Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE DIVINE SHEPHERD'S TREATMENT OF THE FLOCK.
1. He goes before them. Like an Oriental shepherd, Christ does not drive his flock from him; he draws them to him. This he has done in the whole tenor of his human life - in his circumstances, his character, his toils, his sufferings and death, his glory.
2. He calls them by name. This implies individual knowledge of all the sheep, whom he not merely marks, but actually names. Thus he denotes his property in them, his interest in their welfare.
3. He leads them out into green pastures, and calls them to follow him thither. His command takes the form of invitation. The attraction of his love induces his sheep to follow him. He conducts them to the pastures where he feeds them, to the fold where he protects them.
II. THE RESPONSE OF THE FLOCK TO THE LANGUAGE AND TREATMENT OF THE DIVINE SHEPHERD.
1. They hear and know his voice. Christ's tones, when he speaks to his own, are gentle and kind; his language is compassionate and encouraging, His voice is, therefore, suited especially to the timid, the feeble, the helpless. To all such it is sweet, cheering, and comforting. The people of Christ are deaf to other voices, but are attentive to this its charm is felt, its authority is recognized. They have heard it before; they know it and love it; they distinguish it from every other. Gratefully and gladly do they hear the voice of the Beloved.
2. They obey and follow him. The voice is enough. The true sheep do not wait for the crook, the staff; they are obedient to the Shepherd's word of gentle authority. It is enough for them that the way in which they are led is his way. "He that followeth me," says Christ, "shall not walk in darkness." There is no questioning, no hesitation, no delay; the sheep follow whither the Shepherd leads. Thus they have rest and peace. They fear no danger and no foe while their Pastor watches over them and defends them. They need not ask why such a path is marked out for them, for they have perfect confidence in their Divine Leader. They need not ask whither they are going, for they are satisfied if they are in the pasture and the fold of him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. - T.
I. THE GREAT PROMISE CONNECTED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE VOICE OF JESUS. See vers. 27 and 28, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." As there are gifts for sheep corresponding to their nature and needs, so there are gifts for men. As the shepherd gives to the sheep sustenance for its natural life, making it his business and responsibility to find out the green pastures and still waters, so Jesus is the Shepherd who gives to his sheep eternal life, introducing them to a scene of growth and occupation and blessedness to which he alone has the key. Thus also Jesus stands between his flock and peril. There is that goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. There is that would drive every Christian into unbelief and backsliding and love of this present evil world, and so into ultimate destruction. But Jesus stands as the good Shepherd, armed at every point against every foe.
II. ALL IS USELESS UNLESS THE SHEEP KNOW THE VOICE. Ample provision is nothing unless the sheep come to make use of it. The bravery and vigilance of the Shepherd are all in vain if the sheep wander out of earshot. Even a sheep must do something to contribute to its own nourishment and security, and how much more a human being? If we would attain the very height of life and be invulnerable at every point, we must know the voice of Jesus. And yet though the sheep, silly, stupid thing as it is often reckoned, knows its shepherd's voice, the children of men, those for whom Jesus has stored up such abundance of the bread of life, and to whose salvation he has devoted himself, know not his voice. Oftentimes, too, the knowledge of that voice has to come very gradually.
III. OUR OWN NEEDY AND DANGEROUS POSITION MUST BE PERCEIVED. We must comprehend why the voice of Jesus speaks to us at all. That voice sounds out because of need and danger. The sheep and shepherd, as it were, make up one whole. Unless we feel our need to know the voice of Jesus, we never can know that need. Mere reading of his words is not knowing his voice. The voice of Jesus must become familiar just as every other voice does. There must be a beginning. There must be attentiveness. We may hear that voice continually if we choose to hear it, and take the right way to hear it. Nothing is easier than to stop our ears. The din of the world's babble will easily drown the voice that speaks to us of support and salvation. All hangs on our willingness to listen. We carry our needs about with us, wrapt in the complications and anxieties of our lives, and we must carry our Shepherd about with us too. If we are as much alive to our needs and dangers as Jesus is, then all will be right; for his voice is ever sounding in the midst of need and danger. - Y.
I. THE POSITION OF CHRIST IN RELATION TO SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS. "I am the Door."
1. He is the Medium of admission to these blessings.
(1) He effected an entrance to them. "He is the Way." When man sinned, the door of heaven was closed to him; and when he looked up thither, there was no opened door there. But Christ opened it and established communication between heaven and earth; and as man gazed up, he saw a door opened in heaven. When Christ left heaven for earth he left the door ajar, and opened a new and a living way for man to enter.
(2) He is the absolute Provider and Proprietor of these blessings. By sin, man contracted new wants; by suffering, Jesus provided for them, and purchased for man all the spiritual blessings he requires. Thus he is their absolute Provider and Proprietor.
(3) As such he is naturally the Guardian of these blessings. He has an absolute right and power to admit or reject. He is the Door. He has made a fold for the sheep, his visible Church, and fenced it round with his commandments and directions, where his faithful followers enjoy fellowship with each other and with him during their pilgrimage here. He is the Door of this visible fold, as well as that of the invisible and vaster realm of all spiritual blessings. He is the Door, not arbitrarily but naturally, in virtue of what he is in himself, the Son of God; and in virtue of what he is to the sheep, their Purchaser, Provider, and sole Proprietor.
2. He is the only Medium of admission to spiritual blessings.
(1) There is but one medium of admission. This is Christ, and he is one. He here is but "one Lord, one faith," etc. There is but one Door, "one Mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus."
(2) Others may assume the position. And, as a fact, this was the case, and our Lord refers to it. Some had come before him, professing to be Messiahs, assuming his titles, prerogatives, and position as the doors and shepherds of the sheep. As before Christ, so after him, many assume his position as the mediums of admission to God and the blessings of his love and mercy.
(3) Their assumption of his position at once fixed their character in the spiritual world. They are thieves and robbers, lacking the right to and adaptation for the position they assume. In our world there is evil as welt as good, the false as well as the true, the counterfeit as welt as the genuine coin. There is spiritual wickedness in high places, and one of its most cunning and villainous forms is to assume the position of Christ as the door of spiritual privileges, as they stand between sinners and the Savior, between the world and the light, and is pronounced by our Lord as the most daring usurpation, and the vilest spiritual theft and robbery.
(4) Their claims to this position were resisted by the true and faithful. "But the sheep did not hear their voice." Christ has had sheep in every age, and they instinctively distinguish between the true and the false. The instincts of truth are against falsehood, and those of right are against wrong. Those who have truth will be on its side. Spiritual thieves anti robbers are betrayed by their voice, their principles, doctrines, and practices, and the ear of truth and faith will not listen to them; their voice is repelling, and not attractive. So that the position of Christ as the Door is defended not only by his absolute right and fitness, but by the sheep.
II. THE CONDITION ON WHICH THESE BLESSINGS ARE TO BE ENJOYED. "By me if any man enter in." This involves:
1. Full recognition of Christ's authority as the medium of admission, lie is the Door, and must be acknowledged as such.
2. Genuine faith in his fitness and resources as the spiritual Provider of the soul.
3. Implicit submission and obedience to his will and commands. Entrance must be made, and that by him.
4. There is but one condition for all. "By me if any man enter," let him be rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. There is but one door. There is not one door for the rich and another for the poor, etc.; but only one. And as there is only one door, there is but one condition of enjoyment, viz. entrance by it.
III. THE PRECIOUS BLESSINGS ENJOYED ON THIS CONDITION. Sonic of them are pointed out here. "By me if any man enter," etc.
1. Perfect safety.
(1) Safety from inward damagers. We are in great danger from our inward foes, the corruption of our nature, our evil passions, our inordinate appetites, our secret and besetting sins, the treachery and deceptiveness of our hearts. And often we are in greater danger from treachery within than from open hostility without (Gordon at Khartoum). But in the fold of Christ we are safe from all this.
(2) Safety from outward dangers. Believers have a host of outward and open foes, headed by the arch-enemy of the soul, the devil, who is as a "roaring lion," etc. But in the custody of Christ they shall be safe from these.
2. Perfect freedom. The Christian while in this world cannot be always in the holy of holies of devotion; he must go out into his daily occupation. It is a Divine and general law that "man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening."
(1) This freedom is perfect. It is the freedom of the highest law, the proper law of the soul, the law of filial obedience, reverence, and love. The safety of the soul in Christ is not that of bondage, but of perfect freedom - freedom which is compatible with and productive of the most perfect order, harmony, and happiness. "He shall go in and out." He goes out, but comes in again.
(2) There is freedom of movement. "Shall go in and out," at home or abroad. The believer is free to go to any part of this world; it is his Father's house and his own inheritance.
(3) There is freedom of action. Within the law of his new life, the Christian may do whatever he likes, and be engaged in any trade or business which is legitimate, from wielding a shovel to wielding a scepter. He is the very man for this; he sanctifies every labor and service.
(4) There is freedom of thought. The only real free thinker in the world is he who has been made free by the truth, tic who thinks without Divine guidance is a slave and a libertine; but the custody of Christ is safe freedom and free safety,
3. Intimate fellowship with Christ. How intimate we are with the doors of our houses! We can neither come in nor go out but by the door - a faint symbol of believers' intimate fellowship with Christ. He is the Door.
4. Ample provisions. "And find pasture."
(1) It is sought. Finding implies seeking. The sheep go in and out in search of pasture. The soul, by faith in all its movements, seeks spiritual food and support. It is to be found in connection with intense desire, effort, and search.
(2) By seeking it is certainly found. "And shall find pasture." In Christ there are spiritual provisions for the soul, in abundance, suitability, and variety; they are as various and abundant as the soul's wants. Supporting grace, Divine forgiveness and peace, etc.
(3) It is found without, in the occupations of life. If the Christian is an agriculturist, in the garden the flowers will naturally remind him of the "Rose of Sharon," etc. When following the flock, naturally wilt he think of the "Lamb of God." The beautiful landscape around will bring to faith visions of a more beautiful land - the fair land of promise; and even the failure of his crops will often give him a rich feast of joy in the Lord. If he is a mariner, the storms of the voyage will make him strive and sigh for the desired haven, where every storm will be forever hushed. If he is a merchant, this will bring his mind in closer contact with treasures more to be desired than gold, and more precious than rubies. If he is a man of science, he can hear the heavens declare the glory of God, and see the works of his fingers everywhere; and should the Christian happen to wander into the land of doubt and sin, he will find there the bitter herb of godly sorrow, which will act as a tonic to his soul. And even the valley of the shadow of death to him will not be barren, for even there he will find the comfort of his Shepherd's staff and rod; yea, the Shepherd himself.
(4) It is found withies. In God's Word; in private devotion; in quiet meditations; in Christ's fold; in the fellowship of saints; in the services of the sanctuary, which is the house of God and the very gate of heaven; and often in thought and faith he steals away to the happy land, and revels in the green pastures beside the still waters. He spends many a happy moment beyond the stars, among the redeemed throng, gazing upon the throne, and on him who sits upon it. Whether in or out, in Christ he shall find pasture, until at last, by Divine invitation, he shall enter into the joy of his Lord, to go out no more forever.
1. The revelation of Christ as the Door of spiritual blessings was now very natural and timely. He saw the multitudes like sheep without a shepherd. Judaism had become barren and persecuting, and incapable of supplying the spiritual wants of the people. Souls were hungry for food, and longing for shelter. The healed blind man was among the first to knock for admittance, and, as Christ was the Door, it was now time for him to say so openly.
