The Lord's Shepherd Care
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters." (Psalm 23:1.2)
The twenty-third Psalm presents to us a lovely picture of the shepherd character and work of the Lord Jesus. The present aspect of the service of the glorified Christ in heaven is that of a shepherd—“that Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20), who was “brought again from the dead,” and who is now caring for and leading safely home “the little flock for which He died.” To Him God has committed them, and charged Him to fulfil that word of His, uttered under the shadow of the Cross, that not one of those given Him by the Father should perish by the way (John 17:12).
To feed and to lead, to restore and to rule, is the sum of His shepherd work. His rule is shepherd rather than kingly in character. The crook and the rod are its insignia, rather than the crown and the sceptre. He will surely be manifested as King, in a day soon to come. But this is not yet. When He rules as King over the nations, His rule will be “in righteousness” (Isa. 32:11), suppressing evil and establishing right. But He is not so engaged at present. He is serving His saints and shepherding His flock, but not either judging or cleansing “the world of the ungodly.” Nor is He employing His people in the improvement of it.
The opening words of the Psalm are, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” As sinners, we need a Saviour, and the convicted yet confiding soul, chased from one false refuge to another, at length yields, confessing, “Thou art my Salvation.” As sinners saved by grace on the way to glory, liable to err from the way, we need a Shepherd. And it is to Christ as “Shepherd and Bishop of souls” that we returned, on the day of conversion, as 1 Peter 2:25 tells us. So we have a Shepherd, to feed and to rule us. In this character, the soul of the saint is to appropriate Him and to use Him. For while God has given Him to us, and the Lord has devoted Himself to us (John 10:11) in this service, we must make Him ours as our Shepherd, just as we did as Saviour, in order to enjoy His Shepherd rule and care. It is this that the Psalmist does, as expressed in verse 1, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Yes, mine, my very own, to feed and to rule over me, today, tomorrow, all the days, and all the way. This, when real, means complete confidence, entire submission, loving obedience.
The sheep “know” in the sense of owning the Shepherd, and they hear His voice (John 10:27), hear it in the way of obedience too, for they “follow Him.” When this is known as an experience of the soul, it is not hard to say, “I shall not want.” How can I? My case is in His hands; my need is on His heart; my care is His constant consideration. “He careth,” as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
The second verse tells how He provides for His guided and cared-for sheep. He “maketh me to lie down in green (that is freshly-budding) pastures”—the pastures found in the Word. There it was that He led the two sad disciples on the Emmaus’ road on that afternoon, when He opened up to them “all the Scriptures concerning Himself,” and caused their heart to burn by the way. He ever leads His people to the Word, and opens both it and their understandings to receive it freshly gathered, like the manna from the dew of morning (Num. 11:9). And thus it is that the soul is “restored,” or, as we might say, “reinvigorated,” like the exhausted man who has been “run down” by daily toil, who needs the “daily renewing,” as 2 Corinthians 4:16, has it. It is from lack of this that spiritual freshness and vigour fail, and commonly backsliding and decay set in. To neglect the ministry of the Lord in leading His own to the fresh pastures of the Word, and by the “quiet waters”—those restful and refreshing streamlets of the Spirit’s providing, to which He delights to guide (John 16:13-15), is the root cause of all barrenness and lack of spiritual freshness, whether found in an individual, or an assembly of saints. And there is no real remedy, nothing to bring back the early sweetness—that “love of espousals” (Jer. 2:2), so much prized by our God in His own—other than a true-hearted return to the living Lord, who is now as ever the Faithful Shepherd of His sheep, and the Feeder and Controller of His flock.
And in this present ministry of the Lord, He is surely to be our Exemplar and Pattern. It is according to His own perfect example that all who serve Him in His church as under-shepherds are to “shepherd the flock” according to the way of the Lord, as set forth in the Word. They, too, are to “feed” the Lord’s lambs and sheep, in the green and freshly-budding pastures of the Word, to feed them with food “convenient to them” (Prov. 30:8), giving the true message “in season,” savoury and sweet, suited to their condition, as they are “able to hear it” (Mark 4:33), not choking babes with “strong meat,” but simply, lovingly, “ministering Christ,” and the “wholesome doctrine” of the Word, ever well proportioned, well balanced, and always in grace. There will be no difficulty in getting a people to hear and wait on such a ministry, for where there is “corn in the crib” there the hungry go.
Even when the word of “reproof” and the sharp two-edged sword is in use—always sore and irksome to nature—it will find and call forth a response in all whose consciences are open to the light of God, to do its work in conviction and restoration—a ministry sadly needed, but yet little heard in this honey-mouthed day, in which to please rather than to profit is too often the preacher’s object. And in “shepherding the flock,” the tender heart and the skilful hand (Ps. 78:72) are alike needed, for the people of God need sympathy as well as food and wise guidance through the trying as well as the rugged paths of life. Let our appeal ever be direct to the Great Shepherd; and He will provide, either directly from Himself, or mediately through his under-shepherds, what He knows to be best for us.
Then let our faith to Him repair
In every trying hour,
To find a never-failing spring
Of sympathy and power.
Article series: Our Glorious LordThe Sympathies of Christ The Risen Lord in Heaven and the Presence of the Spirit on Earth