The Instruments of the Foolish Shepherd - Part 2
BY J. C. PHILPOT
Such are the four negative marks of a foolish shepherd -that is, the things which he does not do. But there are added by the Holy Ghost two positive marks, that is, there are two things which he does do. "He shall eat the flesh of the fat," that is, he shall not take that which comes, that which is offered him, but he must go through the flock, and select the fattest for his own eating. The priest s joints were the breast and the shoulder. Ex 29:27,28, not the leg and the loin. He was to have good food, and enough food, but not the fattest and best joint of the whole. The word of God sanctions an honourable and competent maintenance for a minister, but it is to be freely and voluntarily given. But the foolish shepherd manifests a grasping, covetous, insatiable spirit. He seeks not the flock but the fleece, and he will sacrifice truth, mangle the gospel, and preach to please professors, with the sole end of filling his own pocket. To take thankfully what is given freely is one thing; to be dissatisfied with what is given, and be clamorous for more, is another. To eat the flesh is allowable, to grasp after the flesh of the fat is discreditable; to feed the flock as a shepherd, and eat of the milk thereof, 1Co 9:7, is honourable; to feed the flock as a grazier is disgraceful. "And shall tear their claws in pieces." This is the second positive mark of a foolish shepherd. Sheep, then, have claws! Aye, surely, and some of us have been sorely scratched by them. And these claws, too, they will sometimes exercise upon the shepherd. When, then, the foolish shepherd feels the scratch of these claws, he puts forth all his strength, and tears them in pieces. He does not rule with kindness and gentleness; he does not guide them with the sweet constraints of love and affection, but first starves the living family, and then if they do but scratch him with their claws, he rends them in pieces. Their claws are the objects of his attack -that is, he lays hold of any expressions of theirs which have been directed against him, any severe remarks made upon him, any complaints of his ministry, any doubts of his Christianity, any objections to his Arminianism, any censures of his conduct. These claws have scratched him, and wounded his pride and consequence. He must, therefore, retaliate; and these claws he will lay hold of, seizing every word that has been said against him or his ministry, and rend them in pieces, as manifesting, he says, a bitter and unchristian spirit. A wise shepherd will not act thus. He will not return blow for blow, nor stripe for stripe. If scratched by the claws of some of his sheep, he will rather bear it in silence than make divisions and contentions, and rend the flock asunder. He will not take up every harsh thing said against himself or his ministry, nor be jealous of his own honour and dignity, bringing forward into the pulpit his own cause and glory instead of the cause of God and the glory of Christ; but will be more or less actuated by the spirit of Him who, when he was reviled, reviled not again.
We see, then, drawn by the pen of the Holy Ghost, the marks of the foolish and wise shepherd. Keep them in your eye. You are commanded to try the spirits whether they be of God. You are to be the judges of every minister who comes as an ambassador from the Lord. Examine him well, scan his features carefully, weigh him accurately. God has given you his portrait -compare the man and his likeness. Has he, then, the marks for or against? Does he visit the cut off, does he seek the young one, does he heal the broken, does he feed that that standeth still? If he does not agree with these four essentials, he is a foolish shepherd, be he what he may.
Again, does "he eat the flesh of the fat, and rend their claws in pieces?" Is he covetous and contentious; grasping and quarrelsome; a flatterer of the rich, and an oppressor of the poor; a Demas and a Diotrephes? Then is he a foolish shepherd, be he in the church or in the chapel, in robes of priestly dignity, or ungowned plainness. Never mind his holy countenance and solemn demeanour, his grey hairs and silvery tongue; these are but the rough garment to deceive. Watch his ministry and his actions. Look at him in the pulpit and out of it. Turn him about and look at both sides, the negative marks and the positive, what he is not, and what he is.
My friends, I have spoken these things this evening as a disinterested person, not with a view to exalt myself, for I assure you, I am often tried as to my call to the ministry, though not without, at times, both inward and outward testimonies, nor to aim at any particular minister or ministers. You are placed in peculiar circumstances from the want of a stated minister, and being so much in the habit of hearing different supplies at this and other chapels.
I have sought, then, to lay before you the features of a wise and foolish shepherd, as drawn by the blessed Spirit. Try by them all whom you hear. Let not pretensions suffice. Examine their credentials; put them into the scales; watch their words; and, above all, look narrowly at their spirit. And if they come not up to, or vary from the marks of a wise shepherd; still more, if they tally precisely with the character here given of a foolish shepherd, unceremoniously reject them. God has not sent them; and in rejecting them you act by his authority, and walk in obedience to his word. May he give us eyes to see, hands to act, and feet to walk, in strict accordance with his own unerring testimony.