2. Christ as the Door is a befitting introduction to the blessings within. You can form a fair opinion by the door of what to expect inside. Sometimes we are not inclined to go further than the door. But Christ, as the Door to God and all spiritual blessings, is most attractive and worthy, and when you enter there is no disappointment in it.
3. The great thing in order to enjoy the riches of Divine grace is to find the door. Christ as the Door is most conspicuous and convenient. Where the gospel is fully known, the difficulty almost is not to find it. It publishes itself. "I am the Door."
4. There are thousands in search for the door and cannot find it. And, alas! there are thousands in gospel lands dying at the door, and will not enter. There is only a door between them and life eternal. - B.T.
I. MAN'S SPIRITUAL CONDITION IS SUCH AS TO MAKE A DOOR LIKE THIS MOST DESIRABLE, A door presumes a "within" and a "without." If those on the outside are exposed to want, to danger, to misery; and if those within enjoy all the advantages which the excluded wanderers lack - in such a case, the interest attaching to the door of ingress is manifest. Now, the spiritual state of sinful men is pitiable and distressing. In God is all good; apart from God no true good is accessible to man. The way to God is, then, to us a matter of vital importance. Christ declares himself to be such a Way. He is the Door; by which, translating the language from that of poetry to that of theology, we understand he is the "one Mediator between God and man."
II. CHRIST IS THE DOOR BY WHICH MEN MAY ENTER IN AND ENJOY THE GREATEST BLESSINGS PROVIDED BY GOD.
1. The door of the fold admits the sheep to Divine pasture; and they who accept Christ's mediation find at their disposal all the provision of God's spiritual bounty. That the soul as well as the body needs food, is plain. The knowledge of God, the favor of God, the gracious help of God, - without such provision the soul is starved. The way by which these blessings may be attained is that pointed out in the text. Christ is the Door, by which if any man enter in he shall find pasture.
2. The door of the fold admits the sheep to Divine security; and they who shelter themselves in Christ are safe from every harm and every foe. If the flock are left unprotected, they are exposed to dangers of two kinds; they are likely to wander among the precipices of the dark mountains, and they are liable to be attacked by ravening wolves and other beasts of prey, or to become the spoil of robbers and marauders. Similarly, it should be impressed upon the minds, especially of the inexperienced, that this life is full of perils to all the children of men, that temptations and spiritual enemies abound. There is no security out of Christ. But whilst those without the door are exposed to death, Christ secures to his flock the blessing of life, and that in abundance.
3. The door of the fold admits the sheep to Divine society; and through Christ his people partake the hallowed and happy fellowship of all who are his. Without are the enemies; within are the friends. The fellowship of the flock is among the choicest privileges to which Christians are introduced; but it is Christ himself who introduces them. Only through the door can this society be reached and enjoyed. Those who gather within the fold are together partakers of the love and care of the Shepherd. Theirs is the congenial companionship of God's blessed home.
III. CHRIST, AS A DOOR, HAS CERTAIN QUALITIES WHICH MAY AWAKEN OUR GRATITUDE.
1. He is a strong Door. His strength is used to resist the incursion of any invader or foe, and thus to protect the members of the fold. Christ is to his people a bulwark against every, evil.
2. He is to those who wish to enter into the enjoyment of spiritual blessings an open Door. Sometimes a door is used for excluding those without, in a spirit of churlishness. There is nothing like this in the posture, the bearing, of the Lord Jesus. This door is indeed shut to unbelief and hardness of heart, but is ever open to the lowly, faithful, and contrite.
3. He is the only Door. Those who seek another entrance are like such as climb over the wall. There is none other Name whereby we can be saved.
IV. FOR WHOSE ADMISSION CHRIST, THE DOOR, IS INTENDED. Two classes are mentioned in the context, as contemplated in the benefits of this Door.
1. The under-shepherds, or those who are engaged in the spiritual tuition and guidance of their fellow-men. These are bound to enter in by the Door into the sheepfold. Spiritual pastors must find Christ before they can truly feed the sheep.
2. The sheep themselves enter by this Door, and by this only, into the fold of God. These are they whom the good Shepherd came to seek and find, when they were lost in the wilderness. These are they for whom the Shepherd laid down his precious life.
APPLICATION. Those who have entered by the Door, and are within the fold, should rejoice with gratitude. Those who are without should seek at once to enter by this Door. - T.
hope of a Messiah. To see and in some measure grasp this hope was essential to every true Israelite. Whether such a one was a shepherd or a sheep of the flock, his faith in a present God embraced at the same time the promise of a Redeemer to come. Hence our Lord says (vers. 7, 8), "I am the Door of the sheep. All that ever came before me [irrespective of me] were thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them." But now that the Messiah had come, his mission was not to destroy, but to fulfill; not to disappoint, but to expand, to exceed the hopes of God's ancient people. And so, lifting up his eyes, Jesus sees before him a wider horizon, a richer pasture, and room for a larger flock than any Israelite had thought of. He even drops the image of a fold for the moment, or rather widens it out indefinitely, and speaks of himself as the Door - the one way of entrance into the blessings of his own kingdom. "I am the Door," etc. Thus, by means of a simple image, Christ places himself between the whole human race and true blessedness. This is one of his world-wide, universal claims which at once distinguish him from all other prophets and teachers whom God has ever sent. They could point out to their fellows more or less clearly the path of life; Christ alone said, "I am the Way." In moments of rapture they could sing themselves, or teach others to sing," Open to me the gates of righteousness, and I will enter into them." Christ said, "I am the Door: let every man enter in by me." He said this calmly at the first, amid the captious Pharisees who surrounded him; and wherever his gospel is preached or his Name made known, he says it still. To the happy and to the miserable, to the virtuous and to the vicious, to young and old, to the great ones of the earth and to men of low estate, to every class of character and to each isolated individual, he says, "If you would know what true life is, if you would escape from imminent peril into a land of peace, 'I am the Door.'" The text divides itself. In the first part of it -
I. CHRIST CLAIMS TO BE THE PORTAL OF SAFETY, THE DOOR OF DELIVERANCE FROM SPIRITUAL DEATH. "By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved." And he says this with perfect insight into our condition here. He knows what is in man; if some of us under a calm exterior are carrying about with us a bad conscience, or if, reckless and gay to outward appearance, we are afraid to be alone with ourselves or with God. He knows what is around man - the evil examples, the strong temptations that enslave so many wills, the false lights and the delusive hopes that blind so many understandings. And he knows what is before man; for the veil that hides the future from our view is perfectly transparent to his eyes; and he spoke more solemnly of human destiny than any of the ancient prophets or of his own apostles ever spoke. So that no man, however profoundly dissatisfied with himself, remorseful for the past, despondent or anxious about the future, can complain that this word of Christ is not for him. He knows you, brother, better than you know yourself - as thoroughly as if there was no other wanderer in this wide wilderness but you. He has followed you step by step; has witnessed your most secret sins, however little you thought of his piercing eye; has seen through every excuse you have made for yourself, and beneath every mask you have worn so bravely before the world; and now that you are weary in the greatness of your way, instead of despising you, or upbraiding you with your folly, he gives you a personal invitation, definite and distinct, to a blessedness that you have never known; and instead of tantalizing you with vague or impracticable counsels, such as bidding you first save yourselves and then look up for his blessing, first undo the bitter past and then consult him about the future, he bids you come to him just as you are, with your burden on your back. "I am the Door," etc. Ah! many a prodigal has trembled to enter the door of his old home; but surely when Christ, the sinner's Friend, condescends to call himself the Door of his Father's house, none need fear to approach through him. Yet to many Christ's claim to be the Portal of safety seems superfluous so far as they themselves are concerned. They admit that his glowing offers of life and salvation are well suited to outcasts and prodigals, or to poor despondent creatures who are afraid to repent; but only to such. In their own case they surely possess the germs at least of a good and worthy character, and while they are willing that these germs should be nourished and fostered by the teaching of Jesus Christ, they can ask from him nothing more, nothing at least that can be called salvation. But how did our Lord himself speak to men in such a state of mind as this? Early in his ministry one of them came to him by night, calling him a Teacher sent from God, and asking for instruction. To this man, this master in Israel, Jesus replied, "Ye must be born again." You need a change of mind and heart which I came down from heaven to give. Yes, and to all who are like Nicodemus he gives the same counsel still. He says, "You need more than some general helps to moral improvement, more than the quickening of your consciences, or the strengthening of your better motives and impulses. Supernatural help, even Divine forgiveness and Divine strength, are essential to you - nay, they are waiting for you; and in order to realize them and make them your own, there is one direction in all the wide horizon to which you must look, one definite step you must take. 'I am the Door.'"
II. In the second part of the text CHRIST CLAIMS TO BE THE PORTAL OF PROMISE TO ALL WHO OBEY HIM. Each one of these, he says, "shall go in and out, and find pasture." For here, as we have said, the image of a fold widens out into that of a kingdom-,a land of promise better than that which Moses saw from the top of Pisgah; a goodly country where there is room for all the flock of God to dwell, and where its wants shall be satisfied. This good land is, in one word, the Christian calling. It is the life to which Christ admits his disciples. Realizing that life and making it their own, they shall lie down and rise up in the Divine favor, and "the Lord shall preserve their going out and their coming in, from henceforth even forever." But what is the pasture they shall find there? What is the nourishment provided for them? In answer to this we have only to think what are the great wants of our being, essential to us as creatures made in the image of God, for assuredly it is these that fall within the scope of Christ's promises.
1. First of all there is truth. I mean the assured knowledge of God and of his will - practical certainty with regard to our position here, and the great realities which surround us. Well has this been called the first necessity of man's moral nature. The understanding craves for it. The renewed heart would sicken and faint without it. But this priceless nourishment is Christ's to bestow. At the great crisis of his life, when he stood before Pilate's judgment-seat, he claimed to be both the Witness and the King of truth. "To this end," he said, "was I born, and for this cause came I into the world." And though his claims were set at naught by the world, they were gloriously vindicated by his rising from the dead, and by the mission of the Holy Ghost, by the outward and the inward seal of the Eternal. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his words concerning God and man, and the broad way and the narrow way, and the cross of true discipleship and the beatitudes of the kingdom, shall not pass away. Evermore they shall feed and strengthen the souls of his faithful followers. And as in a very deep sense it is the Spirit of Christ that breathes throughout the Scriptures from beginning to end both in those of the ancient prophets and of the holy men who came after, so the flock of the good Shepherd shall ever find green pastures and still waters as they meditate upon them. Even now, as in the beginning of the gospel, Christ opens their understanding that they may understand the Scriptures.
2. Another great need of our souls is sympathy, and we may surely say that abundant food has been provided for this craving in the new life of Christ's disciples, which is our gospel land of promise. There is such a thing as the communion of saints. Precious is the fellowship which they have with one another as they sing God's praises together, and as they bow before the same mercy-seat, and as in their assemblies the same thoughts of things which are unseen and eternal fill all their minds. It is well for them when they speak heart to heart of the things which concern their peace, and encourage one another in the good way. But the life and soul of this fellowship is the secret communion which each of them enjoys with God in Christ. To him they can lay open all their hearts. From him they receive help of which they cannot well speak to others. "He is touched with a feeling of their infirmities." Some sorrow may be too deep, some difficulty too delicate, for the ears of their fellow-men; but before him they need have no reserve, and assuredly his Divine sympathy is like nothing else in human experience. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." They "taste and see that God is good" when they enter into the secret of his presence through the open door of Christ's mediatorship, and thus our Lord's great promise is fulfilled, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." Such are Christ's claims, such his offers in the words before us. He does not speak to his disciples of raptures and ecstasies, or promise to transport them to some dreamland where they shall enjoy a charmed or enchanted life. But he says they shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture. Their earthly lot may not be such as they would choose for themselves. The outward aspect of Providence may sometimes be stern, circumstances trying and hostile; but he who presides over all the events of life, and sees the end from the beginning, has promised to keep them in the hollow of his hand. He is their Shepherd, and they shall not want. Throughout the years of their pilgrimage here he will feed them with the bread of life, and refresh them with the water of life, and with these experiences and with his own promises he will inspire their minds with nothing less than the hope of glory. "Blessed are the people that are in such a case" as this! - G.B.
deliverance, salvation, means. Others were animated by selfishness and ambition. The purpose of many who made great claims was in reality far from benevolent. Jesus does not hesitate to designate them as thieves, entering God's flock with the intention of stealing, killing, and destroying. This was a heavy charge; and our Lord would not have brought it had there not been good reason and justification for so doing. The aim and the conduct of such pernicious leaders was contrasted by Jesus with his own. He, too, came claiming to shepherd the flock of God. But his one purpose was this, that through his ministry of devotion and sacrifice the sheep of the fold might have life and abundance.
I. THE BLESSINGS WHICH THE GOOD SHEPHERD CAME TO BRING TO THE FLOCK.
1. Life. Jesus was "the Life;" "in him was life." What he possessed in himself he came to communicate to his own.
(1) This was spiritual life. Not psyche, but zoe. Of this man only, amongst the living inhabitants of this teeming world, is capable.
(2) This life is salvation from death. Our Lord himself contrasts it with destruction. To this terrible fate, to spiritual death, this human race was hastening. But Christ, as a great Physician, undertook the case of those who were ready to perish. He came to save.
(3) This life is a new and Divine principle. Its origin is in the nature of God; its seed-germ is implanted by the Divine Spirit; its spring-tide and growth are the result of heavenly influences.
(4) This life is distinguished by progress, and is not, like terrestrial and bodily life, subject to decay and dissolution.
(5) This life is itself immortality. "He that liveth," says Christ, "and believeth on me shall never die."
2. Abundance. If we translate the word as in the margin of the Revised Version, we understand not the enrichment add perfection of life (abundantly), but the provision made for the life preserved, quickened, perpetuated. The good Shepherd, having saved the flock from destruction, and conferred upon each member of the flock a new and spiritual life, secures for those whom he has saved and divinely quickened a suitable and sufficient provision for all their wants. The fold, the pasture, the living waters, the Shepherd's guardianship and care, may be all included in this word. The wants of those who receive are many and various, but the bounty and benevolence of the great Giver are adequate for their full satisfaction.
II. THE AGENCY AND METHOD BY WHICH THESE BLESSINGS ARE BESTOWED.
1. Christ, the living Person, himself confers them. There are many who look rather to the under-shepherds than to the chief Shepherd. But all who serve the flock are merely the ministers and messengers of the eternal Lord. Not only did he, by his own personal ministry and sacrifice, save the flock from destruction; he, by his perpetual presence and spiritual care, supplies in abundance the ever-recurring wants of his sheep.
2. Christ secured these blessings by his coming to this world. The method by which he sought and saved mankind was mediatorial; it involved his incarnation and advent. This was his conscious aim. "I am come," said he, implying that his was a mission, yet one voluntarily undertaken and cheerfully fulfilled.
3. Even this Divine Person, in executing a purpose so gracious, found it necessary to submit to suffering, to offer himself a sacrifice, to consent to death. He gave up his life (not zoe, but psyche) that we might live spiritually and immortally.
4. And the redemption was completed by our Lord's resurrection and victorious reign. It is observable that in this conversation our Lord Jesus no sooner foretells his death than he declares his intention of rising again. And in fact he resumed life, not only in vindication and assertion of his proper dignity, but in order to exercise from the vantage-ground of his risen life and reign the power he delights in, because it contributes to the abundance of his people's privileges and joys. - T.
I. THE MISSION OF HUMAN SELFISHNESS. We are taught by Christ that there is such a mission in the world. It is as old as the temptation of our first parents by that evil and selfish spirit, the devil. It was active in the world before and at the time of Christ, and to a greater extent afterwards. Every false teacher, every one that assumes Christ's position, or leads souls from Christ and God either intentionally or unintentionally, is pronounced by Christ a thief, and his mission is that of selfishness.
1. Its spirit and aim are selfish.
(1) It is inspired by self-advantage. The thief comes to steal. What is the inspiration of the thief? It is self-advantage and aggrandizement. This is the inspiration of the mission of selfishness in every age. Its aim is self-advantage, power, authority, glory, fame, the praise of men, numerical strength, and predominant influence.
(2) It is inspired by self-advantage at the expense of others. The thief in benefiting himself robs his fellow-man. The principles of honesty and justice are recklessly violated. The selfish teacher is a thief, living on mental and spiritual plunder; gratifying himself at the expense of man and God, and at the expense of honesty and rectitude; robbing man of his spiritual birthright, liberty, and manhood, and standing between him and the light of heaven; robbing Christ of his office and position as the only Medium of spiritual blessings, and robbing God of the homage and glory due to his Name, and of his throne in the human heart.
(3) It seeks self-advantage by cunningness and stealth. The thief attains his ends under the cover of darkness in the night, when his victims are asleep and off their guard. Before the public he studies to appear as an honest man, but behind their backs' he studies to rob them. The counterpart of this has been and is in full play in the religious world. The selfish teacher attains his ends by stealth. He makes use of Christ to rob him, and wears the garb of holiness to defraud it of its reality. In the degree he deceives he succeeds, and deceives by the most consummate craftiness, and his true character is fully known only on the other side.
2. Its spirit and aim are murderous. "And to kill."
(1) It kills the life of the body. If the thief cannot carry his booty by stealth, he will not scruple to take away the life of him who may oppose him. What killed the prophets, crucified our Lord, martyred his apostles, persecuted, imprisoned, and burnt hosts of his followers through the ages? It was this mission of selfishness in its varied forms. Is not its spirit the same today, and are not scores of precious lives taken away by this mission in the Name of Christ?
(2) It kills the life of the soul. By keeping it in ignorance, by standing between it and its true life and elements of support, by lowering its aspirations and centering its affections on things below and not on things above, on its lower self and not on God, on the present and not on the future, on this world and not on the other, by supplying its wants with false and unsuitable nutriment, and materializing its affections, thus it is lost and stealthily killed.
3. Its spirit and aim are destructive. "And to destroy." If the thief cannot steal and kill, he will destroy valuable property. The mission of selfishness in the time of our Lord had not only killed the very life of the nation, but also had destroyed the spiritual food of the sheep with an admixture of human tradition and the devilish spirit of selfishness and murder. Thus in every age this mission poisons the living water and the bread of life, and adulterates the milk of the Word; and if it cannot kill the sheep, it will as far as possible destroy their pasture and spiritual supplies.
4. Its spirit and aim are entirely self-seeking, cruel, and destructive. "The thief cometh not, but," etc. The genius and history of the mission of selfishness are spiritual robbery, murder, and destruction.
II. THE MISSION OF DIVINE LOVE. In contrast with the mission of selfishness, we have the mission of Divine love in Christ. "I came," etc.
1. It is a mission of Divine authority. The mission of selfishness was unlawful, and existed by stealth, robbery, and unrighteousness. The mission of Christ was legal and Divine. He came not as a thief, but as a Divine messenger, openly, according to the Divine plan, to fulfill the Divine promise and purpose. He came in the volume of the book written of him. He came in the fullness of time, in the open day. His appearance was heralded, and he carried with him all the credentials of Divine power and authority.
2. It is a mission of Divine benevolence.
(1) Christ came to give. "That they may have," etc. If we have, Christ must give. The mission of selfishness is to steal, to take away from men what they have, and deprive them of what they may have. But Christ came that men may have; he came to give, to benefit the human family. He came not for his own sake, but for the sake of others. He became poor to make the world rich.
(2) He came to confer on men the greatest blessing. "That they may have life." The Divine life, the spiritual and highest life of the soul, the life it had lost by sin and kept from by a sinful and a selfish mission. This life was men's greatest need; for this they panted, and nothing but this could save them from spiritual death and make them happy. Man's greatest blessing is that which will satisfy his greatest want. Spiritual life is this, and to bring it within his reach Christ came to the world.
(3) To confer this blessing on men was the sole object of his coming. He had no other message. Every other consideration would cause him to remain in his native happiness and glory, and keep him forever from the adverse circumstances of his human life, and from the repulsive scenes and treatment of this world. But as nothing but his appearance in human nature could bring life to a dying world, he came, and this was the sole burden of his mission.
(4) His coming actually brought the blessings of a Divine life within the reach of all. "That they may have life." He is the Fountain, the Author, and Support of all life; and when he came, life came with him; and whatever insurmountable obstacle there was in the way of fallen men to obtain it, he removed; and whatever strength and inspiration they required, he furnished by his self-sacrificing life and death. So that all who will may have it. There is many a mission benevolent in aim but defective in execution; but the mission of Christ, in inspiration, aims, and results, is most divinely benevolent and practically efficient.
3. It is a mission of Divine abundance. It is not merely benevolent, but most abundantly and overflowingly benevolent. "Have it abundantly."
(1) This life is abundant in itself. It contains the elements of spiritual life in all their quickening energies, perfection, and fullness. For Christ is the life; he lived in our world, and laid down his life, and by his Spirit infuses it into the soul, and the soul by faith may appropriate it as its example, model, and inspiration. Christ is our life; as such, it is the highest life possible, and will satisfy the soul's deepest wants and divinest aspirations.
(2) It is abundant in the means of its support. Christ, the Author and Model of spiritual life in the soul, becomes also its Sustainer. He is not only the life, but also the Bread of life. From the fullness of his life, and by the ever-active agency of his Spirit, the believing soul continually receives fresh energy and strength. It cannot lack for anything. The means of support are infinitely full and various and accessible, and are as abundant as the life itself.
(3) It is abundant in the advantages and certainty of its perfect development. This world is most advantageous as the place of its birth, the cradle of its infancy, the nursery of its youth, and the arena of its dawning manhood. It finds advantages of development here which cannot be found elsewhere. The adverse circumstances of life, its trials and temptations, are specially adapted for its first exercises, growth, and confirmation. Its spiritual nature renders it safe from material weapons, and its union with Christ from the hurt of spiritual foes; and even death, which seems to put an end to all here, is made to serve its highest interests - introduces it to its native land, to the very presence of its Source, where all is life, where it enjoys the most congenial scenes, society, and employment, and where it reaches full development, and perfect safety and happiness.
(4) It is abundant in the scope of its enjoyment. When this life outgrows the material conditions under which it exists here, it is born into the spiritual world, the final and natural home of all spiritual life, and time being too short for its full enjoyment, eternity is laid before it to enjoy God, the delights of his presence, the service of his love, and the society of his family forever.
1. We are surrounded in this world with religious thieves. These characters are not confined to the material and social worlds alone, but to a greater extent they are found in the religious world. Some things more valuable than silver and gold are stolen. There are thieves of souls, consciences, wills, and life.
2. We are greatly indebted to Christ for the revelation of the fact. In the light of him who is the Light of the world, the powers and works of darkness are revealed, and the mission of human selfishness is manifested in its self-seeking aims, its cunning and cruel character and destructive results. Thus we are put on our guard, and furnished with the means of defense.
