Fear-Filled Sheep

Although one of the four freedoms that have been promised to us is freedom from fear, it is a gross understatement to say that we have not yet attained to it. Larger and larger sections of our bigger cities are being marked off as territory through which one ought not travel, not even in broad daylight, for safety’s sake. More and more college and university campuses are the scenes of the violence of riots. The number of students in certain colleges and universities that seek police protection while at school is on the increase. Two so-called world wars were fought to put an end to the fear of war and to make this world a safe place to live in, only to find that we are preparing in great dread for what will be a real world war. Two attempts, the League of Nations and the United Nations, have failed miserably in slowing down an armament race that will produce the most horrible devastation to man and his land that any conflict, since Cain killed Abel, has brought forth upon our globe. 

The church world likewise is far from having attained to any freedom from fear. But part of that fear is encouraging, as strange as that may sound. For we live in a spiritually indifferent age, and few there are who would care to deny that, or would dare to claim that they have evidence to show that this is not true. Church membership is on the decline, and markedly so. Church attendance has fallen off to an alarming degree. Particularly where two services are held, the second one is usually very poorly attended. Even among the numbers of those who retain membership, and remain faithful in attendance (though not necessarily in and with attention), interest in a discussion of spiritual matters is hard to find. Such discussions often prove well nigh impossible to be initiated; and when in progress are soon terminated or channeled into another direction. Church attendance is more a matter of habit than of hunger for the Word. The words,

My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound, 

The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer, 

may be sung lustily, and from a musical point of view even beautifully. All too often, however, it is without much sincerity and personal application. Many times it should in all sincerity be followed with the words, 

If the sermon is not too long; 

How longs my heart to hear the welcome: Amen! 

But in the midst of all this there is also noticeable a certain unrest and dissatisfaction, not because the sermon is too long; nor even because it is too strong, but because it emits a sound that is wrong! Fear there is that doctrinal purity is being lost, and that faithfulness to the Confessions—even to the so-called, or what is called, The Apostolic Creed—is being threatened. Pamphlets, brochures and even books dealing with that fear are being published in abundance and are being distributed in goodly numbers. In that same fear protests and appeals are being filed with ecclesiastical bodies concerning these matters. At the same time other pamphlets, lectures, editorials and speeches are prepared to reassure the troubled and restless that all is well, and that there is no real room for fear. To the fearful it is pointed out that all change is not necessarily a departure from the narrow way. One can change his clothes while on that narrow way and then still walk in the right direction. The new appearance has nothing to do with the direction and the place where the feet are placed. 

The serious-minded child of God, who is not at ease, and who definitely is disturbed, does not always understand what is going on and why he has this fear. He knows that something is wrong, but he cannot get to the heart of the matter and pinpoint the matter which brings his restlessness and fear. This is true so often, because it is not a question of what is said, but of what is not said. It is not always a case of not quoting Scripture and of not using it as proof for the stand. So often it is the failure to say ALL that Scripture says on the subject, and the quoting of a text out of its context and with an interpretation that is in direct conflict with what Scripture says elsewhere. It is so often—if not always—the case of Christless sermons. And we do not mean sermons in which the name of Christ is not mentioned. A Christless sermon may use His name very frequently, with some very endearing terminology, and with strong emphasis upon the love of God manifested in Him. And yet these sheep go home hungry and thirsty. They hear words, but they have not heard The Word become flesh. They have heard thename of Christ dozens of times, but they have not metChrist and found Him as the-Bread of life and Water of life for them in that preaching. 

It is important that the sheep hear HIM and meet HIM face to face in the preaching. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” And Paul writes in the Greek, (not in your King James version of Romans 10:14) “How shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him Whom they have not heard; and how shall they hear without a preacher?” The King James version incorrectly inserts the word “of” before the word “Whom” in the phrase, “. . . how shall they believe in Him Whom they have not heard?” We certainly must hear of Christ and about Christ; but we must hear this from Him. He must say it in our hearts even while man says it in our ears. Otherwise not only will we receive no spiritual food, but what is worse, we will never be brought to the faith or be strengthened in the faith which He has already given us. 

Many sheep today do not even hear of Him, that is, they do not hear of the Christ of Scripture. They hear the philosophy of men that makes use of the name of Christ but does not speak His Word. 

