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He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold
The simple lesson which our Lord intended to teach in this familiar passage has often been strangely mistaken.
The minds of men have been so fixed upon certain ecclesiastical conclusions which have been commonly derived from it, that the simpler but far profounder teaching which the Master had in mind to give has been overlooked. He was not defending the formal authority of His own or of any office. He was not discussing the regularity or lawfulness of His own or of any ministry. He was not pointing out the mode of entrance into shepherdhood, but He was telling how the function for all true shepherdhood must be discharged. He was laying down the rule of good conduct and right service in all true leadership--a rule which He Himself exemplified and fulfilled, and which all must obey who hope in any degree to be worthy leaders of men. He was propounding a lesson which it behoves all men to ponder well who hope to influence their fellow men for good rank, office, order, culture, property--be the authority, the privilege, the right of these what they may, the eternal law of God, as exemplified in the life of His Son, and taught in His Holy Word, and illustrated in human history, is this: that none of these, no matter how commissioned or sent, can exercise any real shepherdhood over men except as they are in sympathy with them. This is true in Church and State; of the employers of labour; of the heads of households; of civil rulers and political leaders; of bishops, priests, and deacons--the power to lead men lies in sympathizing with them, and walking in the same way with them. The man of influence is the man of sympathy; the man of power is the man of service. He that loves is he that leads. He that serves is he that rules. Think for a moment, and you will see why it must be so. Man is free, The soul is free in the truest, deepest sense of the word. God royally made it so, and even He cannot control it by any merely external force or power. It is free to think, to will, and choose, to love, and no mere force or authority from without can control it in these operations in which its sovereign selfhood is realized. You may chain the limbs of a man--you may coerce his actions or even his words; but how can you get into communion with the soul, and rule its will and affections? There is only one way. If you would influence men intimately, profoundly, really, no matter what your authority or station, you must enter into sympathy with them. You must walk in the same path and enter in by the same door, or you can never be the shepherd of the sheep. This is what St. Paul meant when he sang the praise of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-46.13.13). Among men love is power. And a greater than St. Paul taught the same lesson and confirmed it by His own Divine experience. The Good Shepherd proved and illustrated His own good shepherdhood by sympathy and love. It was by no flash of splendour or miracle of external power that He proved His Divine leadership over the hearts of men; but by coming to walk with them, to toil and hunger, and suffer with them. He entered into mortal life by the same lowly door of human birth; He passed through it by the same path of toil and daily care; He made His exit from it through the same portal of suffering and death. In life and death He walked with the sheep. Therefore He could say, “I am the Good Shepherd, not merely because I am commissioned and sent of My Father, not merely because I wield the power of omnipotence,” but “I am the Good Shepherd,” He said, because “I know My sheep and am known of Mine.” (Bp. S. S. Harris.)
Jesus the Good Shepherd
I. THE INDIVIDUAL CARE AND GUIDANCE OF OUR LORD for every soul that trusts Him. In modem stock raising in Western lands there is nothing of that personal knowledge and attachment which bound together an Oriental shepherd and his flock.
1. It is an infirmity of Christian people to suppose that they are lost in the crowd, that God deals with them in the gross as a general might deal with his army, with rare notice of individuals least of all of privates. Yet in nothing do we wrong Him more. “The hairs of our head are all numbered.”
2. Christ showed nothing clearer than His attention to every personal want within His reach. We have reason as Paul had to appropriate His atoning work as though it were our monopoly (Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 2:9). Indeed He promises a friendship so intimate that it becomes a system of cipher messages between them and their Lord (Revelation 2:17).
3. We talk about how to convert “the masses,” when we had better think of single souls.
II. THE SINGULAR COMMUNITY OF SYMPATHY BETWEEN CHRIST AND CHRISTIANS (John 10:14; John 10:14, R.V.). It is compared for closeness and depth to that which subsists between the Father and the Son.
1. In Christ’s case we might charge His knowledge on His omniscience, but we cannot so account for ours. Take Christ upon His more human side and you have the explanation. Who has not felt the mystic thrill of sympathy and repulsion when we discover the congenial or uncongenial to ourselves in another character. So Christ felt the unlikeness to Himself of hatred, falseness; but He was drawn with unerring affinity towards the faintest uprisings of human penitence and trust.
2. “My sheep know Me”; not merely something about me. Not by the mere investigation of the shepherd’s clothing or crook, to see if both are genuine, as men puzzle themselves over churches, creeds, ordinances. But as one friend recognizes another by a glance if he can be seen; by his voice if out of sight. The test of truth is the character within us. We know God by resembling Him. These Jews could not be satisfied with our Lord’s credentials, but certain Samaritans felt the Divine life (chap. 4:42).
III. GOD’S EXCLUSIVE WAY OF MERCY. Thebes had a hundred gates, but salvation only one (John 10:9). An engine off the track is not more a failure than a man off the track of God’s conditions. All entrance to spiritual hope and safety is through Christ. He will endure no rival. Mingle anything with Him as our hope and the mixture fails.
IV. THE ADVANTAGES TO WHICH CHRIST OPENS THE DOOR (John 10:9).
1. Safety. It reminds us of some fugitive running for his life to the city of refuge.
2. Liberty. A Christian is no jailbird, so closely guarded that he finds himself a prisoner. No slave on a plantation, but a child in the family. He knows the truth, and that makes him free to go where and do what he pleases if he only pleases right.
V. THE GRAND PURPOSE OF CHRIST’S ADVENT (John 10:10). Nothing is so precious as life. It was forfeited by sin; but Christ restored it at the expense of His own (John 10:11). And it is to be had now. The young are eager to “see” and “enjoy life.” And they are right if they will not look for it in the wrong way. In Christ is the way to gain it, not in the low average of worldly attainment, but “more abundantly” in all that makes life worth living.
VI. THE METHOD OF CHRIST’S RULE. “Leadeth”--“goeth before.” An Eastern shepherd does not drive his flock; and Christ goes before, never behind, saying not “Go,” but “Come.” (C. S. Pomeroy, D. D.)
The Shepherd and the flock
I. THE APPROPRIATENESS OF THE SIMILE.
1. To Israelites. From the beginning they had been shepherds; hence all along God had been calling Himself their Shepherd.
2. To Christians. The gathered force of all that psalmists sang and prophets spoke has come down to the “little flock.”
II. THE ANALOGIES SUGGESTED BY THE SIMILE.
1. The shepherd is the rightful owner of the fold, and treats his fleck in an honest way. He enters by the door, is recognized as the master, and has no semblance of the thief, etc.
2. The shepherd is the true pastor of the sheep. He admits responsibility for the care he has assumed. A hireling would flee, a robber steal and kill, but the good shepherd has thoughtful and affectionate care for the whole flock.
3. Between the pastor and the flock there is the relation of individual acquaintance.
III. THE APPLICATION OF THE SIMILE.
1. Christ as a Saviour sustains an individual relationship to every soul He saves, Each needs the atonement and the work of the Spirit precisely as each needs the entire sunshine and atmosphere in order to see and breathe.
2. Christ as a leader is acquainted with every Christian personally. He knows if he is absent from the communion table, and looks at him when he imagines himself out of sight as to love or duty.
3. Christ as a model expects each believer to be wholly conformed to His likeness. It is not to be supposed that one Christian is to exhibit gentleness and another force, etc.
4. Christ as a master is specially direct in laying His commands on every individual He chooses. He knows the one He wants and calls him by name--Samuel, Zacchaeus, Mary, Simon, Saul.
5. Christ as a comforter deals with each believer as His personal friend Isaiah 43:1-23.43.2).
6. Christ as a judge will close His last account with each individually and alone (Matthew 25:1-40.25.46). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The fold of the sheep
A place of
III. SAFETY. (S. S. Times.)
The fold and the door
Not to enter by the door is a characteristic of Oriental thieves, from the Nile to the Ganges. When a tent is to be attacked, the common method is to approach it under cover of the darkness, cut a hole large enough to crawl through, and then silently to enter and as silently to retire with the booty. Bolder robbers will occasionally dig through the walls of a house in the same way. The experience of a British officer in India affords a curious illustration of the skill of Oriental thieves. During the officer’s absence in the evening, a man crept quietly up to the tent without attracting the attention of the sentry on guard, cut an opening in the rear of the tent, and began to collect his booty. While he was engaged in this process, the officer returned. The Hindoo instantly fixed himself, silent as a statue, close to the tent wall, with arm drawn up and hand slightly extended. The officer came in, and proceeded in the half-darkness to prepare for rest. Noticing the extended hand of the thief, and mistaking it for a pin of some sort, he hung his helmet and his coat upon it. The thief stood silently holding the helmet and the coat until the officer was asleep, when he retired as he came, taking the helmet and the coat with the rest of his booty. Next morning the hole in the tent and the missing “pin” told the whole story. (S. S. Times.)
Climbeth up some other way
1. Even thieves and robbers seek a place within the fold.
2. The basest motives may impel to a place in the fold.
3. Any way but God’s way suits base men.
4. Some climb up rather than walk in; they prefer works to faith. (S. S. Times.)
Wrong ways to heaven
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 wilfully 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. (Augustine.)
Entrance without qualification
George Moore tells the following striking incident: “After I had been about two years in London, I had a great and anxious desire to see the House of Commons. I got a half-holiday for the purpose. I didn’t think of getting an order from an M.P. Indeed I hadn’t the slightest doubt of getting into the House. I first tried to get into the Strangers’ Gallery, but failed. I then hung about the entrance to see whether I could find some opportunity. I saw three or four members hurrying in, and I hurried in with them. The door keepers did not notice me. I walked into the middle of the House. When I got in I almost fainted with fear lest I should be discovered. I first got into a seat with the name of ‘Canning’ upon it. I then proceeded to a seat behind, and sat there all the evening. I heard Mr. Canning bring forward his motion to reduce the duty on corn. He made a brilliant speech and was followed by many others. I sat out the whole debate. Had I been discovered I might have been taken up for breach of privilege.” (H. O. Mackey.)
Climbing up some other way into heaven
I heard of a man some time ago who was going to get into heaven in his own way. He did not believe in the Bible or the love of God, but was going to get in on account of his good deeds. He was very liberal, gave a great deal of money, and he thought the more he gave the better it would be for him in the other world. I don’t, as a general thing, believe in dreams, but sometimes they teach good lessons. Well, this man dreamed one night that he was building a ladder to heaven, and he dreamed that every good deed he did put him one round higher on this ladder, and when he did an extra good deed it put him up a good many rounds; and in his dream he kept going, going up, until at last he got out of sight, and he went on and on doing his good deeds, and the ladder went up higher and higher, until at last he thought he saw it run up to the very throne of God. Then in his dream he thought he died, and that a mighty voice came rolling down from above: “He that climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber,” and down came his ladder, and he woke from his sleep, and thought: “If I go to heaven, I must go some other way.” My friends, it is by the way of the blood of Christ that we are to go to heaven. If a man has got to work his way there, who will ever get there? (D. L. Moody.)
Thieves and robbers.--These words do not constitute a tautology or mere rhetorical amplification (Obadiah 1:5). The one and the other appropriate what is not theirs, but the thief by fraud and in secret Matthew 24:43; John 12:6; cf. Exodus 22:2; Jeremiah 2:26), the robber by violence and openly (2 Corinthians 11:26; cf. Hosea 9:1; Jeremiah 7:11). The one steals, the other plunders, ashis name in the Greek (as our own from raub, “booty), sufficiently declares. The latter should be substituted for the former in Matthew 26:55; Matthew 26:55; Luke 23:39-42.23.43; Luke 23:39-42.23.43. (Archbp. Trench.)
Sheep to be fed, not sheared
Dr. Johnson declined a rectory in youth with “I cannot in conscience shear the sheep which I am unable to feed.”
To him the porter openeth
The porter of the door
Who is the Porter?
Christ we know is the Door. He says so Himself (John 10:7; John 10:9). But who is the Porter? An old Father of the Church writes, “Christ is the Door of the fold, and the Keeper of the Door, as well as the Shepherd of the sheep He is the Truth, and opens Himself and reveals to us His Truth.” But in spite of this--all very beautiful--all most true in a certain sense, yet not the whole truth, we must seek elsewhere for a satisfactory explanation of this difficulty. I say difficulty, because a distinct personality is ascribed to the Porter. He opens the Door. “To him the Porter openeth.” It is through His instrumentality that both the true shepherds and the sheep enter into the fold. No! The only satisfactory explanation is to see in the Porter the office and work of God the Holy Ghost. Our understanding is darkened, our hearts are sealed, our ears are closed, unless the Porter openeth. Even the fold of Christ’s Church is closed against us unless the Porter openeth the Door in holy baptism. The presence of the Lord is real in the blessed Sacrament of the altar, but unless the Porter openeth, His presence is not real to us. Many thronged around Him, but only one poor woman touched Him and was healed; so at the altar the virtue to heal is there, but the power to draw it into our soul’s health is to the heart touched by the breath of the Spirit--to him the Porter openeth! So it is with the words of absolution--they pass along with a sound and leave no blessing behind unless the Porter openeth. And so it is with the Bible--we read our Bibles, but unless the Porter openeth, the voices of the evangelists and apostles are but as a pleasant tale: listened to, but soon forgotten, or they are like “the idle wind that we regard not!” And then there is that other book--the book of Nature--which lies open before us. But we hear no sounds in the noisy brook, we see nothing in the opening buds and flowers of early summer; but once the Porter opens the door, then suddenly--“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.” Or if we look upon the pages of history. To the natural man they contain only a record of battles lost and won, a long succession of kings, some good, some bad, of dynasties set up or hurled to the ground; but when the Porter opens wide the door, and the light falls upon the pages, then we seem to read between the lines. We see how evil haunts the wicked person to destroy him and his seed forever, we see men sowing the wind and in after years, long after the sowing has faded from the memory, reaping the whirlwind! To read history without the illumination of the Holy Spirit is like looking at a beautiful landscape by the pale light of the moon. We see indeed the dark forms of the hills standing out; we note the trees in their solemn gloom; we hear and see the white foam splashing against the rocky shore; but the flowers and blades of grass, the leaves with their countless tints, the life and colour of the whole scene can only be seen by the light of the clear, noonday sun. So the manifold workings of the Holy Spirit in every successive generation can only be seen when the Porter has opened the door and enlightened our understanding, and given us a right judgment in all things. (J. Louis Spencer.)
The Advent message of the Baptist
I. WE HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT THE PORTER ALREADY THIS ADVENT AND HE HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN THE SAME. We have seen some sitting there; we might have seen others. At one time, as we saw, it was the patriarchs who were sitting there. And they said: “Go after Him, follow Him. His promise is true and faithful: He will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” And the angels sat there and taught us the thrice holy hymn, and how the incense goes up before the throne, and the worship of the elders, and the great water rush of the Alleluias, whose spray falls in a golden mist over our worship here below; and they said: “Go out with Him, and going through the vale of misery use it as a well.” And their message was, “Worship Him.” And the Law sat there in its sternness and said, “You must,” and “You shall not,” and so braced us up. And the prophets sat there, with their messages from another world, their devotion and their calm endurance. And they said, “Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” Yes; and we might have paused to see sitting there also the Gentile world with its splendid natural virtues, its beauty, dignity, and strength, and have heard them point us to the beautiful Shepherd, and bid us aim always at the true, the beautiful, and the good. But today we must contemplate the last figure that sat at the gate of the sheep fold--the precursor of the Shepherd of His people, the forerunner of the King. Then, when the Jewish fold was about to give up its sheep, once and for all, to be merged into something higher, there sits St. John the Baptist; and his message is repentance. His message to the sheep, as they pass out to forget him, to leave him, to lose him, in another and mightier than himself is, “Repent.” “To Him the porter openeth.” The Baptist is the last and truest teacher and porter of the Jewish Church, and his great message is, “Repent.”
II. And now let us turn to St. John the Baptist, and see WHAT REPENTANCE IN HIS MOUTH MEANT AS A PREPARATION FOR CHRIST. And we are attracted at once with the dignity, the magnitude of the word. It is not quite the most popular method--Repent. And when he said this, he asked them to feel sorrow. The Pharisee must feel, “Well, I have made a false start.” This satisfaction is not a good sign; the remedies I have chosen have not been painful, but they have not touched the seat of the disease. The knife and the burning is what I need. Oh, that sore! It is a humiliating thought to remember how it came there as I tear away the covering which conceals it. And he meant more than this. They were baptized of him in Jordan “confessing their sins.” It would be easy and in perfect good taste to soften down the too striking contour of a proud individuality with a confession which does but “bless with faint blame.” But no, he wants more. He wants each to face for himself the accumulation of a lifetime, to watch the tale of sin mounting up to its deadly total, until like a spendthrift, who having had a general idea that he had been extravagant, is astonished as each bill adds its quota to the heavy debt, some forgotten, some underestimated, some put aside to another day--he faces the accumulating mass and realizes the enormity of the debt which he believed that he some day would be able to pay if God would but extend patience to him. No; repentance on any other principle would lack, I had almost said, that business-like air which should characterize all our dealings with our souls. It would lack that element of humble acknowledgment which, when it concerns ourselves, we call an apology, to an all-knowing God who, indeed, can trace far better than we can right up into the hidden springs of motive, the history of our sins, but yet waits for us with our own mouths to tell Him. And then he had for each his own method of amendment. Such is the message of that porter who held the gate at the last moment before the Dawn, such was his teaching of repentance which was to prepare the way of the Lord.
III. AND STILL THE MESSAGE OF THE NEARER ADVENT IS REPENTANCE. Would that we learned more that penitence is a prerequisite to entering on the service of God! And then, lastly, “Repent” is the message before the last, the final coming of the Lord to each soul in death. And here again the Church, just about to give up the sheep into the hands of the Good Shepherd, still murmurs through the voice of the porter--“Repent.” And so the porter waits the coming of Christ to claim His own. “Repent.” His voice is stern, but the light gets brighter, the heaven is ablaze, His footsteps sound across the distance, the Bridegroom cometh go ye forth to meet Him. (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)
The conscience a porter
The moral nature does not jar at the entrance of Christ or of the “Truth as it is in Jesus.” The porter, which is the conscience and heart of man, never refuses the answer to the true voice. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The office of a true shepherd
It is not the chief shepherd who is here spoken of, but an under shepherd, a minister of Christ.
I. HE IS LED INTO HIS OFFICE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. “To him the porter openeth” (Acts 14:27; 1Co 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3).
II. HIS TEACHING IS RECOGNIZED AS FROM GOD. “The sheep hear His voice.” This can only be when it is drawn from and is in harmony with God’s Word.
III. HE FAITHFULLY ACQUAINTS HIMSELF WITH HIS PEOPLE. “He calleth His own sheep by name.” He is familiar with the names, faces, and circumstances of His flock.
IV. HE SETS BEFORE HIS FLOCK AN EXAMPLE THEY MAY SAFELY FOLLOW. “He leadeth them out.” In His teaching and life He points the way they may safely go--“allures to brighter worlds and leads the way.” Every shepherd will have to give an account for his flock to the Good Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). (Family Churchman.)
He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out
The personal love and lead of Christ
I. THE PERSONAL LOVE OF CHRIST. The parable is designed to correct the belief that while God has a real care of the Church He can have no personal recognition of its individual members. There could not be a greater mistake.
1. For the relation God holds to objects of knowledge is different in all respects from that which is held by us. Our general terms, man, tree, etc., are names of single specimens extended to species, and comes to stand for millions of men, etc., we never can know. But God does not generalize in this manner. His knowledge of wholes is real and complete as being a distinct knowledge of particulars. Whatever particulars exist were known by Him as being thought before they became fact. Holding in His thought the eternal archetypes of species, He also thought each individual in its particular type as dominated by the common archetype. This on God’s part is inevitable; for the sun can no more shine on the world without touching every atom than God can know or love whole bodies of saints without knowing or loving individuals. Being a perfect mind and not a mere spark of intelligence like us, He cannot fall into our imperfections when we strain ourselves to set up generals to piece out and hide our ignorance.
2. One of the great uses of the Incarnation was to humanize God that we might believe in His personal love. In Christ was visible one of us and was attentive to every personal want of the world. When a lone woman came up in a crowd to steal as it were some healing power He would not let her off in that impersonal, unrecognizing way. He even hunts up the youth He has healed of his blindness and opens up to him the secrets of His Messiahship. He tasted death for every man. He calls us friends because He is on the private footing of personal confidence, and promises a friendship so personal that it shall be a cipher of mutual understanding, giving us a white stone and in the stone a new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
3. Every particular work of this Gospel shows how personal it is. What is communion that is not fellowship with particular souls? We speak of the Holy Spirit as falling on communities, but He reaches the general body only through individuals, save that there is an effect of mutual excitement, which is secondary, and comes from their sense of what is revealed in each other and under the power of the Spirit in each. So with everything included in salvation, in the renewing, fashioning, guidance, discipline, and final crowning in glory; so that a Christian is finally saved not as someone led forth in the flock, but as the Master’s dear Simon, James, Martha, whose name is so recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
4. It is in this view that the Church in baptizing her children takes with a beautiful propriety the “Christian name,” in which Christ recognizes the child’s discipleship.
II. THE PERSONAL LEAD OF CHRIST.
1. Here is the glory of Christ as a Saviour that He goes always before, never behind, His flock. He begins with infancy that He may show a grace for childhood. He is made under the Law and fulfils all righteousness, that He may sanctify the law to us and make it honourable. He goes before us in temptations that we may bear them after Him. He taught us forgiveness by forgiving His enemies. He bore His cross and commands us to bear it after Him. And then He went before us in the bursting of the grave, and ascended as our Forerunner whom we are to follow even there.
2. This spirit entered into those whom He gave to lead the flock. They followed Him in the regeneration and took it upon them as their Master’s law to require nothing in which they were not forward themselves. “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We have seen it differently--teachers that lay heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, feeding themselves out of charities extorted from the poor; philanthropists publishing great swelling words of equality and tapering off in virtues they neither practise nor like. All such drive a flock.
1. Men make a great mistake when they regard Christian life as a legal and constrained service. This image represents the freedom of the disciple. He is led by a personal influence and answers to the name by which he is called. No Christian is to go to his duty because he must, but only because his heart is in it, for his heart is in his Master’s love, and he follows Him gladly.
2. We discover what to think of that class who aspire to be specially faithful but are principally strenuous in putting forward and laying, burdens on others, and slide over their own deficiency in the very things they insist on, by extolling the modesty which does not profess to be an example to others. How much more faithful and modest should we be if we judged only as we practiced, and fortified our words by our example!
3. Consider what is true of any disciple who is straying from Christ that his Shepherd still cares for him, and calls him personally. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The personal relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep
You are seated by your fireside on a winter night when the announcement is made--“A friend has come!” That announce ment makes you benevolently expectant; yet your state of mind is then only vague and uncertain, for there are friends, and friends. But in the next moment the name is spoken, or the face of your friend shines in the door of your room; and that face appearing, or that name uttered, in a moment calls up the proper feeling, no other face appearing there, nor any other name that could be pronounced in your hearing, would call up exactly the same feeling. Each friend has his own place in your heart, and gets his own welcome when he comes. There is a general affection which you bear to all your friends; there is a specific and differentiated affection which you bear to each. So it is with the Shepherd and the flock. The whole flock is known, and loved, and led; but each has separate and individual love and leading. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The calling of the sheep
We of the West are accustomed to give names to dogs, horses, and even to cows, and are not surprised that these animals are intelligent enough to recognize their own names. In the ancient East, it was not unusual to give names to sheep in the same way. The classical scholar will recall the instance in Theocritus, where the shepherd calls several of his sheep to him by their individual names.
I. CHRIST CALLS
II. CHRIST CALLS BY NAME.
1. By our worldly names; for He knows each personally and particularly.
2. By our spiritual names; for He knows our standing and destiny. (S. S. Times.)
The individualizing knowledge of Christ
It is hard to realize that Jesus has an individual acquaintance with each of us separately. The very thought is bewildering in its magnitude, in view of the myriads of the redeemed. I once heard General Grant say that when he was colonel of a regiment he knew every man of his command by name; but as he rose in command he found it necessary to diminish the scope of his knowledge of individuals, until, when he was at the head of the entire army, he gave little thought to individuals below the rank of a division commander. An army comrade of mine, who was with General Sherman’s army in its northward march from Savannah, told me of an incident which illustrated in another way the magnitude of the thought that every soldier had a personal individuality. The army was passing along sparely frequented roadway in North Carolina. A woman stood in the doorway of her cabin, and saw regiment after regiment of men similar in appearance and dress pass by, until, as the thousands upon thousands came and went, she said in wonderment: “I reckon you ‘uns ain’t all got names.” It seemed to her an impossibility that each soldier was a distinct and recognized identity. It would have seemed stranger yet to think that one man could know each soldier there by name. Yet far beyond these suggestions of human limitation of personal knowledge and of personal sympathy, there comes the assurance that Jesus knows His every disciple by name, and that He daily and hourly speaks loving words of tenderness and counsel and guidance accordingly. (H. C.Trumbull, D. D.)
The leading of the flock
We have here not a mere everyday description of the shepherd’s act, but a precise statement of a definite historical situation. The time had come for Jesus to lead His flock out of the theocracy which was devoted to destruction. He recognized the sequel of this inevitable rupture in the expulsion of the man (John 9:24), in the decree of excommunication which struck both Himself and His followers, and generally in the violent hostility of which He found Himself the object. (F. Godet, D. D.)
He always comes to “lead,” never to linger and stay. If He finds one so wounded and torn and near to death as to be unable to follow, He will lay that sheep on His shoulder. If He finds a lamb faint and homeless, He will “carry it in His bosom.” But in most instances He gives from the first the strength to follow, and expects it to be used. “He leadeth them out”--“out,” of course, from the whole natural sinful life, from all its darkness and misery, into the light and joy of acceptance; “out” of infantine feebleness into manly strength; “out” of narrow views into wider; “out” of first experiences into more matured; “out” of mistakes and disappointments into wiser ways and better fortunes; “out” of dreamy indolence into those activities by which alone it can be escaped; “out” of overstrained activity into some quiet hour or time of “refreshing from the presence of the Lord;” “out” of besetting sin into waiting duty. Sometimes you think if the Good Shepherd were really leading you it would be into other fields than those through which you have of late been passing. Be careful here. I have seen a shepherd, on a bitter snowy day, gathering all his sheep carefully to the windy side of the hill. The silly creatures, left to themselves, would all take the other side; they would go straight to the most dangerous places, to the sheltered spots where the deep snow wreaths form silently, in which they would soon find at once a refuge and a grave. On such a day the life of some of the sheep depends on facing the blast. The shepherd would not let the youngest, he would not let the weakest one of the flock, lie down in the shelter. For the very love he bears it, “he calls it by name, and leads it out,” or drives, or carries--even in such an hour as that--facing the bitter wind and the blinding snow! And if we knew the personal love of Christ, we shall not be so apt to distinguish and select certain special modes for its manifestation as alone suitable and proper. One mode will seem to us almost as good as another if it be the one that He selects, and we shall hear the loving voice in the darkness as well as in the light; in the roar of the wintry storm as in the hush of the summer silence. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
He goeth before them.--This is a sight which may still be seen in the East. With us sheep are driven; with the Orientals they are led. The shepherd goes on before, and the sheep follow after, much as dogs follow their master in the West, but without the briskness and vigour of dogs. It is not unusual to see the shepherd leading the sheep thus, and at the same time carrying upon his shoulder some tender youngling of the flock.
I. CHRIST PRECEDES
1. To open the way.
2. To present an example.
3. To destroy the enemies.
II. HIS FLOCK SHOULD FOLLOW
4. Hopefully. (S. S. Times.)
Christ the Leader of His people
I have read of a distinguished general who conducted an army by forced marches through a sterile as well as hostile country. They were footsore, worn, and weary; supplied with the scantiest fare, and toiling all day long, through heavy sands, and beneath a scorching sun. Yet his brave men pressed on--such as fell out of the line by day, unless shot down by the foe who crouched like tigers in every bush, and hung in clouds on their flanks and rear, rejoining their ranks in the cool and darkness of the night. Thus this gallant army, undaunted and indomitable, accomplished a great achievement in arms. And how? They were inspired by their commander. Foregoing the privileges of his rank, he dismounted from his horse to put himself not only at the head of his men, but on a level with them. He shared their hard bed; he lived on their scanty rations; every foot they walked he walked; every foe they faced he faced; every hardship they endured he bore; and with cheek as brown, and limbs as weary, and couch as rude as theirs, he came down to their condition--touched by their infirmities, and teaching them by his example what part to act, and with what patience to endure. They would have followed him to the cannon’s mouth--his cry not Forward but Follow. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
They know his voice … they know not the voice of strangers
The voice of the shepherd known
An American, who was travelling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. At length one shepherd arose and called out “Men-ah! Men-ah!” the Arabic for “Follow me.” His sheep came out of the common herd and followed him up the hillside. Then the next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and the man did not even stop to count them. The traveller said to the remaining shepherd--“Just give me your turban and crook, and see if they will not follow me as soon as you,” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out “Men-ah! Men-ah!” but not a sheep moved. “They know not the voice of a stranger.” “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the gentleman. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Oh, yes; sometimes a sheep gets sick and then he will follow anyone.” Is it not so with the flock of Christ? (Christian Age.)
Sheep will not follow strangers
A man in India was accused of stealing a sheep. He was brought before the judge, and the supposed owner of the sheep was present. Both claimed the sheep, and had witnesses to prove their claims; so it was not easy to decide to whom the sheep belonged. Knowing the habits of the shepherds and the sheep, the judge ordered the animal to be brought into court, and sent one of the two men into another room while he told the other to call the sheep. But the poor sheep not knowing the voice of the stranger would not go to him. In the meantime, the other man in the adjoining room growing impatient gave a kind of a “chuck,” upon which the sheep bounded away towards him at once. This “chuck” was the way in which he had been used to call the sheep, and it was at once decided that he was the real owner. (W. Baxendale.)
False teachers not trusted
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 I Can it be wrong to act on the same principles for our souls? (T. Scott, M. A.)
False teachers shunned
Placilla, the Empress, when Theodosius (senior) desired to confer with Eunomius the heretic, dissuaded her husband very earnestly; lest, being perverted by his speeches, he might fall into heresy. Anastasius II, Bishop of Rome (497), whilst he sought to convince Acacius the heretic, was seduced by him. A little leaven soon soureth the whole lump. One spoonful of vinegar will soon tart a great deal of sweet milk, but a great deal of milk will not so soon sweeten one spoonful of vinegar. (J. Trapp.)
Satisfaction only in following Christ
It is said that man is a religious animal. He must have some religion. To any Christian it must be the religion of Christ: that or none. We cannot go back to paganism. We cannot return to Judaism. Judaism is nothing but a promissory note. If Christ is not the Messiah, that note is two thousand years past due, and daily becoming more worthless and more hopeless. We cannot go to Mahomet, riding armour clad and blood stained, leading us to a life of revenge and a heaven of sensuality. We cannot accept Brahmanism, with its vedas and its Hindoo gods, with its metaphysical quibbles and its social tyrannies. Every woman, and every man with wife and sister and daughter says, We will have no Brahmanism. We cannot be atheists, and say, “There is no God!” for then would Nature’s heart cease to beat, and we could only stand orphaned by its mighty corpse, and wait without hope till we are buried at last in the same eternal grave of rayless night. (R. S. Barrett.)
I am the Door of the sheep
The connection between the two similitudes
The picture (John 10:1-43.10.5) which described the forming of the Messianic flock, and its departure from the theocratic fold was a morning scene. This, which describes the life of the flock when formed and led by the Messiah, is taken from a scene at midday. The sheep go at will in and out of a fold situated in the midst of the pasture. When they desire shelter they enter it: when hunger urges them they leave it, for its door is constantly open to them. They thus possess both safety and abundance, the two essentials to the prosperity of the flock. In this new image the shepherd disappears, and it is the door which plays the chief part. The fold no longer represents the ancient covenant, but Messiah’s salvation, and that complete happiness which believers who have accepted Him enjoy. In the former parable, God caused the porter to open the door to the shepherd; in this the Messiah Himself is to His sheep the door of a constant and daily salvation. (F. Coder, D. D.)
The door and the shepherds
I. THE DOOR.
1. Of the sheep--the entrance through which a soul passes into God’s fold. This Christ claims to be
(1) Personally. “I,” not My teaching, example, propitiation.
(2) Exclusively. “The.” As a Saviour Christ stands alone, shares His honours with no colleague, not even with a Moses, far less with a Zoroaster, Confucius, Mohammed, angel, virgin, priest, or pope.
(3) Universally--“any” (Hebrews 7:25).
(4) Certainly--“Shall be saved.”
(5) Completely: Salvation
(a) The most desirable in quality; perfect freedom.
(b) The most abundant in quantity; ample satisfaction.
2. To the sheep--the entrance by which the shepherds find access. This also Christ claims to be, and therefore no one has a right to be shepherd who does not
(1) Derive such an office from Christ (Ephesians 4:11).
(2) Approach men through His own personal acquaintance with Christ 2 Corinthians 4:13).
(3) Seek to lead men to a believing acceptance of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2).
(4) Devote himself to the spiritual edification of those who have believed on Christ (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2).
II. THE SHEPHERDS.
(1) The time they appeared - “before Christ.”
(2) Their character - “thieves, etc.”
(3) Their objects - to steal, kill, etc., for their own enrichment (verse 10).
(4) Their experience (verse 3).
2. The true Shepherd.
(1) Whence He came: from above, from heaven, from God.
(2) When He appeared: in the fulness of the times.
(3) What He sought: the welfare of God’s flock
(a) That men might have life.
(b) That believers might have it abundantly (John 1:16). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Christ the Door
1. None can enter without the permission of Christ.
2. Without the knowledge of Christ.
3. Without the image of Christ.
4. Without faith in the blood of Christ.
5. Without sharing in the blessedness of Christ.
Christ is the door to a right understanding of nature, providence, history, the Bible. By Him alone we have access to the Father, the enjoyment of salvation, the title to heaven. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Christ the Door
The simile is at first sight a strange one. A door is seldom a thing of beauty or impressiveness--a mere instrument of convenience. Yet upon further thought there will come to mind so many uses that admiration will take the place of surprise. A door is an emblem
1. Of separation. On one side are the passions, the driving cares of the world; on the other love and quietness.
2. Of protection. The things that are happening in the community roll up to the door and, like a wave on the beach, they break and pass away. And we can bring up our children, thanks to the Door, in the midst of temptations safely.
3. Of hospitality. To keep an open door is equivalent to the declaration that one employs it as one instrument of pleasure to others. At the door too we greet the returning children and the much prized guests. When Christ, therefore, called Himself a door no more significant symbol could well have been selected. He is the Door to the home. Christ is the door
I. FOR THE TROUBLED. There is no sound in the household sweeter than the opening and closing door when love reigns. All day long the father strives at business. The whole day has been full of care and wrangling. The head is hot and the limbs weary. But the day is over at last and he prepares for home. He draws near. The door opens. The children hear it and run. Now every wrinkle is gone and he looks round with a sense of grateful rest and thanks God that the sound of that shutting door was the last echo of the thunder of care and trouble. “I am the Door,” says Christ; opening you shall be within the circle of love. What the home is to the troubled that is Christ to those who know how to make use of Him. Speak ye that have proved it. Mothers who have been sustained in the midst of troubles that rasped the soul to the very quick: fathers who have gone through the burden and heat of the world. There are bereaved hearts who need the refuge you have found. Publish the invitation you have accepted. “Come unto Me all ye,” etc.
II. FOR THE PETITIONER. If the journey of the hearts of petitioners to the doors of men of wealth, influence, wisdom, skill, could be written, how full of pathos it would be! Who can imagine the solicitude of one delicately reared but reduced to poverty as she seeks aid that she may rescue from suffering and death her offspring. Torn between delicacy and affection how hesitating she goes to the door of the rich man for help! But it is opened, and scarcely has she seated herself before her benefactor comes and makes her sorrow his own. But have there not been those who have gone to Christ for themselves or their children with as little faith, with anguish unspeakable? And, or ever they knew it, the cloud was lifted; the door was opened; the Christ was manifest; and His bounty flooded their souls.
III. FOR THE DOUBTER. There is no experience more dreary for a noble nature than doubt. It may do for dry natures; but I would rather have superstition. Admitting that that is dead at the root, yet, like a tree covered with mistletoe, there is some life and freshness. But the doubter is dead from top to root. Or he may be compared to one lost in a snowstorm in an open prairie. The road he travels on is soon obliterated. There is now nothing by which he can direct his course. He begins to be uncertain and is alarmed. With this comes exertion, which makes matters worse. He wanders round and round, grows chilly and numb, drowsiness steals over him; and, just as he is tempted to take the fatal rest, he discerns a light, follows it, stumbles upon the door of the cottage, which bursts open, and there he sinks down as one dead. But behind that door he is safe. And so there are those who have wandered from church to church, from theory to theory, from belief to unbelief. Round and round they wander; as they are about to give up there comes the opening of a door through which streams the light of Christ. Men want to be argued out of doubt; but what men need is not more reasoning, persuading, showing, but more Christ. Only love can cure.
IV. FOR THOSE WHO IN RELIGION FIND UNEXPECTED HEART RICHES. There are many who live in a plain way, unconscious that there are great treasures near, and are brought unexpectedly into a full fruition of them. How many go to Christ as to a captain on a battlefield, a master in a workshop, expecting suffering and toil, and find Him instead to be the door to a beautiful home where they find comfort and wealth in abundance.
V. FOR THOSE IN DANGER. David represents God as a strong tower into which he may run and be safe from the victorious and pursuing enemy or the pitiless storm. Christ is the door of refuge to souls in all kinds of peril.
VI. FOR WANDERERS. There is a vagrant child who has proved the folly of his course. He hesitates about going back; but he goes and finds the door open, however long he may have been away. There is the child who has honourably wandered and is on his return. How the vision of the door haunts him! And that daughter who has wandered to the brink of hell, the door held open by a mother’s love invites her return. And what the open door of home is to the penitent Jesus is to the worst. VII. OF DEATH; but He is a gate of pearl. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the door
I. A DOOR SUGGESTS ENTRANCE INTO AN ENCLOSURE--either a home or a sanctuary. The enclosure of which Christ is the Door is
1. The Church, to which He affords entrance by His atonement.
2. Heaven, of which He is the Door, because He is the Door of the Church; for both are in the same enclosure, the one being the vestibule of the other. “He that believeth … hath eternal life.”
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DOOR: breadth and narrowness. One class of Scriptures disclose the Door as wide as the world in the light of the ample provision made for salvation. But when viewed in its attitude towards sin it is so narrow that the smallest sin cannot enter. The rich moralist found it too narrow with his single sin, but it was broad enough to admit the penitent “chief of sinners.”
III. THIS DOOR IS BOTH EASY AND DIFFICULT TO OPEN. There are doors so arranged that the pressure of a child’s finger on a spring will cause them to swing wide open, when otherwise the strongest force could not move them. The Spring of this door will yield to the weakest touch of faith, but the Door will not move by the mightiest other means. See this illustrated in the case of the publican and Pharisee.
IV. CHRIST IS THE ONLY DOOR. “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” “Neither is there salvation in any other.” True, John saw twelve gates. One door into the Church, many into heaven. Each gate is some beautiful pearl of Christ’s grace--His love, wisdom, faithfulness, etc. But they are all one in Christ.
V. THIS DOOR IS A SURE DEFENCE TO THOSE WHO HAVE TAKEN REFUGE WITHIN IT. No enemy shall be able to force an entrance. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (M. W. Hamma, D. D.)
Christ the Door
Our Lord sets Himself forth very condescendingly. The most sublime and poetical figures are none too glorious to describe Him; but He chooses homely ones, which the most prosaic minds can apprehend.
1. A door is a common object. Jesus would have us often think of Him.
2. A door makes a very simple emblem. Jesus would have the lowliest know Him, and use Him.
3. A door to a sheepfold is the poorest form of door. Jesus condescends to be anything, so that He may serve and save His people.
I. THE DOOR. In this homely illustration we see
1. Necessity. Suppose there had been none, we could never have entered in to God, peace, truth, salvation, purity, or heaven.
2. Singularity. There is only one door; let us not weary ourselves to find another (Acts 4:12).
3. Personality. Jesus is Himself the door; not ceremonies, doctrines, professions, achievements, but Himself.
4. Suitability. He is suited to be the communication between man and God, seeing He unites both in His own person, and thus lies open both earthward and heavenward (1 Timothy 2:5).
5. Perpetuity. His “I am” is for all times and ages (Matthew 23:20). We can still come to the Father by Him (John 14:6; Hebrews 7:25).
II. THE USERS OF IT.
1. They are not mere observers, or knockers at the door, or sitters down before it, or guards marching to and fro in front of it. But they enter in by faith, love, experience, communion.
2. They are not certain persons who have special qualifications, such as those of race, rank, education, office, or wealth. Not lords and ladies are spoken of; but “any man.”
3. They are persons who have the one qualification: they do “enter in.” The person is “any man,” but the essential distinction is entrance. This is intended to exclude
(1) Character previously acquired as a fitness for entrance.
(2) Feeling either of grief or joy, as a preparation for admission.
(3) Action, otherwise than that of entering in, as a term of reception.
4. A door may be marked private, and then few will enter. A door which is conspicuously marked as the door is evidently meant to be used. The remarkable advertisement of “I am the door,” and the special promises appended to it, are the most liberal invitation imaginable. Come then, ye who long to enter in life l
III. THE PRIVILEGES OF THESE USERS. They belong to all who enter; no exception is made.
1. Salvation. “He shall be saved.”
2. Liberty. He “shall go in and out.”
3. Access. “Shall go in”: for pleading, hiding, fellowship, instruction, enjoyment.
4. Egress. “He shall go out”: for service, progress, etc.
5. Nourishment. “And find pasture.” Our spiritual food is found through Christ, in Christ, and around Christ.
Conclusion: Let us enter.
1. A door is easy of access; we shall not have to climb over some lofty wall.
2. It is a door for sheep, who have no wisdom.
3. The door is Jesus; we need not fear to draw nigh to Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The parable of the door
Two distinct allegories in this part of the chapter; they should be carefully distinguished. The parable of the Good Shepherd is sustained at greater length, and has found first place in the popular mind; but this parable of the door has a beauty of its own. Two ideas are prominent.
I. SAFETY. “He shall be saved.”
1. The sinner pursued by grim memories of guilt that are like a pack of wolves, makes for this stout Door: as he passes in it closes upon all the fierce pursuers, and the hunted victim may breathe freely again.
2. The saint too needs shelter.
(1) He must earn money, and mammon lurks near.
(2) He must sustain himself, and selfishness is not far off.
(3) He must have recreation, and the lust of pleasure lies in wait.
(4) He must mix with men, and pride and fear alternately threaten to devour him.
(5) He must play the citizen, and the spirit of party bitterness couches near. But he too can make for this shelter when chased by these spirits of evil, and once across this threshold may leave the rabble, howling but harmless, the wrong side of the door.
II. LIBERTY. “He shall go in and out,” etc. There is a passing out through Christ into the world. The Christian life is no life of isolation; we still remain under obligation to deal with mundane affairs. But it is possible to share Christ’s view of life, to see all its duties in the light of His Cross, so that we pass in and out between the Church and the world unharmed. (Walter Hawkins.)
Christ the only Door
I. HOW TO ENTER THE CHURCH.
1. Negatively. We cannot get into it
(1) By baptism. Millions are baptized with water, but unless they come to Christ by true faith they are no better than baptized pagans.
(2) By birthright. It is a great privilege to have Christian parents, but, “except a man be born again,” etc. Your father and mother are not the door, but Christ only.
(3) By profession. A professor may prove himself a hypocrite, but he cannot prove himself a Christian by mere profession. Men do not get rich by professing to be wealthy. They must hold their title deeds, and have cash in the strong box.
(4) By admission to the visible Church. If a man leaves the door alone and climbs over the wall and gets into the outward Church without Christ, he is a thief, etc. If you have not Christ your Church certificates are waste paper.
2. Positively. By faith in Christ.
(1) If you exercise this it makes it plain that you enter by Christ, the Door, because faith leads to obedience. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
(2) If we have entered through that Door it does not matter what priest or pope may say.
II. THE PRIVILEGES OF ENTERING BY THAT DOOR.
1. He shall be saved--as the manslayer from the avenger; as Noah and his family.
2. He shall go in
(1) To rest and peace, for there is no condemnation (Romans 3:1).
(2) To secret knowledge.
(3) To God, with holy boldness in prayer as the adopted heir of heaven.
(4) To the highest attainment in spiritual things, for a man does not tarry just inside the threshold of his home. Do not stop where you are. Go further in to get more holiness, joy, etc.
3. He shall go out
(1) To his daily business. The way to do that calmly and justly is to go to it through Christ. Do you neglect your morning prayer.
(2) To suffering.
(3) To conflict with temptation.
(4) To Christian service. It makes all the difference between success and failure whether we go on not out through “the Door.”
4. He shall find pasture (Psalms 23:1-19.23.6). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Door always open
In olden times, cathedrals were regarded as places of sanctuary, where criminals and others might take refuge. Over the north porch of Durham Cathedral was a room where two doorkeepers kept watch alternately to admit any who at any time, either by day or by night knocked at the gate, and claimed the protection of St. Cuthbert. Whoever comes to the door of our house of refuge, and at whatever time, finds ready admittance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Of all means of protection, the least trustworthy are those which are trustworthy only at times. Ship’s boats that cannot be lowered at the critical moment; fire escapes that can be swept by the rushing flames; towers of refuge that are locked and barred when the need for refuge comes;--all these inspire a false confidence, and are the more untrustworthy that they seem so trustworthy. It was a wise provision of the Romans when they instituted the office of Tribune of the Plebs for the protection of the common people, that the doors of the Tribune should stand open night and day. And so they stood; and to these wide-open doors of refuge the oppressed plebeian could flee by day or by night, sure of always finding a refuge there. Such, too, is the Christian’s privilege. (H. C.Trumbull, D. D.)
The work of the reformation was thus described by Stern, a German statesman: “Thank heaven, Dr. Luther has made the entrance into heaven somewhat shorter, by dismissing a crowd of doorkeepers, chamberlains, and masters of ceremony.”
Christ, the only Door into the kingdom of God
The old city of Troy had but one gate. Go round and round and round the city, and you could find no other. If you wanted to get in, there was but one way, and no other. So to the strong and beautiful city of heaven there is but one gate and no other. Do you know what it is? Christ says, “I am the Door.” (J. L.Nye.)
He shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.--The fulness of Christian life is exhibited in its three elements--safety, liberty, support. Admission to the fold brings with it, first, security. But this security is not gained by isolation. The believer goes in and out without endangering his position (Numbers 27:17; Deuteronomy 31:2); he exercises the sum of all his powers, claiming his share in the inheritance of the world, secure in his home. And while he does so he finds pasture. He is able to convert to Divinest uses all the fruits of the earth. But in all this he retains his life “in Christ,” and he approaches all else “through Christ,” who brings not only redemption, but the satisfaction of man’s true wants (cf. John 7:37)
. (Bp. Westcott.)
I read a story the other day of some Russians crossing wide plains studded over here and there with forests. The wolves were out, the horses were rushing forward madly, the travellers could hear the baying; and, though the horses tore along with all speed, yet the wolves were fast behind, and they only escaped, as we say, “by the skin of their teeth,” managing just to get inside some hut that stood in the road, and to shut the door. Then they could hear the wolves leap on the roof; they could hear them dash against the sides of the hut; they could hear them gnawing at the door, and howling, and making all sorts of dismal noises; but the travellers were safe, because they had entered in by the door, and the door was shut. Now, when a man is in Christ, he can hear, as it were, the devils howling like wolves, all fierce and hungry for him; and his own sins, like wolves, are seeking to drag him down to destruction. But he has got in to Christ, and that is such a shelter that all the devils in the world, if they were to come at once, could not start a single beam of that eternal refuge: it must stand fast, though the earth and heaven should pass away. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To go in and out
is an expression frequently used in Scripture to designate the free use of an abode into which one may enter and from which one may depart, without hindrance, which supposes that the individual so acting belongs to the house, and is at home there (Deuteronomy 31:2; Deuteronomy 31:2; Jeremiah 37:4; Acts 1:21). Jesus here uses the term “to go in” to denote the satisfaction of a desire for repose, the possession” of a safe retreat; and “to go out” to indicate the satisfaction of the need of nourishment, the enjoyment of rich pasturage. The idea of pasture is further developed in John 10:10 by that of life, to which is added the idea of abundance, of superfluity. (F. Godet, D. D.)
means entering by faith, “go out” means dying in faith and the resultant life in glory. (Augustine.)
The fold of Christ is not a prison. It does not shut men in forcibly. Those who belong in it can pass and repass at their pleasure, seeking pasture everywhere in the exercise of Christian liberty. There are no persons on earth so free to gather knowledge from all sources, and to hunt out the good from all directions, as Christian scientists. And no man can know so much about any good there is in all the outside religions of the world as the intelligent disciple of Jesus who is competent to recognize truth even when commingled with error, and who therefore has power to distinguish between truth and error. The man who has not yet been inside of the Christian fold is of all men less capable of comparing that fold with the religions of the world outside of it. There is a vast difference between him who keeps outside all the time, and him who goes in and goes out finding pasture. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Many fields has He in this great pasture land of life; and He has some of the well-loved sheep in them all. There are the fields of peace, much sought after, which, however, are apt to lose their charm and stay their benefits when too long tarried in. There are the fields of toil, where the nourishment comes by working more than by eating. There are the fields of danger, where all the senses need to be in exerelse, and all the energy bent towards getting through. There are the fields of darkness, where the sheep crowd close to the shepherd in timid trustfulness. There are the fields of prospect, where at times refreshing sight may be had of the higher pasture land up to which all the flock will be led one day amid celestial light and song. And again we say that every one of these fields is as a trysting place, where the Divine lover of human souls can meet with such of them as for the time He may “call,” and where He can give them, one by one, such tokens of His love and care as their needs for the time require. Nor will it be long until He leads them through the particular field, and into the gate of some new “time” or “season” which has meanwhile arrived. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The gifts to the flock
Jesus Christ presents Himself before the whole race of man, and declares Himself able to deal with the needs of every individual in the tremendous whole. “If any man”--no matter who, where, when. For all noble and happy life there are at least three things needed: security, sustenance, and a field for the exercise of activity. To provide these is the end of all human society and government. Jesus Christ here says that He can give all these for everybody. The imagery of the sheep and the fold is still, of course, in His mind, and colours the form of the representation. But the substance is the declaration that, to any and every soul, no matter how ringed about with danger, no matter how hampered and hindered in work, no matter how barren of all supply earth may be, He will give these the primal requisites of life. “He shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
I. IN AND THROUGH CHRIST ANY MAN MAY BE SAVED.
1. The word “saved” here is rather used with reference to the imagery of the parable than in its full Christian sense, and means “safe,” rather than “saved.” At the same time, the two ideas pass into one another; and the declaration of my text is that because, step by step, conflict by conflict, in passing danger after danger, external and internal, Jesus Christ, through our union with Him, will keep us safe, at the last we shall reach everlasting salvation. You and I have to betake ourselves behind the defences of that strong love and mighty hand if ever we are to pass through life without fatal harm. For consider that, even in regard of outward danger, union with Jesus Christ defends and delivers us. Suppose two Manchester merchants, made bankrupt by the same commercial crisis; or two shipwrecked sailors lashed upon a raft; or two men sitting side by side in a railway carriage and smashed by the same collision. One is a Christian and the other is not. The same blow is altogether different in aspect and actual effect upon the two men. The one is crushed, or embittered, or driven to despair, or to drink, or something or other, to soothe the bitterness; the other bows himself with “It is the Lord! Let Him do what seemeth Him good.” So the two disasters are utterly different, though in form they may be the same, and he that has entered into the fold by Jesus Christ is safe, not from outward disaster--that would be but a poor thing--but in it.
2. In our union with Jesus Christ, by simple faith in Him and loyal submission and obedience, we do receive an impenetrable defence against the true evils, and the only things worth calling dangers. For the only real evil is the peril that we shall lose our confidence and be untrue to our best selves, and depart from the living God. Nothing is evil except that which tempts, and succeeds in tempting, us away from Him. Real gift of power from Jesus Christ, the influx of His strength into our weakness of some portion of the spirit of life that was in Him into our deadness is promised, and the promise is abundantly fulfilled to all men who trust Him. Oh, brother, do not trust yourself out amongst the pitfalls and snares of life without Him. And so, kept safe from each danger and in each moment of temptation, the aggregate and sum of the several deliverances will amount to the everlasting salvation which shall be perfected in the heavens.
3. Remember the condition, “By Me if any man enter in.” That is not a thing to be done once for all, but needs perpetual repetition. When we clasp anything in our hands, however tight the initial grasp, unless there is a continual effort of renewed tightening, the muscles become lax, and you have to renew the tension if you are to keep the grasp. So in our Christian life it is only the continual repetition of the act which our Master here calls “entering in by Him” that will bring to us this continual exemption from, and immunity in, the dangers that beset us. Keep Christ between you and the storm. Keep on the lee side of the Rock of Ages. Keep behind the breakwater, for there is a wild sea running outside; and your little boat, undecked and with a feeble hand at the helm, will soon be swamped. Keep within the fold, for wolves and lions lie in every bush. Live moment by moment in the realizing of Christ’s presence, power, and grace. Only so shall we be safe.
II. IN JESUS CHRIST ANY MAN MAY FIND A FIELD FOR UNRESTRICTED ACTIVITY. That metaphor of “going in and out” is partly explained to us by the image of the flock, which passes into the fold for peaceful repose, and out again, without danger, for exercise and food; and partly by its frequent use in the Old Testament, and in common conversation, as the designation of the two-sided activity of human life. The one side is the contemplative life of interior union with Jesus Christ by faith and love; the other the active life of practical obedience in the field of work which God provides for us.
1. “He shall go in.” That comes first, though it interferes with the propriety of the metaphor, because the condition of this “going in” is the other “entering in by Me, the door.” That is to say, that, given the union with Jesus Christ by faith, there must then, as the basis of all activity, follow very frequent and deep inward acts of contemplation, of faith, and aspiration, and desire. You must go into the depths of God through Christ. You must go into the depths of your own souls through Him. It is through Christ that we draw near to the depths of Deity. It is through Him that we learn the length and breadth and height and depth of the largest and loftiest and noblest truths that can concern the Spirit. It is through Him that we become familiar with the inmost secrets of our own selves. And only they who habitually live this hidden and sunken life of solitary and secret communion will ever do much in the field of outward work. Remember the Lord said first, “He shall go in.” And unless you do you will not be “saved.”
2. But if there have been, and continue to be, this unrestricted exercise through Christ of that sweet and silent life of solitary communion with Him, then there will follow upon that an enlargement of opportunity, and power for outward service such as nothing but the emancipation by faith in Him can ever bring. Howsoever by external circumstances you and I may be hampered and hindered, however often we may feel that if something outside of us were different the development of our active powers would be far more satisfactory, and we could do a great deal more in Christ’s cause, the true hindrance lies never without, but within; and is only to be overcome by that plunging into the depths of fellowship with Him.
III. IN JESUS CHRIST ANY MAN MAY RECEIVE SUSTENANCE. “They shall find pasture.” The imagery of the sheep and the fold is still, of course, present to the Master’s mind, and shapes the form in which this great promise is set forth. I need only remind you, in illustration of it, of two facts, one, that in Jesus Christ Himself all the true needs of humanity are met and satisfied. He is “the bread of God that came down from heaven to give life to the world.” Do I want an outward object for my intellect? I have it in Him. Does my heart feel with its tendrils, which have no eyes at the ends of them, after something round which it may twine, and not fear that the prop shall ever rot or be cut down or pulled up? Jesus Christ is the home of love in which the dove may fold its wings and be at rest. Do I want an absolute and authoritative command to be laid upon my will; someone “Whose looks enjoin, Whose lightest words are spells?” I find absolute authority, with no taint of tyranny, and no degradation to the subject, in that infinite will of His. Does my conscience need some strong detergent to be laid upon it which shall take out the stains that are most indurated, inveterate, and engrained? I find it only in the blood that cleanseth from all sin. Do my aspirations and desires seek for some solid and substantial and unquestionable and imperishable good to which, reaching out, they may be sure that they are not anchoring on cloud land? Christ is our hope. For all this complicated and craving commonwealth that I carry within my soul, there is but one satisfaction, even Jesus Christ Himself. Nothing else nourishes the whole man at once, but in Him are all the constituents that the human system requires for its nutriment and its growth in every part. So in and through Christ we find pasture. But beyond that, if we are knit to Him by simple and continual faith, love, and obedience, then what is else barrenness becomes full of nourishment, and the unsatisfying gifts of the world become rich and precious. They are nought when they are put first, they are much when they are put second. I remember when I was in Australia seeing some wretched cattle trying to find grass on a yellow pasture where there was nothing but here and there a brown stalk that crumbled to dust in their mouths as they tried to eat it. That is the world without Jesus Christ. And I saw the same pasture six weeks after, when the rains had come, and the grass was high, rich, juicy, satisfying. That is what the world may be to you if you will put it second, and seek first that your souls shall be fed on Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The privileges of the sheep
Jesus names three privileges accruing to those who accept Him as Shepherd and Door, and by Him enter into the life of God.
1. First, they have safety. “They shall be saved.” This is a great word, and implies all that God has to give to men. Especially, though, they shall be saved from sin and death, also they shall be saved from thieves and robbers, and from the wild beasts of sin, even from Satan himself, however he may try to get them.
2. Second, they have freedom. “They shall go in and out.” The salvation which Jesus gives is not bondage but freedom. “He hath not given us the spirit of bondage, but the spirit of adoption.” The Christian is not bound by rules and statutes as a slave is, but as a son he has the liberty of God’s house. He comes and goes as a son comes and goes, being always guided and governed by parental love, and not by hard rule.
3. Third, they have a sufficiency of all things. “And find pasture.” “All things are yours.” “Having nothing, we yet possess all things.” “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ.” (G. F. Pentecost.)
I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly
The great contrast
We should not feel satisfied, however, to limit the import of the Saviour’s words to the scribes and Pharisees merely. They were but the tools by which the great enemy carried on his work--the weapons wielded in unhallowed warfare by the prince of the power of the air. He was the hidden agent, the powerful adversary, the thief, whose unhallowed design was to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. The words before us are descriptive of the diverse modes of the tempter’s operations. By the expression “to steal” we may understand those vague and covert schemes of the enemy which constitute that cunning craftiness whereby he lieth in wait to deceive. “To kill” implies a bolder game, a mailed and formidable combatant, an open declaration, a war, that sort of attack which he may be supposed to employ when he comes under the similitude of a roaring lion. “To destroy” signifies a labour, a plotting, a refinement of ingenuity and torture, the weaving of some subtle net in whose meshes to entangle and betray--that sort of attack which he may be supposed to employ when he comes under the similitude of an angel of light. Such is the constant purpose of the adversary, of the thief--his purpose, however interrupted; his purpose, however discouraged; and it is in direct and impressive contrast to this, and not in the comparatively contemptible operations of the tools of his power, that the Saviour brings out so forcibly the design of his own manifestation--“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” We may notice, in the exposition of this subject to you, the source, the worthiness, and the measure of this promised life.
I. And in the first place, let us endeavour to comprehend the SOURCE OF THIS LIFE. “I am come that they might have life.” There are prerogatives in the power of kings, you know, which are never delegated to inferior authority. The monarch has his regalia, which it were treason for anyone else to wear. Life is the gift of God--always the gift of God. This is a part of the prerogative which He has never communicated--that act of His royalty which has never been usurped by another. Man, to be sure, has done his utmost to create. The sculptor has chiselled upon the shapeless marble the features of the human face, and proportion has been observed, and attitude has been successful, and a gazing multitude has been loud in admiration of the artist’s skill; but though the eye reposed in beauty, no sparkle flashed from it; though the cheek was well rounded and symmetrical, it had no mantling blush; though the lips were true to nature, they could not speak the thrill of the soul.
1. Life, then, is always the gift of God. If we speak of natural life, for example, it is the gift of God.
2. If we speak of intellectual life, again, that also is the gift of God.
3. If we speak of spiritual life, again, that also is the gift of God.
II. I have deemed these observations necessary in order to guard us against misapprehension or mistake. I come, in the second place, to notice, brethren, the WORTHINESS OF THIS PROMISED LIFE. God’s gifts must be like Himself. Himself perfect, He has made everything perfect in its kind.
1. In the first place, then, the Spirit is revealed to us as the Enlightener, and we may gather, therefore, that this life is comprehensive f knowledge
“For this is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.”
2. Then, secondly, the Spirit is revealed in us as the Sanctifier; and we may gather, therefore, that this life is comprehensive of holiness. “To be spiritually-minded is life.”
3. Then, again, the Spirit is revealed to us as the Comforter; and we may gather, therefore, that this life is comprehensive of happiness--“for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.” God is love, and love is happiness.
4. Then, again, this Spirit is revealed to us as the Living Spirit. We may gather, therefore, that this life is comprehensive of immortality. You know, brethren, that death is not an original arrangement of the universe. It was an ordained penalty in case of transgression. Nothing that God ever made in the beginning shall be found wanting in the end; but death came in after, and it shall go out before.
III. I have not time to dwell largely upon the MEASURE OF THE PROMISED LIFE--more abundantly. I will just give you one or two thoughts. “More abundantly.” That implies comparison. More abundantly than something else. More abundantly than what? Well, first more abundantly than the life of Paradise--that is a wonderful thing to think about--the glorious life--the life in Paradise. Each leaf spoke there of the loveliness of nature;every sound breathed heavenly melody, and every breath was imbued with fragrance, and angels ministered in those sweet solitudes, and the voice of the Lord came down in delicious companionship at the close of the day. It was a glorious thing to live in Paradise, to be amongst the favoured ones of the Creator. Ah, but Christ is come “that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly.” “In Christ the sons of Adam boast More blessings than their fathers lost.” More abundantly than what? More abundantly than under the Levitical dispensation. That was a noble life. It was a grand thing to think that they had the oracles Divine, that the Urim and Thummin always flashed on the breastplate of the high priest; that any man could at any time tell, by going to the oracles, whether he was in condemnation or in acceptance. And it was a glorious scene that on the day of atonement, when all the gathered multitudes of Israel went up to the Temple of Jerusalem, and the high priest came out in solemn garments, and confessed the sins of the people, and then went into the holy place, and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, and then came out richly robed, and with uplifted hands pronounced the benediction on all that heard him, and when every man of that great multitude went to his home at night a justified and forgiven man. It was a glorious life that, but “that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” “He is come that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly” than that. More abundantly than what? Why, more abundantly than we could ever have imagined. And that, in some sort, is the most wonderful of all. We have various messengers at command. The eye beareth witness of wonders, but these transcend them by far; the ear hath the winds at its command--many a marvellous strain they waft on their wings--but the winds do not bear a story like this. Brethren, there is a phrase which we sometimes use--I don’t know that I ever felt its peculiar significance so much as I feel it tonight, especially in connection with the subject I have feebly endeavoured to bring before you. It is this: “I stand between the living and the dead!” Literally it is true. I stand between the living and the dead. To which do you belong? Those are living who have come to Christ, and are resting upon Him. Those are dead who are yet in a state of nature, or who have fled for refuge to any refuge of lies. I stand between the living and the dead. The living and the dead! Some of you are living perhaps. Are you? You hardly know, you say. Your only evidence of life is that you are conscious of your deadness. Well, there is life there, and that is more than a dead man can say. Consciousness of deadness is itself a sign of life. Oh, I do rejoice that I can come to you tonight with the publication of life. I can stand upon the sepulchre and roll the stone away, and in the name of my Master exclaim: “He that believeth in Jesus, even though he were dead, yet shall he live. Whosoever liveth and believeth in Jesus shall never die.” Don’t kill yourselves. You will do it if you die. God will not kill you. He has never decreed the murder of any creature He has made. Ministers will not kill you; they would fain have you live. They sound warnings in your ears, that you may live. But lo! a terrible scene rises up before me. I fancy myself somewhere, it may be in the country parts of this beautiful island of ours. We will put the scene where I have sometimes seen it, at the corner of four green lanes. There is something there, although everything in the external aspect seems to smile--there is something there that makes the peasant whistle as he goes by,or pass it with bated breath, and the children don’t choose that place to play in; everything about it seems haunted with strange and nameless horror; and if you ask about it, some peasant lowers his voice into a whisper, as he says, “It is the grave of a suicide.” An unhonoured sod just thrown up, nameless and unknown, at the corner of four crossroads, at midnight--the grave of one who put himself out of life, and beyond the rites of Christian burial--the grave of a suicide. Oh, brethren, it is a fearful thing, but I must pursue the analogy. If any of you, after repeated admonitions and warnings, should perish, you have struck the suicide’s blow upon your own souls, and wherever your nameless grave may be, angels who delight to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation, looking at the place where your ashes may repose, will have to say, “It is the grave of a suicide--of one who is self-murdered, and spiritually dead--of one who has driven the dagger of perdition into his own soul.” Oh, don’t do that; I beseech you don’t do that. Live, live! That one word is the gospel, because Christ has promised life, and the Spirit is waiting to impart it. (W. M. Punshon.)
The gift of abundant life
Our Lord here declares the great end for which He came into the world, that we “might have life.” He had already said this (John 3:16; John 6:33; John 5:40). But here He speaks with a still greater fulness of meaning: “that they might have it more abundantly”; promising some great endowment, some greater gift of God than man had ever before received. This is the great grace of the gospel, the abundant gift of life.
I. The gift a spirit of life dwells in those who are united to Christ, in a FULNESS more abundant than was ever revealed before. The life possessed by Adam was in the measure of his own infirmity; the life which is in Christ is in the fulness of a Divine manhood. Adam was united to God only by God’s grace and power. Christ is God made man. The humanity of Adam was only human; in Christ the manhood is become Divine. The union of the Godhead with the manhood endowed it with a substantial grace whereby it was deified. And it was from the miraculous conception filled with the fulness of all graces. His very manhood became the fountain, a great deep of all grace. Therefore He said (John 5:21; John 5:26). This was the prophecy of the Baptist (Matthew 3:11). And it was His own promise (John 7:37-43.7.39). And after He had entered into His glory, St. John bare witness that this promise had been fulfilled (John 1:14; John 1:16); that is to say, the anointing which was upon Him has flowed down to us. The Spirit which descended upon our Head hath run down to the least member of His body, even “to the skirts of His clothing.” When he ascended into Heaven, He “received gifts for men”; that is, the full dispensation of grace was committed unto the Second Adam.
II. The gift of life is abundant also in its CONTINUANCE. By the regeneration of the Holy Ghost we are engrafted into the second Adam, very man, not frail and weak, but also very God, changeless and almighty.
We are gathered under a Head which cannot fail; and are members of Him who bath revealed His own Divine name: “I am--the Life.” We cannot die in our Head, because He is Life eternal; nor can we die in ourselves, except we cast out the Giver of life, who is in us. Our first head fell, and drew us with him into the grave; our second Head is in heaven, and “our life is hid with Him in God.” Lessons:
1. We hereby know that in all our acts there is a Presence higher than our own natural and moral powers. We were united to Christ by the present of the Holy Spirit from our baptism. There has never been a moment from the first dawn of consciousness, from the first twilight of reason, and the first motions of the will, when the Spirit of life has not been present with us. He has created in us the first dispositions to truth and holiness; prevented us in all good intentions, restrained us in all evil; beset our whole spiritual nature, and encompassed us on all sides, guiding us into the will of God.
2. This Spirit works in us according to the revealed and fixed laws of our probation. His persuasions are by illuminations of truth and inspirations of holiness; and these are powers which act not by force, but like the lights and dews of heaven, by a piercing virtue, infusing new gifts of fruitfulness and power into the works of God. What we receive of the Divine Spirit is so given to us as to become our own, and as our own we use it with a perfect freedom of the will.
3. Lastly, we may learn that the union of this Divine Presence with us in our probation, issues in the last and crowning grace of this life, the gift of perseverance (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). When did we ever set ourselves sincerely to any work according to the will of God, and fail for want of strength? It was not that strength failed the will, but that the will failed first. (Archdeacon Manning.)
Life more abundantly
God supplies us at birth with a certain amount of animal vitality, and with certain faculties tending to various kinds and degrees of good in the universe, and by means of these we are to draw our life from the treasury of the creation and from God. Our success during our stay on the earth is to be measured by the amount and kind of life we derive from the fountains that flow from the Infinite fulness. Life may be increased. Even in the physical department we may have it “more abundantly” by obeying the plain conditions. We are not fated to a short allowance or a fixed amount, but are endowed with the power of growing, and are tempted by a large, unmeasured possibility. Through exercise, and the proper choice and economy in food, we not only keep well, but we enlarge the stream of vitality. And the law by which a man purifies and refreshes the currents of his blood, makes the eye clean, the tendons taut, the nerves calm, the chest capacious, the step elastic, and knots the muscles by discipline to such sturdiness that, though once they were tired with a slight burden, now they will lift nearly half a ton, is a law that can be traced up into the mental and moral regions, and be seen to govern the spirit as well as the frame.
1. Life may be increased. Many try to increase it by intensity. There is a story of an Eastern monarch who had been a noble ruler, but who received a message from an oracle that he was to live only twelve years more. He instantly resolved that he would turn these to the most account, and double his life in spite of destiny. He fitted up his palace gorgeously. He denied himself no form of pleasure. His magnificent gardens were brilliantly lighted from sunset to sunrise, so that darkness was never experienced within the circuit of his estate; so that, whenever he was awake, the stream of pleasure was ever flowing, and even the sound of revelry was never still. Thus he determined to outwit the oracle by living nearly twenty-four years in twelve. But at the end of six years he died. The oracle foreknew and made allowance for his cunning scheme. No doubt, on his death bed, the monarch saw the vigour and despotism of the laws of life, with which it is vain for finite art and will to wrestle. The story is true in the spirit, though it may be fable in its details. What is gained in intensity is lost in time. You cannot “have life more abundantly” by making the soul crouch down into the body, and diffusing it through the fleshy envelope, so that it loses the acquaintance with its own higher realm in the added zest of mortal pleasure. There is the most tragic waste of faculty. The end of such effort is disgust, weariness, and, in the inmost being, the sense of emptiness, folly and unrest.
2. There is another kind of life that we may call broad. Life is increased in this way by putting out more faculties into communication with nature and society. In fact, it is by the unfolding of faculties that all additions to life are received. Each one of our powers is a receptacle for some element of the Divine good, but it is not like a goblet, and it does not receive as water is poured into a vase; its method is rather that of a seed. When put into proper relations with its objects it germinates and absorbs from the currents and forces outside of it, and transmutes them into its own quality of substance. It is inspiring to think how some natures live broadly enough to take in elements of growth from the farthest quarters of the visible universe There are great naturalists living now that have received nutriment from the lowest discovered stratum of the earth and from the most distant patch of milky light in immensity. This is a method of receiving life “more abundantly,” and in saying now that, according to the Christian wisdom, it is not the highest way, I am not going to criticize it but to commend it. I delight to think of men like Humboldt and Arago, Herschel and Agassiz, and to see in them that the riches of infinite truth are not wholly wasted on us; that God does not rain His wisdom through all our air and pack His treasures beneath our soil entirely for nothing, so far as the enlarging of the boundaries of human spirits is concerned.
3. Yet this life, though broad as we have thus interpreted it, may be superficial. The true abundance comes not from intensity, and not alone from the number of objects with which we are in communion, but from depth. A life is rich in the proportion that it is deep; and it is deep to the extent that the moral and spiritual sentiments are active and healthy. The spirit that has a sense of justice quick and large, and lives by it in relation to his fellows, and tries to organize more of it through himself in society, lives deeper than the man of intellect and infinitely, deeper than the man of pleasure. The affections are richer than the money making and the truth seeking capacities; and the richest affections are those which bind us consciously to the infinite. Of course, a thoroughly proportioned life will have both breadth and depth; but we must not fail to see that depth is the essential thing. That is connected with religion; that every mind may have. It is offered to you and me independently of our strength of mind or fulness of learning. Astronomy we may not have time to study, or ability to master; but God, who made all worlds, is as near to this one as to any, and as ready to fill our spirits as those that live in the most distant or brilliant star. And the religious life may be developed independently of all our learning. How much knowledge do you need to convince you that you ought to obey conscience? How wide acquaintance with literature to prove to you that you ought to bridle your selfishness, and trample a foul passion beneath your will? How great familiarity with libraries to assure you that a disposition of prayer and trust brings back a rich reward through inward harmony and a sense of peace? This is the deep life, and we may have it though we be hindered, though we have little time for the cultivation of mental powers, and the faculties that make life graceful. (T. Starr King.)
The mission of Christ
I. THE PERSONS. “I.” “They.”
1. God, who is more than all, and man, who is infinitely loss than nothing.
2. The God of peace to His professed enemy. Nothing else in the world is God’s enemy. Sin is enmity because
(1) It violates the majesty of God, inasmuch as in sin we seem to try conclusions whether God can see a sin, or be affected with it, or cares to punish it; as though we doubted whether God were present, pure or powerful.
(2) It is surrender to the enemy of His kingdom, Satan, and that for small Romans 6:21). And yet for all this the Lord of Hosts comes, and to an enemy so incapable of carrying out his enmity. Some men will continue kind when they find a thankful receiver, but God is kind to the unthankful. There may be found a man who will die for his friends, but God died for His foes.
3. God to all men; “they” hath no limitation. The merit of Christ is sufficient for all, and whether this sufficiency grows out of the nature of the merit, the dignity of the person being considered, or out of the acceptation of the Father and the contrast between Him and the Son, we will not dispute. All agree that there is enough done for all. Would, then, God receive enough for all, and then exclude some of Himself? God forbid. Well said Augustine, “O good and mighty God, who art as loving to every man as to all mankind, and meanest as well to all mankind as to any man.” Moses desired that God would show him His “ways,” His dealings with Exodus 33:13); that which he calls His glory (verse 13), how he glorifies Himself upon man. God promises (verse 19) that He will show Him all His “goodness”; and then, in Exodus 34:6, He shows him His way, goodness, glory; and here are thirteen attributes, and only one of them tastes of judgment--the rest are wholly mercy. Such a proposition has His mercy, that there is no cause in Him if all men be not partakers of it.
II. THE ACTION. “I came.”
1. He who is omnipresent in love to man, studied a new way of coming, of communicating Himself to man, and by assuming our nature in the blessed Virgin. That this Virgin should not only have a Son, but that this Son should be the Son of the Eternal God in such a coming of Him who was here before, as that if it had not arisen in His goodness no man would ever have thought of it.
2. He who came to the old world in promises, prophecies, and figures, is actually, really, and presentially come to us; of which difference that man will have the best sense who languishes under the heavy expectation of a reversion, or has felt the joy of actual possession.
III. THE END.
1. That they might have life. Life is the character by which Christ denominates Himself (John 14:6; Acts 3:14). God has included all that is good in the name of Life, and all that is ill in the name of Death Deuteronomy 30:15). The reward proposed to our faith is to live by it Hebrews 2:4); and this fulness of happiness, life and the life of life, spiritual life and its exaltation into eternal life, is the end of Christ’s coming.
(1) That there might be life to be had. For chaos was not a deader lump before the Spirit of God moved upon it than mankind was before the influence of Christ’s coming wrought upon it. But now that God has so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, all may have life.
(2) But this life must be received. There is air enough to give breath to everything, but everything does not breathe. If a tree does not breathe, it is not because it wants air, but because it wants means to receive it. That man that is blind shall see no more sun in summer than in winter.
2. That they might have it more abundantly. God can do nothing penuriously.
(1) The natural man more than any other creature. Animals, etc., have life; man is life (Genesis 2:7), and will live after death.
(2) The Jews more than the Gentiles. Christ came to the Jews in promises, types, sacrifices; and thus they had better means to preserve that life, to illustrate the image of God, to conform themselves to God, and make their immortality eternal happiness, than other nations.
(3) Christians more than Jews. Christ has come to Christians really and in substance.
(4) In the Christian Church Christ has given us means to be better today than yesterday, tomorrow than today. The grace which God offers us does not only fill, but enlarges our capacity for all that goes to make up life--holiness, assurance, happiness, heaven. (J. Donne, D. D.)
I. CHRIST IS THE GIVER OF LIFE.
The mission of Christ
1. Life in New Testament language has a special fulness of meaning. It is more than mere existence. There is a death in life, in which the great end of existence is ignored, to which life’s true blessedness is impossible, and in which its higher powers are dormant or polluted. The true life is pure and free; it is the life of reason, conscience, will, and affections. It is not inherent in human nature, acquired by human means, possible to human strength, but is found only in Christ the Lifegiver.
2. In this our Lord is not a subordinate agent, but the primal source of life. The gift to men is out of the fulness of His own eternal Being. In Him was life essentially, and of His fulness we receive life.
3. Life is His gift.
(1) As it is possessed by men.
(a) In all states of being. In its dawn of religious infancy; its meridian of manhood; its evening radiancy, when its sun is setting; it is given, sustained, and perfected by Christ.
(b) In all the dispensations. In its paradisaical innocency; its patriarchal simplicity; its Mosaic complexity; its latter-day glory.
(2) As He has made good man’s lost title to its possession. He has redeemed man from sin and death, bestowed the quickening and sanctifying Spirit, and thus resolved the forfeited creative life.
II. THE LIFE BESTOWED BY CHRIST HAS ITS MORE ABUNDANT MEASURES, as compared with
1. The life of the former dispensation. Life and light are closely related. The dimness of Judaism was necessarily connected with limited and imperfect life.
2. Present or future measures of its possession. It is like a river whose channel broadens and deepens as it flows onward. In its progress sterility and death vanish: all other life lives anew. To its necessities and enlargement all other life becomes serviceable.
3. The primal gift. The life of redemption is more abundant than that of Creation, as it involves the more perfect manifestation of Him, in the knowledge of whom standeth eternal life.
4. Present or future Christian attainments. It is not a succession of labours, to end in the rest of heaven; it is growth in knowledge, purity, power, grace. In the freshness and beauty of newborn life, in the expansion and maturity of its full age, in its ripe and mellow eventide, it is still capable of increase; and when at length it escapes from earthly limitations, there will still remain the more abundant life of progress and blessedness. Conclusion: This life is in Christ, and is attained by faith. Let, therefore, faith rest on Him who is “able to do exceeding abundantly,” etc. (T. Stephenson.)
Life in Christ
Christ represents Himself in contrast with a type of character which He calls “the thief.” When He applies this to those who come before Him, He means not only in time, but apart from Him in design. Not Moses and the prophets, who were sent of God and spake of Him, but those unspiritual commentators on the law of former days, including the scribes and Pharisees of His own. And well do the modern forms of this teaching deserve the name. Nothing is more destructive. The contrast between Christ and the robbers is drawn out. They came to gather for their own benefit--“to steal.” Christ came to give. They came without skill, handling the souls of men with rough barbarity--“to kill.” Christ came to save. They came regarding men as instruments to be used for themselves or their party; and so, if need were, to “destroy,” aye, even by fire and sword. Christ came to sacrifice Himself for man’s good. In one word, His purpose was to give life.
I. WHAT SORT OF LIFE DID CHRIST COME TO BRING? The proper life of man. There is a form of life which, in proportion to its possession, constitutes one truly, and in the full sense, a man.
1. That life must be co-ordinate with man’s faculties; grow out of, and be measured by, its powers. This is true of all life. Look at the life of a bird; its whole structure is a beautiful machinery for living in the air. So with the fish; it is adapted for the water, and the mollusc for the rock. And the wealth and circuit of life develop in proportion to faculty. Life is full and rich where there are many and diverse abilities, and poor where there are few.
2. Then the life of man should be the grandest in the world, for no creature is so richly endowed. Life ought to pour in upon him from every side and through every avenue. The senses on the one hand, and the intellect and affections on the other, should teem with the materials of vivid and happy consciousness, and the sense of God and the Spiritual world should put the last touch of refinement on our pleasure and of gentleness on our love. But it is not so. Life is poor and mean, and, for the masses of men, sensual and degrading. The very capacities of our life are obscured. We have never felt it at its best, and do not know, therefore, what its best would be. Only one true man has lived. We may study life in Christ as in its realized ideal.
II. CHRIST COMES TO ENRICH OUR LIFE, UNTIL IT IS RENEWED IN THE LIKENESS OF HIS OWN.
1. By setting it in its true course. He would take the river at its source, and turn it into its proper channel. Our face is turned the wrong way. The first step, therefore, is to bring this fatal blunder home to our minds, and create the consciousness of sin. Let a man once feel his need and repentance, conversion, turning to God for pardon and acceptance will follow.
2. By revealing the truths, on a right apprehension of which the tone of thought and activity depends. Life turns on the poles of thought. It is folly to say that it is of no consequence what a man believes. All history proves the contrary. A good life implies a true creed, and such a creed Christ comes to give. In His own Person He manifests God, so that we can know and love Him. The nature, responsibility, capacity, and destiny of the soul are forever on His lips. So, too, of our duty, its principles, claims, spirit. The love of God, and the way of peace with Him; all this, and more, He teaches. How? Not in words only. He is the Word. He reveals God by being “the express image of His person”; man, by fulfilling the idea of perfect manhood; duty, by reducing it to a living embodiment. In Him only the ideal and the actual have met. And His teaching is as perfect in form as in essence. It is gathered into a life history. No method is so interesting, impressive, significant, suggestive.
3. By kindling an enthusiasm for goodness, and by revealing it as an object for pursuit. It is a great, but by no means easy, thing to know our duty. For more than two thousand years the problems of morals have been debated. But it is greater still to feel the full force of the reasons on which it rests, and to feel the sublimity of goodness. For the life of goodness is an essential part of the life of man, as the word “virtue” indicates--the condition appropriate to vir, man. Now Christ quickens the love of goodness by winning our souls to Himself; and a great analyst of human nature has said that our very possibilities of virtue have been altered by the coming of Christ. We can love, hope, endure, dare more since His face has shone from the canvas of history. Catch inspiration from that grand life, and you will have life more abundantly.
4. By enlarging the circle of our benevolent regards. There is a strong element of selfishness in men, which tends to narrow our sympathies. “Every man for himself.” And yet the best parts of life reach outside of ourselves. Children live in the love of those about them. There are our boyish friendships. Then comes the love of woman. By and by tiny feet patter on our household floor. Love multiplies and deepens as life goes on. We learn to care for our party, church, country, the world. Christ sanctifies all this, and makes it fruitful. The love of Christ can cure our selfishness, and we shall do some good in the world when we love men as Christ loved them, and not till then.
5. By becoming a spring of joy in our hearts. All true life is, or may be, joyous. “The water that I shall give him,” etc. Paul lays it down as our duty to “rejoice evermore.” (J. F. Stevenson, D. D.)
Life a gain
1. A strange question has come under discussion - “Is life worth living?” - strange, until we recollect that a prevalent philosophy has as its main theses that life is not worth living. It is not hard to trace the genesis of this. When one begins to doubt the goodness of God, one begins to doubt if life has much value.
2. This question is very audacious. We might perhaps question a future of life; but this points life itself with an interrogation, and, answered in the negative, involves the wish that both created and the Creation were blotted out. But to empty and then annihilate the universe is an audacity that sinks to the ridiculous. “Oh, that I had never been born!” said one. “But you are born, and you cannot help it,” was the truly philosophical reply. A philosophy that flies in the face of the inevitable forfeits its name.
3. The proposition to get rid of this undesirable life need not awaken concern; the greater part will prefer to live it out to the end. And then it may be impossible to escape by so-called self-destruction. We may throw ourselves over the battlements of the life that now is, but who can say that we may not be seized by the mysterious force that sent us here and be thrust back into this world or into one no better. If extinction is desirable we must suppose a good God, for no other would permit it. But will He not rather deliver from the misery and preserve the life?
4. It is not amiss that the question has come up, for it has turned the thought of the age to the good as well as to the evil of life. That there are gains and losses there is no question--which, then, are in excess?
I. Let us make A COMPARATIVE ESTIMATE OF THE LOSS AND GAIN OF LIFE AS WE PASS OUR ALLOTTED YEARS. We must start with the fact that but one kind of excellence seems possible at a time. We never see a person simultaneously at the height of personal beauty, energy and wisdom. One excellence follows another. But we must not infer that as one phase passes away that there is actual loss; there may be a succession characterized by an ascending grade, that life represents an unquenchable force, can never be less than it is, and thus be its own excuse for being.
1. We lose the perfection of physical life, its grace and exuberance--yet only to gain firmer hold of it. The child is guileless by nature, the man because he has learned to hate a lie. The child is joyous, it knows not why; the man’s joy is the outcome of his nature reduced to harmony.
2. We lose the forceful, executive qualities. We no longer undertake arduous enterprises or heavy responsibilities; the needed energy is gone, but it may have been transmuted as motion is into light and heat.
3. In the mental qualities there is smaller loss. Fancy decays, but with the example of Milton and others before us we can hardly say imagination, but the judgment grows broader and the sense of truth keener and the taste more correct later on.
4. In moral qualities there is no loss at all. The order is significant, the physical changes utterly, the mental partially, the moral not at all if the life is normal.
II. WHAT DO WE GAIN AS LIFE GOES ON?
1. This evident progress from the lower to the higher must be accounted a gain. It does not matter how this progress is made, whether by actual loss of inferior qualities supplanted by higher, or by a transformation of forces, though the latter is more in accordance with science which asserts that force is indestructible. None of us would choose to go back to any previous phase to stay. We may long for the innocence of youth, but who would take it with its ignorance; for its zest, but not at the expense of its immaturity; for the energy of mid-life, but not at the cost of the repose and wisdom of age.
2. Though we lose energy, courage, and present hope we gain in patience, and on the whole suffer less. This is a gain over the untested strength and false measurements of earlier year’s.
3. We make another gain as thought grows calm and judgment rounded to its full strength. Knowledge becomes wisdom, passion and prejudice pass, and we gain in comprehensiveness, and so lose the spirit of partizanship.
4. There is great gain in later life in certain forms of love and sympathy. The passion and semi-selfishness of early love, and the restriction and prejudice of early sympathy pass away, but both become stronger, purer, calmer and more universal. The old are more merciful than the young; they judge more kindly and forgive more readily. Hence they are poor disciplinarians, but they are not called to that duty.
5. There is also in advanced life a mingling of the faculties. Thought has more faith in it and faith more thought; reason more feeling and feeling more reason; courage more prudence, and prudence more courage. An old man does not feel so much rapture before a landscape as one younger, but he sees it with more eyes. This cooperation of all the faculties is like the Divine mind in which every faculty interpenetrates every other, making God one and perfect, and is an intimation that he is getting ready for the company of God.
1. If life can start at the point of mere existence and thence grow up into likeness of God, it is worth living. And if life reaches so far, we may be sure it will go on.
2. This line of thought has only force in the degree in which life is normal. That it is not such is true, but there is provision in humanity against its own failures, for One is in it who can fill its cup to overflow. (T. T. Munger.)
I. LIFE IN ITSELF.
1. This language implies that we are by nature destitute of life. The Scriptures draw a wide distinction between life in Christ and the morality and the immorality of the world. There are immense differences between those who “give themselves to work all uncleannesses,” etc., and those who are respected for excellence of character, but no fundamental difference is recognized by God. True life is wanting in both, because both are “alienated from the life of God.” It is not what virtue I may see in the face of man, but has he that “holiness without which no man can see the Lord.”
2. We must not soften the truth that there is no life apart from Christ. One statue may be marked by rough outlines and coarse features, and another may be an Apollo Belvidere, but though one may bear more resemblance to a man, both are dead.
3. Between the feeblest Christian and the best specimen of the unrenewed man, if not to human eyes, to the eyes of God, there is all the difference between life and death.
4. Because there is no self-restorative power in man. Christ has come that we “might have life.”
II. THIS LIFE IN ITS FULNESS.
1. Progress is one essential quality in life. Where will you look to find life springing at once into full development? Not to the corn; not to the forest. The outer man is first a babe, weak and helpless. The inner man follows the same analogy. There are babes in Christ, etc. In some cases the new man may rise into sudden perfection; for who shall confine the power of God. But the law of God’s general working is that the path of the just shall shine more and more, and go from strength to strength.
2. Christ lays emphasis on this point because we are prone to be content with a little life. How common for a man to rest satisfied with mere pardon: a blessing indeed beyond all price, but only the porch of the great temple of salvation. Many sit down here and sing a new song; but Christ comes and says I will show you greater things than these. I have come to give life more abundantly. Don’t think less of your pardon but more of your sanctification. You were once like sick men in a hospital on fire--you needed rescue first, but healing also. Do not forget that you were pardoned in order to be purified.
III. THE REASON FOR WHICH WE SHOULD SEEK THE MORE ABUNDANT LIFE. Feeble life is
1. A miserable thing
(1) To look at. There is but little to attract in a river which, through drought, flows but a thin and sluggish current; it pleases best when it fills the channel and sweeps in majestic volume through the valley. There is nothing to delight in a tree almost barren; we love to see it thick and bossy. It distresses us to see a man bent and worn with disease; but delightful to see one healthy and strong. And free, robust life is not less but more beautiful in the spiritual world.
(2) To endure. You have known the pain of physical weakness, its agony which has seemed to turn every nerve into a string of fire; its weakness, when you have started at every noise; its sleeplessness. A little life is more painful than none at all. And a Christian whose spiritual life is languid is more miserable than a man dead in sin. His eyes are opened, but while a blind man feels no pain his eyes are so weak that the light distresses them, And what a disastrous effect has religion without cheerfulness--particularly on children.
2. A dangerous thing. Epidemics find their way to those who are in a low condition of health. When a storm rushes on the deep it tries the stoutest vessel, but woe to the vessel that is slim and leaky. So when the spiritual life is weak it becomes an easy prey to all perils. If we are to be safe we must be well fortified within.
3. A useless thing. We are fit for nothing when our bodily strength is reduced. We have enough to do to support our own debility. But the more life we have the more strength we have to expand our work. And Christian life may be so feeble as to be of no service in the way of influence on the world. It is for the world’s sake as well as our own that Christ desires us to have abundance of life.
IV. IN WHAT MANNER THIS ABUNDANT LIFE IS TO BE SECURED. Like all life it is mysterious, but it is not magical in its growth. It requires exertion and will not take care of itself. We are to “grow in grace.”
1. We must compare ourselves, individually, with the standard of holiness as given in the gospel rather than with that actually reached by the Church. The question with many is not what is possible, but what is a fair, average piety.
2. To have more life we must have more prayer. According to prayer, and therefore the prayer of faith, it will be done unto us.
3. We must dwell more beneath the Cross, the fountain of life, when we begin to live, that we may have our life increased. (E. Mellor, D. D.)
Life and more life
This was spoken in the character of the shepherd--the antithesis to thief.
I. THE AIM OF CHRIST--the calling forth, strengthening, and development of the highest life of man.
1. This is necessary work. Mother, teacher, etc., are required for the previous stages of life’s realization--animal, social, intellectual attainment. But it is still more essential that spiritual life should be created and sustained. Here we are conscious of helplessness, and just here success or failure affects our entire being and future. All the rest exist for this; and none as fit as Christ, and no method better than His for this task.
2. What hinders that spiritual life should not be spontaneous. A moral taint. Absence of perfect type. Christ came, therefore, not so much to deliver men from a future catastrophe as from existing moral death, and to render possible a grander humanity.
3. As Christ came for this, so His coming was itself the condition, the way of its realization. He lived free from sin and at home in this higher element of life. His example taught and inspired and His sacrifice supplied a basis for this life. Just to live as He did was much. The inventor who lays bare new uses of things, the explorer who opens up unknown lands, the artist who interprets the deep harmonies of nature, the philosopher who discovers new truth--each comes that we “might have life,” intensifies its interest, extends its scope, and strengthens its hold on the world, but does not enrich the highest portion of our nature, which is conscious of righteousness, and translates it into action. The latter work is Christ’s only, and is accomplished only by full union with Him who is “the Life.”
II. ITS VALUE AS AN EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY.
1. Generally a valid claim to trust and welcome. Yet not likely to be allowed: presenting no immediate earthly advantage; not utilitarian.
2. But appealing to the deeper consciousness of men.
(1) As bringing forth the sense of this life in men.
(2) As calling for faith, admiration, and sympathy.
(3) As revealing the solemn meaning of existence, and the need of reconciliation with God.
Conclusion: What do we gain? The mastery of our entire nature. “My mind to me a kingdom is”; nay, “I myself.” The rest (body, etc.) not a mere scaffolding to be kicked away, but an organic system through which higher functions operate, and within which, ever fuller and fuller, life flows. (A. L.Astor.)
Life more abundant
I. CHRIST HAS COME THAT MEN MAY HAVE LIFE.
1. Prolonged natural life is due to Him. The barren tree would not stand so long but for His intercession.
2. Life in the sense of pardon, deliverance from the death penalty.
3. Life from the death of trespasses and sins, the life of the Spirit.
4. This spiritual life is the same which will be continued and perfected in heaven.
5. Of this Christ is the only source. It is not the result of working. How can the dead work for life? It is exclusively a gift of God. If we could have had it without Christ coming, why need He come?
II. CHRIST HAS COME THAT THOSE TO WHOM HE HAS GIVEN LIFE MAY HAVE IT MORE ABUNDANTLY.
1. Life is a matter of degrees. Some have life, but it flickers like a dying candle; others are full, like the fire upon the blacksmith’s forge when the bellows are in full blast. Christ has come that we might have life in all its fulness.
2. Increase of life may be seen in several ways.
(1) In healing. When a sick man recovers he has life more abundantly than in his illness; so when Christ restores sick Christians, strengthens their faith, brightens their hope, etc.
(2) But a person may be in health, and yet you may desire for him more life. A child, e.g., is in perfect health, yet cannot run alone. As he grows, however, he has life more abundantly. So we grow in grace, from babes to young men, and then fathers.
(3) Health and growth may coincide with a stinted measure of life, as in the case of a prisoner who tenants a living tomb. When he is set at liberty he knows, as we when the Son makes us free what it is to have more abundant life.
(4) But a man may have liberty, etc., and yet be so poor as to be scarcely able to keep body and soul together. So there are some believers who exist rather than live, and have small conception of the rich thing Christ has stored up for them.
(5) A man may enjoy all this, and yet need more life, because a despised castaway. The love and esteem of our fellows is essential to life. When under conviction a man finds himself to be less than nothing, he finds it a mighty addition to life when Jesus makes him, a slave, a son of God and heir of heaven.
3. The particulars in which more abundant life consists and should be sought.
(1) More stamina. An embankment is to be cut. A number of men offer themselves for the work--these with sunken cheeks and hollow coughs. They will not do. Yonder is a band of stalwart fellows, with ruddy faces, broad shoulders, mighty limbs. They will do. The difference between the two is the presence or absence of stamina. And Christ has come that we may have spiritual stamina for arduous service. Alas! some Christians want medicine and nursing. Give them work, and they will grow weary.
(2) Enlargement of the sphere of life. To some forms of human life the range is very narrow. Our streets swarm with men to whom “the music of the spheres” means the chink of sovereigns. The souls of such are like squirrels in cages; each day their wheel revolves; it is all the world they know. Christ has come to give a broader life. True, there are many men whose life traverses wide areas, who map out the stars, fathom the sea, etc. but that, wide as it is, is bounded by time and space. But when Christ comes He makes the greatest intellect feel that it was “cabined, cribbed, confined,” till Christ made it free.
(3) The exercise of all our powers. All the powers of a man are in the child, but many of them are dormant, and will only be exercised as life is more abundant. Christ has come to give us a fuller life. Look at the apostles before and after Pentecost. Many professors seem to be more dead than alive. Life is in their hearts, but only partially in their heads, and has not touched their silent tongues, idle hands, frost-bitten pockets.
(4) Increased energy. A man is most alive when in determined pursuit of a favourite purpose. Christ has supplied us with the most stimulating purpose--His constraining love. Abundance of life is painfully manifest in insanepersons: the demoniac, e.g. Now, if possession by an evil spirit arouses men to an unusual degree of life, how much more shall possession by the Divine Spirit!
(5) Overflow of enjoyment. When on a spring morning you see the lambs frisking and children playing, you say, “What life!” Just so when churches and individuals are revived, what joy there is!
(6) Delicacy of feeling. There is a great deal of difference as to the amount of pain which persons suffer. People with a fine mental organization, having more life, suffer more than coarser people. When Christ brings His abundant life, those who enjoy it will be pained by a given sin a hundred times more than he was before. And so there will, on the other hand, be more pleasure. The name of Jesus is inexpressibly sweet to those who have abundant life. I mean by delicacy this
(a) There is a delicacy of hand which a man may acquire, and which renders him a worker of feats. So the educated hand of faith can not only grasp, but handle the Word of Life.
(b) It shows itself in keenness of perception. An Indian will put his ear to the ground and say, “There is an enemy in the way,” when you cannot hear a sound. Recall the incident at the siege of Lucknow. Jesus would have us quick of understanding, so that we may hear Him coming.
(7) Supremacy. Some races have physical life, but not abundantly, and after awhile perish. Christians should have such abundant life that their circumstances should not be able to overcome them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mote abundant life
The emphasis rests on the last word, i.e., “more”--a word spoken by our Lord only once, without explaining it; He left it for the interpretation of a future day, and to be pondered by His people forever. In order not to be lost in its immensity we must view it in reference to the death from which the Good Shepherd saves His flock--the wasting and havoc brought on by sin.
I. CHRIST ENCOUNTERS OUR DEATH AS HIMSELF THE SOURCE OF OUR IMMORTALITY AND MAKES THAT IMMORTALITY MORE THAN MERE CONTINUANCE IN BEING.
1. The “Prince” or Original “of life” rescued mankind from extinction at the beginning. To whatever principle we ascribe the deathlessness of the human spirit, it cannot be separated from Him and His gift. If it rested on the Divine image, He preserved that image; if upon the food of the tree, when that was interdicted He became the life and light of man. “The thief” would have been the means of blotting our name from the book of life, but in whatever sense the race died in Adam, in Christ it was kept alive.
2. We may interpret Christ’s meaning to be that He came to bring that without which immortality is not in itself a blessing. Life Christians share with all men. Christ came to crown our undying nature with the true immortality of life in God forever. That prerogative which has the possibility in it of everlasting blessedness has also in it the possibility of everlasting woe.
II. CHRIST’S PEOPLE ARE SAVED FROM THE CONDEMNATION OF DEATH AND THAT IN A MOST ABUNDANT SENSE. All who come to Him come under the benefit of a reprieve, which may be called a preliminary life; but this reprieve is in the believer perfected into a full discharge. God “abundantly pardons,” and he enjoys “plenteous redemption.” As he is one with Christ, he is not only released from punishment, but invested with the Saviour’s righteousness.
III. LIFE IN AND FROM CHRIST IS THE OPPOSITE OF SPIRITUAL DEATH OR THE SEPARATION OF THE SOUL FROM GOD. AS it is the virtue of His blood that saves from the death of the law, so it is the virtue of His Spirit that restores the soul to God and God to the soul in a fellowship that is life indeed.
1. We must not be content with the beginnings and tendencies towards the life spiritual, We have not only a regenerated life; the Spirit abides in us as the indwelling source of renewing influence. This life is Christ’s superadded to ours. It is richer and fuller than that forfeited by sin; more than we lost in Adam. We become partakers of a Divine nature. The incarnate Son is in us by a vital union, for which analogy must be sought in heaven alone. “As Thou, Father, art in Me,” etc.
2. That Christ was the secret life of the sanctified in old time is as certain as that they were justified through His propitiation. But they “knew it not”: we knew the precious secret. Moreover, they had not, in the fulness of our evangelical privilege, the indwelling Christ. That was the mystery hid from them, but now revealed--“Christ in us the hope of glory.” They had manna from God; but Moses gave them not that bread from heaven. High as were these prerogatives, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of them. Much is still mysterious, but it is simple fact that the Christian has a fourth element added to his triple nature, and the form of that fourth is the Son of God. Seek that you may know what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance.
IV. THE PRIVILEGE INVOLVES AN ABUNDANT VICTORY OF SPIRITUAL LIFE OVER ALL THAT IS ITS OPPOSITE. The contest is not yet ended. There is a remainder of death still in the nature which must be expelled by the energy of this heavenly principle. The Holy Ghost is given, not indeed without measure, but without other restriction than our finite capacity. The word of Christ dwells richly within the source of unfailing enlightenment, encouragement, sanctification, and strength; and the sacramental supper is the pledge and the means of our invigoration. All things minister to nourishment. Within the house of God the table is spread, when they eat and drink abundantly; and it is spread also in the wilderness without, in the presence of enemies. This mysterious sentence is to be interpreted by every man according to his faith. If our faith is limited, the abundance will be scanty; if large, the “more” will stretch with it, even to infinity.
1. It promises a measure of life that shall expel all death. The law of the Spirit of life tends ever to perfect soundness. The more abundant life is vigorous health in God, such as drives all disease before it. This life, as it strengthens, mortifies the body of sin with its members. It is the act of the Lord and Giver of Life alone to give the final death blow; but before that moment comes, how blessed to know that sin grows weaker and the hard work of religion easier! Yet it is only when the contest is over that the true blessedness of life can be known. But not necessarily by leaving the body; for there is a perfect death to self and sin even here.
2. Here is the test of our religion. Our privilege marks our responsibility.
(1) It most surely condemns us all. Who does not feel that this boundless word of promise finds out the poverty of his religion? How grievously have we “limited the Holy One”!
(2) But here is precious encouragement.
V. BUT THE FULL PERFECTION OF LIFE IS NOT, IN ITS FULLEST SENSE, THE PORTION OF MAN IN THIS WORLD. The “more” points to an eternal fruition.
1. The body is not yet made partaker. Life in the Spirit and death in the body go on simultaneously. But the pledge has been given that eternal life shall be the enjoyment of the believer in his whole humanity. “I am the resurrection,” etc., follows hard on this saying. Then shall we know for the first time what life really means. No wonder the last cry of the Spirit and the Bride is, “Come, Lord Jesus!” In the hope of that superabounding consummation, let us encounter the residuary penalty of death in the body with confidence and joy.
2. The “more” of eternal life shall have its literal meaning forever. The gift will go on increasing with the increase of God. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
1. There are many organisms which manifest only a low degree of vitality. This discovers itself by defective sensation, limited powers of motion, less sensibility to pain, the comparative absence of intelligence. A sponge, a jellyfish, have life, but very far from abundance.
2. These words imply a similar variety in human life. Men differ in the amount of life they enjoy. Constitutional delicacy is the result of low physical vitality. We need to distinguish, no doubt, between feeble and undeveloped life. The limited intelligence of a savage or child may be due to want of culture. Among persons, however, who have enjoyed equal advantages the differences are very great. We speak of the slow understanding, cold heart, feeble will, and we mean that life is scanty. On the other hand are men of quick perception, keen feelings, ardour, etc., the symptoms of abundant life.
3. So there are lukewarm Christians and Christians all aflame; molluscous, torpid, and feeble Christians, as well as those who are full of faith, power, and good works.
4. Assuming these inequalities, we gather from these words that God is not satisfied with a lower degree of vitality when a higher can be attained, and that Christ has come to intensify human life.
I. THIS HAS COME TRUE IN THE ORDINARY EXPERIENCES OF MEN. The effect of Christianity has not been to deaden men to the interests of this life, but to render life larger. True, its injudicious friends and shrewd opponents deny this. Of course the gospel delivers us from exorbitant and unreasonable concern about our present and petty affairs, of unreasonable longing for temporal good for its own sake. But this is far from saying that whatever goes to fill up this daily round has lost its meaning, and that Christian people have less power to stir them than others. Quite the contrary. The world is a graver, vaster thing since Christ died on it. In such a world there can be nothing insignificant. Homes have become more sacred, so near they seem to the gate of heaven. Business rises in importance when regarded as the means to glorify God and serve men. Social and political problems claim more, not less, attention because affecting the humanity for which Christ suffered, and which He calls us to seek and save. Christianity lets in upon life the light of a vaster day, brings out all its possibilities and responsibilities, makes every small thing grand and every dull person noble by linking them to the destinies of the race and to God. The Christian lives near to the sensorium of the universe in which every sensation is felt from the remotest ends--the brain and heart of Christ. Hence life must be a larger thing as it is lived in Christ.
II. CHRIST MAKES LIFE MORE ABUNDANT BY CONFERRING A NEW SORT OF LIFE, one which has fuller pulses and a deeper and stronger vitality than unregenerate men can possess. They touch time and the world: we that are Christ’s touch God and His eternity. The gospel sets men at once in direct contact with infinite forces, lays us along side supernatural operations, opens up God’s mighty heart, creates the passion for holiness. Conversion adds a new department to man’s being, gives him new thoughts, quickens new emotions, creates new ambitions. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
A bounding life
I. TO IMPART THE BLESSEDNESS OF SPIRITUAL LIFE. Note
1. That a state of sin is moral death--a want of spiritual discernment, feeling, activity. When life from Christ comes the eyes are opened, the ears hear, etc.
2. The enjoyment of religion is comparative life. Death is stamped on all else. Honours die; wealth perishes; so do pleasures. Gourds wither; “nature decays, but grace must live.” “I have,” said a sickly Christian man, while beholding his natural face in a glass, “I have the image of death on the outer man, but I have the image of life on the inward one.”
3. Life from Christ is the only true life. It is a state of favour with God--“In His favour is life.” And it comprehends an existence for highest and noblest objects--a life for God and souls.
II. TO COMMUNICATE SPIRITUAL LIFE IN SUPERABUNDANCE. This great truth applies
1. To each individual believer. In nature there are degrees of life. So in grace--one lives at a “dying rate,” another lives happily, energetically, zealously: faith is lively, prayer fervent, labour great, hope strong. Let no one be content with bare spiritual existence; in Jesus there is a blessed fulness and freeness, and you may receive grace upon grace.
2. To the flock of Christ collectively.
3. To the blessedness of life eternal. It will exceed all present enjoyment. (Congregational Pulpit.)
If ever sunlit, sail-crowded sea, under blue heaven flecked with wind-chased white, filled your soul as with a new gift of life, think what sense of existence must be yours, if He whose thought has but fringed its garment with the outburst of such a show, take His abode with you, and while thinking the gladness of a God inside your being, let you know and feel that He is carrying you as a Father in His bosom. (G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
Immortal life through Christ
Edwin, the Prince of Northumbria, gathered together his barons into a banqueting hall to deliberate together as to the desirability of relinquishing the old idolatry and accepting the new religion urged on their acceptance by the missionaries of the Cross. One and another spoke; presently a hoary-headed warrior stood up and said, “Perhaps you recollect, O king, a thing which sometimes happens in winter days, when you are seated at table with your captains and your men-at-arms, while a good fire is burning, and your hall is comfortably warm, but it rains, snows, and blows outside. A little bird comes in and crosses the hall with a dash, entering by one door and going out by the other. The instant of this crossing is for it full of delight. It feels neither the rain nor the storm. But that instant is brief. The bird flies out in the twinkling of an eye, and from winter it passes into winter. Such appears to me the life of man upon the earth, and its duration for a moment, compared with the length of the time which precedes and that which follows it. This time is dark and uncomfortable for us. It tortures us by the impossibility of our knowing it. If, then, the new doctrine can teach us anything in any degree certain, it deserves that we should follow it.” Well said, hoary-headed warrior! And the old chronicles add that the new religion was voted amid the acclamation of the assembly. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
Abundant grace in Christ
He came that grace might be abundant; and so it is. As the dews in the morning, in the warm summer, so are the actual graces of God that penetrate day by day the longing, thirsting soul. They are hidden; we cannot see them; but we know that they are, and if they are hidden they are only like Nature. There are spots in the world that are most beautiful--morning by morning, night by night--though you and I, in the toil of our life, may never gaze upon them. There are quiet valleys, long stretches of sea, open expanses of heaven, myriads of twinkling stars, dazzling splendours of worlds of ice--glories which, as they stretch away unseen, unpeopled, in God’s vast creation, seem to be wasted; but the angels are gazing at them, and they are but a parable of grace. Grace is hidden, but grace is real. (Knox Little.)
God is an abundant giver
God is a Being who gives everything but punishment in over measure. The whole Divine character and administration, the whole conception of God as set forth in the Bible and in nature, is of a Being of munificence, of abundance, and superabundance. Enough is a measuring word--a sufficiency, and no more; economy, not profusion. God never deals in this way. With Him there is always a magnificent overplus. The remotest corner of the globe is full of wonder and beauty. The laziest bank in the world, away from towns, where no artists do congregate, upon which no farm laps, where no vines hang their cooling clusters, nor flowers spring, nor grass invites the browsing herd, is yet spotted and patched with moss of such exquisite beauty, that the painter who in all his life should produce one such thing would be a master in art and immortal in fame, and it has the hair of ten thousand reeds combed over its brow, and its shining sand and insect tribes might win the student’s lifetime. God’s least thought is more prolific than man’s greatest abundance. (H. W. Beecher.)
A minister’s work
There is a sense in which these words ought to be spoken by every true teacher. Taken in their lowest meaning, and yet in a very high and noble meaning, they express what should be the aim of everyone who claims to have any truth to tell his fellow men. His motive for telling it ought to be this, and this only, that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (Dr. Magee.)
How Christ gives life
How His life is made to be, at the same time, our own, is a mystery of grace, of which you have seen many types in the garden. You once grafted something on to a fruit tree. The process, though delicate, was most simple. You only had to be careful that there should be clean, clear, close contact between the graft and the tree. The smallest shred or filament of wrapping round the graft would have prevented the life of the tree from flowing into it. The weak, bleeding graft was fastened on to the strong stem just as it was; then in due time it struck; then gradually the tiny slip grew into the flourishing bough, and lately, as you stood looking at that miracle of tender formation and soft bright flush, you almost thought it was conscious. It seemed to say, “I live; nevertheless not I, but the tree liveth in me, and the life I now live in the foliage, I live by faith in the shaft of the tree. I trust to the tree only: every moment I am clinging to it, and without it I can do nothing.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
I am the Good Shepherd
Christ the Good Shepherd
Christ is “the Good Shepherd.
” He is this because
I. He OWNS the sheep. He is the Proprietor of the flock. They are His
1. By the gift of the Father. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.”
2. By creative ties. “His own”--sheep which are His even before they are called.
3. By purchase. “The Good Shepherd giveth” as a deposit, layeth down as a pledge, “His life for the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). The blood He shed was not in His own defence, but for the sake of those whom He came to rescue.
II. He KNOWS His sheep.
1. By their faces. An ancient and convenient custom among shepherds is to put a mark upon their sheep, an ear-mark, as they call it; and by the mark they know them in years to come. Jesus Christ, too, puts a mark on His sheep, not on the ear, but on the forehead (Revelation 14:1).
2. By their names. He knows His followers, not as men and women only, but as Peter and Andrew, Mary and Martha. The saints have queer names in the Epistles. I cannot remember them, but Jesus does. He calls the stars by name too, but then the stars are very big things. The wonder is that He calls the tiny sheep by name, scattered as they are. “What’s in a name?” A great deal, especially in a Christian name, given at the font, and accepted by Christ.
3. Their circumstances (Revelation 2:13). The Good Shepherd knows where you live--the town, the street, the house (Acts 9:11; Acts 10:5-44.10.6).
4. By a thorough apprehension of their character. In the fourth and fifth verses “know” signifies outside acquaintance--that Christ and man have come within the same circle. But in the fourteenth verse it means a clear discerning insight into the springs of life and the motives of action.
III. He FEEDS His sheep (John 10:9).
1. “They go in” first to the fold. Rest after wandering. “He leadeth me beside the still waters” (services of God’s House: perusal of the Bible).
2. They “go out” to graze. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (marg. “in pastures of tender grass”). The Bible pasture is green pasture. Every truth as fresh as if it were spoken but yesterday. Not only is the grass green, but there is plenty of it (John 10:10).
IV. He LEADS the sheep (John 10:3).
1. He leads the sheep. Exceedingly simple and helpless is a sheep gone astray. And when the Bible speaks of sinners it compares them to erring Isaiah 53:6).
2. He leads them gently (verse 4). He is not behind them, searing them with the lashes of the law, but in front of them, drawing them with the cords of His love, and adapting His steps to theirs.
3. He leads them safely along “the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” This is, to me, one of the most cogent reasons for believing in His Divinity, that He was able to stamp His feet so deeply on the rock of history, that their prints have not yet been erased. The weight of Godhead was in His steps, the emphasis of the Infinite in His tread.
4. Not only does He lead us through life, but He goes before us through Psalms 23:4). Not a single sheep will be wanting, they shall all be safely folded by Divine love (verse 16). (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
Christ the Good Shepherd
This is one of those Divine sayings in which there is so much of truth and love, that we seem able to do little more than to record it and ponder on it, to express it by symbols, and to draw from it a multitude of peaceful and heavenly thoughts. It was the symbol under which, in times of persecution, His presence was shadowed forth. It was sculptured on the walls of sepulchres and catacombs; it was painted in upper chambers and in oratories; it was traced upon their sacred books; it was graven on the vessels of the altar. The image of the Good Shepherd has expressed, as in a parable, all their deepest affections, fondest musings, most docile obedience, most devoted trust. It is a title in which all other titles meet, in the light of which they blend and lose themselves. Priest, Prophet, King, Saviour, and Guide, are all summed up in this more than royal, paternal, saving name. It recalls in one word all the mercies and lovingkindness of God to His people of old, when “the Shepherd of Israel” made His own people “to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” It recites, as it were, all the prophecies and types of the Divine care which were then yet to be revealed to His elect: it revives the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 37:24; Ezekiel 37:24; Isaiah 49:9-23.49.10). And, moreover, by this title He appropriates to Himself the fulfilment of His own most deep and touching parable of the lost sheep. There is no thought or emotion of pity, compassion, gentleness, patience, and love which is not here expressed. It is the peculiar consolation of the weak, or of them that are out of the way; of the lost and wandering; of the whole flock of God here scattered abroad “in the midst of this naughty world.” And though it be an office taken on earth, and in the time of our infirmity, it is a name which He will never lay aside. Even in the heavenly glory it still is among His titles. He is even there “the chief Shepherd,” “that great Shepherd of the sheep”; and in the state of bliss shall still guide His flock: though more fully to express the unity of His nature with theirs, and His own spotless sacrifice in their behalf, He is called “the Lamb” (Revelation 7:17). Let us then consider awhile the surpassing and peculiar goodness of the One True Shepherd. And this He has revealed to the world in His voluntary death. There was never any other but He who came down from heaven that He might lay down “His life for the sheep.” This is the one perpetual token of His great love to all mankind--a token ever fresh, quickened with life, full of power to persuade the hearts of His people to Himself. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”; and therefore the death of the good Shepherd is the subject of all the Church’s testimony. Again, His surpassing goodness is shown in the provision He has made of all things necessary for the salvation of His flock in this state of mortality and sin. For this He has provided, first, in the external foundation and visible perpetuity of His Church. He has secured it by the commission to baptize all nations, by the universal preaching of His apostles, by shedding abroad the Holy Ghost, by the revelation of all truth, by the universal tradition of the faith in all the world. And, secondly, His love and care are shown, not only in the external and visible provision which He thus made beforehand for the perpetual wants of His flock, but in the continual and internal providence wherewith He still watches over it. The whole history of His Church from the beginning--the ages of persecution, and “times of refreshing”; the great conflicts of faith with falsehood, and of the saints with the seed of the serpent; the whole career of His Church amid the kingdoms of the earth and changes of the world, are a perpetual revelation of His love and power. (Archdeacon Manning.)
Christ the Good Shepherd
He is the Good Shepherd in the sense of real or genuine. He is the Shepherd from the very centre of His being. Every instinct of His nature, every feeling of His heart, every thought of His brain, every touch of His hand are those of the true Shepherd, whose constant purpose is to guide and feed and save the flock, and for that purpose He counts no toil too severe, no suffering too intense, no sacrifice too costly. He has thoroughly identified Himself with the sheep, and whatever adds to their well-being He gladly does and bears. He is the Good Shepherd in contrast with the hireling, whose care is selfish and whose aim is wages. Jesus here gives us a distinction that applies in the most direct way to every phase of life. Interests of all kinds are intrusted with paid workers. Some of these are good shepherds, putting the very best of their lives into their toil; some are hirelings, faithful only so long as fidelity is easy, safe, and profitable. The railroad engineer who sees imminent danger and remains at his post, hoping to save precious lives entrusted to his care, is the good shepherd. The need today in the State, the bank, the factory, the store, the kitchen, is for good shepherds. The presence of hirelings brings disaster to every cause. The Good Shepherd guides His sheep by going before them. Those who follow where Jesus led are safe. He was at times in a very whirlwind of human beings who were wrought to the highest pitch by diverse passions, but His feet never made a misstep, His face never turned in the wrong direction. His lips spoke the right word, His hands wrought the most helpful work always. Jesus said, “I know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” “I lay down My life for the sheep.” These were the proofs that He was the true Shepherd. He certainly knew what was in man. He saw the treachery working in the heart of Judas. He saw in Peter’s self-trusting, impulsive nature the flame that soon burnt itself out to leave only the ashes of his boasted faith and devotion. But further than this, He saw the repentant Peter converted into the brave hero. He looked into the very soul of Zaccheus in the sycamore tree and taw in him a stedfast purpose of righteousness. He knew that back of the cleanly appearance of the Pharisees there was moral leprosy. On the briefest acquaintance with Nathanael He spoke of him as one “in whom there was no guile.” The young man who came to Him with eager inquiries for eternal life was before Him as an open book--a man with a kindly heart, but too weak to brave danger and privation and sacrifice. There was no martyr stuff in him. