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CHRIST’S EXECUTION OF HIS PASTORAL OFFICE
Ezekiel 34:16. 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.
THERE is no office under heaven so important as that of ministering unto men the Gospel of Christ. But, alas! its importance is but too little felt, and its duties are too negligently performed [Note: See ver. 2–10.]. There is, however, one Shepherd, whose care and vigilance are without intermission. He it is, who, many hundred years before he came into the world, spake by the prophet, and declared the manner in which he would execute his office [Note: ver. 23.].
In the words before us we see,
The different states of Christ’s sheep—
[All are considered as the sheep of Christ, who by name and profession belong to him, as well “the fat and the strong, who shall be destroyed,” as those who shall be saved [Note: John 10:16.].
All without exception, while in their natural state, are “lost,” straying from God, and ignorant of the way in which alone they can return to his fold [Note: Isaiah 53:6.]. Some feel an inclination to enjoy his benefits, and at times resolve that they will turn from their evil ways: but they are “driven away” by the violence of their passions or the fear of man.
Of those that have been brought home to the fold, many, like David, are complaining of griefs and sorrows, more painful than a “broken” bone [Note: Psalms 51:8.]. And all are “sick” of sin, that lothesome malady which pervades all their powers both of body and soul, and incapacitates them for serving God as they would wish to do [Note: Romans 7:18-19; Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23-24.Galatians 5:17; Galatians 5:17.].
There are too many, alas! who are “fat and strong,” in their own conceit [Note: It is in this sense that our Lord speaks of “the whole,” and “the righteous.” Matthew 9:12-13.]. Were they really in good condition, they should not be “destroyed.” But, like the Laodiceans of old [Note: Revelation 3:17.], they deceive themselves; being really destitute of all wisdom, goodness, and strength, in exact proportion as they fancy themselves possessed of these things.]
The correspondent dealings of Christ with them—
[Though in many instances our Lord displays his sovereignty in stopping the progress of most grievous sinners, while he suffers persons of more amiable deportment to wander further from him [Note: Acts 9:1-6. Mark 10:21-22.], yet all are to expect that he will deal with them in a perfect correspondence with their character.
He came from heaven in human flesh, and still comes in the preaching of his Gospel, to “seek” and save “that which was lost.” And if any, who have been “driven away” by the force of temptation or persecution, are desirous to put themselves under his care, he will gladly bring them to his fold, and protect them from every inward or outward foe [Note: ver. 11–15, with John 10:10-11; John 10:28.].
As for those who are already in his fold, he will administer to all their wants, “binding up” the broken-hearted [Note: Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 61:3.], and “renewing the strength” of those who are ready to faint [Note: Isaiah 40:29-31.]. By the efficacy of his word, and the consolations of his Spirit, he will turn their sorrows into joy [Note: Isaiah 35:1-2; Isaiah 35:10.]: and his grace shall be sufficient for them under all the trials they may be called to endure [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].
Willing as he is to pardon the very chief of sinners on their repentance, he will awfully punish the impenitent. The proud and self-sufficient, who despise his offers of mercy, shall surely feel his awful displeasure. He will “destroy” them as enemies both to himself and his flock: and, in order to their destruction, he will “feed them with judgment,” giving them up to follow their own delusions, till they shall have completed the measure of their iniquities, and fattened themselves for the sword of his indignation [Note: Psalms 81:11-12.]. Yes; to eternity shall they eat of the fruit of their own ways [Note: Proverbs 1:31.], and feel the judgments which they would not deprecate [Note: Isaiah 50:10-11.].]
Let us put ourselves under the care of this good Shepherd—
[The more we consider our state the more shall we see, that we are straying, or, at best, diseased sheep. But here is our comfort, that we have a tender and faithful Shepherd that will forgive our wanderings, and supply our wants [Note: Isaiah 40:11.]. Let us then return to him, if we are afar off [Note: 1 Peter 2:25.]; or, if he have brought us to his fold, let us rely upon his care and faithfulness [Note: Psalms 23:1-3.].]