3. The mission of human selfishness serves as an effective background to the mission of Divine love in Christ. At the back we see the dark shadows of the arch-thief of souls with his deluded emissaries, and their spoliations of cunning and cruelty. In the front, surrounded with a halo of glory, stands Jesus, offering eternal life to a perishing world. By contrast how beautiful and welcome his appearance, and how calculated to inspire gratitude and a hearty acceptance of his life! - B.T.
thief, and then with the hireling. In this verse the contrast is with the thief. The thief comes to steal, taking away the sheep from its proper owner. The thief comes to kill, taking away from the sheep all further use and enjoyment of its own life. The thief comes to destroy, ravaging through the fold in pure malice and wantonness, killing the sheep, not for food, but just through devilish delight in inflicting injury. The shepherd comes to nourish and protect the sheep. He leads it by the green pastures and still waters. It shall have the very best, and then it must make the very best of it. So Jesus comes to give and maintain life; and what he proposes he actually performs. Wherever else there may be injury, death, destruction, decay, from Jesus there comes life, and nothing but life. Thus we must look at our deficiencies in respect to life. We do not live as Jesus lives; we know not the consecration, the devotion, the purity, the self-abnegation, that belonged to him. The sheep need a shepherd because they have not in themselves the resources whereby to provide for themselves and protect themselves. The life-giving fullness of Jesus must, therefore, be considered in contrast with the natural deficiencies of men. Listen to other voices, which try to say in their measure that they have come that we might have life.
I. LISTEN TO THE FOOD-GIVING EARTH. Rather to those innumerable products of the earth which God has given for the maintenance of human life. Every field of grain, every orchard, every plot of earth where anything grows that is good for support of man, all may join in one great chorus of proffered service. "We have come that thou mayest have life." But then they speak equally to the lower creation. The fowls of the air sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; while in the sweat of his face man has to eat bread. Then the supply is limited. When every wilderness has been turned into a fruitful field, and every fruitful field has its powers developed to the utmost, the supply will still be limited. Then above every other consideration is that of the difference between man and beast. Man wants a higher life than any visible thing can nourish. When nature can do least, grace can do most. When the visible comes back in impotence, the invisible comes forward in the fullness of its strength. Jesus will give heights and depths of joy that no combination of natural ministries can ever afford. Men who really want to enjoy life and drink its pleasures to the last drop, know not what they lose in neglecting Christ.
II. LISTEN TO THE AIR WE BREATHE. It says, "I am come that ye might have life." To be just a few minutes without it means death. The air of heaven is nearer to an unconditional gift than anything we know. Yet when that air puts out its full force it is the destroying tempest. Notice also how it gets subtly mixed with all manner of corruptions and poisonous elements. Wherever we go we must breathe such air as we find. We cannot take about with us a special stock of pure air for our own use. But those who are willing to take the gift of Jesus in all its purity and energy may have it so.
III. LISTEN TO THE PARENTAL RELATION. An infant left utterly untended would be dead in twenty-four hours. And when we see the love, the constant watchfulness and forethought of parents and guardians, when we consider the necessity of all this and the good results of it, we should be led to have similar grateful thoughts with respect to the ministry of Jesus in sustaining spiritual life. Spiritual infancy, as much as natural, means weakness, dependence, need of constant love and care. How plain it ought to be that God will provide for the days of helplessness in his own spiritual children! - Y.
I. THE INFORMATION GIVEN TO US. We may ourselves be very ignorant of sheep and shepherding; and what should we know of Eastern customs? Hence it is well to study the information given in the first five verses of this chapter. We are to imagine a large fold where a great number of sheep are gathered together. At the door of the fold a man is stationed to keep guard, chiefly, as one may suppose, to prevent the entrance of unauthorized persons. For the sheep within do not constitute one flock. They are not the property of one person. The fold has been made for the common advantage. Each shepherd could not afford to make a fold for himself and employ a doorkeeper of his own. Imagine, then, some shepherd having a hundred sheep. He has been out with them all day, watching them and leading them from pasture to pasture. Then at night he brings them to the common fold and leaves them with the doorkeeper. Next morning he returns to take them out for the day; and how must he find his own amid the mixed crowd? By the simple plan of calling each sheep by name. And so the shepherd takes them out and goes in front of them till the pasture is reached. His voice is quite enough to keep them right. They will not follow a stranger, for they know not the voice of strangers.
II. JESUS CAN SAY MORE FOR THE SHEEP THAN FOR THE SHEPHERDS. He can say this of a sheep, that if a shepherd gives it a name, and then calls it by that name, it will make its way to the familiar voice, even though it be amid a large crowd of other sheep. But take a lad and entrust him with a flock of sheep. Explain to him their ways, their wants, and their perils. Still you cannot tell beforehand what sort of shepherd he will turn out. He must be tried by actual experience, and the name good or bad given to him according to the way in which he behaves.
III. JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD. What power there is in the word "I" when Jesus uses it! We like Jesus all the bettor when he talks about himself. We do not call him egotist. Think in how many respects men are like sheep, and need a good shepherd. In many things we can look after ourselves, but in the most important things we need to be looked after. The true shepherd will not submit to have his property scattered and lost without a determined attempt to save it. He has a special and supreme interest in the sheep because they are his sheep. Every human being has something of the sheep-nature in him. Jesus looks on every company of human beings as a fold wherein sheep of different flocks are gathered together, and he has to get his own flock out of them. We cannot do without some shepherd, and happy is it for us if we have the good shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep, seemed to be destroyed by the wolf, but really he was engaged in its effectual destruction. He has gained for his sheep broad, even measureless lands of green pastures and still waters, where the sheep may feed at leisure without a foe and without a fear. In all those lands no ravenous beast has his haunt. Nothing shall hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain of the Lord. - Y.
know those in whom he has displayed an interest so compassionate and deep. If the members of the flock owe to the great and good Shepherd their safety, their pasture, their all, it is not wonderful that they should know him to whom they are so immeasurably indebted. Hence the natural simplicity of the language in which Christ says, "I know mine own, and mine own know me."
I. CHRIST, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, KNOWS HIS SHEEP.
1. This fact is an incidental proof of our Lord's Deity. Not only did Jesus know every one of his disciples during his earthly ministry; his knowledge extends to all who are his. No one of them is lost and overlooked in the crowd; each one is individually known and named. Throughout the long generations of human history, in all the lands where the Christian faith has been planted, the omniscient Shepherd and Bishop of souls has recognized and cared for every sheep of the flock.
2. This fact is a proof of our Lord's special and affectionate interest in the several members of his Church. To know, in this as in many other passages, means to regard with favor and attachment. The Savior's knowledge of his people is something more and better than mere recognition; it is the knowledge of friendship and affection. His capacious heart has a place for every one whom he has purchased with his blood, whom he has sealed with his Spirit.
3. This fact is a proof that there is a special character in the sheep of Christ's flock which the Shepherd recognizes with pleasure. "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" for they possess certain spiritual marks which indicate his property in them.
II. THE SHEEP OF CHRIST'S FLOCK KNOW THE GOOD SHEPHERD, WHO OWNS AND CANES FOR THEM.
1. Their knowledge of their Savior is based upon his knowledge of them.
2. It is a knowledge which is associated with gratitude and affection.
3. It is a knowledge which leads to cheerful obedience. The sheep who know the form and the voice of the Shepherd follow him whithersoever he goeth; and the law of the Christian's life is obedience to the Master.
4. It is a knowledge which prompts to witness. Those who know the qualities of the Shepherd, his power to save and bless, will not fail to make him known to those who need his love and care. - T.
scarcely have a right or fitting thought concerning him but you find it already expressed by one or another of his Scripture titles. Here he calls himself "the good Shepherd," using an image which needs no explanation. Every child knows the allegory at the beginning of this chapter, and has learned from books of travel how the shepherds in the lands of the Bible know their sheep one by one, and go before them, and run risks for them; and, on the other hand, how the sheep follow their leader, and will not go after a stranger. There is abundant evidence how dear this conception of Christ was to the heart of the early Church. Among the pictures so strangely preserved on the walls of the Roman catacombs, where, as far back as the days of pagan persecution, the Christians were wont to bury their dead, the good Shepherd is one of the emblems oftenest portrayed. Fit and cheering emblem for the cloudy and dark day! (Stanley's 'Christ. Inst.,' 100. 13.). But to understand the significance of this image in our Savior's lips, think of its hallowed associations in the Old Testament, and of its deep prophetic meaning there. From time immemorial Jehovah himself had been loved and trusted as the Shepherd of Israel, and the greatest earthly guides whom he gave to his people were described as under-shepherds who fulfilled his will. "Thou leadest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalm 67:20); "He chose also David his servant," etc. (Psalm 78:70, 71). But more, when the great days of Jewish prophecy came round, how wondrously was the advent of a Divine Shepherd foretold who should never cease to feed the flock of God. Isaiah cried, "The Lord God... shall feed his flock like a shepherd." Ezekiel echoed and prolonged the cry (Ezekiel 34:12). Thus prophetic visions were realized and prophetic voices were fulfilled when Christ said, "I am," etc. On many grounds Christ could claim this title, but his own words in the text give prominence to a special and mutual tie between the good Shepherd and his flock. "I know my own, and my own know me," etc.
I. THESE WORDS WERE FULFILLED IN THE DAYS OF OUR LORD'S FLESH. Even then it was with a sure and Divine intuition that he looked into the hearts of men. This was more than the strange gift of discernment which men of genius have sometimes shown in choosing followers. "He knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him;" and, on the other hand, he recognized those whom the Father had given him, and whose souls were prepared or preparing to receive the good seed of the kingdom. Do any say, "How was this?" seeing he had emptied himself even of his omniscience, and was found in fashion as a man? Enough to reply that the Spirit that was given to him without measure was "a spirit of wisdom and understanding," so that "he did not judge after the sight of his eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of his ears." And hence he never was mistaken in his estimate of human character - never met with a refusal when he said authoritatively to one and another, "Follow me!" When he saw Nathanael coming to him he said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." When he beheld Simon the son of Jonas, he gave him a new name, which Peter in the long run justified. And when he found Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom he counted on that publican's obedience, and made him a disciple with a word. And so he gathered about him a flock - it was in those days but a little flock - which continued faithful to him to the end; and though there was a wolf among them in sheep's clothing, it was Judas himself, and not his Master, who was deceived. And he adds, "My own know me, even as I know the Father." Not, indeed, with an absolutely pure and unclouded knowledge such as-his was, unimpaired by occasional error or mistake, but with a knowledge which was real and true and spiritual. According to the measure of theft faith Christ's own disciples knew him, even as he knew the Father. As they heard his words and saw his mighty works and marked his steps, there flashed on their minds, shining through the veil of his flesh, a light that carried its own evidence along with it, at once awe-inspiring and attractive. In the language of John, "They beheld his glory" (John 1:14). Hence they regarded him as One immeasurably above themselves, never questioning his authority, or doubting his faithfulness, or presuming to weigh in their petty balances his mighty claims. And when he said to them on one occasion, "Will ye also go away?" Peter, making himself the spokesman of the rest, replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." Thus the flock knew its Shepherd.
II. THESE WORDS HAVE A PERMANENT APPLICATION, FOR IN THEIR FULNESS OF MEANING THEY BELONG TO OUR LORD IN HIS GLORIFIED STATE. It was as the great Shepherd of the sheep that he was brought again from the dead, and when he ascended into heaven he only left behind him the limitations of his earthly life. Already he had promised to be with his disciples array, even to the end of the world. He was to be their Shepherd still. Hence in the subsequent Scriptures we never read of any of his flock deploring his departure as a loss, or saying, like the sisters of Bethany, "Lord, if thou hadst been here," etc.; on the contrary, we find them rejoicing more in his spiritual presence than they had ever done in his bodily presence.
