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The chapter we have now begun is closely connected with the preceding one. The parable before us was spoken with direct reference to the blind teachers of the Jewish Church. The Scribes and Pharisees were the people our Lord had in view, when He described the false shepherd. The very men who had just said "We see," were denounced with holy boldness, as "thieves and robbers."
We have, for one thing, in these verses, a vivid picture of a false teacher of religion. Our Lord says that he is one who "enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way."
The "door," in this sentence, must evidently mean something far more than outward calling and commission. The Jewish teachers, at any rate, were not deficient in this point: they could probably trace up their orders in direct succession to Aaron himself. Ordination is no proof whatever that a man is fit to show others the way to heaven. He may have been regularly set apart by those who have authority to call ministers, and yet all his life may never come near the door, and at last may die nothing better than "a thief and a robber."
The true sense of the "door," must be sought in our Lord’s own interpretation. It is Christ Himself who is "the door." The true shepherd of souls is he who enters the ministry with a single eye to Christ, desiring to glorify Christ, doing all in the strength of Christ, preaching Christ’s doctrine, walking in Christ’s steps, and laboring to bring men and women to Christ. The false shepherd of souls is he who enters the ministerial office with little or no thought about Christ, from worldly and self-exalting motives, but from no desire to exalt Jesus, and the great salvation that is in Him. Christ, in one word, is the grand touchstone of the minister of religion. The man who makes much of Christ is a pastor after God’s own heart, whom God delights to honor. The minister who makes little of Christ is one whom God regards as an impostor,—as one who has climbed up to his holy office not by the door, but by "some other way."
The sentence before us is a sorrowful and humbling one. That it condemns the Jewish teachers of our Lord’s time, all men can see. There was no "door" in their ministry. They taught nothing rightly about Messiah. They rejected Christ Himself when He appeared.—But all men do not see that the sentence condemns thousands of so-called Christian teachers, quite as much as the leaders and teachers of the Jews. Thousands of ordained men in the present day know nothing whatever about Christ, except His name. They have not entered "the door" themselves, and they are unable to show it to others. Well would it be for Christendom if this were more widely known, and more seriously considered! Unconverted ministers are the dry-rot of the Church. When the "blind lead the blind," both must fall into the ditch. If we would know the value of a man’s ministry, we must never fail to ask, Where is the Lamb? Where is the Door? Does he bring forward Christ, and give Him his rightful place?
We have, for another thing, in these verses, a peculiar picture of true Christians. Our Lord describes them as sheep who "hear the voice of a true Shepherd, and know His voice;" and as "sheep who will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers."
The thing taught in these words is a very curious one, and may seem "foolishness" to the world. There is a spiritual instinct in most true believers, which generally enables them to distinguish between true and false teaching. When they hear unsound religious instruction, there is something within them which says, "This is wrong." When they hear the real truth as it is in Jesus, there is something in their hearts which responds, "This is right." The careless man of the world may see no difference whatever between minister and minister, sermon and sermon. The poorest sheep of Christ, as a general rule, will "distinguish things that differ," though he may sometimes be unable to explain why.
Let us beware of despising this spiritual instinct. Whatever a sneering world may please to say, it is one of the peculiar marks of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. As such, it is specially mentioned by John, when he says, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." (1 John 2:20.) Let us rather pray for it daily, in order that we may be kept from the influence of false shepherds. To lose all power of distinguishing between bitter and sweet, is one of the worst symptoms of bodily disease. To be unable to see any difference between law and gospel, truth and error, Protestantism and Popery, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of man, is a sure proof that we are yet dead in heart, and need conversion.
We have, lastly, in these verses, a most instructive picture of Christ Himself. He utters one of those golden sayings which ought to be dear to all true Christians. They apply to people as well as to ministers. "I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
We are all by nature separate and far off from God. Sin, like a great barrier-wall, rises between us and our Maker. The sense of guilt makes us afraid of Him. The sense of His holiness keeps us at a distance from Him. Born with a heart at enmity with God, we become more and more alienated from Him by practice, the longer we live. The very first questions in religion that must be answered, are these: "How can I draw near to God? How can I be justified? How can a sinner like me be reconciled to my Maker?"
The Lord Jesus Christ has provided an answer to these mighty questions. By His sacrifice for us on the cross, He has opened a way through the great barrier, and provided pardon and peace for sinners. He has "suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God." (1 Peter 3:18.) He has opened a way into the holiest, through His blood, by which we may draw near to God with boldness, and approach God without fear. And now He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. In the highest sense He is "the door." No one can "come to the Father" but by Him.
Let us take heed that we use this door, and do not merely stand outside looking at it. It is a door free and open to the chief of sinners:—"If any man enter in by it, he shall be saved." It is a door within which we shall find a full and constant supply for every want of our souls. We shall find that we can "go in and out," and enjoy liberty and peace. The day comes when this door will be shut for ever, and men shall strive to enter in, but not be able. Then let us make sure work of our own salvation. Let us not stand tarrying without, and halting between two opinions. Let us enter in and be saved.
v1.—[Verily...I say...you.] Three things must be carefully remembered, if we would rightly understand the first nine verses of this chapter. Inattention to them has caused much confused and inconsistent interpretation.
(a) For one thing, the passage is closely connected with the last chapter. The opening sentence should be read on, without break or separation between, together with John 9:41. Our Lord is still speaking to the hostile Pharisees who asked, "Are we blind also?" and got the answer, "Ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."—It is to them that He goes on to say, "I say unto you, he that entereth not in by the door, is a thief and a robber." He is not so much comforting His disciples now, as rebuking and exposing His enemies.
(b) For another thing, the passage is entirely a parable, or allegory. (See John 10:6.) In interpreting it, like almost all our Lord’s parables, the one great lesson should be kept in view, which is the key-note to the whole. We must not press every detail and little point too far, and try to attach a spiritual meaning to the lesser parts of the picture. Those who do so always run aground in their exposition, and get into difficulties. To this parable, if any, the old quaint sayings are applicable: "No parable stands on four legs."—"Squeeze parables too far, and you will draw blood from them, and not milk."
Calvin remarks wisely, "It is useless to scrutinize too closely every part of this parable. Let us rest satisfied with this general view, that as Christ states a resemblance between the Church and a fold (a sheepfold, in which God assembles all His people), so He compares Himself to a door, because there is no other entrance into the Church but by Himself. Then it follows that they are good shepherds, who lead men straight to Christ; and that they are truly gathered into Christ’s fold, so as to belong to His flock, who devote themselves to Christ alone."
(c) For another thing, the object that our Lord had in view, in speaking this parable, must be kept steadily before our eyes. That object was to show the entire unfitness of the Pharisees to be pastors and teachers of the Jews, because they had not taken up their office in the right spirit, and with a right understanding of the work they had to do. He is not in this part speaking of Himself as "the Shepherd," but as "the Door:" only as the Door. What Christ is as a "Shepherd," comes afterward; what Christ is as "the Door," is the one point of the first nine verses.
The "progressive" character of our Lord’s discourses recorded in John, is strikingly illustrated in this chapter. Starting from a very simple statement, our Lord goes on to speak of the highest truths. We see the same in the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters.
This is one of the twenty-four places in John’s Gospel, where the double "verily" comes in. Here, as elsewhere, it always prefaces some statement of more than ordinary importance and solemnity.
[He that entereth not, etc.] Our Lord here appeals to the common experience of His hearers. They all knew well that anyone who was seen entering a sheepfold by climbing over the wall or fence of enclosure, and not by going through the door, would be justly suspected of being a thief. Every true shepherd, as a matter of course, makes use of the door.
The "door" He afterwards interprets to mean Himself. The latent thought evidently is, that any teacher of religion who does not take up and discharge his office with faith in Christ and His atonement, and with an aim to glorify Christ, is unfit for his business, and unable to do any good. Instead of being a shepherd who helps and feeds, he is no better than a "robber," who does harm. Instead of saving souls, he kills them. Instead of bringing life, he brings death to his hearers.
Some, as Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, and Maldonatus, think the "door" means the Scriptures. Others, as Tholuck and Hengstenberg, think the "door" means a proper divine call to office. Both views seem to me unnatural and incorrect.
Augustine observes, "Christ’s fold is the Catholic Church. Whoso would enter the fold, let him enter in by the door: let him preach very Christ. Let him not only preach very Christ, but seek Christ’s glory, not his own."—He says, again, "I, seeking to enter into your hearts, preach Christ: if I preach other than that, I shall be striving to climb in some other way. Christ is my Door; through Christ I win your hearts."
Language borrowed from the care of sheep and sheepfolds, would be much more intelligible in Palestine than it is here in England. Keeping sheep was much more common there than in our climate. Folds, doors, shepherds, thieves climbing over some other way, would be points familiar to most Jews. Moreover, the use of such language in speaking of spiritual things, would be peculiarly intelligible to all who had read Jeremiah 23:1-40, Ezekiel 34:1-31, and Zechariah 11:1-17.
Brentius remarks on the condescension of our Lord in borrowing spiritual lessons from such humble sources: "What is more low than a shepherd’s condition? Every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians. What more dull and stupid than a sheep? Yet here is a picture of Christ and believers!
Sir Isaac Newton, in his book on Daniel, supposes that our Lord, in choosing the subject of this parable, had before His eyes the many sheepfolds near the temple and about Jerusalem, where sheep were kept ready to be sold for sacrifice.
The expression, "some other way," seems to me purposely very wide. Men may become teachers of the Church from many different motives, and in many different frames of mind. Some may be skeptical, some formalists, some worldly; but all alike are wrong, if they do not enter office "through the Door," viz., by Christ.
The word rendered "the same," would be more literally translated, "that man."
The expression, "thief and robber," is very strong, and supplies a striking instance of the use of a parable to convey indirectly a sharp and severe rebuke. Of course, our Lord could hardly have said to the Pharisees, "You are thieves and robbers." Yet by use of a parable, He says what is tantamount to it.
Let it be noted that these strong epithets show plainly that there are times when it is right to rebuke sharply. Flattering everybody, and complimenting all teachers who are zealous and earnest, without reference to their soundness in the faith, is not according to Scripture. Nothing seems so offensive to Christ as a false teacher of religion, a false prophet, or a false shepherd. Nothing ought to be so much dreaded in the Church, and, if needful, be so plainly rebuked, opposed, and exposed. The strong language of our Reformers, when writing against Romish teachers, is often blamed more than it ought to be.
The Greek word rendered "thief," implies secret fraud and dishonesty. The word rendered "robber," implies more open violence. There are false teachers of both sorts: open Papists and open Skeptics, semi-Papists and semi-Skeptics. All are alike dangerous.
Augustine observes, "Let the Pagans, the Jews, the heretics say, ’We lead a good life.’ If they enter not by the door, what availeth it? A good life only profiteth if it lead to life eternal. Indeed, those cannot be said to lead a good life, who are either blindly ignorant of, or willfully despise, the end of good living. No one can hope for eternal life who knows not Christ, who is the life, and by that door enters the fold."
Hammond alone among commentators applies this verse and the four following entirely to Christ Himself, and considers "the door" to mean the proper evidence of miracles and doctrine. I cannot see this at all.
Bishop Burnet remarks that this parable is the passage above all others which both Fathers and modern writers have chiefly used, in order to show the difference between good and bad ministers. Wordsworth calls the whole chapter "a divine pastoral to Bishops, priests, and deacons."
v2.—[He that entereth in by the door, etc.] This verse contains the converse of the preceding verse. He that is seen entering the sheepfold by the one proper entrance, the door, may be set down as a true shepherd. Such a man, being duly commissioned by the owner of the flock, and recognized by the sheep as their pastor and friend, has no need to enter clandestinely, like a thief, or by violence, as a robber.
The word "the" before shepherd, is not in the Greek. It should be simply, "a shepherd." The omission of the article seems intentional, to show that our Lord is describing true "shepherds of sheep" generally, and not Himself.
v3.—[To him...porter openeth, etc.] The whole of this verse is meant to show the character of a true shepherd of sheep, in four respects. (a) The porter opens the gate to him, knowing by his step and manner of approach, that he is a friend, and not an enemy. (b) The sheep recognize his voice, and attend to what he says. (c) He, knowing all his flock individually, calls each sheep by his own peculiar name. (d) He leads them out to feed, desiring daily to promote their health and well-being. In all these four points he is unlike the thief and robber.
The different customs of Eastern countries, as compared to our own, must be carefully kept in mind, to understand the expressions of this verse. A fold in Palestine was a space enclosed by high walls, not by low hurdles. It had a gate guarded by a porter at night, as the sheep could not be safely left alone. An Eastern shepherd knows each sheep in his flock, and often has a name for each one. The sheep are led, and not driven.
About "the porter who opens," in this verse, opinions differ. Most commentators hold that the "porter" means the Holy Ghost, who calls true ministers into the Church, and "opens hearts;" and that the sense is, "to a true pastor the Holy Ghost gives a call to his office, and makes a way into the hearts of hearers." This no doubt is excellent divinity, but I cannot think our Lord meant anything of the kind. The "porter" here is not said to call the pastor, but to open when the pastor comes; nor yet to open hearts, but the door of the fold, through which the true pastor enters.—The view of Wordsworth, also held by Augustine, Rupertus, Bullinger, and Flacius,—that the "porter" is Christ Himself, who is not only "Door," but "Porter" also,—does not appear to me necessary. I prefer, with Glassius, Grotius, Hutcheson, and Bloomfield, regarding the whole sentence as a subordinate feature in the parable, signifying that a true shepherd of sheep not only enters by the lawful door, but that every facility is made for his entrance.
Some, as Chrysostom, Euthymius, and Theophylact, think the "porter" may mean "Moses."
Others, as Ecolampadius, Lampe, Webster, think the "porter" means the ministers and teachers of the Church, who have the power of the keys, and the right to admit pastors.
Others, as Gomarus, Brentius, Maldonatus, Hall, Whitby, Bengel, and Hengstenberg, think the "porter" is God the Father.
The expression "his own sheep," must not be pressed too far. It simply means that a real shepherd, according to Eastern custom, knowing his own flock individually by name, calls them at once by their names, and proves his relation to them by so doing. If not his own, he could not do so.
v4.—[And when he putteth forth, etc.] This verse is simply a continuation of the description of a true and faithful shepherd of sheep. Whenever such a one takes his flock out to pasture, he walks before them, as an Eastern shepherd always does, never requiring them to go where he does not first go himself. Such a shepherd the sheep follow with implicit confidence, and knowing his voice, go wherever he calls them.
The words of Moses should be read: "Let the LORD set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd." (Numbers 27:16-17.)
That Eastern shepherds "lead" their sheep, is clear from Exodus 3:1, "He led the flock;" and Psalms 23:2, "He leadeth me."
v5.—[And a stranger will they not follow, etc.] This verse concludes the picture of a true shepherd and his flock. It was a fact well-known to all our Lord’s hearers, that sheep accustomed to one shepherd’s voice would not obey a stranger’s voice, but would rather be frightened at it. Just so true Christians have a spiritual taste and discernment by which they distinguish a false teacher, and will not hear him. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." (1 John 2:20.) The poor and illiterate believers often illustrate this in a very extraordinary way.
Brentius observes here the singular faculty which sheep possess of always knowing and recognizing the voice of their own shepherd. He also notices the extraordinary knowledge that the lamb has of its own mother’s bleat among a thousand others, as a curious characteristic of an animal in many respects dull and stupid.
Scott observes that this verse justifies true Christians in not listening to false teachers. For leaving their parish church perhaps, under these circumstances, many reproach them. Yet the very men who reproach them would not trust their worldly affairs to an ignorant and dishonest lawyer, or their bodies to an incompetent doctor! Can it be wrong to act on the same principles for our souls?
Besser observes, "Sheep flee from a false shepherd. They will not say, it is enough if we do not follow this strange preacher in those points in which he holds forth unsound teaching. They will have nothing at all to do with him. They will flee from him as from a contagious disease." (2 Timothy 2:17.)
Bickersteth observes that this verse, and the third, throw light on the pastoral office of ministers. "How much of ministerial influence depends on personal knowledge. Great is the hindrance to the influence when an overgrown population renders it impossible."
v6.—[This parable...Jesus...them.] The word rendered "parable" here hardly bears the sense of the expression. It is rather "allegory," or figurative picture. However, it clearly settles that the whole passage must be taken as a picture of spiritual things, and must be carefully handled, and not interpreted too literally. The Greek word used by John for "parable" is not used in any other Gospel.
[But they understood not...unto them.] The Pharisees appear to have failed in seeing the application of the parable. This is curious, when we remember how quickly they saw the application to themselves of the parable of the husbandmen who killed the heir of the vineyard. But nothing seems to blind men’s eyes so much as pride of office. Wrapped up in their conceit of their own knowledge and dignity, they did not see that they themselves who pretended to be leaders and teachers of the Jewish flocks were not shepherds, but "thieves and robbers," doing more harm than good. They did not see that the fatal defect in their own qualification for office was ignorance of Christ and want of faith in Him. They did not see that no true sheep of Christ could be expected to hear, follow, or obey their teaching. Above all, they did not see that in excommunicating the poor blind man whom our Lord had healed, they were just proving themselves to be "thieves and robbers," and injuring one whom they ought to have helped.
If even One who "spake as never man spake" was not always understood, ministers cannot be surprised if they find they are often not understood now. How little of a sermon is understood, few preachers have the least idea!
Ferus remarks that our Lord’s hearers must have been blind not to see that their own prophet Ezekiel had already shown the application of the parable. (Chapter 34.)
Lampe thinks they knew that our Lord was speaking of them, but could not fully comprehend the application of the parable.
v7.—[Then said Jesus...again.] Here we see the condescension and patience of our Lord. Seeing His hearers not able to understand Him, He proceeds to explain His meaning more fully. This is an example for all teachers of religion. Without frequent repetition and simplification spiritual lessons can never be taught.
[Verily verily...you.] Once more this solemn expression is used, and again to the same hearers, the Pharisees.
[I am the door of the sheep.] Here is plain exposition. Jesus here declares that He Himself is the Door through whom, and by faith in whom, both shepherd and sheep must pass, if they would go inside God’s fold. "Every single sheep must enter through Me, if he would join God’s flock. Every teacher who wishes to be a shepherd over God’s flock, must enter his office looking to Me."
This high claim of dignity must have sounded startling to the Pharisees! A higher claim we can hardly conceive. None but One, even the Divine Messiah, could have used such an expression. No prophet or apostle ever did.
At first sight it seems strange that our Lord says, "I am the Door of the sheep," and not simply "the Door." But I think it is meant to teach that the Door is for the benefit of the sheep more than the shepherd, and that He Himself is given more particularly for all His people than for His ministers. Ministers are only servants. The flock might possibly do without them, but they could not do without the flock.
Bullinger calls attention to the many beautiful figures under which our Lord represented Himself and His office to the Jews, in John’s writings. The Bread, the Living Water, the Light of the World, the Door, the Shepherd, are all in five chapters of this Gospel.
Musculus observes that the simple view of Christ being "the Door," is that He is the Mediator between God and man.
Webster observes, "It is worthy of remark that in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-17), the description of the strait gate and narrow way immediately precedes the warning against false prophets and ravening wolves." The same also may be seen here.
v8.—[All that ever came before Me, etc.] These words, "All, before Me," must evidently be limited or qualified. They cannot be taken in their fullest sense. The prophets and John the Baptist were not thieves and robbers. It cannot well be taken to mean, "All who have claimed to be the Messiah." There is no evidence that many claimants did appear before our Lord, if any. Besides, the word "are," in the present tense, seems to exclude those who lived before our Lord’s time.
The great knot of the difficulty lies in the words, "came before Me." The Greek word rendered "before," has only four meanings: (1) before in point of time; (2) before in point of place; (3) before in point of dignity and honor; (4) before in the way of substitution. Of these, the first two seem out of the question, and we are shut up to the last two. I can only conjecture that the sentence must be paraphrased in this way: "All who have come into the Church professing to be teachers, claiming honor for themselves instead of Me, or honoring anything in preference to Me, such as you Pharisees,—all such are not true shepherds, but thieves and robbers." I can see no better solution, and I admit that the sentence is a difficulty.
Some, as Chrysostom and Theophylact, think "thieves and robbers" mean Theudas, Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:36-37), and others like them.
Euthymius remarks that "all" here must not be taken literally, but is a Hebraism meaning, "Anyone who does not come by Me is a thief," etc.
Theophylact observes that the Manichean heretics wrested this text into a proof of their fanatical view, that the Old Testament prophets were not sent by God!
Luther says, "These thieves and robbers form at all times the great majority in the world, and nothing better can they be as long as they are not in Christ. In fact the world will have such wolf’s preaching, and indeed desires no better, because it hears not Christ nor regards Christ. It is no wonder that true Christians and their pastors are so few."
Calvin remarks, "That no man may be moved by the consideration that there have been teachers in all ages who gave themselves no concern whatever about directing men to Christ, Christ expressly states that it is no matter how many there may have been of this description, or how early they began to appear. There is but one Door, and all who leave it, and make openings or breaches in the walls, are thieves."
Lightfoot thinks that our Lord refers to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, who had long misled the Jews before Christ came, and that they were the three false shepherds whose final casting off is foretold in Zechariah 11:8.
The expression, "The sheep did not hear them," must mean, that true believers, when our Lord came on earth, such as Simeon, Anna, and others, had ceased to put any confidence in the commissioned teachers of the Jews, and were like sheep without a shepherd.
The word "sheep," in this explanatory verse, must evidently be taken in a spiritual sense, and can only mean true believers. Mere outward members of the Church, without faith and grace, are not "sheep."
"Sheep," says Hengstenberg, "in the discourses of Christ, are always the faithful members of God’s kingdom, the company of believers."
Alford says, "The sheep throughout this parable are not the mixed multitude of good and bad; but the real sheep, the faithful, who are what all in the fold should be. The false sheep, the goats, do not appear."
Brentius remarks that we must not hastily assume, from our Lord’s saying "the sheep did not hear them," that godly people will never be led away temporarily by false teachers. They may be deceived and seduced, but will return to the truth at last.
v9.—[I am the door, etc.] This verse is one of those wide, broad, grand statements which our Lord sometimes makes, stretching far beyond the subject of which He is immediately speaking. It is like, "I am the Bread,—I am the Light,—I am the Way."—The primary meaning is, "I am He through whom and by whom alone true pastors must enter the Church. All such pastors, entering by Me, shall find themselves at home in the fold, and enjoy the confidence of my flock, and find food for the souls of my sheep, their hearers."—The secondary or fuller meaning is, "I am the Way of access to God. All who come to the Father by Me, whether pastors or hearers, shall find through Me safety and liberty, and possess continual food for their souls." Strictly speaking the sentence appears to belong specially to the true ministers of the flock of Christ. But I dare not confine it to them alone. It is a grand, wide promise to all who enter in.
Melancthon sees in this verse a most excellent picture of a true pastor, in four respects. (1) He shall be saved personally. (2) He shall go in to close and intimate communion with God. (3) He shall go forth furnished with gifts, and be useful to the Church. (4) He shall find food and refreshment for his own soul.
Musculus observes that our Lord does not say, "If any learned, or righteous, or noble, or rich, or Jewish man enters by Me," but, "any man,"—no matter who, great or small, however wicked in times past,—"any man" that enters by Me shall be saved.
The expression, "go in and out," implies a habit of using familiarly a dwelling, and treating it as a home. It is a Hebraism. It expresses beautifully the habitual communion and happy intercourse with Christ which a true believer enjoys. (See Acts 1:21, Acts 9:28, John 14:23; and Revelation 3:20.)
Augustine suggests that "go in" means entering by faith, and "going out," dying in faith, and the result of it having life in glory. He says, "We come in by believing: we go out by dying." But this seems far-fetched.
Euthymius thinks that "going out" refers to the Apostles going out into the world to preach the Gospel.
The "finding pasture" implies the satisfaction, comfort, and refreshment of soul which everyone who uses Christ as his Door into heaven shall experience. The latent thought is evidently Psalms 23:1-2, etc.
Burgon remarks, "The concluding words describe the security and enjoyment which are the privilege of Gods people. To go in and out is to transact the business of each day’s life: its rest and labor, the beginning and end of every work. The Hebrew phrase denotes a man’s whole life and conversation. The promises connected therewith seem to imply that in their daily walk, it may be in the world’s dusky lane and crowded mart, the people of God will find spiritual support and consolation, even meat for their souls which the world knows not of. Elsewhere the phrase is often, ’go out and come in.’ Here, not without meaning, the expressions are transposed. The former is the order of nature, the latter the order of grace."
In leaving this difficult passage, it is well to remember that though our Lord is not speaking of Himself as a Shepherd here, and is only giving a descriptive picture of a good shepherd, there is a latent application to Himself. There is no one to whom the various features of the picture apply so literally, clearly, and exactly, as they do to the great Shepherd of believers. "Every expression," says Burgon, "has a marked reference to Christ; yet it is plain that it is not of Himself that He is primarily speaking."
Throughout the passage it is noteworthy how much stress is laid on the "voice" of the shepherd, and on hearing his voice. I cannot but regard this as intentional. It is the "voice in teaching" which makes the great difference between one earthly pastor and another. "The shepherd," says Burgon, "must not be silent while among his sheep." It is hearing the voice of the Chief Shepherd which is one great mark of all true believers."
These verses show us, for one thing, the great object for which Christ came into the world. He says, I am come that men "might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
The truth contained in these words is of vast importance. They supply an antidote to many crude and unsound notions which are abroad in the world. Christ did not come to be only a teacher of new morality, or an example of holiness and self-denial, or a founder of new ceremonies, as some have vainly asserted. He left heaven, and dwelt for thirty-three years on earth for far higher ends than these. He came to procure eternal life for man, by the price of His own vicarious death. He came to be a mighty fountain of spiritual life for all mankind, to which sinners coming by faith might drink; and, drinking, might live for evermore. By Moses came laws, rules, ordinances, ceremonies. By Christ came grace, truth, and eternal life.
Important as this doctrine is, it requires to be fenced with one word of caution. We must not overstrain the meaning of our Lord Jesus Christ’s words. We must not suppose that eternal life was a thing entirely unknown until Christ came, or that the Old Testament saints were in utter darkness about the world to come. The way of life by faith in a Savior was a way well known to Abraham and Moses and David. A Redeemer and a Sacrifice was the hope of all God’s children from Abel down to John the Baptist; but their vision of these things was necessarily imperfect. They saw them afar off, and not distinctly. They saw them in outline only, and not completely. It was the coming of Christ which made all things plain, and caused the shadows to pass away. Life and immortality were brought into full light by the Gospel. In short, to use our Lord’s own words, even those who had life had it "more abundantly," when Christ came into the world.
These verses show us, for another thing, one of the principal offices which Jesus Christ fills for true Christians. Twice over our Lord uses an expression which, to an Eastern hearer, would be singularly full of meaning. Twice over he says emphatically, "I am the Good Shepherd." It is a saying rich in consolation and instruction.
Like a good shepherd, Christ knows all His believing people. Their names, their families, their dwelling-places, their circumstances, their private history, their experience, their trials,—with all these things Jesus is perfectly acquainted. There is not a thing about the least and lowest of them with which He is not familiar. The children of this world may not know Christians, and may count their lives folly: but the Good Shepherd knows them thoroughly, and, wonderful to say, though He knows them, does not despise them.
Like a Good Shepherd, Christ cares tenderly for all His believing people. He provides for all their wants in the wilderness of this world, and leads them by the right way to a city of habitation. He bears patiently with their many weaknesses and infirmities, and does not cast them off because they are wayward, erring, sick, footsore, or lame. He guards and protects them against all their enemies, as Jacob did the flock of Laban; and of those that the Father has given Him He will be found at last to have lost none.
Like a Good Shepherd, Christ lays down His life for the sheep. He did it once for all, when He was crucified for them. When He saw that nothing could deliver them from hell and the devil but His blood, He willingly made His soul an offering for their sins. The merit of that death He is now presenting before the Father’s throne. The sheep are saved for evermore, because the Good Shepherd died for them. This is indeed a love that passes knowledge! "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.)
Let us only take heed that this office of Christ is not set before us in vain. It will profit us nothing at the last day that Jesus was a Shepherd, if during our lifetime, we never heard His voice and followed Him. If we love life, let us join His flock without delay. Except we do this, we shall be found at the left hand in the day of judgment, and lost for evermore.
These verses show us, lastly, that when Christ died, He died of His own voluntary free will. He uses a remarkable expression to teach this: "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
The point before us is of no mean importance. We must never suppose for a moment that our Lord had no power to prevent His sufferings, and that He was delivered up to His enemies and crucified because He could not help it. Nothing could be further from the truth than such an idea. The treachery of Judas, the armed band of priests’ servants, the enmity of Scribes and Pharisees, the injustice of Pontius Pilate, the rude hands of Roman soldiers, the scourge, the nails, and the spear,—all these could not have harmed a hair of our Lord’s head, unless He had allowed them. Well might He say those remarkable words, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the Scripture be fulfilled?" (Matthew 26:53-54.)
The plain truth is, that our Lord submitted to death of His own free will, because He knew that His death was the only way of making atonement for man’s sins. He poured out His soul unto death with all the desire of His heart, because He had determined to pay our debt to God, and redeem us from hell. For the joy set before Him He willingly endured the cross, and laid down His life, in order that we, through His death, might have eternal life. His death was not the death of a martyr, who sinks at last overwhelmed by enemies, but the death of a triumphant conqueror, who knows that even in dying he wins for himself and his people a kingdom and a crown of glory.
Let us lean back our souls on these mighty truths, and be thankful. A willing Savior, a loving Savior, a Savior who came specially into the world to bring life to man, is just the Savior that we need. If we hear His voice, repent and believe, He is our own.
v10.—[The thief...destroy.] In this passage our Lord entirely drops the figure of "the door," and presents Himself under a new aspect, as "the Shepherd." And the first thing He does is to show the amazing difference between Himself and the false teachers who bore rule among the Jews. He had already told the Pharisees that they were no better than "thieves and robbers." He now contrasts their objects with His own. A thief does not come to the fold to do good to the flock, but harm; for his own selfish advantage, and for the injury of the sheep. Just so the Pharisees only became teachers of the Jewish Church for their own advantage and interest, and taught doctrine which was only calculated to ruin and destroy souls.
A. Clarke observes, "How can worldly-minded hirelings, fox-hunting, card-playing priests, read these words without trembling to the center of their souls!"
Bickersteth suggests, that "the thief in the singular number may remind us of the prince of darkness, the great chief robber and thief of souls."
[I am come...life...abundantly.] Our Lord here puts in strong contrast with the false teachers of the Jews, His own purpose and object in coming into the world. He drops the figure of "the door," and says plainly and distinctly, stating it in the widest, broadest way, that as a personal Savior, He came that men might have life. The thief came to take life: He came to give it. He came that the way to eternal life might be laid open, the life of justification purchased by His blood, the life of sanctification provided by the grace of His Spirit. He came to buy this life by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to proclaim this life and offer it to a lost world. To bring life and hope to a lost, dead, perishing world, was the grand object of His incarnation. The ministry of the Pharisees was death, but that of Christ was life. The word "they" before "might have," must be taken generally here for "men." There is nothing else to which it can apply.
But this was not all. Our Lord came that men who had life already "might have it more abundantly:" that is that they might see the way of life more clearly, and have no uncertainty about the way of justification before God; and that they might feel the possession of life more sensibly, and have more conscious enjoyment of pardon, peace, and acceptance. This seems to me by far the simplest view of the text. Of course there were millions in the world who before Christ came knew nothing of life for their souls: to them Christ’s coming brought "life."—But there were also many believing Jews who had life already when Christ came, and were walking in the steps of Abraham: to them Christ’s coming brought "life more abundantly." It enlarged their vision and increased their comfort. So Paul tells Titus that "Christ’s appearing brought life and immortality to light." (2 Timothy 1:10.)
Most commentators do not admit the comparative idea in "more abundantly," but interpret it as simply meaning the abundance of grace and mercy which Christ brings into the world: as Romans 5:20-21. This is true, but I venture to think it is not all the truth.
Chemnitius, following Augustine, thinks that "more abundantly" may refer to the life of glory hereafter, which saints will have after the life of faith here. But I cannot see this.
v11.—[I am the Good Shepherd.] Here our Lord declares that He Himself is the great Head Shepherd of God’s people, of whom all ministers, even the best, are only faint imitators. It is as if He said, "I am towards all who believe in Me, what a good shepherd is to his sheep, careful, watchful, and loving." The article in the Greek is twice used to increase the emphasis: "I am the Shepherd, the good or excellent One." In the second verse of the chapter, before the word "Shepherd," in the Greek, we may remember, there is no article at all. (John 10:2.)
It is probable that the name "shepherd," in Jewish ears, would convey, much more clearly than it does in ours, a claim to be regarded as the Messiah or Shepherd of souls. (See Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1-6; Ezekiel 34:1-31.)
[The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.] Our Lord here shows the distinguishing mark of a good shepherd. Such an one will lay down his life for his sheep, to save, protect, and defend them. He will die rather than lose one. He will peril his life, like David attacking the lion and the bear, rather than let one be taken from him. "All this," our Lord implies, "I have come to do for my spiritual sheep. I have come to shed my life-blood to save their souls: to die that they may live." The word "giveth" here should have been translated "layeth down." It is so rendered in John 10:15.
Flacius observes how our Lord here, as elsewhere, always brings round His discourse to His own atoning death.
Hengstenberg observes, "This expression, ’laying down the soul or life’ for anyone, does not occur anywhere else independently in the New Testament. It is never found in profane writers. It must be referred back to the Old Testament, and specially to Isaiah 53:10, where it is said of Messiah, ’He shall make, or place, His soul an offering for sin.’ "
Tittman says, "Those who maintain that Christ died only to confirm the truth of His doctrine, or to confirm the certainty of the promises of pardon and acceptance with God, are under a mistake. The death of Christ was not necessary for either of those purposes. The truth of His doctrine and the certainty of His promises must be established by other evidence. Neither does our Lord say, that He laid down His life for His doctrines, but for His sheep."
v12, v13.—[But he that is an hireling, etc.] Our Lord in these two verses illustrates the subject He has taken up, by showing the wide difference between a mere hired shepherd, and one who feels a special interest in his sheep, because they are his own. A mere hired servant, who has not spent his money in buying the sheep, but only takes charge of a flock for pay, and cares little so long as he gets his money, such an one, as a general rule, will make no sacrifice and run no risk for the sheep. If he sees a wolf coming he will not meet him and fight, but will run away, and leave the flock to be scattered and devoured. He acts in this way because his whole heart is not in his work. He feeds the flock for money and not for love,—for what he can get by it, and not because he really cares for the sheep. Of course the picture must be taken as generally true: we cannot suppose our Lord meant that no paid servant was trustworthy. Jacob was a hired shepherd, yet trustworthy. But doubtless His Jewish hearers knew many such "hirelings" as He here describes. The picture of a faithless shepherd in Ezekiel 34:1-31 would also occur to those who were familiar with Old Testament Scripture.
It is worth remembering that Paul specially warns the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:29, that "grievous wolves" would enter in among them, not sparing the flock. Our Lord also in the Sermon on the Mount compares false prophets to "ravening wolves." (Matthew 7:15.)
Musculus observes how great a misfortune it is to Christ’s sheep when they are deserted by ministers, and left without regular means of grace. It has a scattering weakening effect. The best of ministers are poor weak creatures. But churches cannot keep together, as a rule, without pastors: the wolf scatters them. The ministry no doubt may be overvalued, but it may also be undervalued.
We cannot doubt that the latent thought of our Lord’s language here was as follows. The Pharisees and other false teachers were no better than hireling shepherds. They cared for nothing but themselves, and their own honor or profit. They cared nothing for souls. They were willing to have the name and profession of shepherds, but they had no heart in their work. They had neither will nor power to protect their hearers against any assault which that wolf, the devil, might make against them. Hence the Jews, when our Lord came on earth, were without help for their souls, fainting, and scattered like sheep without a shepherd, a prey to every device of the devil.
Let it be noted that the great secret of a useful and Christlike ministry is to love men’s souls. He that is a minister merely to get a living, or to have an honorable position, is "the hireling" of these verses. The true pastor’s first care is for his sheep. The false pastor’s first thought is for himself.
Our Lord’s strong language about the false teachers of the Jews ends here. Those who think that unsound ministers ought never to be exposed and held up to notice, and men ought never to be warned against them, would do well to study this passage. No class of character throughout our Lord’s ministry seems to call forth such severe denunciation as that of false pastors. The reason is obvious. Other men ruin themselves alone: false pastors ruin their flocks as well as themselves. To flatter all ordained men, and say they never should be called unsound and dangerous guides, is the surest way to injure the Church and offend Christ.
Chrysostom, Theophylact, and most commentators think that the "wolf" here means the devil, even as he is called elsewhere a roaring lion, a serpent, and a dragon.
Lampe, on the other hand, thinks that the wolf signifies the same as the thief and robber, and that it must mean the false prophet, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. (See Zephaniah 3:3; Matthew 7:15.)
In interpreting this whole passage we must be careful not to strain it too far. Our Lord did not mean that in no case is flight from danger lawful in a pastor. He Himself says elsewhere, "When they persecute you in one city, flee ye to another." (Matthew 10:23.) So Paul left Damascus by stealth to escape the Jews. (Acts 9:25.)
Calvin remarks, "Ought we to reckon that man a hireling who for any reasons whatever shrinks from encountering the wolves? This was anciently debated as a practical question, when tyrants raged cruelly against the Church. Tertullian and others were, in my opinion, too rigid on this point. I prefer greatly the moderation of Augustine, who allows pastors to flee on certain conditions."
No unbending rule can be laid down. Each case must be decided by circumstances. There are times when, like Paul or Jewell, a man may see it a duty to flee, and await better days; and times when, like Hooper, he may feel called to decline flight and to die with his sheep. Barnabas and Paul were specially commended to the Church at Antioch (Acts 15:25), as those who had "hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus." Paul tells the Ephesian elders, "I count not my life dear unto myself so that I may finish my course with joy." (Acts 20:24.) Again he says, "I am ready to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13.)
v14.—[I am the Good Shepherd.] These words are repeated to show the importance of the office our Lord fills as the Good Shepherd, and to bring into stronger light the wide difference between Him and the Pharisees.
[And know my sheep, and am known of mine.] These words express the close and intimate union there is between Christ and all His believing people, an union understood fully by those alone who feel it, but to the world foolishness. Our Lord, like a good earthly shepherd, knows every one of His people,—knows them with a special knowledge of love and approval; knows where they dwell and all about them, their weaknesses, trials, and temptations, and knows exactly what each one needs from day to day. His people, on the other hand, know Him with the knowledge of faith and confidence, and feel in Him a loving trust of which an unbeliever can form no idea. They know Him as their own sure Friend and Savior, and rest on the knowledge. The devils know that Christ is a Savior. The sheep know and feel that He is their Savior.
The fullness of this verse would be far more plain to Jews accustomed to Oriental shepherds and their flocks, to the care of a good shepherd and the confidence of a flock, than it is to us in this Northern climate. At any rate it teaches indirectly the duty of every Christlike pastor to be personally acquainted with all his people, just as a good shepherd knows each one of his sheep.
Musculus points out the strong contrast between "I know my sheep," and the solemn saying to the virgins, "I know you not," and to the false professors, "I never knew you," in Matthew 25:7; Matthew 7:23.
Besser remarks that "I am known of mine" is a sharp rebuke to those doubters who in voluntary humility refuse to be sure of their salvation.
v15.—[As the Father...me...I the Father.] I believe this sentence ought to be read in close connection with the last verse, and without any full stop between. There is nothing in the Greek against this view. The sense would then be, "I know my sheep and am known of mine, even as the Father knoweth Me and I know the Father." The meaning will then be that the mutual knowledge of Christ and His sheep is like the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son,—a knowledge so high, so deep, so intimate, so ineffable, that no words can fully convey it. The full nature of that knowledge which the First Person of the Trinity has of the Second and the Second has of the First, is something far beyond finite man’s understanding. It is in short a deep mystery. Yet the mutual knowledge and communion of Christ and believers is something so deep and wonderful that it can only be compared, though at a vast distance, to that which exists between the Father and the Son.
To understand this knowledge a little, we should read carefully the language used in Proverbs 8:22-30.
[And I lay down my life for the sheep.] Our Lord, to show how truly He is the Good Shepherd, declares that like a good shepherd He not only knows all His sheep, but lays down His life for them. By using the present tense, He seems to say, "I am doing it. I am just about to do it. I came into the world to do it." This can only refer to His own atoning death on the cross: the great propitiation He was about to make by shedding His life-blood. It was the highest proof of love. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.)
Taken alone and by itself this sentence undoubtedly contains the doctrine of particular redemption. It declares that Christ "lays down His life for the sheep." That He does so in a special sense I think none can deny. The "sheep" alone, or true believers, obtain any saving benefit from His death. But to argue from this text, that in no sense and in no way did Christ die for any beside His "sheep," is to say what seems to me to contradict Scripture. The plain truth is that the extent of redemption is not the leading subject of this verse. Our Lord is saying what He does for His sheep: He loves them so that He dies for them. But it does not follow that we are to conclude that His death was not meant to influence and affect the position of all mankind. I venture to refer the reader to my own notes, in this commentary, on John 1:29; John 3:16; and John 6:32, for a full discussion of the subject.
Both here and in John 10:11, I do not think the Greek word translated "for" should be pressed too far, as if it necessarily implied the doctrine of substitution, or the vicariousness of Christ’s death. That doctrine is a blessed and glorious truth, and is taught plainly and unmistakably elsewhere. Here, however, we are reading parabolic figurative language, and I doubt whether it is quite fair to explain it as meaning more than "on account of," or "in behalf of," the sheep. Of course it comes to the same thing at last: if the Shepherd did not die, the sheep would die. But I do not quite think "vicariousness," at any rate, is the primary idea of the sentence.
I fully agree with Parkhurst, at the same time, that the Greek expression for "dying for anyone," in Romans 5:6-8, never has any signification other than that of "rescuing the life of another at the expense of our own."
v16.—[And other sheep I have...fold.] In this sentence, our Lord declares plainly the approaching conversion of the Gentiles. The sheep He specially died for were not merely the few believing Jews, but the elect Gentiles also. They are the "other sheep:" "this fold" means the Jewish Church. It reads as though He would show the real measure and size of His flock. It was one much larger than the Jewish nation, of which the scribes and Pharisees were so proud.
Let it be noted here that our Lord uses the present tense. The heathen sheep were as yet heathen, and not brought in; yet He says, "I have them." They were already given to Him in the eternal counsels, and foreknown from the beginning of the world. So it was with the Corinthians before their conversion: "I have much people in this city." (Acts 18:10.)
Augustine remarks: "They were yet without, among the Gentiles, predestinated, not yet gathered in. These He knew who had predestinated them: He knew who had come to redeem them with the shedding of His own blood. He saw them who did not yet see Him: He knew them who yet believed not in Him."
[Them also...bring.] Our Lord here declares that it is necessary for Him, in order to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, and to carry out the great purpose of His coming, to bring in and add to His flock other believers beside the Jewish sheep: "It is part of my work, office, and mission, to gather them out from the heathen by the preaching of my Apostles."
The prediction here made was contrary to Jewish prejudices. The Jews thought they alone were God’s flock and favored people. Even the Apostles afterwards were slow to remember these words.
Hutcheson observes, "Christ Himself is chief in bringing in His elect, whatever instruments He employs; and He is at pains to seek them, and gain their consent, as being bound in the covenant of redemption to present all that are given Him blameless before the Father." Saints are "the called of Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:6.)
[They shall hear my voice.] This is a prophecy and a promise combined. It was a prophecy that the elect among the heathen, however unlikely it might appear, would hear Christ’s voice speaking to them in the Gospel preached; and hearing, would believe and obey.—It was a promise that would encourage His Apostles to preach to the heathen: "They will listen, and be converted, and follow Me."—It is a saying that was wonderfully forgotten by the Apostles afterwards. They were backward to bring in the other sheep, after their Master left the world.—It is a sentence that should nerve and cheer the missionary. Christ has said it: "The sheep who are scattered among the heathen will hear."
The text, "He that heareth you heareth Me" (Luke 10:16), is the Divine explanation of the expression, "hear my voice."
[And there shall be one fold...shepherd.] This sentence contains one word which ought to have been differently translated. It ought to be, as Tyndale renders it, "one flock and one shepherd." There is an evident difference. Christ’s universal Church is a mighty company, of which the members may be found in many different visible churches, or ecclesiastical "folds:" but it composes only one "flock." There is only "one Holy Catholic Church," which is the blessed company of all faithful people; but there are many various visible churches.
The sentence is true of all believers now. Though differing in various points, such as government or ceremonies, true believers are all sheep of one flock, and all look up to one Savior and Shepherd. It will be more completely fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. Then shall be exhibited to the world one glorious Church under one glorious Head. In the view of this promise unity with all true Christians should be sought and striven for by every true sheep.
Gualter remarks that there never has been, or can be, more than one Holy Catholic Church, and unless we belong to it we cannot be saved, and he warns us against the pernicious error that all men shall get to heaven if sincere, whether they belong to the Holy Catholic Church or not.
Chemnitius observes that we must be careful not to make this one Church either too narrow or too broad. We make it too narrow when, like the Jews and the Papists, we exclude any believer who does not belong to our particular fold. We make it too broad when we include every professing Christian, whether he hears Christ’s voice or not. It is a flock of "sheep."
In every other place in the New Testament the word here wrongly translated "fold," is rendered "flock." (Matthew 26:31; Luke 2:8; 1 Corinthians 9:7.) The word "fold" before us, is evidently an oversight of our translators.
v17.—[Therefore...my Father love me because, etc.] This is a deep and mysterious verse, like all verses which speak of the relation between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity. We must be content to admire and believe what we cannot fully understand. When, as in John 5:20, and here, our Lord speaks of "the Father loving the Son," we must remember that He is using language borrowed from earthly affection, to express the mind of one Person of the Trinity towards another, and accordingly we must interpret it reverently.—Yet we may surely gather from this verse that our Lord’s coming into this world to lay down His life for the sheep by dying on the cross, and to take it again for their justification by rising again from the dead, was a transaction viewed with infinite complacency and approbation by God the Father.—"I am about to die, and after death to rise again. My so doing, however strange it may seem to you Pharisees, is the very thing which my Father in heaven approves, and for which He specially loves Me." It is like the Father’s words, "In whom I am well pleased;" and Paul’s, "Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him" (Matthew 3:17; Philippians 2:9), and Isaiah’s, "I will divide Him a portion with the great, because He hath poured out His soul unto death." (Isaiah 53:12.)
Our Lord, by mentioning His resurrection, seems to remind His hearers that in one respect He was different from the best of shepherds. They might lay down their lives; but then there would be an end of them. He meant to lay down His life, but after that to take it again. He would not only die for His people, but also rise again.
Guyse thinks the true meaning is, "I cheerfully lay down my life for the expiation of my sheep’s offenses, in order that I may rise again for their justification."
Let it be noted here, that there is no part of Christ’s work for His people that God the Father is said to regard with such special complacency as His dying for them. No wonder that ministers ought to make Christ crucified the principal subject of their teaching.
Gualter thinks these words were specially meant to prevent the offense of the ignominious death of Christ on the cross. That death, whatever the Jews might think, was part of Christ’s plan and commission, and one reason why the Father loved Him.
Brentius thinks that there is here a reference to the story of Abraham offering Isaac, when the words were used, "Because thou hast done this thing, and not withheld thy son, therefore blessing I will bless thee." (Genesis 22:16-18.)
Hengstenberg remarks that the Father’s love "was the very opposite of that wrath of God, of which the Jews regarded Christ’s death as a proof and sign." They thought that God had forsaken Him, and given Him up to be crucified in displeasure, when in reality God was well pleased.
v18.—[No man taketh...of myself.] In this sentence our Lord teaches that His own death was entirely voluntary. An earthly shepherd may die for his flock, but against his own will. The great Shepherd of believers made His soul an offering for sin of His own free will. He was not obliged or compelled to do it by superior force. No one could have taken away His life had He not been willing to lay it down: but He laid it down "of Himself," because He had covenanted to offer Himself as a propitiation for our sins. His own love to sinners, and not the power of the Jews or Pontius Pilate’s soldiers, was the cause of His death.
The word "I" is inserted emphatically in the Greek. "I myself" lay down my life "of myself."
Henry observes, "Christ could, when He pleased, slip the knot of union between body and soul, and without any act of violence done to Himself, could disengage them from each other. Having voluntarily taken up a body, He could voluntarily lay it down again. This appeared when He cried with a loud voice and ’gave up’ the ghost."
[I have power...down...take it up.] Our Lord here amplifies His last statement, and magnifies His own Divine nature, by declaring that He has full power to lay down His life when He pleases, and to take it again when He pleases. This last point deserves special notice. Our Lord teaches that His resurrection, as well as His death, was in His own power. When our Lord rose again, He was not passive, and raised by the power of another only, but rose by His own Divine power. It is noteworthy that the resurrection of our Lord in some places is attributed to His Father’s act, as Acts 2:24-32; once, at least, to the Holy Spirit, as 1 Peter 3:18; and here, and in John 2:19, to Christ Himself. All leads to the same great conclusion,—that the resurrection of our Lord, as well as every part of His mediatorial work, was an act in which all three Persons of the Trinity concurred and co-operated.