Let us imitate him to the utmost of our power—
[Doubtless it is in the first place the duty of ministers to follow the steps of this great Shepherd, because his flock is more immediately committed to their care [Note: If this were the subject of a Visitation or Ordination Sermon, this thought should be prosecuted at some length, in reference to the whole preceding part of the chapter.]. But it is also the duty of every one in his place and station to exert himself to the utmost to enlarge and edify the flock of Christ. And, if we were more diligent in our respective spheres, how many might be reduced from their wanderings, or strengthened in their difficulties, or comforted in their troubles! We know not how useful a word in season might prove. “Let us then, as the elect of God, put on bowels of mercies,” and shew our relation to Christ by our conformity to his image.]
DAVID A TYPE OF CHRIST
Ezekiel 34:23-24. I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.
THERE is nothing so comforting to an afflicted soul, as to contemplate the promises of God: indeed they were given to us for this very purpose, that they might be our support and consolation in the time of trouble. The same may be observed with respect to the prophecies that relate to Christ; they were delivered to the Church in seasons of peculiar trial, as encouragements to the saints to hold fast their profession. It was under circumstances of this nature, that the glorious prophecy before us was revealed. Both the ecclesiastical and civil governors of Israel had greatly oppressed the poor, and especially the godly: but God afforded them seasonable support, by declaring, that he would not only espouse their cause, but would raise up to them a Shepherd, and a Governor of a very different description, even the Messiah himself, who should redress all their wrongs, and bring them into the possession of perfect happiness.
Such being the occasion of the words, we proceed to consider them,
As fulfilled at the first coming of our Lord—
It is undoubtedly the Messiah that is here called “David”—
[David himself had been dead many hundred years; nor has there been any other person after him, to whom this appellation was ever given. But Christ is frequently spoken of in the prophets by the name of David [Note: Jeremiah 30:9. Ezekiel 37:24-25.]; and to him the characters, here annexed to that name, most eminently belong. He is called by that name, because David was a very distinguished type of him. David was chosen by God from a very low state, and was anointed to be king over Israel. He was also made a prophet of the Most High God; and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, often spake as actually personating the Messiah himself. Many parts of his heavenly compositions, though apparently intended respecting himself, have indeed no reference to himself at all, except as he was a type of Christ, in whom the very things predicted were literally fulfilled [Note: Psalms 22:18; Psalms 69:21.]. And so exact was the correspondence between the type and antitype, that Christ, springing “from the root of Jesse,” “as a root out of the dry ground [Note: Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2.],” and “anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows [Note: Psalms 45:7.],” was born (according to the predictions) in the very place of David’s nativity [Note: Micah 5:2. with Matthew 2:5-6.], was constituted a prophet like unto him, and was raised to “the throne of his father David [Note: Luke 1:32.].]
He sustains the offices that are here assigned him—
[Like his honoured representative, he was to be a shepherd. David, in his early youth, followed the occupation of a shepherd, and repeatedly exposed his life to most imminent danger in defence of the flock entrusted to him [Note: 1 Samuel 17:34-35.]. And, after he became a king, he still figuratively at least sustained the same office, “feeding his people, according to the integrity of his heart, and guiding them by the skilfulness of his hands [Note: Psalms 78:70-72.].” But he, whom David typified, was in a far more exalted sense, “the great Shepherd of the sheep [Note: Hebrews 13:20.].” He not only exposed, but willingly sacrificed, his life for his sheep [Note: John 10:11.]: nor can a juster description of him be conveyed in words, than that which is given us in the preceding context [Note: Ezekiel 34:11-16.]: He is incessantly “seeking the lost, bringing back that which has been driven away, binding up the broken, strengthening the sick,” and administering to the necessities of all. He is also, like David, a prince. The promises of David’s exaltation were at last fulfilled, and he was seated on the throne, to which he had been appointed. He did indeed meet with innumerable conflicts in his way to it: at one time, we see him encountering Goliath; at another, fleeing from the murderous attacks of Saul: yea, he was even driven from his kingdom by his own nearest relative, and treasonably sacrificed by his most familiar friend; in consequence of which, he fled weeping over that very brook Kidron, over which his Lord passed afterwards to crucifixion. But God preserved him from every danger, and made him “Head over Israel,” and “the heathen” too [Note: Psalms 18:43.]. Thus it was also that Christ was raised to his throne: He had scarcely made his appearance in the world before he became an object of Herod’s jealousy, and was forced to seek an asylum in a heathen land [Note: Matthew 2:14-15.]. On many occasions he escaped only by a miraculous exertion of his own almighty power [Note: Luke 4:29-30.]. When his time was come, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, who, like David’s treacherous friend, speedily went and hanged himself [Note: Psalms 69:25; Psalms 109:8. with Acts 1:20. shew Ahithophel to be in this a type of Judas.]. But, infinitely beyond David, was Christ “a man of sorrows;” “his visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” Yet, after all, “the stone which the builders refused, was made the head-stone of the corner.” He was “exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour [Note: Acts 4:11; Acts 5:31.],” “the utmost ends of the earth were given him for his dominion;” and “of his kingdom there shall be no end [Note: Psalms 2:8. Luke 1:33.].”]
