Dear Brother Beebe: I have concluded to ask a favor of you, which is this, your views on John x. 12, 13. As I wish for all Old School Baptists to agree when they walk together, I am sorry to hear some say they think the wolf there spoken of catcheth the sheep, while others think he catcheth the hireling. This passage may seem to you so plain that any one that can see at all could see through it, but my brother, if I have any light at all, I feel myself to be so far from the fountain of light that I have nothing but the flickerings or glimmerings, so that I cannot see to satisfy my desires. I have frequently been to hear the truth preached, and on account of the crowd have been situated so remote from the speaker that with all the attention I could pay there would be some of his words that I could not understand; I knew I heard him speak, but was not sure I understood what he said. Now, if I have any spiritual sight or hearing, I know that I have fallen so far from God my Savior that if he by his Spirit ever speaks to me, I am so far off that I have doubts whether it is really him who speaks or not. If he speaks a promise to my poor soul, which for an instant almost makes me mount up with wings as eagles, and soar away from this world, the next instant I find myself just where I started from, and doubting whether that promise was mine; I cannot depend upon my hearing at such a distance from the speaker. Then I try the little glimmering light that seems to be flickering about me, with which I try to examine my landmarks, to see whether I am in the way or not, but the light is so dim, or my eyes so blind, that I cannot satisfy my mind, and I am often so benighted that I am almost afraid to call an Old Baptist brother, and if it were not that my name is in the list, and our rules require it, I believe I should not often apply the endearing term. I have no doubt of the Old School Baptiste being the children of the living God, and the only people on earth that have the right to call the Savior of sinners their Elder Brother, for it is right for God’s children to call each other brother and sister, but my fears are that I am not of that family. I have been for the last forty-five years trying to draw up close to that Great Preacher, our Elder Brother, that with my dull ears I might hear every articulation and understand every syllable, and read by his great light, so that I might, with my weak eyes, read every word, and distinctly see every letter in the promises; but alas! those forty. five years travel have landed me where I first found myself, away in our polluted world, where I could, by nature, neither see nor hear him whom I trust my soul loveth. Now, notwithstanding I have been striving so long to get up close to the Savior, I do not suppose that my nearest neighbors ever thought I was doing any good works. But I know more about that one thing than they do, for I know to a certainty that in all that time I never did, of myself, do one good thing, and I know I never can, for by sore and sad experience I know that in my flesh there is no good thing. What then can I work with? There being no good principle, what can I work from?
But please pardon me for troubling you to read so much, for I merely intended to send you the remittance, and ask your views on the above Scripture. I have my views, such as they are; if I am wrong, I wish to be right. If my views are right, others are wrong, and as we believe you are blessed with more than ordinary light on the Scriptures, your views are anxiously requested.
My brother, I try to pray God that his Spirit may shine in your heart, and open up the Scriptures plain to your view, so that you can expound it to his dear children, wherever they may be.
Yours, if not a brother, at least a friend,
J. P. TRUEAX.
Santa Fe, KY., July 26, 1860.
Reply: If not mistaken, we have already given our views on this text, but as our brother, and possibly some others, seem unsettled in regard to its true import, we will cheerfully give such views as we have. The principal difficulty seems to be to understand who it is that the wolf catches, the sheep, or the hireling shepherds. The text reads thus, “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
This illustration is designed to show the difference between the good Shepherd and an hireling. In the preceding verse Christ saith, “I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” To show his claim to this character which he assumes in the context, he contrasts the characteristics of a good shepherd and an hireling. The good Shepherd has an interest in the welfare of the sheep, and holds them dearer to him than his own life, so that he will throw himself between them and danger, and if necessity requires he will die for them rather than they should be destroyed by their enemies. This he has done: he has died to save his people, or sheep. Because he is thus related to them, he is their Shepherd, they are his own sheep, he had a right of property in them which he valued more than life. And as he has redeemed them from death with his blood, he is now pledged that they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.
All this goes to prove that he is truly the good Shepherd, whose own the sheep are. But the characteristics of an hireling are the very reverse of this; he performs his task or labor only from selfish, mercenary considerations, he careth not what becomes of the sheep, if he can only secure his wages; when he sees danger approaching his first and only object is to take care of himself. The wolf may scatter or even catch and destroy the sheep for aught he cares, for he careth not for the flock, if they are destroyed the loss does not fall on him, but on the owner of the flock. These are some of the differences between the good Shepherd, who gave his life for his sheep, and a mere hireling, who would not expose himself to danger to save the flock from the devouring jaws of the enemy. The reasons assigned by our God why the hireling will desert the flock in the hour of danger are:
First, because he is an hireling.
Second, because he has no interest or right of property in them - Whose own the sheep are not, and finally, because he careth not for the sheep.
Hence, we may infer, if we as the sheep of Christ were dependent on a hired shepherd, one who only saves conditionally, or who only works for pay, we should certainly be destroyed by the wolf, but we have reason to bless God that such is not our case; we have a good Shepherd, who owns the flock, and is able and willing and determined to save them with an everlasting salvation. He is no hireling, and we may implicitly rely on his protection. “The Lord is my [our] Shepherd, we shall not want.”
Should we so interpret the text as to represent the wolf as catching the hireling instead of the sheep, we would destroy the whole figurative design of the comparison. Beside it would violate the plain rules of our language. The noun sheep is plural, and agrees with the pronoun them, which is also plural. But in the text, the hireling or an hireling, is in the singular number, and cannot grammatically be the antecedent of the pronoun them.
This figure is not used to express the idea that the sheep of Christ are left in the fruitless and unreliable charge of the hireling, or that any of them can ever be destroyed by the wolf, for Christ declares that he himself is the Shepherd of his own sheep, and therefore they shall never perish, as they most undoubtedly would if their Shepherd were an hireling who did not own nor care for the sheep.
September 15, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 399 - 402