1. In how many senses may it be said that he knows his own! Their number is within the ken of his omniscience, and there are hidden ones among them unperceived by man, but precious in his sight, because he sees the mark of God in their foreheads. He has a smile of recognition for their "works, and charity, and service, and faith, and patience," well pleased that they have not received the grace of God in vain. And when their spirit is overwhelmed within them, and their path is lonely and their burden such as friends cannot lift, perhaps cannot understand - for who can sound all the depths of a brother's heart? - then he knoweth their way, and his perfect knowledge takes the form of tender sympathy and help from above. Verily the Lord knoweth them that are his!
2. On the other hand, it is still a faithful saying that his own know him. Not indeed after the flesh, as was the privilege, if we should not rather say the perplexing ordeal, of his first disciples, but in spirit and in truth. They have had experience of his guidance, sometimes very wonderful, always very real; how he has done for them what no man or angel can do, and more than they can well describe, "leading them by the right way," giving them his Spirit - "the mind of Christ." They know his many-toned voice in the Scriptures, sometimes "still and small," as Elijah heard it at Horeb, at other times "like the sound of many waters," as John heard it at Patmos; so that they have no need to say, "Who shall ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from above?" etc. (Romans 10:6, 7), no need to cross land and sea to explore the places where he dwelt, or to travel back in thought these eighteen hundred years to realize the days of his flesh. "When his Word is nigh them, in their mouth and in their heart," then is their Savior nigh to them also. And besides all this, they can in some measure trace his footsteps throughout the ages; for what is the history of the Church - I mean her sacred and internal history - but a long series of testimonies to our Shepherd's power and grace, to his patience and long-suffering? So that these words are as true now as they were on the day they were uttered. Christ has a widespread flock here below. It is for him, not for us, to define its limits. No lines that man can draw will ever avail to do this. Has he not said that "many that are first shall be last, and the last first"? But he knows his own, and his own know him. The fruits of their fellowship are indeed visible and tangible, and may be counterfeited, but not its roots. The strong ties that bind the Shepherd to his flock are among the things that are unseen and eternal. The world cannot break them, nor even understand them. Time does not impair them, death will not destroy them. "He gives to his sheep eternal life," etc. (ver. 28). Blessed are those who can set to their seal that these words are true - who can say, "Yes, Lord! thou knowest my weakness, and I know thy strength; thou knowest my folly, and I know thy wisdom; thou knowest my poverty, and I know thine unsearchable riches. Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee; and can I doubt this, that thou first lovedst me?" Learn from this subject:
1. That the faith of the gospel is a personal matter. Its object is not a principle, or an abstraction, or an unknown and unknowable first cause. or "a stream of tendency;" but God revealed in Christ, whose presence can be sought and realized, who stoops and humbles himself to admit us into his friendship. The text breathes the very language of communion and fellowship. "The God of the Bible is heart to heart" (Bunsen).
2. The deep repose of the Christian life. There is peace in believing. Faith can rest in the thought of an Almighty Shepherd who takes an interest in each of his flock. It is true that Christ "gives to every man his work," and summons his disciples to war the good warfare, and put on the whole armor of God. But at the same time it is written, "We that have believed do enter into rest" (Hebrews 4:3). Deeper than all the conflicts of the life of faith, there may be the peace of God which passeth understanding. Underneath the manifold endeavors of our active nature there is room for quiet trust in an unseen Helper. Nay, the unfailing springs of courage and of patience have their source within the veil. Try to realize this. Surely the words of the text fully imply it. Look up to him who said, as never man said, "Fear not;" "Peace be unto you." Go to him, listen to him, follow him, and the old psalm will be like a new song in your mouth, "The Lord is my Shepherd," etc.
3. Beware of murmuring at your Shepherd's guidance, or rebelling against it. The path which you know is his path may be rough and steep for a time, perhaps monotonous and weary. False guides, pretended "leaders of thought," may point to alluring prospects on the right hand or on the left, and try to persuade you to turn your back on Christ; but they will only conduct you to some mirage of the desert. Rebels dwell in a dry land. Is this your experience? Has the spirit of the world beguiled you away from "the simplicity that is in Christ," and has your love grown cold, and has your hope of glory died away? Take with you words and say, "I will return to my first Shepherd, for then was it better with me than it is now." Believe in his infinite grace and goodness. He will restore your soul, and lead you in the paths of righteousness, even for his own Name's sake. - G.B.
I. THIS OFFERING WAS DELIBERATELY PURPOSED. Nothing can be more absurd than the notion of some modern critics, who contend that the Lord Jesus never contemplated such a close to his ministry until within a short period of his betrayal, and that he accepted the martyrdom as inevitable, and in order to save his credit with his followers. The Gospel record makes it manifest that from the early days of his ministry Jesus knew how that ministry would end. In his conversations with his disciples he gave them to understand that his life of service was to be crowned by a death of sacrifice.
II. THIS OFFERING WAS VOLUNTARILY RENDERED. There had been times when the life of Jesus seemed to be in danger, and on such occasions he had escaped out of his enemies' hands, for his hour was not yet come. And to the last he possessed power either to crush or to evade his foes. But when the time came for him to be offered up, he made no resistance. He set his face towards Jerusalem. He acted in a manner certain to bring on the crisis. His miracles, his teaching, and especially his denunciations of the Pharisees, were of a nature to ensure the open opposition of his bitter foes. He withheld his supernatural power when he might have saved himself. In short, he laid down his life as something precious, which nevertheless he was content and ready to part with.
III. THIS OFFERING WAS VICARIOUS IN ITS MORAL IMPORT.
1. Christ died on behalf of his sheep, and in defense of them. This, which was obscurely seen by the high priest, was very present to our Lord's own mind. He had no personal end to serve by consenting to a death of pain and ignominy. It was for the sake of his flock that the Shepherd sacrificed himself.
2. Christ died in the stead of his sheep. As a shepherd may fight with a wild beast that attacks the flock, may receive wounds of which he himself may die, and yet may slay the beast and deliver the sheep of his charge; so our Savior, by his death, delivered his spiritual flock "from the bitter pains of eternal death." Not by way of a bargain, as if suffering were something that could be transferred from one to another, as though Jesus endured an equivalent for the punishment men deserved; but by Way of substitution and moral mediation.
IV. THIS OFFERING WAS REDEMPTIVE IN ITS PURPOSE. "Ye were redeemed," writes Peter, "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish." The bondage of sinful men was exchanged for liberty, their malady for health, their death for life.
V. THIS OFFERING WAS ACCEPTED BY THE FATHER. Of this our Lord was confident beforehand. "Therefore doth the Father love me," he himself says in the anticipation of his sacrifice (ver. 17). It was necessary that this should be the case, that the Father should approve the offering. This language may easily be misunderstood and misrepresented, as if there were something arbitrary in the pleasure or displeasure of the Eternal. But the fact is that the Father delights in that which is in accordance with unchanging reason and righteousness. What Christ did and suffered, and the aim he set before him, was what commended itself to the mind of the God of wisdom and justice. And, indeed, it was by the Father's will that Christ's work was undertaken, and his acceptance of it was the ratification of his own counsels.
VI. THIS OFFERING WAS EFFECTIVE AND SUCCESSFUL IN ITS RESULTS FOR MEN. In this supreme instance, benevolence was not in vain. If the Shepherd died, the flock was ransomed. And Christ "sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied." - T.
I. THE GLORIOUS AND INSPIRING VIEW WHICH JESUS TOOK OF HIS OWN OFFICE AND WORK AMONGST MEN. He was regarded in Palestine, both by friends and foes, as a Jewish Rabbi. But this was not the view he was accustomed to take of himself. He did his daily work for those amongst whom he lived; but he was aware that there was a vaster sphere of service which was truly his. He was the Shepherd, not of Israel only, but of mankind. The majesty of his position and office did not break in upon him either gradually or suddenly. He brought with him to earth the consciousness of a Divine election and commission. And in such passages as this we have a revelation of his mind; and we feel that no mere human teacher or leader could have assumed such a relation towards the vast multitudes here contemplated, but distant in space, remote in time, and seemingly estranged in sympathies.
II. THE LIBERAL, AND COMPREHENSIVE REPRESENTATION WHICH JESUS GAVE OF HUMANITY AS HIS FLOCK. The fold of Israel was very select and very exclusive. The Hebrews were wont to regard the less favored nations with indifference and even contempt. Narrowness was almost the "note" of the Jewish temper. Yet the Old Testament contained no justification for such bigotry. In the Psalms and in the prophets we meet with representations of the purposes of God towards humanity at large, which are startling in their magnificent liberality and comprehensiveness. God's salvation, we are told, shall extend to the ends of the earth; all nations shall sing the praises of the Lord. Accordingly, when we read our Savior's language in this passage, and find him claiming as his own other sheep not of the Hebrew fold, we feel that such language is a verification of his claim to fulfill the Jewish prophecies, to supersede the Jewish prophets, to realize the substance of the Jewish types and shadows. The Samaritans had long ago come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Savior of the world! Jesus now openly declared that the Gentiles were, in the counsels of God, members of his spiritual flock and household. And he was about to assert the mysterious power of his cross, by assuring the Jews that he should thence draw all men unto himself.
III. THE SUBLIME FORECAST WHICH JESUS COMMUNICATED CONCERNING THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD. Observe the several steps.
1. Gentiles are the possession of the Divine Shepherd, and the purchase of his redeeming love and sacrifice. Far away there are sheep which he has, for which he lays down his life, equally with those nearest to him the objects of his interest, love, and care.
2. The time shall come when the Gentiles shall realize their privileges, shall be led by him, and shall hear his voice. Then the Redeemer shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.
3. The ultimate purpose of Divine grace shall be fulfilled, when the unity of the ransomed shall be complete, when there shall be "one flock," and when the Savior shall be acknowledged as the Sovereign, when there shall be "one Shepherd." - T.
I. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS UNITY. They are the spiritual sheep, the members of the true flock. All like sheep have gone astray, all have been sought and recovered by the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, all rejoice in and abide under the tendance and care of the Divine Savior.
II. THE DIVERSITIES BLENDED IN THIS UNITY. The Lord Christ was the Son of man, and in the aim of his compassion and redemption transcended the distinctions which separate man from man. More especially he designed to bring the Gentiles into the fold; these may have been the "other sheep" whose inclusion he graciously purposed. The wall of partition was very high and very strong; only he could break it down. But no nationality, no education, no previous religious associations, were to be allowed to stand in the way of the unity which he came from God in order that he might effect in this distracted race.
III. THE GROUND OF THIS UNITY. Men endeavor to base oneness of action upon community of association or of interest, etc. But in the Christian scheme the basis of the new fellowship and brotherhood is Divine. 'The one Shepherd alone can account for the one flock. His Divine nature, his priceless redemption, his spiritual authority, these lie at the foundation of the Church's unity, and for such an edifice no narrower foundation could suffice.
IV. THE NATURE OF THIS UNITY. This has been more misunderstood than almost any part of Christianity. The translators of the Authorized Version went out of their way to render "one fold," for which there is no justification. The unity Christ desires is not a unity of form, but of spirit; not a matter of mechanism, but of vitality. One Church and another may claim the "note' of universality, but the existence of such Churches side by side is a disproof of the claim. And even within separate Churches there are parties, or schools, distinguished by peculiarities more or less important. But in the spiritual, what is called the "invisible" Church, there is a unity of faith in Christ and a subjection to Christ. The temple is harmonious; it has its several parts, yet it is one. The body is symmetrical, and each member has its function; yet it is one. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."