For his people also he secures the blessings that are here accorded to them—
[“God is made their God:” and this comprehends all that men or angels can receive. It is not possible for a finite imagination to conceive the full import of such an expression as this. It must certainly imply, that he will protect us from all kinds of evil, and fill us with the richest consolation both in this world, and the world to come: every perfection, which God himself possesses, shall be improved for our present benefit, and all his glory shall be enjoyed for our eternal happiness. Yet shall his most assuredly be our portion, if we be numbered among the flock of Christ. To such indeed it is that the promise in the text must be confined. As for the ungodly world, they have no prospect whatever of such a blessing: there is not one word in all the holy oracles, that warrants such a hope. But to those who believe in Christ the promises are made: to those, who have been brought into his fold, who feed in his pastures, and yield up themselves unfeignedly to his dominion, God has pledged himself to be their God. Nor shall any who seek him in his appointed way, fail to be partakers of it [Note: Ezekiel 37:24-28.].]
But we must view this prophecy,
As waiting for a fuller and more glorious accomplishment—
We cannot doubt but it shall be yet more abundantly fulfilled—
[Its completion in the apostolic age was very partial. The Jews themselves yet look for its accomplishment in their Messiah. Nor is the time far distant when it shall be fulfilled in all its glorious extent [Note: Isaiah 29:17.] — — — The Lord Jesus will gather his people from every quarter of the globe [Note: Hosea 3:5.Jeremiah 32:37-41; Jeremiah 32:37-41.] — — — He will feed them in green pastures, and rule over them in Zion [Note: Isaiah 24:23.] — — — And God will manifest himself to be “their God,” with such displays of his glory, as shall far transcend any which he ever vouchsafed to his people in the days of old [Note: Isaiah 60:19-20.] — — —]
Receive now the Saviour under the characters in which he is here offered to you—
[Could we obtain mercy with God in any other way, there were the less reason for concerning ourselves about an interest in Christ. But in vain shall we attempt to ingratiate ourselves in the divine favour by any other means: we must obey the voice of that good Shepherd, and follow him: we must submit ourselves to the government of that Prince, and become his faithful subjects: then, and then only, will God acknowledge us as his people, and give himself to us as our God. Let us not then neglect the Saviour any more: let us rather go to him with one accord: let us entreat him to take us under his charge. Then, whatever may be the fate of those who are at a distance from him, we shall be delivered from our spiritual enemies; and, having suffered awhile with him, shall in due time be glorified together [Note: Romans 8:17.]. You may safely trust the promises of God.
Many hundred years before the coming of Christ was this prophecy delivered: and how exactly was it accomplished in every thing that respected Him! He was appointed our Shepherd; he was exalted to be our Prince; and to this very hour has he executed these offices in their fullest extent. Shall we doubt then whether the prophecy shall be fulfilled as it respects us? Will God refuse to be our God, when we desire to be his people? Or will he be only nominally our God, and withhold from us the blessings that are implied in that relation? Has he done what is so infinitely greater, and will he decline to do the less? Has he not “delivered up for us his only Son, and will he not with him also freely give us all things [Note: Romans 8:32.]?” We cannot doubt. He says, “I the Lord have spoken it:” we may be certain, therefore, that he will perform; since “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Let us trust then, and not be afraid; and in due season we shall enjoy, “according to his covenant, the sure mercies of David [Note: Isaiah 55:3.].”]
CHRIST THE PLANT OF RENOWN
Ezekiel 34:29. I will raise up for them a plant of renown.
