From “The Parables of Our Lord” by William Arnott (1808–1875)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
The shepherd lays the sheep upon his shoulders. This feature of the picture affords no ground for the doctrine which has sometimes been founded on it, that the Saviour is burdened with the sinners whom he saves. His suffering lies in another direction, and is not in any form represented here. He weeps when the sinful remain distant and refuse to throw their weight on him ; he never complains of having too much of this work in hand. The parable here points to his power and victory, not to his pain and weariness.
One side of salvation
The representation that the shepherd bore the strayed sheep home upon his shoulder, instead of going before and calling on it to follow, is significant in respect both to this parable and its counterpart and complement, the Prodigal Son. In as far as the saving of the lost is portrayed in this similitude, the work is done by the Saviour alone. First and last the sinner does nothing but destroy himself: all the saving work is done for him, none of it by him. This is one side of salvation, and it is the only side that is represented here.
Salvation is by the Saviour alone
It seems hard to conceive how any converted man can be troubled, by doubt or difficulty, concerning this doctrine. Everyone whom Christ has sought and found, and borne to the fold, feels and confesses that, if the Shepherd had not come to the sheep, the sheep would not have come to the Shepherd. If any wanderer still hesitates on the question, Who brought him home, it is time that he should begin to entertain another question: Whether he has yet been brought home at all.
The acknowledgement of this fundamental truth, that salvation is begun, carried on, and completed by the Saviour alone, does not, of course, come into collision with another fundamental truth, which expatiates on another sphere, and is represented in another parable, that except the sinful do themselves repent, and come to the Father, they shall perish in their sins.