“Sheep in the midst of wolves.” –Matthew 10:16
My relationships to the world are not all active. I have much to bear, as well as much to do. The people of God are not of the world. That is the reason their Lord declares that the world hates them. He faithfully forewarns them of this universal abiding source of trial and sorrow. They must not choose his service from any selfish ends. The more faithful they are to him, the more they will be required to suffer for his sake. This has been the law of his providence in the whole history of his church. Why should I expect to be delivered from it? Sheep in the midst of wolves, did not refer to his first disciples among the Jews and Pagans alone. It has been equally applicable in all other ages and relationships. Those who are after the flesh have always persecuted those that are after the Spirit. It is a title I must receive, and I must not be disappointed when I find it practically fulfilled. If I am one of the Savior’s flock:—
1. Then I am to encounter hostility in the world, and I must expect it.
All that is in the world is in opposition to my Christian character and course. It will not help me. It cannot help me; but as God my Savior overrules and controls it by his own power. The society of the worldly—their principles, amusements, plans of life—are all hostile to the soul—are all opposed to Christ. If any man will be the friend of the world, he must be the enemy of God. I am to choose Christ as my portion. I have chosen Christ as my portion, even with persecutions from men, and I am to be satisfied and happy with him alone. The hostility of the world is to my fidelity to Christ. It is not to be provoked by me. I am not to reciprocate it. I am to bless those who curse me, and to pray for those who persecute me. But I am not to soothe its hostility by any concessions of the great principles by which I am to be governed. If I must walk alone, be it so. Then I can walk alone with Christ. Better perish as one of his sheep, than partake of the power and nature of the wolves that destroy them. But this is to be my expectation in life, and its occurrence must not drive me away from him who has chosen me as one of his little flock.
2. Then my path is beset with dangers, and I must be constantly watchful.
The idea of danger could not be presented more distinctly than in this title. On the one side is perfect weakness—on the other, resistless power directed by extreme hostility. The dangers to which I am exposed are sometimes outward. Many of the servants of God have been required to give up their lives for Christ. What persecutions and sorrows have they endured! I may be called to bear a like testimony. The same bitterness of hostility to the truth which I profess still remains. If it is restrained in action, it is my heavenly Master that has restrained it. It is always eager to be loosed. It may be loosed upon me. But if not, the dangers to my soul are ever pressing.
The whole influence of the world is dangerous to me. Ah, it would persuade me to deny my Savior—to be a traitor to his cause—to be silent when he is reproached—to hide myself from opposition for his sake. How many have made shipwreck of the faith! How many have been hindered in their race! How many have come short of their rest! Oh, may I never be deceived into a careless, unwatchful walk. Lord, help me to look on every side. If the wolves are now quiet or asleep, how soon may they wake for my destruction!
3. Then I have no strength of my own, and I must keep near my Savior.
Nothing could express more entire feebleness—nothing could better express my own condition. I could not meet one single trial with success in any strength of my own. I could not overcome a single temptation. There is an evil heart within me, which would yield and give way at once. Let me not be rash and foolhardy. I must be conscious of my weakness. I must not rush into temptation. I must not wander off in forbidden paths. If I keep near my Lord, I am safe. If I am a companion of his flock, and abide by his tents, and seek my pleasures in his favor and love, I may be defended and preserved.
But I must not be deceived with the idea that the character of the world has changed; or that I have more skill in mingling with it than others; or that my character is not so susceptible to its evil. Ah, these very thoughts are only parts and expressions of my own real feebleness. None but one so silly could be so deceived. The safety of my soul can never be so secured. No. I must always feel and act upon the title before me. Perfect weakness in the midst of great and constant dangers. Only safe as I walk circumspectly, and abide at my Savior’s feet.
4. But then I have a Divine Shepherd, and with him I am perfectly secure.
If I am in him in my new nature, and with him in my habitual course of life, I cannot be destroyed or overcome. Ah, it is a blessed testimony, “My sheep—shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28). How many myriads he has carried through extreme dangers and trials! What sufferings they endured! What deaths they passed! But they all triumphed. They have entered into their rest. They have kept the faith. Jesus has conquered in them. He can carry me through. I know not what he has prepared for me. I must glorify him in the fires. I must follow his ransomed flock. I must not deny him. Every evil around me is limited. Every snare is weak if I resist. Every enemy is already conquered if I faithfully contend. The great work of my soul’s salvation is perfected. My reconciliation to God, my justification before God, my fellowship with God, are all accomplished. I have nothing of them to do. But now I have to glorify and honor, in a hostile world, that blessed Savior who has thus loved me, and redeemed me for his own. If I am faithful he will enable me to do it. I mean to be faithful even unto death. Oh may he keep me from the power of every enemy!
5. These are manifest conclusions from such a description of Christian character.
I must meet constant hostility, I must encounter many dangers, I am utterly feeble in myself. But I have a heavenly Shepherd, who will protect and defend me. Oh, how blessed is such a condition! Its very weakness is a comfort, for it saves me from a thousand dangers, by keeping me watchfully away from them. Let me live, ever live, as one of this happy, blessed flock.
Man may trouble and distress me,
‘Twill but drive me to your breast;
Life with trials hard may press me,
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh ‘tis not in grief to harm me,
While your love is left to me;
Oh ‘twas not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with thee.
This comes from Stephen Tyng’s devotional classic Christian Titles, which would serve you well every day for seven weeks. We can’t recommend this one enough!