THE names by which our blessed Lord is designated in the Scriptures are exceeding various. Every one of them illustrates some part of his character, and leads us, as it were, one step towards the knowledge of him; though, as the light of all the stars combined would give but a very faint idea of the sun, so the lustre reflected from every image in the creation conveys a very inadequate notion of the beauty, the excellency, the fulness of Christ.
That the image in the text refers to him, is clear from the whole context. God, having severely reproved the negligence of those whom he had appointed to watch over his flock [Note: ver. 2–10.], promises that he will raise them up a Shepherd, who shall faithfully discharge all his duties, and execute for their good the trust reposed in him [Note: ver. 11–16.]. This, without any further explanation, would have been sufficient to point out to us “that good Shepherd,” the Lord Jesus Christ: but the subsequent verses mark the name and offices of this Shepherd in such plain terms, that there is not a possibility of doubt respecting the person to whom the prophecy immediately and exclusively relates [Note: ver. 23, 24.]. In the text, the same person is spoken of, only under a different metaphor: in considering which we shall notice,
The representation that is here given of Christ—
Christ is often spoken of by the prophets under the figure of a branch [Note: Jeremiah 33:15.Zechariah 6:12-13; Zechariah 6:12-13.], or rod, growing out of a stem [Note: Isaiah 11:1.]: and in this view he is represented as contemptible in the eyes of a blind and ungodly world [Note: Isaiah 53:2.]. But he is deservedly called, “A plant of renown,”
On account of his mysterious nature—
[Never did such a plant as this exist before. Never could the highest archangel have conceived it possible that such a plant should exist, unless God had expressly revealed it to him. Nothing in the whole creation has any resemblance to it, or could convey the smallest idea of it. This plant has two perfectly distinct natures, and each of those natures complete in all its attributes: it is both divine and human: it unites in itself the fulness of the Godhead with all the sinless infirmities of manhood. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ is “God manifest in the flesh:” and a most stupendous mystery it is [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.]! The manner also in which he assumed our nature was most mysterious. He was not born like other men, but formed in the womb of a pure virgin through the intervention and agency of the Holy Ghost. And in this view, “as a child born, and a son given,” it was expressly declared that “his name should be called, Wonderful [Note: Isaiah 9:6.].”]
On account of his transcendent qualities—
[Other trees have one species of fruit, and are useful chiefly, if not entirely, in one view only. But behold, this plant bears twelve manner of fruits; fruit for every season, whether of prosperity or adversity; fruit for every occasion that can possibly arise; and suited to every person who desires to partake of it [Note: Revelation 22:2.]. Moreover, the leaves of this tree are as salubrious as its fruit; and are an infallible remedy for all the maladies to which our souls are exposed. Its virtues have been proved in every age. Its fame has been spread throughout the whole universe: and the more it has been tried, the more, without one single exception, has it been valued. The tree cast into the waters of Marah, was but a faint shadow of this, which, if properly used, would heal the fountains of iniquity that diffuse their deadly poison through the whole world [Note: Exodus 15:23-25.]. This branch is of yet further use to build the temple of the Lord [Note: Zechariah 6:12-13.]: well then might the prophet say of it, that it should be “excellent and glorious [Note: Isaiah 4:2.].”]
On account of the estimation in which he is held—
[See in what light he is viewed by his heavenly Father: “Behold my servant whom I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth [Note: Isaiah 42:1.Proverbs 8:30; Proverbs 8:30. Matthew 3:17.]!” See what the angels think of him: no sooner did they see him planted in the earth, than they came down from heaven to announce the glad tidings, and ascribed “Glory to God in the highest [Note: Luke 2:7-14.].” Shall I need to tell you how he is regarded by man?” By those who know him not, “he is despised and rejected:” but “to them that know him, he is precious [Note: 1 Peter 2:7.].” What joy was excited in Abraham’s heart, when he only got a glimpse of him, two thousand years before his incarnation [Note: John 8:56.]! With what ecstatic fervour did the prophets call upon the whole creation to rejoice in the prospect of his advent [Note: Isaiah 44:23.]! When he was come, and his excellencies were more fully known, his disciples “counted all things but dung for the knowledge of him [Note: Philippians 3:8.],” and were ready, at all times, and in any manner, to lay down their lives for him [Note: Acts 20:24.]. There are multitudes also in the present day, in whose eyes he is “chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely [Note: Song of Solomon 5:10; Song of Solomon 5:16.].” But how will they express their admiration of him in the day when “he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:10.]!” In heaven too, when all that have eaten of his fruits, and felt the healing efficacy of his leaves, shall surround that “tree of life,” and unite in ascribing to it their whole salvation; what “a plant of renown” will it then appear!]
As God has fulfilled to us this gracious promise, and raised up for us this plant of renown, let us consider,
Our duty towards him—
In allusion to the metaphor, of which we ought not to lose sight, it may he observed, that we should,
Abide under his shadow—
[Many are the storms and tempests to which we are exposed, and from which nothing but this tree can shelter us. It is planted on purpose that it may be “an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land [Note: Isaiah 32:2.].” If we flee to him, we are as safe as the Israelites were in their blood-sprinkled houses, from the sword of the destroying angel [Note: Exodus 12:21-23.]. When “God shall rain down fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest on the wicked [Note: Psalms 11:6.],” we shall have no cause for fear; for “though a thousand shall fall on our side, and ten thousand at our right hand [Note: Psalms 91:1; Psalms 91:4; Psalms 91:7; Psalms 91:10.],” “no evil whatsoever shall befall us;” “he will cover us with his foliage; and his truth shall be our shield and buckler.” Let us then draw nigh to him; and we shall experience the blessedness of the Church of old, who “sat under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet unto her taste [Note: Song of Solomon 2:3.].”]
Live upon his fruits—
[We have before observed, that every kind of fruit is to be found in him: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, peace, and whatever else we can desire, are to be obtained from him in rich abundance [Note: Ezekiel 34:30.]. And every one may get access to him. We need not go up to heaven, or down to hell, or travel to a remote country: he is nigh to us: he is in the Church; he is in our closet; he is in our very hearts [Note: Romans 10:6-8.]: wherever we go, there he is, ever present with us, ever ready to supply our wants. No fiery sword prohibits our approach to him [Note: Genesis 3:24.]: on the contrary, he invites us to come to him, to cease from “feeding upon ashes,” and to take of his fruits freely [Note: Isaiah 55:2.]. None are shut out from this right. There is no wall about him, no exclusive privilege to those who by national, or even personal, relation may be considered as nigh to him: but “all who are afar off,” whether they be old or young, rich or poor, moral or immoral, are invited to partake of all his benefits [Note: Acts 2:39. with Romans 10:12-13.]. Moreover, there is no price required, as there is for the fruits of other trees: we are told to “eat abundantly [Note: Song of Solomon 5:1.],” and to take it all “without money and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.]”
Let us then accept this gracious invitation, and “eat, and live for ever [Note: Isaiah 55:3.].”]
Bless God for him—
[What a mercy would the fallen angels account it, if such a plant were to be raised up for them! And how thankful would they be, who are now out of the reach of this tree, if they might return to this world for a single hour with a permission to gather its fruits! Surely then we who have liberty of access to it, and especially those of us who are daily eating its fruits, should bless and adore our God for “his unspeakable gift [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:15.].” If, only on the eve of its being planted in this world, the pious Elizabeth, the blessed Virgin, and the divinely inspired Zacharias brake forth into such exalted strains of praise and thanksgiving [Note: Luke 1:68-69.], surely we should not be silent, but should call upon “our souls, and all that is within us, to bless his holy name [Note: Psalms 103:1.].”]
Commend him to others—
[The lepers who found abundance in the Syrian camp, could not forbear going to acquaint their famished countrymen with the good tidings [Note: 2 Kings 7:9.]: and shall we be backward to inform our neighbours respecting this tree, whereby all their diseases may be healed, and all their wants supplied? The moment that Andrew and Philip had discovered it, they endeavoured to bring their friends to a participation of their bliss [Note: John 1:40-41; John 1:43; John 1:45.]. Let us do the same. Our enjoyment of its fruits will be enhanced, rather than diminished, by a communication of them to others. Let us, I say, in compliance with the direction given us, exert ourselves to the uttermost, if peradventure we may introduce them to the knowledge of Christ, and be instrumental to the salvation of their souls [Note: Isaiah 12:4-6.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezekiel 34". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany