BC. Goodpasture used to tell of the time when James A. Harding held a gospel meeting in Clark County, Kentucky. The year was 1877. When an elder of the church was asked about it he said, “It was not much of a meeting. Oh, brother Harding did his usually powerful preaching, the attendance was fair, but the results were negligible. Only little Jimmy Shepherd was baptized.” Jimmy Shepherd was 15.
Someone has said that you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the number of apples in a seed. When applied to the preaching of the gospel that means that you can count the number of people who respond to the gospel to be baptized, but you cannot count the number of good things done in the life of one person who becomes a Christian. Such was the case of brother James W. Shepherd.
Brother Shepherd went to the College of the Bible (Kentucky University), in 1881, graduating in 1884. In 1887 he married Miss Julia Neely. The Shepherd’s went to New Zealand in 1888, remaining there for two years. From New Zealand they went to Australia, staying there for almost three years, during which time he preached in Sydney, Melbourne, Balarat, New Castle and Adelaide. Leaving Australia, he returned to the United States by way of the Orient. He traveled extensively. Passing through the Suez Canal, he could see Mt. Sinai in the distance, but he did not visit the Bible lands. He did visit Scotland and England, and being a lover of books he collected many volumes for his private library and materials for books that he would later write. From 1905 to 1912 he served as “Office Editor” of the Gospel Advocate. He later preached for churches of Christ in Michigan, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee
J.W. Shepherd’s famous Handbook on Baptism was published in 1894. J. W. McGarvey said it was the best and most comprehensive work of its kind on the subject. In 1910 brother Shepherd edited and compiled Queries and Answers, containing questions answered by David Lipscomb in the Gospel Advocate. In 1913 he put together material for another book by Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin. Brother Shepherd released his short, but valuable work on church history, The Church, the Falling Away and the Restoration in 1929. From David Lipscomb’s notes on New Testament letters brother Shepherd prepared five volumes of commentaries published by the Gospel Advocate Company. Shepherd was one of the most productive men of his generation.
Brother J. W. Shepherd passed from this life on Tuesday evening, July 27, 1948. The good that was accomplished in the response of “little Jimmy Shepherd” to a gospel sermon heard long ago, can never fully be measured in human terms. It is when we can “count the seeds in an apple” that we often think the greatest amount of good is done. We are geared to respect numbers more than fruit. The great amount of good accomplished for the cause of Christ by one man or woman of average status in life are the apples in the seed of truth that no one can count. The story of brother Shepherd can be repeated many times over in the lives of others. I have heard of the same scenario in the experience of other well known evangelists. They were just one person responding in the wake of what seemed to be an otherwise disappointing lack of results. Try to count the apples in a seed and you will see the bigger picture!
by Dennis Gulledge