V. THE HINDRANCES TO THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS UNITY. So far as the people of Christ fail to exhibit the one spirit, it is owing mainly to these two causes:
(1) the lack of devotion to the Lord; and
(2) intolerance one towards another.
The closer the flock draw around the Shepherd, the less is there of misunderstanding, and the more of fellowship. Watchfulness and prayer alone can check the spirit of dissension, and hasten the prevalence of peace.
VI. THE PERFECTION OF THIS UNITY. That this is assured we gather from the emphatic words of Christ, "They shall become one flock." Deferred this glorious realization of the purposes of the Redeemer may be; yet it is certain. The predicted unity shall be accomplished in the brilliant and hoped-for future, of which we know but dimly the time, the scene, the circumstances. The wandering sheep shall be restored, the divided sheep shall be united. And the one flock shall then witness to the faithfulness and the love of the one Shepherd, whose voice all at last shall recognize, and beneath whose sheltering care all shall at last "lie down in green pastures," and be led "beside the still waters." - T.
I. IT INVOLVES THE GREATEST SACRIFICE.
1. It was a sacrifice of life. "I lay down my life." It was his own life, and not that of another. Thousands of lives are sacrificed during war by the existing government; but these are the lives of others, and not their own. But the death of Christ involved the sacrifice of his own life. It was personal.
2. It was a sacrifice of the most precious life. Every life is very precious - that of the flower or that of the animal; but human life is more precious still. Personally considered, every human life is equally precious; but relatively, some lives are more precious than others. The life of the general is thus more precious than that of the common soldier. But of all the lives that have graced this world, the life of Christ was the most precious and valuable.
(1) It was so in itself. What makes man's life more precious than that of the animal, but its being the vehicle of a higher intelligence, and immortal and responsible spirit which makes him at once to belong to a higher order of being? The life of Christ was really human, but it was perfect and sinless. This, together with its mysterious union with the Divine nature, made him to stand alone - a new and a higher order of being. He was Divine and yet human, human and yet Divine, which made his life infinitely valuable in itself.
(2) It was so in relation to this world. To this world how useful was such a life! What blessings of intelligence, revelation, holy example, spiritual communications, and of Divine benevolence it was calculated to bestow! The short time he was permitted to live proves this.
(3) It was so to the whole universe. The value of such a life was not confined to this world, but extended to the utmost regions of the Divine empire. Heaven was in close and constant communication with him during his earthly life, and he with it. How dear was he to the Father and all his holy family! How precious was his life! What a tax upon Divine affections was his death! Nature's gloom on the occasion was but a faint shadow of heaven's mourning. What a sacrifice!
3. It was a sacrifice involving the greatest sufferings.
(1) Think of the sinlessness of his nature. Sinfulness of nature habituates that nature to suffering. But Christ's character was not only spotless, but his nature was sinless. Thus the very idea of death must be to him extremely repulsive, and its actual pangs beyond description painful.
(2) Think of the greatness of his nature. Little natures are capable of but very little pleasure or pain, but large natures are largely capable of both. The capacity of Christ for suffering is outside our experience and far beyond our comprehension.
(3) Think of the cruelty of his death. He suffered the death of crucifixion, with all its attendant shame, ignominy, pains, and agonies. All that infernal hatred could devise he had to suffer.
II. HIS DEATH WAS PURELY SELF-SACRIFICING. To prove and illustrate this, consider the following things.
1. His life was absolutely his own. "My life." No other man can absolutely call his life his own. With the exception of Christ's, every man's life is borrowed; he is a tenant at will, and not from year to year, but from breath to breath. But Christ's life was absolutely his own.
2. He had an absolute control over it. Not merely it was his own, but he could dispose of it as he wished. "No one taketh it from me."
(1) This was true with regard to all men. There was no power in Jerusalem, nor in Rome, nor in the whole world combined, that could take it from him.
(2) This was true with regard to the devil It is said that the devil had the power of death, and in a sense this was true. But it was not true with regard to Jesus; he was sinless, and he was almighty. He could say, "The prince of this world cometh," etc. He had neither a right to nor the power over the life of Christ.
(3) This was true with regard to the Father. In a true sense he is the absolute Proprietor of life; but this Jesus, as the Eternal Son, shared with him, and his incarnate life did not deprive him of this Divine prerogative. Even in that state it was given him to have life in himself. Thus the Father could not nor would not take it from him.
3. His death was purely voluntary.
(1) It was his own personal act. His life was absolutely his own, and he laid it down.
(2) It was the act of his free will and choice. There was no circumstantial and personal necessity, there was no coercion. Who on earth or in hell could coerce him? and who in heaven would? The self-sacrificing idea was purely voluntary and self-inspiring, and to carry it out cost him infinite condescension. He bad to become a man before he could have the power to lay down his life. He could not die in heaven; no one can die there, much less he who is the Life itself. But in human nature death to him was possible and right. It would be a small thing for a Being of infinite power and goodness to boast of his power and right to live; the great thing for him was to have the power to die. With becoming pride Jesus boasts of this. "I have power to lay it down." But all this was from his free and independent choice. "I lay it down of myself." In this, and in this alone with regard to the Father, he claims absolute independency of action, involving his perfect voluntariness - the sweetest odor of the sacrifice.
(3) It was purely voluntary to the last. He could evade the cross, could come down from it, could live on it, and in spite of it and its agonies. "He bowed his head, gave up the ghost," etc.
4. His death wets purely vicarious. Every-man must die for himself. It is the debt of nature. But Christ had no debt of his own to pay. He came under the law of death to pay the debts of others, and. redeem them from the curse.
III. HIS DEATH CALLED FORTH THE SPECIAL COMMENDATION OF THE FATHER. "Therefore doth," etc. For this:
1. As it was for the noblest purposes. "That I might take it again." These purposes were:
(1) The perfection of his own life. His mediatorial life was made perfect through sufferings. He attained a perfect life through death.
(2) The perfection of the lives of all believers in him. The lives of all believers are potentially perfect in his perfected and glorified life; for he died and triumphed, not for himself, but for others. "Because I live, ye shall live also." His life was more valuable when taken again than when laid down.
(3) These purposes were worthy of the sacrifice. There is adequate compensation. Even the precious life of Jesus was thus put out on good interest; there was no loss nor waste, but infinite gain. The gain of salvation to the world, the gain of unspeakable glory to the Divine throne. The purposes were well worthy of the Son and the Father.
2. As it was the fulfillment of Divine will.
(1) The salvation of the human race is a Divine idea, impulse, and plan.
(2) An infinite sacrifice was essential to carry this out. It was essential to satisfy the claims of Divine justice, law, and holiness, and also to satisfy human wants, and to remove sin and guilt and enmity. "Without the shedding of blood," etc., is a Divine sentiment, and it was ever echoed by the human conscience.
(3) The death of Christ fully met this requirement. In the sacrifice of Jesus, Divine love is satisfied and fulfilled. It finds a platform upon which to act, a channel through which to flow, and a suitable instrument by which to effect its grand purposes of mercy and salvation.
3. As it was a special act of obedience to the Divine will.
(1) His death was in obedience to a special expression of the Divine will. "This commandment have I," etc. This command was not arbitrary, but the eternal law of love. The principle of obedience in Christ is as old as the law of love in the Divine nature. But this self-sacrificing act was a special expression of it. And Jesus obeyed.
(2) It was in loving obedience to the Divine will. It was the obedience of love. There is no coercion in the command, there is no servility in the obedience. The command is the natural suggestion of love; the obedience is the natural response of love, the expression of loving sympathy - sympathy of nature and purpose. The command was the expression of the Divine heart, and the law of obedience was in the heart of Jesus. It was the obedience of pure love.
(3) It was a practical and public manifestation of obedience to the Divine will. The Father needed no proof of the Son's loving obedience. But the world, and perhaps the whole universe, needed this, and to them it was most important and beneficial. Christ gave a special proof and manifestation of this in his self-sacrificing death, which called forth a special expression of the Father's commendation.
4. Jesus throughout was ever conscious of his Father's approbation. This was felt:
(1) In his conscious power to lay down his life.
(2) In his conscious power to take it again. There is an inseparable connection between the two. He could not take it again without laying it down, and could not lay it down but in the certainty of taking it again. All have the power of laying down their lives, but not to take them again. Jesus had both the power of death and life, and the latter was the reward of his sell-sacrificing and loving obedience.
(3) In his conscious knowledge that the Father accepted and was pleased with his sacrifice. What can give us such pleasure and strength as to know that what we do is most gratifying to the chief object of our affection? Jesus felt that his sacrifice was accepted by his Father with infinite delight and gratitude. This was like a Divine sunbeam on his soul throughout the intense gloom of his humiliation and suffering.
LESSONS. We have here:
1. The highest example of pastoral fidelity and devotion.
2. The highest example of a noble and self-sacrificing life.
3. The highest example, of filial obedience.
4. The royal road to God's special approbation. Follow the footsteps of Christ, in his self-sacrificing life, in his loving obedience; and this will result in our Father's special commendation and love. - B.T.
I. NOTICE THE GENERAL ELEMENT OF DEVOTION. Upon all self-sacrificing devotion the Father must look with a complacent eye. Because, if the spirit of devotion be in a man at all, the extent and the character of the devotion will depend upon the necessity and the claim. A few have become famous in history, not that they were more devoted than the many unnamed, but their devotion was shown on more memorable scenes. And when God looks upon his own children, from him who was peculiarly the Son of God downwards, this spirit of devotion in them is needful to give him pleasure. For behind this love of God toward his true children, there is love to the dying world, a love that can only be satisfied in proportion as that world receives eternal life. And if that world is to receive eternal life, it must be through the self-denying devotion of those who have received it already. Self-denying devotion is of the very essence of the new creature. And since Jesus stands at the very head of the new creation, we expect to find in him the noblest and most inspiring instance of this devotion.
II. NOTICE THE ELEMENTS PECULIAR TO THE DEVOTION OF JESUS. The peculiar nature and mission of Jesus have to be considered. Jesus could do by his devotion what no ordinary human being could do. He laid down his life that he might take it again. His devotion would have been useless but for this ability to take up again what had been laid down. If he had simply laid his life down, and that had been the end of it, he would have done no more than thousands had done already and thousands have done since, Natural lives have been freely given up that other natural lives might be preserved. Oftener still perhaps they have been risked. But when Jesus laid down his life, the peculiarity lay here, that he did not preserve any other natural life by doing so. Nay more, he who laid down his life made it necessary for others to lay down their lives in turn. Jesus laid down his life to make manifest the reality of eternal life.
1. It had to be made plain that Jesus did really lay down his life. We may talk of laying down our lives, but that is in spirit rather than reality, for our lives are not ours to lay down. Man's natural life may be taken from him at any time. But Jesus evidently had a control over his life which we have not. Most important is that declaration, "No man taketh it from me;" and most important, too, is that other. declaration, "I have power [or, 'authority'] to lay it down." We need ever to recollect all that was voluntary, deliberate, foreseen, and intentional in the death of Jesus. On one side that death is the most concentrated illustration of human wickedness and corruption the world has ever seen. On the other side it is not so much an illustration as a development. Jesus shows us in himself a human possibility turned into reality. It had to be made very clear to him that he might lay his life down. And it has to be made very clear to us that there was nothing suicidal or despairing about this dedication. It was the free action of the wise Jesus, taking the path of duty and love. And let it not be said there was nothing difficult in this. As a matter of history, we know there was difficulty; let Gethsemane testify to that. We should need to have the nature of Jesus ourselves to comprehend whence all his difficulties and agonies arose. - Y.
