The Bad Little Sheep

Above my desk hangs a picture which I desire to keep ever near. It shows a shepherd leaning over a jagged precipice and stretching forth a saving arm to a helpless sheep. It must have been a bad little sheep to have so wandered from the quiet pastures and the careful shepherd. It must have been a wilful, disobedient, headstrong little creature, for not otherwise could it be found in this distressing situation. A great chasm yawns beneath; ominously circling above moves a waiting vulture. Yet to this hapless animal, this wilful, disobedient, and headstrong animal, perchance, is stretched out the hand of compassion. Through heedlessness or deliberate contumacy it has become separated from its brothers of the flock and their kindly shepherd. Should not such grievous dereliction be strongly censured? Would it be a Christian act to allow such grievous wrong doing to pass uncondemned?

At this point the picture furnishes interesting food for thought, illustrating as it does human experience. Apparently the shepherd in the picture feels that the greatest need of the erring sheep is not condemnation, but saving compassion. So far as can be determined, no stern rebuke has been administered, no reminder of the depth of wickedness into which it has been plunged. There has been no need for this. The erring one knows all about hell, for he has been there. He knows now the joy of trusting in a faithful shepherd, and how sore is the penalty of wandering therefrom. He knows this—ah, how deeply he knows all this! Perchance condemnation and remorse have already caused the feet to be less firm in clinging to the ragged edge of hope. Yes, there is but one need, and divine Love is meeting it. Down comes the tender hand, gently sounds the cheering voice, and out of yawning depths there rises a sense redeemed.

Let those who are confronted with the problem of a straying sheep, an unloving and unlovely sheep, a malicious or even a seemingly incorrigible sheep, ponder the lesson of this picture. Possibly the sheep is still lingering on the hazardous steeps of malice, or misunderstanding, or sickness, or sin. Should a friend then stand above him, delivering silently or audibly his opinion as to one who could bring himself to such a pass, and so-called righteous condemnation of his course? Or should the Christ-mind, that knows neither sin, frailty, nor blemish, be allowed to reach out in daily, hourly compassion through a brother's consciousness to wrest a precious thought from the nightmare of materiality and to bring it, unsullied and undefiled, to the sheepfold of the Father? As a loved hymn runs (Hymnal, p. 8):—

Love Universal
December 30, 1916

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