We are not usually very complimentary in our remarks upon the sagacity of sheep when compared with that of other animals. We hand it about from one to another as a kind of proverb that sheep are silly; and when we are enumerating a person's virtues we do not include "sheepishness" as one of them.
Nevertheless, in scriptural usage, the figurative references to sheep are numerous but not always with a derogatory sense. Their own defencelessness and consequent dependence on the guardianship of the shepherd aptly illustrate the feeble condition of the people of God in the world, thrown as they are upon resources not found within themselves. On this occasion however, I wish to bring before you one of the qualities of the sheep, which I have called its deafness, and which is really one of its safeguards.
You will, I know, recollect at once that a good deal is found in John 10 about the Shepherd, the sheep and the sheepfold. Among the several things stated with regard to the sheep, it is there said that they hear the voice of the shepherd but that they do not hear thieves and robbers (John 10:8).
You are aware, of course, that in Syria, a sheep, when called by its name, will run out from the flock to the shepherd to be caressed, just as we are accustomed to see a dog run to its master. But if a stranger calls, the sheep are utterly heedless.They continue to browse with entire disregard to the unknown voice. The shepherd they hear and follow; but to the stranger, or to thieves and robbers climbing "up some other way" they are completely deaf. They know one voice — that of the shepherd; all other voices must be from strangers, and to such they close their ears.
Clearly, in this lies one of the means of their safety. Let them only refuse to listen to the calls of unscrupulous men who would decoy the flock away to its own destruction, and they are safe.
So it is with the sheep of Christ. There are times when they should be as though they were deaf. Such seasons are particularly when Satan, the great enemy, comes with the seductive voice of the stranger. There is no mistaking him when he comes as the roaring lion, or the destructive wolf. But when he adopts an artful manner, and comes with fair speeches and deceitful words, it is then the sheep must turn a deaf ear to his insinuations lest they be led astray into paths of danger and death.
Oh, do beware of your cunning adversary. When a thought or suggestion arises, either from within yourself or from some outward source, refuse to entertain it for a single moment if it does not coincide with the voice of the Good Shepherd It is the parleying with evil thoughts that is so very dangerous.
Eve listened to the voice of the stranger, when he said, "Hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" You know with what result.
Satan put it into the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land (Acts. 5:3). He hearkened to the subtlety of the enemy, and was stricken down with sudden death.
Had they but refused to hear, how different the result! The tempter's voice came to Joseph in Potiphar's house. But he resisted the devil. "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" He was a deaf sheep; for none are so deaf as those who will not hear.
It will be an excellent attainment on your part if you are able, on certain occasions, suddenly to become stone deaf. Saul was to be commended for this just after he was anointed king. The children of Belial despised him, saying scornfully, "How shall this man save us?" Moreover they accentuated this formal opinion of theirs by sending him no presents. But, we are told, Saul was as though he had been deaf (1 Samuel 10:27, marg). If the son of Kish had always acted as wisely as he did then we should have had to read a very different history of him.
Depend upon it a deaf ear is quite a valuable member to possess. For instance, a person comes to you and starts a long rigmarole of Brother So-and-so's bad ways. Give him the deaf side at once. Keep as quiet as you can while the abuse goes on. Make him feel he is getting just as much encouragement out of you as he would out of a gate-post. You will be surprised how soon he will tire himself and change the subject or walk away. If you doubt this, go and talk to a post yourself for ten minutes, and observe carefully the effect it has upon you.
Always use the deaf ear for sceptical arguments against God and the Bible. As a Christian the truth of God's word is a matter within your own personal knowledge. No healthy person wishes another person to assure him by arguments that he is alive. No believer ought to require a book of "Christian evidences" to convince him of the divine power and authority of the scriptures. He is in a sorrowful state, if such be the case.
Evidences have their worth, but do not forget it is perfectly unnecessary for you to be able to unravel the sophisms of the infidel before enjoying the Bible. I am reminded of an old proposition amongst school-boys which stated that "Every cat has at least two tails." The mode of demonstration is familiar to the sceptic. It is laid down (1) that no cat has two tails, and (2) that every cat has at least one tail more than no cat. Then the bold inference is drawn that every cat has at least two tails This is very absurd, of course, and the boy who stated it seriously in the logic class would probably incur a flogging and be sent to examine the housekeeper's tabby. And yet this is the kind of reasoning that is served up by the class of people referred to. Don't listen to them.
If a person told you that in a half hour he could prove that two and two are five you wouldn't waste the thirty minutes. And if a man says he can prove the Bible is a collection of fairy tales, give him the deaf ear and the cold shoulder. Such men as he are but thieves and robbers.
The other day I came across some lines which I copied years ago; I think you will like to read them. They are on studying the Bible.
"Read; mark; learn;
Its pages turn and turn;
And for reward you'll find the Lord,
And your heart within will burn.
Dig; search; explore;
With labour more and more;
And for your toil in this rich soil,
You'll find the golden ore.
"House of treasures! Here I find
Food and medicine for the mind;
Sword to wield against the foe;
Helm and shield to ward his blow;
Garments for the heavenly-born;
Gems, the spirit to adorn;
Songs of praise in sunny hours;
Dirges when the tempest lowers.
But I need not thus go on
Naming treasures one by one;
Why should I the rest recall?
Christ is here, — and Christ is all."