I. THE CALUMNY ADVANCED AGAINST CHRIST.
1. The real and lasting ground of calumny. It was the truthfulness and purity of Christ's character; it was the justice and severity of his denunciations of formalism and hypocrisy, that incensed the Jewish leaders against the holy, outspoken, and fearless Prophet of Nazareth.
2. The immediate and special ground of calumny. It is noticeable that, on the several occasions upon which the slander mentioned in the context was uttered, Jesus had just been making some high claim to communion with his Divine Father, and to a consequent authority altogether above any wielded by created beings.
3. The real motive of the calumnies of the Jews was, therefore, their moral indisposition to tolerate the highest excellence. They loved darkness rather than light.
4. The nature of the calumny. It was said to Jesus, and of him, that he was possessed by a demon, and was insane. How it could be supposed that such gross slanders could meet with any credit, we are at a loss to say. It is certainly an instance of the malignity of sinners that such a calumny could be invented, and of the credulity of fools that it could be believed.
5. The purpose of the calumny. This was to discredit Jesus, to weaken his influence with the people, and so to aid the Jews in their malevolent aim, which was, no doubt, to bring his ministry to a shameful and violent close.
II. THE CONFUTATION OF THE CALUMNY.
1. It is observable that this did not proceed from Jesus himself, or from his immediate friends and professed disciples. Its effect must have been all the greater from its origin in the minds of impartial. spectators and auditors.
2. The sayings of Christ are declared incompatible with the supposition that Jesus was possessed by a demon. Their sobriety and reasonableness was a refutation of the charge of madness; whilst their justice, their purity, their opposition to falsehood, error, and deceit, were conclusive against the foolish accusation that they were inspired by the prince of darkness.
3. The works of Christ were, if possible, even more exclusive of such an imagination, such an invention as that referred to. Jesus had opened the eyes of a blind man, he had wrought other miracles of a nature most beneficent, he had relieved men from privations and sufferings, and restored them to health, to sanity, to happiness. It was incredible that such deeds of mercy as these could be inspired by the emissary of the foe of man. - T.
I. UNBELIEF IS NOT TO BE JUSTIFIED ON THE GROUND OF DEFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE FOR FAITH. Jesus refers the Jews to two amply sufficient grounds for believing in him.
1. His own assertion, "I told you." The value of such an assertion depends upon the character of him who makes it. There are those whose statements concerning themselves are worthless; but, on the other hand, there are those whose statements carry immediate conviction to those who know them. Jesus always spoke the truth, and he could not be mistaken upon a point such as this, his own nature and mission.
2. His own works, done in his Father's Name. It was not questioned by the Lord's contemporaries that he wrought miracles. If they caviled at them, they attributed them to the power of darkness - an absurdity which was its own refutation. These signs and wonders, wrought by Jesus, have lost nothing of their significance by the lapse of time; whatever evidential value they had, when Jesus first appealed to them, they possess today. Their very character renders them an everlasting and ever-valid witness to him who wrought them. They can neither be denied nor misinterpreted.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF UNBELIEF LIES IN THE DEFICIENCY OF SPIRITUAL SYMPATHY. That there are honest and sincere unbelievers, is not questioned. But for the most part there is in those who reject Christ's claims a lack of that sympathy which assists in a just appreciation of the holy and benevolent Savior. Jesus spoke of the questioners and cavilers as "not of his sheep." They had not those dispositions of teachableness and humility which are conducive to Christian discipleship. Such a disposition as our Lord here attributes to his adversaries is most unfavorable to a fair judgment upon the claims and evidences which are found sufficient by many of the wisest and the most virtuous of men. Only Christ's own "sheep" know his voice, and distinguish it as the Divine voice from the voice of strangers. These only "follow" him, and accordingly have every opportunity of acquainting themselves with his character and the manifestations of his purposes.
III. IT IS THIS UNSYMPATHIZING UNBELIEF THAT LEADS MEN TO CALUMNIATE AND TO OPPOSE CHRIST. This chapter shows us how this principle acted in our Lord's days. We have but to observe what is passing around us, in order to explain upon the same principle the blasphemies and the violent opposition with which our Lord Christ is still assailed. - T.
I. BELIEVERS IN RELATION TO CHRIST.
1. They are his property.
(1) By a double creation. The old and the new. He made them first men, and then Christians - new creatures in himself. They are his workmanship.
(2) By a Divine gift. "The Father, which gave them me." They are the gifts of his Father's love, given to him in trust for the purpose of salvation.
(3) By purchase. He laid down his life for them; redeemed them from the curse of the Law and from sin.
(4) By support. They are not merely his workmanship, but the sheep of his pasture. They are his.
2. They are his special property. Special:
(1) As they were purchased. His dominion is vast and wide; it ruleth over all. The universe is his estate, his property is infinite. But believers are his only "purchased possession."
(2) As they are very valuable. Their value can be to some extent estimated from the infinite price given for them - the precious blood of Christ. He knew their value when he made the purchase. As such they are his special treasures, his jewels.
(3) As they are very useful. The sheep is one of the most useful animals of the fields. Its flesh is food, and its fine wool is garment. Believers are useful, and valuable because useful. Sheep in the East were the most useful property. What would be the richest pasture without sheep to graze it? What would the world be without man - what its scenes without an eye, and its music without an ear? What would man be without faith in Christ and without godliness? The spiritual in man would be a power for evil. The soul would be barren, and the earth morally would be a desert, and would, as in the time of Noah, be utterly destroyed. Immanuel's land would be useless without the sheep.
II. SOME OF THEIR CHARACTERISTICS IN RELATION TO CHRIST.
1. "They hear his voice." This implies:
(1) Recognition of his voice. In the religious world there are many voices - that of the stranger, the thief, and the hireling. It is a Babel of sounds, and Christ's voice is imitated. But believers recognize the voice of Jesus amidst all, and they recognize it as the voice of the Son of God and their Savior.
(2) Special attention to his voice. They not merely distinguish and know it as his, but attend and hear; and to them it is particularly sweet and charming - like the sound of pardon to the condemned, the sound of health to the sick, or the sound of the trump of jubilee to the captives in the land of Israel of old. Even all the golden harps of heaven could not produce such a sweet music, and they listen with attention and rapturous delight.
(3) Willing acceptation by faith of his teaching. His voice does not die away in music and end in mere rapturous feelings. But its teaching sinks deep in the mind, produces genuine faith in the heart, and full and hearty acceptation and assent in the whole soul.
2. "They follow him." The hearing results in following. This implies:
(1) An acknowledgment of his leadership. "They follow me." This is a practical acknowledgment of his right and fitness in every respect to lead. They have every confidence in him, and they fully trust and believe and obey. And they ought; for he is a Leader and Commander of the people - the greatest Leader of all ages, the only Leader and Shepherd of souls.
(2) A practical proof of his influence over them and their adherence to him. "They follow." Why? Because he attracts them. It is the attraction of his Person, character, doctrine, life, love - the attraction of food to the hungry; they are not driven, but drawn; they are filled, and they follow; they are impelled and attracted.
(3) An acknowledgment of their relative position. Christ leads and they follow. The Master first, then the disciples. This is the natural and Divine order. Peter once wished to reverse it. He impulsively wanted to lead, but he was peremptorily ordered to the rear. "Get thee behind me." The shepherd is to be in front, the sheep behind. They generally do, and ought to, observe the proper order.
(4) Constant progression towards his life. "They follow me." He writes a copy, and they imitate. He commands, and they obey. He goes before, and they follow. They are never at a standstill, but follow him whithersoever he goeth. The Christian life is not rest here, but a continual movement after and towards Christ. He is the mark, and his disciples press on towards it, and they get nearer every day.
III. THE BLESSINGS THEY ENJOY IN RELATION TO CHRIST.
1. It is recognition of them. "I know them."
(1) His recognition of them is perfect. He knows them better than they know themselves, and before they know him. "Before Philip called thee," etc. He knows their outward circumstances and difficulties, their inward and real character, temptations and dangers. He knows them personally and individually. Not only he knows the flock generally, but he knows every sheep individually, and can call each one by name.
(2) His recognition of them is practical. He is not ashamed to own them as his. The relationship he publicly confesses. "My sheep." They are admitted to the circle of his immediate friendship, his sympathy, love, and help.
(3) His recognition to them is the highest honor. To be recognized by the great and rich of this world is considered a high honor. How much higher honor it is to be recognized by him who is Lord of all! This is the highest honor and distinction.
2. The enjoyment of the highest life. "I give," etc.
(1) This is the spiritual life of the soul. The life of God and of Christ within. Christ not only gave his life for the sheep, but also gave it to them, as a principle, an example, and inspiration of a new life in them. This is their greatest need.
(2) This life is the gift of Christ. "I give them." He alone could give it. It is the gift of his infinite love and free grace. It is most suitable to the recipients, and worthy of the princely Giver. No sum of money could purchase it, no amount of human merit could deserve it; but the Divine author graciously gives it to all his faithful adherents.
(3) It is the gift of Christ now. "I give them." It is not a mere promise, but a present gift.
(4) It is to be fully enjoyed in the future. "Eternal life." It is a life which has in it the elements of eternal continuance of happiness and fruition, and eternity is at its disposal.
3. Perfect safety.
(1) Safety from inward danger. "They shall never perish." Shall never fall victims to their inward corruption. The principle of life is between them and spiritual death.
(2) Safety from outward foes. "No one shall pluck them," etc. Believers are exposed to outward foes. The arch-thief and his emissaries are ever on the watch for an opportunity to steal and kill. But they are safe. "No one," etc.
(3) The safety of Divine care. "They are in his hand." They are so precious. Cost so much. So prone to wander. Their spiritual foes so anxious to have them as their prey, that they are not trusted anywhere but in Jesus' hand. They can never be taken by stealth. "They are in his hand."
(4) The safety of Almighty protection. "They are in his hand." His hand is in immediate connection with his arm, and his arm is almighty. No one can take them by force. "They are in his hand." The hand of his tender love, of his watchful care and almighty power.
IV. THE SPECIAL GUARANTEES OF THESE BLESSINGS.
1. The absolute supremacy of the Father. "The Father, which gave them me, is greater than all."
(1) Greater than all things.
(2) Greater than all wicked men and spirits. Greater than their individual force, and all their forces combined.
(3) Greater than even the Son himself. In his humiliation, official capacity, and by Divine courtesy, Jesus, as Son, naturally ascribes supremacy to the Father. "My Father is greater than all."
2. The union of the Son with the Father. "I and the Father are one."
(1) One in nature and essence.
(2) One in power and authority.
(3) One in purpose and will
3. The consequent union of believers with both. If they are in Christ's hand, they are in that of the Father; for they are one. They are thus in the impregnable fortresses of infinite power and love. Their life is divinely given and infinitely safe - hid with Christ in God. No one shall, and no one is able to, pluck them hence.
1. True believers have special characteristics. They are known of Christ, and may be known of men. The sheep of Christ are marked; the marks are - they hear and follow him. Thus he knows them, and thus they may know themselves. To those who do not hear and follow, he says, "Ye are not of my sheep."
2. The enjoyment of the blessings of Christ depends upon compliance with the conditions. "They hear... and follow... and I give them," etc. This proves them to be his sheep, and ensures to them the care and defense of the good Shepherd, as well as all the blessings of the fold.
