ever blessed Spirit of God. May God bless you. Oh that the sinner, too, would humble himself under the mighty hand of God! Submit yourselves unto God, let every thought be brought into captivity to him, and the Lord send his blessing, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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