Jesus gives us a beautiful explanation of this very thing that is happening today when He speaks in John 10:1-18. You do well to read this passage in connection with these lines. It is too lengthy to quote here. But take note especially of verse 9, “I am the door: through me (the correct translation) if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” Now, if we take these words in their setting, we will see that Jesus speaks of Himself as the door through which theshepherd must go to reach the sheep and to lead them to green pastures. Indeed, the sheep must go through Christ, the door, at night to enter the sheepcote for safety, and must go through Him again in the morning to pasture. But by all means note that He says, “. . . shall go in and out and find pasture.” Now sheep never do, that. They do not go out. They are led out. They do not find pasture. They are led to it by the shepherd. Besides, in the whole passage Jesus is contrasting Himself as the Good Shepherd with the thieves and robbers who climb over the wall. And the expression, “Door of the sheep,” means the door unto the sheep. You see, a sheepcote sheltered various groups of sheep. In the morning a particular shepherd would come through the door and call his sheep. They would know his voice, separate themselves from the other groups and trustingly follow to pasture. Now Christ’s sheep know His voice and are at ease and free from fear when they hear Him call them. Let a man come any other way than through Christ and they become restless at first, and then become filled with fright.

Now, that one comes to the sheep through Christ certainly means that he has an office to which Christ called Him. Otherwise he is climbing over the wall. But it also means that he comes with the truth, that He speaks exactly as Christ speaks. Approach His sheep with men’s philosophy, and they will not recognize you as Christ’s undershepherd. They know Christ, because His life is in them. And that life will respond only to Christ, Whom they hear through the man Christ has officially sent, when he speaks HIS Word. 

Leading these sheep through Christ as the door to green pastures means that the shepherd searches the Word—for Christ is that Word become flesh—for his message to deliver to the sheep. He does not gather his material from magazines and the writings of news analysts, the social disorders in the world, and the solutions that men propose as a way out of these problems. He gets his message from Christ by going to Christ. He gathers His message from the Word. He does not form an opinion and then use the Word as one would use a dictionary to prove that his spelling is correct. He begins with the Word, listens to Christ speaking in that Word; and then he brings Christ to these sheep, and the sheep to Christ, in his preaching of that Word. 

That means, of course, that his preaching is expository preaching. It means that he does not use a text as a springboard to jump into some subject upon which he would like to have the sheep chew, but that he lets that text speak to the sheep by explaining it in all its parts, and by applying it to them in their circumstances and in this day wherein they live. 

Christless preaching, as the very expression indicates, is preaching that leaves out Christ. This can be done boldly and bluntly by preaching not The Christ but a “christ,” who is not the Son of God essentially but a mere man, who was the best man that ever lived, a marvelous social reformer, one who taught us to die for our principles, and one who lives only in the sense that he lives in his teachings and in the lives of his disciples of today. It denies a Christ born of a virgin, raised from the dead and coming again in judgment. 

But consider further that in the measure that any preaching leaves Christ out of our salvation, it is Christless preaching. Any part of that salvation it leaves for us to do, it takes away from Christ, and in that sense the preaching is Christless. If faith is our gift to Him, our work of giving Him the green light to save us, the condition we fulfill, then it is not His gift to us, and we have less of Christ in our salvation than what He declares Himself in Ephesians 2:8

And, by all means, Christless preaching leaves out His cross. Any preaching that does not center in it is Christless. If the preacher does not show you the cross in the text somewhere in his sermon, or so present the matter that our salvation and comfort rests fully upon that cross, it is Christless preaching. 

Admittedly there is so much of that Christless preaching today. And the sheep hear a new sound of a social gospel that finds no place for that cross, because it sees nothing more than sin between men and not sin before God. It looks for a solution that can be worked out by men and between men, and though it will find value in portions of passages of Jesus’ words, it never leads to the cross. It militates against Jesus’ own words through Matthew and the angel Gabriel, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” (Underscoring ours) Instead they call Him a social reformer Who has something for ALL men, and came to right this world by such reform. That His cross and Spirit realize an entirely newkingdom and that He comes in holy wrath to destroy this world they ignore or deny. 

It is well that the sheep are restless and afraid. It shows that they belong to His flock. But let that fear be rooted in the fear of the Lord, in which Solomon declares, “is strong confidence.” Proverbs 14:26. Let it not be in a fear of losing property and of numbers, of losing prestige and honour, or even of losing friendships and love of father and mother, brother and sister. Let it be the fear of the Lord, and not the fear of men.