Twenty-Five hundred years ago there came a solemn voice from the Great Shepherd of the sheep through the prophet Ezekiel, calling the leaders of Israel as undershepherds to greater faithfulness in looking after their flocks. These under-shepherds were severely upbraided for their neglect of duty toward those under their charge. They had fed themselves, but not the flock. They had clothed themselves with the wool, but had not cared for the sheep. They had not healed that which was sick, nor bound up that which was broken. They had not brought back again that which was driven away, nor sought again that which was lost. As a result, the Lord says, the "flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them." Eze. 34:6, Because of this awful neglect in shepherding the flock, the Great Shepherd was heard to say:
"Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require My flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them... I will feed My flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God, I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick : but I will destroy the fat and the strong ; I will feed them with judgment." Eze. 34:10-16.
Six centuries pass, and again the voice of the Great Shepherd of the flock is heard through the apostle Paul, pleading earnestly for the protection of the flock which has been raised up at so great a cost. We hear him say to the leaders of that time:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost bath made You overseers, to feed the church of God, which He bath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch." Acts 20:28-31.
Nineteen hundred years roll by, and once again we hear the voice of the Great Shepherd, speaking through His clrosen messenger for this time, calling His undershepherds to still greater faithfulness in watching over the flock of God. We hear Him say:
There is need of shepherds who, under the direction of the Chief Shepherd, will seek for the lost and straying. This means the bearing of physical discomfort and the sacrifice of ease. It means a tender solicitude for the erring, a divine compassion and forbearance. . . . Pastors are needed,—faithful shepherds,—who will not flatter God's people, nor treat them harshly, but who will feed them with the bread of life,—men who in their lives feel daily the converting power of the Holy Spirit, and who cherish a strong, unselfish love for those for whom they labor. There is tactful work for the undershepherd to do as he is called to meet alienation, bitterness, envy, and jealousy in the church ; and he will need to labor in the spirit of Christ to set things in order." —"Gospel Workers," pp. 184, 185.
How tragic was this neglect of ancient Israel! How sad were the results that came from such a course, and how fearful the consequences! Here lies a lesson for us. Well may we heed its warning. The same fate may be meted out to us if we neglect to shepherd the flock of God today. God forbid that we should fail in our duty as did the leaders in Israel twenty-five hundred years ago!
How solemn are the words of Paul. Surely God's flock is dear to His heart. How deep is His concern for His own ! "The church, enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 49. The church must be protected. It must be kept. It must be well shepherded by the overseers of the flock!
We have come to evil times. We are in the midst of the perils of the last days. Wolves are abroad in the land. The enemy of our souls is stealthily at work, like a tiger seeking its prey. With cunning craftiness he lies in wait to deceive. Every subtle deception that can be invented is now being used to lead the flock of God astray. As never before, the church of God, scattered in all the world, will need divine protection.
We must heed the voice of the Great Shepherd for our time! The sheep must be protected from the wolves. They must be fed. Backsliders must be reclaimed. The lost must be found, and brought back to the fold. The sheep must be shepherded, for they are purchased by the blood of Christ.
Yes, the overseers of the flock must do this work or be set aside. We must "feed the church of God," not with old stale fodder taken from musty books, but with fresh, reviving food from the words of life. We must lead our Rock to the green pastures, that their souls may be restored. We must bring them to the sparkling waters of life, that they may be revived.
We must feed upon the Word until our own hearts are all astir with the message. We must drink of the living waters until our own souls overflow in blessings to others. The icicles of a chilly heart can never set others on fire ! Our own hearts must be kindled with fire from the altar of God, and then, with lives all aglow with the truth, we can revive the lukewarm and careless ones. We must lead our people into the great soul-winning program of God. Then we will not need to hover over the flock, difficulties in the church will vanish like dew before the morning sun, and a great harvest of souls will be the result.
What a tragedy it is to lose some of our own members while trying o win others! How sad it is to see some of our own "slipping out the back door" while we are trying to bring others in through the front door. This must not be, and under God it need not be ! If, while pumping hard to fill a tank with water, we find a leak, it must surely be stopped, or all our pumping will soon be in vain! Yea, we must shepherd the flock and then lead them to join us in winning others. Thus the work will prosper.
This method of shepherding the flock, as called for by the voice of our Great Shepherd, does not mean that we will do less in our evangelistic efforts; nay, but rather that the results achieved will be greatly multiplied through properly feeding and protecting our flock, and by enlisting our believers in a grand forward soul-winning endeavor.
Sinners must be converted and the lost sheep found. Our people need the experience; and our workers must take the lead. But to do this requires a living experience with God, a holy consecration to the work, and a freedom from sin. And such may be our experience. God expects it of us. A world is lying in sin, going down to destruction. To us have been committed the words of reconciliation. We must be true to our calling.