Hutcheson observes that if Christ had power to take life again, when He pleased, "so He can put a period to the sufferings of His own when He pleaseth, without any help of their crooked ways."
[This commandment...received...Father.] Chrysostom, and most other commentators, apply these words strictly to the great work which our Lord has just declared He had power to do: viz., to lay down His life and to take it again. "This is part of the commission I received from my Father on coming into the world, and one of the works He gave Me to do."
No doubt this is good exposition and good divinity. Yet I am rather inclined to think that our Lord’s words refer to the whole doctrine which He had just been declaring to the Jews: viz., His office as a Shepherd, His being the true Shepherd, His laying down His life for the sheep, and taking it again, His having other sheep who were to be brought into the fold, His final purpose to exhibit to the world one flock and one Shepherd. Of all this truth, He says, "I received this doctrine in charge from my Father, to proclaim to the world, and I now declare it to you Pharisees." I suspect that both here and elsewhere the word "commandment" has a wide, deep meaning, and points to that solemn and mysterious truth, the entire unity of the Father and the Son in the work of redemption, to which John frequently refers: "I am in the Father, and the Father in Me. The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works." (John 14:10.) "The Father gave Me a commandment what I should speak." (John 12:49.) Our Lord’s object in these often repeated expressions seems to be to keep the Jews in mind that He was not a mere human Prophet, but one who was God as well as man, and in whom, both speaking and working, the Father always dwelt.
When our Lord speaks of "receiving a commandment," we must take care that we do not suppose the expression implies any inferiority of the Second Person of the Trinity to the First. We must reverently remember the everlasting covenant between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the salvation of man, and interpret "commandment" as meaning a part of the charge or commission with which the Second Person, Christ, was sent into the world, to carry out the purposes of the Eternal Trinity.
We should notice, first, in this passage, what strifes and controversies our Lord occasioned when He was on earth. We read that "there was a division among the Jews for His sayings,"—and that "many of them said He hath a devil, and is mad," while others took an opposite view. It may seem strange, at first sight, that He who came to preach peace between God and man, should be the cause of contention. But herein were His own words literally fulfilled: "I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34.) The fault was not in Christ or His doctrine, but in the carnal mind of His Jewish hearers.
Let us never be surprised if we see the same thing in our own day. Human nature never changes. So long as the heart of man is without grace, so long we must expect to see it dislike the Gospel of Christ. Just as oil and water, acids and alkalies cannot combine, so in the same way unconverted people cannot really like the people of God.—"The carnal mind is enmity against God."—"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." (Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14.)
The servant of Christ must think it no strange thing if he goes through the same experience as his Master. He will often find his ways and opinions in religion the cause of strife in his own family. He will have to endure ridicule, harsh words, and petty persecution, from the children of this world. He may even discover that he is thought a fool or a madman on account of his Christianity. Let none of these things move him. The thought that he is a partaker of the afflictions of Christ ought to steel him against every trial. "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household." (Matthew 10:25.)
One thing, at any rate, should never be forgotten. We must not allow ourselves to think the worse of religion because of the strifes and dissensions to which it gives rise. Whatever men may please to say, it is human nature, and not religion, which is to blame. We do not blame the glorious sun because its rays draw forth noxious vapors from the marsh. We must not find fault with the glorious Gospel if it stirs up men’s corruptions, and causes the "thoughts of many hearts to be revealed." (Luke 2:35.)
We should notice, secondly, the name which Christ gives to true Christians. He uses a figurative expression which, like all His language, is full of deep meaning. He calls them, "My sheep."
The word "sheep," no doubt, points to something in the character and ways of true Christians. It would be easy to show that weakness, helplessness, harmlessness, usefulness, are all points of resemblance between the sheep and the believer. But the leading idea in our Lord’s mind was the entire dependence of the sheep upon its Shepherd. Just as sheep hear the voice of their own shepherd, and follow him, so do believers follow Christ. By faith they listen to His call. By faith they submit themselves to His guidance. By faith they lean on Him, and commit their souls implicitly to His direction. The ways of a shepherd and his sheep, are a most useful illustration of the relation between Christ and the true Christian.
The expression, "My sheep," points to the close connection that exists between Christ and believers. They are His by gift from the Father, His by purchase, His by calling and choice, and His by their own consent and heart-submission. In the highest sense they are Christ’s property; and just as a man feels a special interest in that which he has bought at a great price and made his own, so does the Lord Jesus feel a peculiar interest in His people.
Expressions like these should be carefully treasured up in the memories of true Christians. They will be found cheering and heart-strengthening in days of trial. The world may see no beauty in the ways of a godly man, and may often pour contempt on him. But he who knows that he is one of Christ’s sheep has no cause to be ashamed. He has within him a "well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14.)
We should notice, lastly, in this passage, the vast privileges which the Lord Jesus Christ bestows on true Christians. He uses words about them of singular richness and strength. "I know them.—I give unto them eternal life.—They shall never perish,—neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." This sentence is like the cluster of grapes which came from Eshcol. A stronger form of speech perhaps can hardly be found in the whole range of the Bible.
Christ "knows" his people with a special knowledge of approbation, interest, and affection. By the world around them they are comparatively unknown, uncared for, or despised. But they are never forgotten or overlooked by Christ.
Christ "gives" his people "eternal life." He bestows on them freely a right and title to heaven, pardoning their many sins, and clothing them with a perfect righteousness. Money, and health, and worldly prosperity He often wisely withholds from them. But He never fails to give them grace, peace, and glory.
Christ declares that His people "shall never perish." Weak as they are, they shall all be saved. Not one of them shall be lost and cast away: not one of them shall miss heaven. If they err, they shall be brought back: if they fall, they shall be raised. The enemies of their souls may be strong and mighty, but their Savior is mightier; and none shall pluck them out of their Savior’s hands.
A promise like this deserves the closest attention. If words mean anything, it contains that great doctrine, the perseverance, or continuance in grace, of true believers. That doctrine is literally hated by worldly people. No doubt, like every other truth of Scripture, it is liable to be abused. But the words of Christ are too plain to be evaded. He has said it, and He will make it good: "My sheep shall never perish."
Whatever men may please to say against this doctrine, it is one which God’s children ought to hold fast, and defend with all their might. To all who feel within them the workings of the Holy Spirit, it is a doctrine full of encouragement and consolation. Once inside the ark, they shall never be cast out. Once converted and joined to Christ, they shall never be cut off from His mystical body. Hypocrites and false professors shall doubtless make shipwreck for ever, unless they repent. But true "sheep" shall never be confounded. Christ has said it, and Christ cannot lie: "they shall never perish."
Would we get the benefit of this glorious promise? Let us take care that we belong to Christ’s flock. Let us hear His voice and follow Him. The man who, under a real sense of sin, flees to Christ and trusts in Him, is one of those who shall never be plucked out of Christ’s hand.
v19.—[There was a division, etc.] This is the third time that we find our Lord’s words causing a division, or schism, among His hearers. Each time it occurred at Jerusalem. At John 7:43, it was among "the people;" at John 9:16, among the "Pharisees." Here it was among the "Jews," an expression in John’s Gospel generally applied to our Lord’s enemies among the Pharisees.
The special "sayings" which caused the division were probably our Lord’s words about His Father, His claim to have power to lay down His life and take it again, and His proclamation of Himself as "the Good Shepherd." Words like these from a Galilean teacher of humble appearance, were likely to offend the proud Pharisees of Jerusalem.
That our Lord would be a cause of division,—a stone of stumbling to some, and set for the rise and fall of many in Israel,—had been foretold by Isaiah 8:14, and by Simeon, Luke 2:34. Divisions among His hearers are therefore no proof that He was not the Messiah, and divisions among hearers of the Gospel in the present day are no argument against the truth of the Gospel. Even now the same Gospel is a savor of death to some, and of life to others, calls forth love in some, and hatred in others. The same fire which melts wax, hardens clay.
v20.—[And many of them said, etc.] This is the sort of profane remark which we can well imagine many unconverted hearers of our Lord making: "What! a humble Galilean like this man call Himself the only good Shepherd, and talk of having power to lay down His life and take it again, and of having a special commission from His Father in heaven. He must surely have a devil, or be out of his senses. He must be mad. Why do you waste your time in listening to Him?" Thousands talk in this way now against Christ’s servants. They would probably have talked in the same way against their Master!
Let us note what blasphemous and slanderous things were said against our Lord. True Christians, and specially ministers, must never wonder if they are treated in the same manner.
v21.—[Others said, These are not, etc.] Here we see that there were some among the Pharisees who took our Lord’s part, and were disposed to believe on Him. Such probably were Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimatæa. They defend Him on the score both of His words and works.—As to His words, they argue that no one of common sense could call such words as our Lord had just spoken, the words of a man possessed with a devil. The devil and his agents do not desire to do good to man, or to glorify God. The calm, solemn, loving, God-glorifying language just used, was the very opposite to that which might be expected from a demoniac.—As to His works, they argue that no devil, however powerful, could work such a miracle as to open the eyes of the blind. Some wonderful works the devil might do, but no such work as that of giving sight. It is worth noticing that the Jews held that to give sight to the blind was one of the special miracles which Messiah would work. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened." (Isaiah 35:5.)
The Greek word here rendered "words," is not the same as that rendered "sayings," in John 10:19. Webster says it is a stronger expression, and means "the whole transaction," as well as the things said. The word "blind" here in the Greek is plural, and would be more accurately translated, "of blind persons."
v22.—[And it was at Jerusalem.] Many think that an interval of time comes in between this verse and the preceding one. I doubt it. From John 7:2, where we are told it was the feast of tabernacles, the narrative runs on at first sight continuously: yet if we look at John 9:35, there must have been one break of time.—If there was any interval before the verse we are now considering, I think it must have been very short. The following verses show that the discourse about "the sheep" must have been fresh in the minds of the Jews, as our Lord refers to it as a thing they could remember: He would hardly have done so if the interval had been very long. At any rate, I can see no proof that our Lord left Jerusalem between the discourse about "the sheep" and the verse before us.
[The feast of the dedication.] This Jewish festival is one which is nowhere else mentioned in the Bible. It is however a matter of history, according to most commentators, that it was first appointed by Judas Maccabeus to commemorate the purging of the temple, and the rebuilding of the altar, after the Syrians were driven out. Its appointment is recorded in the Apocrypha, in 1 Maccabees 4:52-59. The Apocryphal books are, no doubt, uninspired. But there is no reason to question the accuracy of their historical statements. The passage before us is often referred to, as proving that our Lord recognized, and tacitly sanctioned, a man-made and man-appointed festival. "The Church has power to decree rites and ceremonies," and so long as it ordains nothing against God’s Word, its appointments deserve respect. At any rate our Lord did not denounce the feast of dedication, or refuse to be present at it.
Chrysostom and others think that the Feast of Dedication was appointed to commemorate the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian captivity, in Ezra’s time (Ezra 6:16.)
Some think that it was to commemorate the dedication of Solomon’s temple. (2 Chronicles 7:9.) There is, however, no warrant for this view.
Pearce remarks, that John alone of all the evangelists records our Lord’s attendance at four of the great feasts of the Jews: viz., passover (John 2:13), pentecost (John 5:1), tabernacles (John 7:2), and dedication, here.
[It was winter.] This shows that three months had passed since the miracle of healing the blind man, which was worked at the feast of tabernacles. That was about Michaelmas, by our reckoning. The season of winter is here mentioned to explain why our Lord walked under cover, "in a porch."
The mention of winter goes far to prove that the feast of dedication must have been appointed in commemoration of the work of Judas Maccabeus. Solomon’s dedication was at Michaelmas, in the seventh month; Ezra’s about Easter, in the first month.
v23.—[And Jesus walked.] This must either mean that "it was the habit" of our Lord to walk, or else that "one day Jesus was walking:" the latter seems the more likely sense.
[In the temple.] This means in the outer court, or area around the temple, which was a common place of resort for the Jews, and specially upon festivals. Here teachers expounded, and discussions on religious questions seem to have taken place. Here probably our Lord was found "among the doctors," hearing and asking questions, when he was twelve years old (Luke 2:46).
[In Solomon’s porch.] The word "porch" rather means what we should call a veranda, or colonnade. It was one of those long covered walks under a roof supported by columns, on one side at least, which the inhabitants of hot countries appear to find absolutely needful. Singularly enough, one sect of heathen philosophers at Athens was called "Stoics," from its meeting in a place called "Stoa," here rendered a porch; while another was called "Peripatetics," from its habit of "walking about" during its discussions, just as our Lord did in this verse. The cloisters of a cathedral or abbey, perhaps, are most like the building called a "porch" here.
Josephus says this porch was one of the buildings which remained partly undestroyed from Solomon’s temple.
Tacitus expressly mentions it as one of the defenses of the temple at the siege of Jerusalem.
v24.—[Then came...Jews round...said...him.] This would be more literally rendered, "encircled Him," or surrounded Him in a circle.
[How long...make...doubt.] This would be more literally rendered, "Until what time dost Thou lift up our souls? How long dost Thou keep us in a state of suspense and excitement?"
Elsner thinks it means, "How long dost Thou take away our life (as at John 10:18), or kill us with doubt and perplexity?" Suicer, Schleusner, and Parkhurst, however, prefer, "hold us in suspense." (See marginal reading in Luke 12:29).
[If...Christ, tell us plainly.] The Jews had no right to say they had not sufficient evidence that our Lord was the Christ. But nothing is more common with hardened and wicked men than to allege a want of evidence, and to pretend willingness to believe, if only more evidence was supplied.
"Plainly" here does not mean in plain language, and easily understood, but openly, boldly, unreservedly, and without mystery.
v25.—[Jesus answered...I told...ye believed not.] To what does our Lord refer here? I believe He refers to what He had said in the fifth chapter before the Sanhedrim, and in the eighth chapter in the discourse beginning, "I am the Light," etc. The words would be more literally rendered, "I have told you, and ye do not believe."
Henry observes, "The Jews pretended that they only doubted, but Christ tells them that they did not believe. Skepticism in religion is no better than downright infidelity."
Hengstenberg thinks that "I have told you," specially refers to our Lord’s recent proclamation of Himself as "the Good Shepherd." To a Jewish ear it would sound like a claim to be the Messiah.
[The works...Father’s name...witness of Me.] Here, as in other places, our Lord appeals to His miracles as the grand proof that He was the Christ. (Compare John 3:2, and John 5:36, and John 7:31, and John 9:33-34, and Acts 2:22.) It is as though our Lord said, "The miracles I have done are more than sufficient proof that I am the Messiah. Nothing can account for them but the fact that I am the promised Messiah."
We should observe how our Lord says, "The works which I do in my Father’s name;" that is, by my Father’s commission and appointment, and as His Messenger. Here, as elsewhere, He carefully reminds the Jews that He does not act independently of His Father, but in entire harmony and unity with Him. His works were works which "the Father gave Him to finish."
We should observe how our Lord always and confidently appeals to the evidence of His miracles. Those who try to depreciate and sneer at miracles, seem to forget how often they are brought forward as good witnesses in the Bible. This, in fact, is their great object and purpose. They were not so much meant to convert, as to prove that He who did them was from God, and deserved attention.
"Of Me," would be more literally rendered, "concerning" or "about Me."
v26.—[But ye believe not, because...not...sheep.] I doubt whether the word "because" does not put a meaning on this verse which it hardly bears in the Greek. It should rather be, "Ye neither believe my words nor my works, FOR ye are not in the number of my sheep. If ye were my sheep ye would believe: faith is one of their marks." Not being Christ’s sheep was not the CAUSE of the unbelief of the Jews; but their unbelief was the EVIDENCE that they were not Christ’s sheep.
Tyndale and others think that the full stop should be after the word "sheep," and that "as I said unto you," should be taken with the following verse; but I see no necessity for this.
[As I said to you.] I think these words refer to two sayings of our Lord, which He had used in speaking to the Jews, one in John 8:47—"He that is of God heareth God’s words: Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God;" and the other is at the third and fourth verses of this chapter: "The sheep hear His voice;"—"the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." (John 10:3-4.)
v27.—[My sheep hear my voice, etc.] Having told the Pharisees that they were not His sheep, our Lord goes on to describe the character of those who were His sheep; that is, of His own true people and servants. This He does in a verse of singular richness and fullness. Every word is instructive.
Christ calls His people "sheep." He does so because they are in themselves singularly helpless and dependent on their Shepherd; because comparatively they are the most harmless and helpless of animals; because even at their best they are weak, foolish, and liable to go astray.
Chemnitius gives thirteen distinct reasons why believers are called sheep. They are too long to quote here, but will repay the examination of anyone who has access to his commentary.
He calls them, "My sheep." They are His by God the Father’s gift,—His by redemption and purchase,—His by calling and choosing,—His by feeding, keeping, and preserving,—and His by their own consent and will. They are His peculiar property.
He says, "They hear my voice." By this He means that they listen to His invitation, when He calls them to repent, believe, and come to Him. This supposes that Christ first speaks, and then they hear. Grace begins the work:—they, through grace, obey His calling, and willingly do as He bids them. The ears of unconverted people are deaf to Christ’s call, but true Christians hear and obey.
He says, "I know them." This means that He knows them with a special knowledge of approbation, complacency, love, and interest. (See the word "know" in Psalms 1:6, Psalms 31:7, Amos 3:2.) Of course He knows the secrets of all men’s hearts, and all about all wicked people. But He knows with a peculiar knowledge those who are His people. The world knows them not, but Christ knows and cares for them (1 John 3:1).
He says, "They follow Me." This means that His people, like sheep, obey, trust, and walk in the steps of their Divine Master. They follow Him in holy obedience to His commandments; they follow Him in striving to copy His example; and they follow Him in trusting implicitly His providential leadings,—going where He would have them go, and taking cheerfully all He appoints for them.
It is almost needless to remark that this description belongs to none but true Christians. It did not belong to the Pharisees to whom our Lord spoke. It does not belong to multitudes of baptized people in our own day.
Luther says: "The sheep, though the most simple creature, is superior to all animals in this, that he soon hears his shepherd’s voice, and will follow no other. Also he is clever enough to hang entirely on his shepherd, and to seek help from him alone. He cannot help himself, nor find pasture for himself, nor heal himself, nor guard against wolves, but depends wholly and solely on the help of another."
In the Greek of this verse, there is a nice distinction between the number of the verb "hear" and the verb "follow," which the English language cannot convey. It is as though our Lord had said, my sheep are a body, which "hears" my voice, in the singular; and of which the individual members "follow" Me, in the plural.
v28.—[And I give, etc.] From the character of Christ’s sheep the Good Shepherd goes on to describe their privileges. He gives to them eternal life; the precious gift of pardon and grace in this world; and a life of glory in the world to come.—He says, "I give," in the present tense. Eternal life is the present possession of every believer.—He declares that they shall never perish or be lost, unto all eternity; and that no one shall ever pluck them out of His hand.
We have here the divinity and dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ. None but one who was very God could say, "I give eternal life." No Apostle ever said so.
We have here the perpetuity of grace in believers, and the certainty that they shall never be cast away. How anyone can deny this doctrine, as the Arminians do, and say that a true believer may fall away and be lost, in the face of this text, it is hard to understand. It is my own deliberate opinion that it would be almost impossible to imagine words in which a saint’s "perseverance" could be more strongly asserted.
We have here a distinct promise, that "no one," man, angel, devil, or spirit, shall be able to tear from Christ His sheep. The Greek literally is not "any man," but "any person," or "any one."
The doctrine plainly taught in this text may be called "Calvinism" by some, and "of dangerous tendency" by others. The only question we ought to ask is, whether it is scriptural. The simplest answer to that question is, that the words of the text, in their plain and obvious meaning, cannot be honestly interpreted in any other way. To thrust in, as some enemies of perseverance do, the qualifying clause, "They shall never perish so long as they continue my sheep," is adding to Scripture, and taking unwarrantable liberties with Christ’s words.
So, again, Whitby’s interpretation, "They shall never perish through any defect on my part," though they may fall away by their own fault, is a sad instance of unfair handling of Scripture.
Let it only be remembered that the character of those who shall never perish is most distinctly and carefully laid down in this place. It is those who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him, who alone are "sheep:" it is "His sheep," and His sheep alone, who shall never perish. The man who boasts that he shall never be cast away, and never perish, while he is living in sin, is a miserable self-deceiver. It is the perseverance of saints, and not of sinners and wicked people, that is promised here. Doubtless the doctrine of the text may be misused and abused, like every other good thing. But to the humble penitent believer, who puts his trust in Christ, it is one of the most glorious and comfortable truths of the Gospel. Those who dislike it would do well to study the 17th Article of the Church of England, and Hooker’s sermon on the "Perpetuity of Faith in the Elect."
Let it be noted that the last clause of the text plainly implies that many will try to pluck away Christians from Christ, and draw them back to sin. To feel that something is always "plucking" and "pulling" at us must never surprise believers. There is a devil, and saints will always feel and find his presence.
Let it be noted that, to be safe in Christ’s hand, and so never to perish, is one thing; but to feel that we are safe is quite another. Many true believers are safe, who do not realize and feel it.
Musculus observes that our Lord does not say in this verse that His sheep shall lose nothing in this world. They may lose property, liberty, and life, for Christ’s sake. But their souls cannot be lost. He also observes that all Christ’s sheep are in Christ’s hand. His hand holding them, and not their hand holding Him, is the true secret of their safety and perseverance.
The importance of the doctrine contained in this text cannot, in my judgment, be overrated. The Christian who does not hold it is a great loser. It is one of the grand elements of the good news of the Gospel. It is a safeguard against much unsound doctrine. Perseverance can never be reconciled with baptismal regeneration. The advocates of an extravagant view of baptismal grace, it may be observed, always have a special dislike to the doctrine of this text.
Hengstenberg wisely remarks, "It is cold consolation to say, if so long as they remain my sheep they are secure, and shall never perish. The whole strength of our soul’s desire is for a guarantee against ourselves. That there is such a guarantee is here assured to us."
v29.—[My Father who gave, etc., etc.] Our Lord here strengthens the mighty promise just made, by declaring that His sheep are not His only, but His Father’s: His Father gave them to Him. "My Father," He declares, is ’almighty,’ or greater than all; the possessor of all power. No one is able to pluck anything out of my Father’s hand, so that my sheep’s safety is doubly secured." Let it be noted that the word "them," in the last clause of our English version, is not in the Greek.
It is probable that both in this verse and the preceding one, there is a latent reference to the case of the man whom the Pharisees had lately "cast out" of the Church, or excommunicated. Our Lord seems to say, "You may cut off and tear away from your outward Church-membership whom you will; but you can never pluck away any of my people from Me."
Let it be noted here that the Father is just as much interested in the safety of believers as the Son. To leave out of sight the Father’s love, in our zeal for the glory of Christ, is very poor theology.
Melancthon dwells on this promise in a passage of singular beauty. He specially dwells on it as a ground of comfort against the invasion of Europe by the Turks, the persecution of truth by so-called Christian princes, and the furious strifes and controversies of teachers of the Church. There is a Church which nothing can harm.
Calvin remarks, "Our salvation is certain, because it is in the hand of God. Our faith is weak, and we are prone to waver: but God, who has taken us under His protection is sufficiently powerful to scatter with a breath all the power of our adversaries. It is of great importance to turn our eyes to this."
Musculus observes that it is said the Father "gave" the sheep to Me, in the past tense. Believers were given to Christ before the foundation of the world.
v30.—[I and the Father are one.] In order to explain how it is that the Father should take as much interest in the sheep as the Son, our Lord here declares in the plainest and most explicit terms, the deep truth of the essential unity between Himself and His Father. Literally translated, the sentence is, "I and my Father are one thing." By this, of course, He did not mean that His Father and He were one Person. This would overthrow the doctrine of the Trinity. But He did mean, "I and my eternal Father, though two distinct Persons, and not to be confounded, are yet one in essence, nature, dignity, power, will, and operation. Hence, in the matter of securing the safety of my sheep, what I do, my Father does likewise. I do not act independently of Him."
This is one of those deep and mysterious texts which we must be content to receive and believe, without attempting to pry too curiously into its contents. The cautious and exact words of the Athanasian Creed should be often remembered: "Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. There is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost: but the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal."
Augustine remarks that this text alone overthrows both the doctrine of the Sabellians and the Arians. It silences the Sabellians, who say there is only one Person in the Godhead, by speaking of two distinct Persons. It silences the Arians, who say the Son is inferior to the Father, by saying that Father and Son are "one."
Let it be noted that the doctrine of this verse is precisely the same that our Lord had maintained on a former occasion (in the fifth chapter) before the Sanhedrim. There it was expounded fully: here it is briefly asserted. And the interpretation put on His meaning, in both cases, by the Jews, was exactly the same. They regarded it as a claim to be regarded as "God."
The practical use of the text to a believer in Christ is far too much overlooked. It shows the entire childlike confidence with which such a one may look at the Father. "He who hath the Son hath the Father." The remark is only too true that while some ignorantly talk of the Father, as if there was no Christ crucified, others with no less ignorance talk of Christ crucified as if there was no God and Father of Christ, who loved the world!
Chrysostom observes, "That thou mayest not suppose that Christ is weak, and the sheep are in safety through the Father’s power, He addeth, ’I and the Father are one.’ As though He had said, ’I did not assert that on account of the Father no man plucketh them away, as though I were too weak to keep the sheep. For I and the Father are one.’ He speaks here with reference to power, for concerning this was all His discourse; and if the power be the same, it is clear that the essence is also."
Ecolampadius remarks, "He does not say we are one in the masculine gender,—that is, one person; but one in the neuter gender,—that is one in nature, power, and majesty. If you were to say one Person, you would take away both, and leave neither Father nor Son."
Maldonatus quotes a saying of Augustine’s, "that it is invariably found in Scripture that things called ’one’ are things of the same nature."
It is fair to admit that Erasmus, Calvin, and a few others, think the "oneness" here only means unity of consent and will. But the vast majority of commentators think otherwise, and the Jews evidently thought so also.
We should observe, in these verses, the extreme wickedness of human nature. The unbelieving Jews at Jerusalem were neither moved by our Lord’s miracles nor by His preaching. They were determined not to receive Him as their Messiah. Once more it is written that "they took up stones to stone Him."
Our Lord had done the Jews no injury. He was no robber, murderer, or rebel against the law of the land. He was one whose whole life was love, and who "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38.) There was no fault or inconsistency in His character. There was no crime that could be laid to His charge. So perfect and spotless a Being had never walked on the face of this earth. But yet the Jews hated Him, and thirsted for His blood. How true are the words of Scripture: "They hated Him without a cause." (John 15:25. Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4.) How just the remark of an old divine: "Unconverted men would kill God Himself if they could only get at Him."
The true Christian has surely no right to wonder if he meets with the same kind of treatment as our blessed Lord. In fact, the more like he is to his Master, and the more holy and spiritual his life, the more probable is it that he will have to endure hatred and persecution. Let him not suppose that any degree of consistency will deliver him from this cross. It is not his faults, but his graces, which call forth the enmity of men. The world hates to see anything of God’s image. The children of the world are vexed and pricked in conscience when they see others better than themselves. Why did Cain hate his brother Abel, and slay him? "Because," says John, "his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous." (1 John 3:12.) Why did the Jews hate Christ? Because He exposed their sins and false doctrines; and they knew in their own hearts that he was right and they were wrong. "The world," said our Lord, "hateth Me, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil." (John 7:7.) Let Christians make up their minds to drink the same cup, and let them drink it patiently and without surprise. There is One in heaven who said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you." (John 15:18.) Let them remember this and take courage. The time is short. We are traveling on towards a day when all shall be set right, and every man shall receive according to his works. "There is an end: and our expectation shall not be cut off." (Proverbs 23:18.)
We should observe, secondly, in these verses, the high honor that Jesus Christ puts on the Holy Scriptures. We find Him using a text out of the Psalms as an argument against His enemies, in which the whole point lies in the single word "gods." And then having quoted the text, He lays down the great principle, "the Scripture cannot be broken." It is as though He said, "Wherever the Scripture speaks plainly on any subject, there can be no more question about it. The case is settled and decided. Every jot and tittle of Scripture is true, and must be received as conclusive."
The principle here laid down by our Lord is one of vast importance. Let us grasp it firmly, and never let it go. Let us maintain boldly the complete inspiration of every word of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Let us believe that not only every book of the Bible, but every chapter,—and not only every chapter, but every verse,—and not only every verse, but every word, was originally given by inspiration of God. Inspiration, we must never shrink from asserting, extends not only to the thoughts and ideas of Scripture, but to the least words.
The principle before us, no doubt, is rudely assaulted in the present day. Let no Christian’s heart fail because of these assaults. Let us stand our ground manfully, and defend the principle of plenary inspiration as we would the apple of our eye. There are difficulties in Scripture, we need not shrink from conceding; things hard to explain, hard to reconcile, and hard to understand. But in almost all these difficulties, the fault, we may justly suspect, is not so much in Scripture as in our own weak minds. In all cases we may well be content to wait for more light, and to believe that all shall be made clear at last. One thing we may rest assured is very certain,—if the difficulties of plenary inspiration are to be numbered by thousands, the difficulties of any other view of inspiration are to be numbered by tens of thousands. The wisest course is to walk in the old path,—the path of faith and humility; and say, "I cannot give up a single word of my Bible. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The Scripture cannot be broken."
We should observe, lastly, in these verses, the importance which our Lord Jesus Christ attaches to His miracles. He appeals to them as the best evidence of His own Divine mission. He bids the Jews look at them, and deny them if they can. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you believe not Me, believe the works."
The mighty miracles which our Lord performed during the three years of His earthly ministry, are probably not considered as much as they ought to be in the present day. These miracles were not few in number. Forty times and more we read in the Gospels of His doing things entirely out of the ordinary course of nature,—healing sick people in a moment, raising the dead with a word, casting out devils, calming winds and waves in an instant, walking on the water as on solid ground. These miracles were not all done in private among friends. Many of them were wrought in the most public manner, under the eyes of unfriendly witnesses. We are so familiar with these things that we are apt to forget the mighty lesson they teach. They teach that He who worked these miracles must be nothing less than very God. They stamp His doctrines and precepts with the mark of Divine authority. He only who created all things at the beginning, could suspend the laws of creation at His will. He who could suspend the laws of creation, must be One who ought to be thoroughly believed and implicitly obeyed. To reject One who confirmed His mission by such mighty works, is the height of madness and folly.
Hundreds of unbelieving men, no doubt, in every age, have tried to pour contempt on Christ’s miracles, and to deny that they were ever worked at all. But they labor in vain. Proofs upon proofs exist that our Lord’s ministry was accompanied by miracles; and that this was acknowledged by those who lived in our Lord’s time. Objectors of this sort would do well to take up the one single miracle of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, and disprove it if they can. If they cannot disprove that, they ought, as honest men, to confess that miracles are possible. And then, if their hearts are truly humble, they ought to admit that He whose mission was confirmed by such evidence must have been the Son of God.
Let us thank God, as we turn from this passage, that Christianity has such abundant evidence that it is a religion from God. Whether we appeal to the internal evidence of the Bible, or to the lives of the first Christians, or to prophecy, or to miracles, or to history, we get one and the same answer.—All say with one voice, "Jesus is the Son of God, and believers have life through His name."
v31.—[The the Jews took up stones, etc.] The conduct of the Jews is just the same as it was when our Lord said, "Before Abraham was I am." (John 8:58-59.) They regarded His words as blasphemy, and proceeded to take the law into their own hands, as they did in Stephen’s case, and to inflict the punishment due to blasphemy. (See Leviticus 24:14-16.) "He that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him." (So Numbers 15:36; 1 Kings 21:13.) The Jews of course had no power to put any man to death, being under the dominion of the Romans, and if they did stone anyone it would have been a sudden tumultuary proceeding, or act of what is called in America Lynch-law.
Let it be noted that the Greek word for "took up" here, is not the same that is used at John 8:59. Here it rather means "they carried." Parkhurst thinks this implies the great size of the stones they brought. No doubt the stones used in stoning to death, were not pebbles, but large stones. Yet I rather incline to think that it shows that they had to carry stones from some little distance for their murderous purpose. We can hardly suppose there were suitable stones lying about within an old finished building like Solomon’s porch, though there might be stones at a little distance on account of the repairs of the temple.
Augustine remarks, "Behold the Jews understood what Arians do not understand."
Maldonatus observes that "these stones cry out against the Arians."
v32.—[Jesus...many good works...shewed...Father, etc.] Our Lord here appeals to the many miracles He had publicly wrought before the Jews, in discharging His commission as sent by the Father to be the Messiah, all good and excellent works, in which none could find any fault, and He asks whether they proposed to stone Him for any of them. They had often asked for signs and proofs of His being the Messiah. Well, He had wrought many such signs. Did they really mean to kill Him for His works? He had gone about only doing good. Did they intend to stone Him for this?
The expression "I have shewed" is curious, and we should have expected rather "I have worked." It probably means, "I have publicly exhibited before your eyes, and not in a corner, but in such a manner as to court the fullest public observation, many wonderful proofs of my Messiahship." (Compare John 2:18—"What sign shewest Thou?") So Paul says that "God shall in His own time shew the appearing of Jesus Christ." (1 Timothy 6:15.) The expression is probably a Hebraism. (Compare Psalms 4:6; Psalms 60:3; Psalms 71:20; Exodus 7:9.)
The expression "from my Father" points to the great truth continually brought forward by our Lord in this Gospel: viz., that all His works as well as words were given to Him by the Father, to be worked and spoken in the world, and ought therefore to be held in special reverence.
Hengstenberg observes, that the expression "many good works," evidently supposes that John knew of many other miracles, which he does not record, and that many had been done at Jerusalem beside the few that are recorded.
[For which...works...stone Me?] This could be literally rendered, "On account of which work of all these are you stoning Me?" Some, as Gualter and Tholuck, have thought that there is a slight tinge of sarcasm about the question. "Is it so that you are actually going to stone Me for good actions? Are not men generally stoned for evil doings?" Yet this seems an unlikely idea, and is needless. Is not the meaning made clear by simply inverting the order of words? "For what work or action are you going to stone Me? Justice requires that criminals should be punished for doing evil works: but all the many wonderful works I have done among you have been good and not evil. You surely will not stone Me for any of these: reason and your laws teach that this would be wrong. It is not therefore for my works and life that you are going to stone Me. I challenge you to prove that I have done evil. Which of you convicteth Me of sin?"
Taken in this view, the verse is simply a strong assertion made by our Lord, of His own entire innocence of any crime for which He could be stoned.
Hutcheson thinks that "some stones were already cast at Christ, and therefore He says, Do you stone Me?" Yet this seems needless. The present tense here implies only, "Are ye on the point of stoning Me?"
v33.—[The Jews answered, etc.] Our Lord’s confident challenge, as in John 8:46, seems to have been found unanswerable by the Jews. They could not prove any evil work against Him. They therefore reply that they do not propose to stone Him for His works, but for having spoken blasphemous words. The precise nature of the blasphemy they say, is that "being nothing but a mere man, He made Himself God, or spoke of Himself in such a way as showed that He claimed to be God."
This is a very remarkable verse. It is like John 5:18—"The Jews sought to kill Him, because He said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." It shows clearly that the Jews in our Lord’s time attached a much higher and deeper sense to our Lord’s frequently used language about God being His Father than modern readers are apt to do. In fact, they regarded it as nothing less than a claim to equality with God.—Modern Arians and Socinians, who profess to see nothing in our Lord’s Sonship but a higher degree of that relationship which exists between all believers and God, would do well to mark this verse. What they say they cannot see, the Jews who hated Christ could see. This "cotemporaneous exposition," to use a legal phrase, of our Lord’s words, deserves great respect, and carries with it great weight and authority. As a man, our Lord was a Jew, educated and trained among Jews. Common sense points out that the Jews who lived in His times were more likely to put a correct sense on His words than modern Socinians.
Gualter observes how frequently wicked men and persecutors of Christ’s people have affected a zeal for God’s glory, and pretended a horror of blasphemy. The accusers of Naboth and Stephen are examples: so also the Spanish Inquisition.
A. Clarke observes, "that had the Jews, as many called Christians do, understood our Lord only to mean, by being ’one with the Father,’ that He had unity of sentiment with the Father, they would not have attempted to treat Him as a blasphemer. In this sense Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, and all the prophets were one with God. But what irritated them was that they understood him to speak of unity of nature. Therefore they say, ’Thou makest Thyself God.’ "
v34.—[Jesus answered them, etc.] Our Lord’s defense of His own language against the charge of blasphemy is very remarkable. It is an argument from a lesser to a greater. If princes, who are merely men, are called gods, He who was the eternal Son of the Father could surely not be justly chargeable with blasphemy for calling Himself the "Son of God."
The expression "your law," means the Scriptures. Sometimes our Lord speaks of two great divisions into which the Jews divided the Old Testament: viz., the law and the prophets. (As Matthew 22:40.) The "law" then included not the books of Moses only, but everything down to the end of the Song of Solomon. Sometimes He distributes the Scriptures into three parts: the law, the psalms, and the prophets. (As in Luke 24:44.) Here He uses one word for all the Old Testament, and calls it "the law." By saying "your law," our Lord reminds His hearers that He appeals to their own honored sacred writings.
The expression, "I said ye are gods," is drawn from the 82nd Psalm, in which Asaph is speaking of princes and rulers, and their position and duties. Their elevation above other men was so great, and their consequent responsibility for the state of nations so great, that compared to other men, it might be said, "You are as gods." A King is called "the LORD’s anointed." (2 Samuel 1:14.) So "Ye judge not for man, but for the LORD." (2 Chronicles 19:6.) Princes and magistrates are ordained of God, derive their power from God, act for God, and stand between the people and God. Hence, in a sense, they are called "gods." Those who wish to see this subject fully worked out, will see it in Hall and Swinnock’s Exposition of the 82nd Psalm.
We should observe how our Lord appeals to Scripture as the judge of controversy: "Is it not written?" A plain text ought to settle every disputed point. He might have argued: He simply quotes a text. By so doing He puts peculiar honor on Scripture.
It is worth noticing that the Hebrew word rendered "judges" in our version of Exodus 22:8-9 might have been rendered "gods." (Compare Exodus 22:28; Exodus 21:6.)
v35.—[If he called them gods.] Here our Lord proceeds to show what was the edge and point of His argument. All turned on the use of the single word "gods" in one single verse of a Psalm.
It is not very clear what governs the word we render "called" in this sentence. Our translators evidently thought it meant "God." But why should it not refer direct to "your law" in the last verse? "If your own book of the law in a Psalm has called certain persons gods."
Chrysostom observes, "What He saith is of this kind: ’If those who have received this honor by grace, are not found fault with for calling themselves gods, how can He deserve to be rebuked who has this by nature?’ " Theophylact says the same.
[To whom the Word of God came.] This is a rather difficult expression. Some, as Bullinger and Burgon, think that it refers to the commission from God which rulers receive: "they are persons to whom God has spoken, and commanded them to rule for Him." Some, as Alford, think it simply means "if He called them gods, to whom God spake in these passages." But it may justly be replied that it does not say "God spake;" but, "There was the Word of God."—Of the two views the former seems best. The Greek is almost the same as that of Luke 3:2—"The word of God came to John,"—meaning a special commission.
Heinsius suggests that the sentence means "against whom the word of God was" spoken in the 82nd Psalm: that Psalm containing a rebuke of princes. But this seems doubtful.
Pearce thinks that it means "with whom was the word of judgment?" and refers to the Septuagint version of 2 Chronicles 19:6.
It deserves notice that it is never said of Christ Himself, that the "Word of God came to Him." He was above all other commissioned judges.
[And the Scripture cannot be broken.] In this remarkable parenthesis our Lord reminds His Jewish hearers of their own acknowledged principle, that the "Scripture cannot be annulled or broken:" that is, that everything which it says must be received reverently and unhesitatingly, and that not one jot or tittle of it ought to be disregarded. Every word of Scripture must be allowed its full weight, and must neither be clipped, passed over, nor evaded. If the 82nd Psalm calls princes who are mere men "gods," there cannot be any impropriety in applying the expression to persons commissioned by God. The expression may seem strange at first. Never mind, it is in the Scripture, and it must be right.
Few passages appear to me to prove so incontrovertibly, the plenary inspiration and divine authority of every word in the original text of the Bible. The whole point of our Lord’s argument hinges on the divine authority of a single word. Was that word in the Psalms? Then it justified the application of the expression "gods" to men. Scripture cannot be broken. The theories of those who say that the writers of the Bible were inspired, but not all their writings,—or the ideas of the Bible were inspired, but not all the language in which these ideas are conveyed,—appear to be totally irreconcilable with our Lord’s use of the sentence before us. There is no other standing ground I believe, about inspiration, excepting the principle that it is plenary, and reaches to every syllable. Once leaving that ground, we are plunged in a sea of uncertainties. Like the carefully composed language of wills, settlements, and conveyances, every word of the Bible must be held sacred, and not a single flaw or slip of the pen admitted.
Let it be noted that the literal meaning of the word rendered "broken," is "loosed" or "untied."
Gill observes, "This is a Jewish way of speaking, much used in the Talmud. When one doctor has produced an argument, another says, ’It may be broken,’ or objected to, or refuted. But the Scripture cannot be broken."
Hengstenberg says, "It cannot be doubted that the Scripture is broken by those who assert that the Psalms breathe a spirit of revenge, that Solomon’s song is a common Oriental love song, that there are in the Prophets predictions never to be fulfilled,—or by those who deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch."
v36.—[Say ye of Him, etc.] Our Lord in this verse presses home on the Jews the force of the expression in the 82nd Psalm. "If princes are called gods, do you mean to call Me, whom the Father sanctified from eternity to be Messiah, and sent into the world in due time, a blasphemer, because I have said I am the Son of God?"
"Say ye of Him" would have been better rendered, "Say ye of Me." The Greek leaves it open.
The expression "whom the Father hath sanctified," must mean, "whom the Father hath set apart, and appointed from all eternity in the covenant of grace, as a priest is sanctified and set apart for the service of the temple." It cannot mean literally "made holy." It implies eternal dedication and appointment to a certain office. This is one of the places which teach the eternal generation of Christ. Long before He came into the world, "the Father" (not God, observe) had sanctified and appointed the Son. He did not become the Son when He entered the world: He was the Son from all eternity.
The expression, "sent into the world," means that mission of Christ’s to be the Savior, which took place when He became incarnate, and came among us in the form of a man. He was the Father’s "sent One," the "Apostle" of our profession. (See Hebrews 3:1. John 3:17, and 1 John 4:14.) He that was so "sanctified" and "sent," might well speak of Himself as the Son of God, and equal with God.
Calvin remarks, "There is a sanctification that is common to all believers. But here Christ claims for Himself something far more excellent: namely, that He alone was separated from all others, that the grace of the Spirit and majesty of God might be displayed in Him; as He said formerly, "Him hath God the Father sealed." (John 6:27.)
v37.—[If I do not the works, etc.] Here our Lord once more appeals to the evidence of His miracles, and challenges attention to them. "I do not ask you to believe that I am the Son of God and the Messiah, if I do not prove it by my works. If I did no miracles, you might be justified in not believing Me to be the Messiah, and in calling Me a blasphemer."
Here, again, we should observe how our Lord calls His miracles the "works of His Father." They were works given to Him by His Father to do. They were such works as none but God the Father could possibly perform.
Gualter observes, what a proof this verse indirectly supplies of the nullity of the Pope’s claim to be God’s vice-gerent and head of the Church. What are his works? What evidence of a divine mission does he give?
Musculus also remarks that the Pope’s high claims and great sounding titles are useless, so long as his works contradict his words.
v38.—[But if I do, though, etc.] Our Lord here concludes His reply to the Jews: "If I do the works of my Father, then, though ye may not be convinced by what I say, be convinced by what I do. Though ye resist the evidence of my words, yield to the evidence of my works. In this way learn to know and believe that I and my Father are indeed one, He in Me and I in Him, and that in claiming to be His Son, I speak no blasphemy."
We should note here, as elsewhere, our Lord’s strong and repeated appeals to the evidence of His miracles. He sent to John the Baptist, and desired him to mark His works, if he would know whether He was "the coming One."—"Go and tell John what ye have seen and heard, the blind receive their sight," etc. Just so He argues here. (Matthew 11:4.)
Let us note the close and intimate union that exists between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity: "The Father is in Me, and I in Him." Such language can never be reconciled with the views of Socinians.
"By these words," says Bloomfield, "our Lord meant communion of mind and equality of power. It is plain that the Jews clearly understood that He claimed and ascribed to Himself the attributes of Godhead, and made Himself equal with the Father."
Chrysostom remarks, that our Lord seems to say, "I am nothing different from what the Father is, so however as that I remain Son; and the Father is nothing different from what I am, so however as that He remains Father. He that knows Me has known the Father, and learned the Son."
v39.—[Therefore...sought...take Him.] Here we see the utter insensibility of our Lord’s hardened enemies to any argument or appeal to their reason. In spite of what He had now said, they showed a determination to go on with their wicked designs, and tried again to lay violent hands on Him. Nothing seems to harden the heart and take away the reasoning faculty, so completely as obstinate resistance to plain evidence.
[But He escaped...hand.] This would be literally rendered, "And He came forth out of their hand," as in Luke 4:30; and at John 8:59. The escape seems to have been effected by miracle. A restraint was put on the hands of His enemies, and their eyes were temporarily blinded.
v40.—[And went...again...Jordan...John...baptized.] I know not to what the expression "again" can refer here, except to the time when our Lord began His ministry by coming to be baptized by John at Bethabara, beyond Jordan. (see John 1:28.) I do not find that He had been there again during the three years of His ministry. There is something touching and instructive in the choice of this place. Where our Lord began His ministry, there He resolved to end it. It would remind His Jewish hearers that John the Baptist had repeatedly proclaimed Him as "the Lamb of God," and they could not deny John’s divine mission. It would remind His own disciples of the first lessons which they learned under their Master’s teaching, and recall old things to their minds. It is good to revisit old scenes sometimes. The flesh needs many helps to memory.
Henry makes the quaint remark, "The Bishop of our souls came not to be fixed in one See, but to go about from place to place doing good."
[And there He abode.] Our Lord must evidently have remained here between three and four months,—from the feast of dedication to the last passover, when he was crucified; that is from winter to Easter. Where precisely, and with whom He stayed, we do not know. It must have been a solemn and quiet season to Himself and His disciples.
Musculus observes that this verse teaches us that it is lawful to regard localities in which great spiritual works have been done with more than ordinary reverence and affection.
v41.—[And many resorted, etc.] Our Lord’s choice of an abode seems to have had an excellent effect. It was not so far from Jerusalem but that "many" could come to hear Him, as they did to hear John the Baptist. There, on the very spot where John, now no longer living, used to preach to enormous crowds, and baptize, they could not help being reminded of John’s repeated testimony to Christ. And the consequence was, that they said, "John, whom we believe to have been a prophet, certainly did no miracles, but everything that he said of this Jesus as the coming One, whose shoes he was not worthy to wear [bear], was true. We believed John to be a prophet sent of God. Much more ought this man to be believed."
Let us observe that John’s preaching was not forgotten after his death, though it seemed to produce little effect during his life. Herod could cut short his ministry, put him in prison, and have him beheaded; but he could not prevent his words being remembered. Sermons never die. The Word of God is not bound. (2 Timothy 2:9.)
We never read of any miracle or mighty work being performed by John. He was only "a voice." Like all other ministers, he had one great work,—to preach, and prepare the way for Christ. To do this is more lasting work than to perform miracles, though it does not make so much outward show.
Besser remarks, "John is a type of every servant of Christ. The gift of working miracles, imparted but to few, we can do without, if only one hearer testify of us, ’All things that they spake of Christ are true.’ If only our preaching, though it may last longer than three years, is sealed as the true witness of Christ, through the experience of those who believe and are saved, then we shall have done miracles enough."
v42.—[And many believed...there.] Whether this was head belief, the faith of intellectual conviction,—or heart belief, the faith of reception of Christ as a Savior,—we are left in doubt. We have the same expression in John 8:30 and John 11:45. Yet we need not doubt that very many Jews, both here and elsewhere, were secretly convinced of our Lord’s Messiahship, and after His resurrection came forward and confessed their faith, and were baptized. It seems highly probable that this accounts for the great number converted at once on the day of Pentecost and at other times. (See Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7; and Acts 21:20.) The way had been prepared in their hearts long before, by our Lord’s own preaching, though at the time they had not courage to avow it. The good that is done by preaching is not always seen immediately. Our Lord sowed, and His Apostles reaped, all over Palestine.
Chrysostom has a long and curious comment on this verse. He draws from it the great advantage of privacy and quiet to the soul, and the benefit that women especially derive from living a retired life at home, compared to men. His exhortation to wives to use their advantages in this respect, and to help their husbands’ souls, is very singular, when we consider the times in which he wrote, and the state of society at Constantinople. "Nothing," he says, "is more powerful than a pious and sensible woman, to bring a man into proper order, and to mold his soul as she will."
Henry observes, "Where the preaching of repentance has had success, there the preaching of reconciliation and Gospel grace is most likely to be prosperous. Where John has been acceptable, Jesus will not be unacceptable. The jubilee trumpet sounds sweetest in the ears of those who in the day of atonement have afflicted their souls for sin."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 10". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13