The Putting Forth of the Sheep
‘When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them.’—John x. 4.
WHAT gives the Alpine climber confidence in wild, lonely, difficult passes or ascents, when he has ‘not passed this way heretofore ‘ ?1 It is that his guide has been there before; and also that in every present step over unknown and possibly treacherous ice or snow, his guide ‘ goeth before.’2
It is to Christ’s ‘own sheep’ that this promise applies; simply those who believe and hear His voice. It is when He putteth them forth that it comes true; not when they put themselves forth, or when they let a ‘ stranger ‘3 lure them forth, or such traitors as self-cowardice or impatience drive them forth.
Sometimes it is a literal putting forth. We have been in a sheltered nook of the fold, and we are sent to live where it is windier and wilder.
1 Josh. iii. 4. 2lsa. xlv. 2. sjohn x. 26, 27; ib. x. 3.
The home nest is stirred up,1 and we have to go (it may be only for a few days, it may be for years, it may be for the rest of our lives) into less congenial surroundings, to live with fresh people, or in a different position, or in a new neighborhood. We do not put ourselves forth, we would rather stay; but it has to be. But Jesus ‘goeth before.’ He prepares the earthly as well as the heavenly places for us. He will be there when we get to the new place. He went in the way before to search us out a place to pitch our tents in2 (and perhaps we were forgetting that they were tents and not palaces).3 If we wilfully persisted in staying where we were when He said, ‘ Arise and depart, for this is not your rest,’* we should find that Presence was gone which only could cause us to rest. He is not sending us forth away from Him, but only putting us forth with His own gentle hand, saying, ‘Rise up, My love, and come away,’5 ‘Come with Me.’
Sometimes it is putting forth into service. We had such a nice little quiet shady corner in the vineyard, down among the tender grapes, with such easy little weedings and waterings to attend to. And then the Master comes and draws us out into the thick of the work, and puts us into a part of the field where we never should have thought of going, and puts larger tools into our hands, that we may do more at a stroke. And we know we are not sufficient for these things,6 and the very tools seem too heavy for us, and the glare too dazzling, and the vines too tall. Ah ! but would we really go back?
IDeut. xxii. II. 2Deut. i. 33. 3 Heb. xiii. 14.
4 Micah ii. lo. ^ Cant. ii. lo: ib. iv. 8. ^3, Cor. ii. i6.
He would not be in the old shady corner with us now; for when He put us forth He went before us, and it is only by close following that we can abide with Him. Without Him we could do nothing if we perversely and fearfully ran back to our old work. With Him, ‘through Christ which strengthened’ us, we ‘can do all things’ in the new work. Not our power, but His presence will carry us through.1
Sometimes it is putting forth into the rough places of suffering, whether from temptation, pain, ‘or any adversity.’ Not one step here but Jesus has gone before us; and He still goeth before us, often so very close before us, that even by the still waters3 we never seemed so near Him. ‘He Himself hath suffered, being tempted.” How strangely comforting to remember that He has passed even that way before us !’ The things which He suffered’ include and cover, and stretch wide on every side beyond, all possible ‘sufferings of this present time.’4 It is in patient suffering, rather than in doing, that we are specially called ‘to follow His steps.’5 ‘The footsteps of Thine anointed have lain through reproach,’ and ‘the reproach of Thy servants’ is no light part of ‘the fellowship of His sufferings.’ How specially tender the Master’s hand is when it is laid upon us to put us forth into any path of suffering! How specially precious, then, to know that it is indeed His own doing!
1 Zech. iv. 6, 2 Ps. xxiii. 2. SHeb. ii. 18.
4Roin. viii. 18. 5 i Pet. ii. 21,
Sooner or later, perhaps again and again, He puts forth His own sheep into a position of greater separation—forth from an outer into an inner circle, always nearer and nearer to the great Centre. Let us watch very sensitively for such leading. Every hesitation to yield to His gentle separation from the world results in heart separation from Him. When He thus goeth before, shall we risk being left behind?
He will put forth His own sheep at last into the path which none of them shall ever tread alone, because He trod it alone. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.’1 Our ‘ Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath said.’2 Jesus knows every single step of that valley; and when His people enter it, they will surely find that ‘their King shall pass before them ; ‘3 and the Comforter will say, ‘He it is that doth go before thee.’*