A Sheep Remembers is the last book of a true shepherd who knew what it is to be one of Christ’s sheep.
It is a rich, biblical, theological, experiential, devotional meditation on Psalm 23, combined with a testimony to God’s faithfulness by a godly pastor and professor who is now at home with his Good Shepherd, having long lived in the valley of the shadow of death.
David B. Calhoun (1937–2021) was one of the great church historians and historical theologians of our time, but he was also a missionary and a minister. Dr. Calhoun was less well-known than he should have been, but he was deeply appreciated and beloved by those who were blessed to know him. He was brilliant, humble, godly, faithful, and kind. A true follower of Jesus.
A Sheep Remembers
David B. Calhoun
The Twenty-third Psalm is probably the best known of all the chapters of the Bible and among the most memorable words ever written in any language. It is so familiar that it would be easy to think that we can learn nothing more from it. But through exposition intermingled with prayers and personal testimony, David Calhoun reminds us that this psalm has great depth, and that lifelong meditation on its words will help Christians to understand just what it is to be a sheep under the care of the “good Shepherd.” Each of the ten chapters in A Sheep Remembers contains a version of the Twenty-third Psalm or a hymn based on the psalm, followed by commentary on the verse being considered; writings from shepherds that help us to understand sheep and their ways; prayers, quotations and stories that illustrate the theme; and in the last place, the author’s personal testimony. This is a striking and profound little volume that will give much spiritual help to readers at all stages in the Christian life.
Professor Calhoun was a friend and mentor to me, a father in the faith. He taught church history at Covenant Theological Seminary for 30 years (1978–2008) and battled cancer the last four decades of his life (1987–2021). The Lord called him home just as this book had been safely delivered into the hands of the good folks of Banner of Truth. I took every course I could with him in my seminary days: Ancient and Medieval Church History, Reformation and Modern Church History, Calvin’s Institutes, History of the Reformed Tradition, Southern Presbyterian History and Theology, and more. We traveled Scotland together (along with his son Allen) while I was studying at Edinburgh.
He was dear to me and good to me. No one in my seminary education had a greater influence on my life, doctrine, or view of the ministry than David. It is not too much to say that I would never have become the chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary if not for his investment in me.
No one in my seminary education had a greater influence on my life, doctrine, or view of the ministry.
David was a studious and learned man. In addition to his undergraduate and Bachelor of Divinity degrees, he held two Master of Theology (ThM) degrees, one in Old Testament and the other in New Testament, and his PhD (Princeton) was in church history/historical theology (writing on the history of Princeton Seminary and missions, 1812–62). He loved the theology and writings of John Calvin, but he was also an expert in the theology of Henry Bullinger, one of the important early reformers, and he tipped me off to what has become known as the “Muller thesis” (the continuity of Reformation and Post-Reformation Reformed theology, over against the now discredited “Calvin versus the Calvinists” historiography so popular among 20th-century Barthians) before I ever read Richard Muller’s Christ and the Decree. But David never wore his credentials or his learning on his sleeve. He shared his knowledge freely to edify others, but never flaunted his scholarship.
David was born in Kentucky, but he and I considered one another fellow South Carolinians. We shared a love of history and church history. While I was the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, I reached out to David to write our church history as we approached our 175th anniversary in 2012. He had written wonderful church histories of First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia; and First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, and he was the perfect person to write the story of yet another historic Southern church.
At first he agreed, but then another recurrence of cancer and the attendant side effects of his treatment led the doctors to forbid him to undertake the travel necessary to write the book. He sent me a note declining the task with regret, to which he appended the words: “It would be nice to have only one terminal illness, but, as always, the Lord knows best.” Such was his acceptance of God’s providence (a theme you will surely see in the pages of this book).
God’s Faithfulness in Psalm 23
David’s courses on church history were always richly devotional and filled with wonderful prayers and quotations. Reading A Sheep Remembers brings back memories of sitting in the classroom listening to him lecture, and I can hear the words in his voice as I read. I even hear the cadence of his delivery. This is an unusual book, but it is quintessential David Calhoun. It reads a little like Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, but with a focus just on Psalm 23.
‘It would be nice to have only one terminal illness, but, as always, the Lord knows best.’ Such was his acceptance of God’s providence.
Each chapter contains a rendering or version of the psalm, followed by a commentary peppered with rich quotations, then more prayers, quotations, and stories, and concluding with his testimony to God’s faithfulness. The simplicity of his testimonies is striking and instructive, and often disguises the profundity of the spiritual help they will give to the attentive reader.
I can see this little volume being used in several different ways. It could be read straight through, like any other book, of course, but it could also be a helpful companion to any preacher or teacher working through an exposition of Psalm 23. Again, it could be read devotionally, a section at a time, perhaps a chapter per day, over 10 days (since Calhoun considers the psalm in 10 parts), but such a devotional use could be extended by a continued daily use of the various versions of Psalm 23 in the addendum. And don’t fail to read the notes in the bibliography at the end. You will get a feel for the author’s wide reading in the book’s citations, and his annotations of books will give you an insight into how best to benefit from them.
One of the books David edited and introduced is Prayers on the Psalms. These prayers were composed in French by Huguenot minister and martyr Augustin Marlorat, and then later translated into English and included in the Scottish Psalter of 1595. The prayer for Psalm 23 reads:
Eternal and Everlasting Father, fountain of all felicity, we render thee praise and thanks that thou hast made known to us our Pastor and Defender who will deliver us from the power of our adversaries. Grant unto us that we, casting away all fear and terror of death, may embrace and confess thy truth, which it has pleased thee to reveal to us by thy Son, our Lord and sovereign Master, Christ Jesus. Amen.
David Calhoun spent almost half his life walking through the valley of the shadow of death in his long battle with cancer. He has now stepped out of the shadows into the reality. A Sheep Remembers renders to the Father praise and thanks, for revealing to him the Son, Christ Jesus, the great Shepherd of the Sheep (Heb. 13:20), whom he now sees face to face.