3. In the degree the conditions are complied with the blessings are enjoyed. "They follow me, and I give unto them," etc. I give as they follow. Where there is no following at all, there is no life; where the following is slack, the life is weak; but when close, life is strong and vigorous. The nearer to Jesus the greater the life. The impartation of eternal life is gradual, for the participation is gradual. As we follow he gives. We could not hold it all at once. Let us follow him more closely if we want more life.
4. The ultimate security of any one depends upon the following. The perseverance of the saints in grace to the end is a practical question. It is decided on the part of God. The Divine hand is safe. But is it decided on our part? Are we in it? "They shall never perish." Not in his hand. No one is able to pluck them out of it. Let us make sure that we are in it, and that we slip not out ourselves from it by not hearing and following Jesus. Then the question of our ultimate safety will be practically settled. - B. T.
I. THE CONSCIOUS TIE BETWEEN CHRIST'S DISCIPLES AND HIMSELF. Since they were uttered, the gospel has been carried far and wide over vast continents and to the distant islands of the sea, and it would take long to tell of the outward revolution it has effected, or of the incidental blessings which have followed in its train; how it has added to the sum of human happiness and diminished the sum of human misery; how it has deepened men's thoughts and widened their horizon. But wherever it has taken root, individual souls have consciously owned its power and yielded themselves up to its guidance. No census can count up their numbers. No test that man can apply will infallibly distinguish them from all others. It is only Christ himself who can say, "I know them." But there is one great outstanding fact concerning them which he here gives prominence to: "They hear his voice, and follow him." Among the many voices, some truer, some falser, which reach their ears in this world, there is one voice that is all-powerful. Among the various influences, better or worse, which press upon them on every side, there is one influence paramount and irresistible. And this is a matter of consciousness on their part. It may be more or less vividly so at different times or in certain circumstances, but it is essentially a fact of experience which they would not part with if they could, and which all the world cannot rob them of. They hear his voice, now quickening their consciences and bidding them awake from sleep; or again saying to them, "Peace be unto you;" "Fear not;" or yet again, "Continue ye in my love." But there is always grace as well as power in his voice, and this makes it welcome to his true disciples. When he warns them, they take good heed. When he encourages them, they are of good cheer. Even when he rebukes them, they know that faithful are the wounds of such a Friend, and can only reply, "Speak, Lord; thy servants hear." And the result is that they follow him; for there is a path which he is ever tracing for them by his precepts and his example, illumined as these are by his Spirit - a path which may be trodden in solitude and in society, in health and in sickness, in the busy world and in the family circle, in the secret chamber, by young and old, by learned and unlearned. Of every disciple it may be said that the deepest desire of his heart is to be found in that good way, and, should he wander, to be brought back to it. Sometimes, indeed, it leads him through green pastures and by the still waters, at other times through some dark valley of the shadow of death; but he knows well that to forsake it willfully is to draw back unto perdition, and the very dread of this in his hours of temptation is a salutary thing. Since the day, more than eighteen centuries ago, when the disciples were called Christians in the city of Antioch, that name, first perhaps given contemptuously, has been claimed by multitudes without number. In our own day and our own country it must needs be generally accorded to all who do not care to renounce it. But oh! listen to Christ's own description of those whom he owns as members of his flock: "They hear his voice, and they follow him." The root and reality of the matter is there. Try yourselves fairly by this test. Many bear the Christian name, they scarcely know why. But none can listen to Christ and obey him, in any true sense of the word, without earnestness and purpose of heart.
II. CHRIST'S GREAT GIFT TO HIS FLOCK - ETERNAL LIFE. If life be a great word, eternal life is one of the greatest words that can be spoken by human lips. Who can utter it aright without awe, seeing that its full meaning rises so high above us and stretches so far beyond us? You know that in Scripture it sometimes denotes that state of blessedness which is reserved for God's children in the future; as our Lord says, "In the world to come life everlasting." But sometimes also it points to a blessing realized in some measure here and now. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God," etc. (John 17:3). Both applications of the word are needed to fill up its meaning. Eternal life embraces both the present and the future. It has its beginning, and it has its consummation. The same Sun of Righteousness enlightens both worlds.' The river that gladdens the city of God here below, reappears in the paradise above. And both aspects of the wondrous blessing are brought together in these words of Christ, for he speaks in the same breath of its present reality and of its glorious perpetuity. "I give unto them eternal life [not merely, 'I shall give it'], and they shall never perish," etc.
1. What, then, are the present aspects of this life which Christ bestows upon his true disciples? What does he do for them? What does he give them? As they hear his voice and follow him, imperfectly, no doubt, but unfeignedly, lo! the mists of earthly things dissolve and disappear, the veil is lifted from the holy of holies, and he admits them to communion and fellowship with the eternal God. Ah, this is a blessing which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. There is mercy in it, there is peace in it, there is joy in it, but, above all, there is life in it; for "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Think how this Divine friendship is described in that benediction, which from the beginning has been pronounced over the assemblies of Christ's disciples at the close of their worship, it is called "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," because it is bestowed on the unworthy through the humiliation of the God-Man. It is called "the love of God," because it is the unveiling and outpouring of the Father's heart. And it is called "the communion of the Holy Ghost," because it unites God's children with himself and with each other by one and the same Spirit. We must admit, indeed, that custom has made us s,, familiar with these words, that too often they seem only a becoming formula expected at a certain moment; but the glorious things they speak of can never pall upon the renewed heart. If there is a freshness about each sunrise, as the traveler sees the morning spread upon the mountains, so there is a spiritual freshness about each glimpse of the glory of God. What child ever wearied of his father's smile? What Christian of the light of his heavenly Father's countenance? "With thee is the fountain or' life: in thy light shall we see light." Such are the springs of the life of God in the soul of man; but what are its characters, its pulses, so to speak, or its breathing, by which it may be known in our own experience?
"'Tis life of which our souls are scant; 2. But what are the future aspects of eternal life; for, as its name imports, it passes beyond the frontiers of time, and transcends all the experiences of the present? A change indeed awaits even the disciples of Christ, mysterious, unknown, inconceivable, when this world shall vanish from their sight, and the voices of their friends shall cease to sound in their ears, and when the powers of speech and even of will and thought shall fail them. Passive and helpless they shall leave this stage of existence; passive and helpless they shall enter on the next. But see in the words before us how Christ makes himself responsible, not only for the dread transition, but for all the experiences that lie beyond it. "They shall never perish," etc. He does not speak of his great gift as becoming the independent possession of his disciples, which they themselves are to guard in the solemn hereafter. No, even there it will be the result of the happy and enduring relation between the great Shepherd and his flock. And this is the very thought which the Apostle Paul expands and makes his own in the climax of the eighth chapter of Romans: "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." However far, then, we look forward to the future, we may say this much - that eternal life, in all its stages, will be the continuation and unfolding of what is begun here. The life of grace will pass into the life of glory, but its thread will not be cut, nor its purposes broken off, nor its center changed. Here its frail tent is a body of humiliation; there its dwelling-place shall be a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; but in its root and essence it is ever the same life, upheld by the same Spirit, watched over by the same Redeemer. "All his saints are in his hand," and none shall pluck them thence. What the Ultimate glory of eternal life will be, was morn than the beloved disciple himself could well conceive. He says in his First Epistle, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." And is not this enough? Can your thoughts and desires rise higher? We are taught, indeed, that when the mystery of God has been finished, the children of the resurrection shall open their eyes on a new heaven and a new earth, where nothing that defileth shall ever enter. They shall have congenial society there; the companionship of the loyal and the true. Activity without weariness shall be their everlasting rest. But the crown of their blessedness shall be this, that they shall bear the image of their heavenly Lord. Once in the days of his flesh he prayed as never man prayed: "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." The answer to that prayer shall be eternal life. - G.B.
2. But what are the future aspects of eternal life; for, as its name imports, it passes beyond the frontiers of time, and transcends all the experiences of the present? A change indeed awaits even the disciples of Christ, mysterious, unknown, inconceivable, when this world shall vanish from their sight, and the voices of their friends shall cease to sound in their ears, and when the powers of speech and even of will and thought shall fail them. Passive and helpless they shall leave this stage of existence; passive and helpless they shall enter on the next. But see in the words before us how Christ makes himself responsible, not only for the dread transition, but for all the experiences that lie beyond it. "They shall never perish," etc. He does not speak of his great gift as becoming the independent possession of his disciples, which they themselves are to guard in the solemn hereafter. No, even there it will be the result of the happy and enduring relation between the great Shepherd and his flock. And this is the very thought which the Apostle Paul expands and makes his own in the climax of the eighth chapter of Romans: "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." However far, then, we look forward to the future, we may say this much - that eternal life, in all its stages, will be the continuation and unfolding of what is begun here. The life of grace will pass into the life of glory, but its thread will not be cut, nor its purposes broken off, nor its center changed. Here its frail tent is a body of humiliation; there its dwelling-place shall be a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; but in its root and essence it is ever the same life, upheld by the same Spirit, watched over by the same Redeemer. "All his saints are in his hand," and none shall pluck them thence. What the Ultimate glory of eternal life will be, was morn than the beloved disciple himself could well conceive. He says in his First Epistle, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." And is not this enough? Can your thoughts and desires rise higher? We are taught, indeed, that when the mystery of God has been finished, the children of the resurrection shall open their eyes on a new heaven and a new earth, where nothing that defileth shall ever enter. They shall have congenial society there; the companionship of the loyal and the true. Activity without weariness shall be their everlasting rest. But the crown of their blessedness shall be this, that they shall bear the image of their heavenly Lord. Once in the days of his flesh he prayed as never man prayed: "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." The answer to that prayer shall be eternal life. - G.B.
I. LOOK AT THE GREATNESS OF THE DANGER. The perils of a stupid, helpless, defense-less sheep are really but a feeble illustration of the perils besetting the Christian. We never do properly comprehend those perils. Even as it is the shepherd and not the sheep that really knows the perils of the sheep, so it is Jesus and the Father of Jesus who really know the perils of the Christian. Well is it that we know not all our perils. A perfect knowledge of them might only increase our misery without diminishing our peril in the least. We are to learn the greatness of our peril in an indirect way. We have to learn it by the provisions that have been evidently made. Jesus provides against perils that we appreciate very imperfectly; and perils we make a great deal of, he treats as passing inconveniences. The full power of Heaven is engaged for our safety; that alone should show us the greatness of our danger.
II. LOOK AT THE PLEDGE OF SAFETY. It is not a pledge of devotion and attention merely; it is a pledge of absolute safety. It lifts shepherd and sheep alike into a region where no wolf ever wanders, where no thief breaks through nor steals. It is the defense that comes from being in a totally different sphere of life. Those on board a ship in mid-ocean are perfectly safe from the fierce and mighty sharks that swim all around; safe so long as the ship is safe; safe so long as they keep on board; but let any of them come into the water, and the sharks snap them up at once. But if these same people are on land, they can go wherever they like and have no fear of the shark; they are utterly removed from his element. Each element has its own peril and its own safety. But those who have put themselves into the hand of the great Shepherd, the only Shepherd truly good, as uniting faithfulness with ability, are in an element where all the essentials of life are safe. The intent of our heavenly Father is, not that we should be delivered from dangers when they actually come upon us, but that we should rise into a sphere where dangers will not really come. Observe exactly how Jesus puts it both with reference to his protection and his Father's protection. He does not say that he or the Father will pluck his sheep from the clutches of any foe that may seize them. He goes further than that: the foe is not to pluck the sheep out of the Father's hand. - Y.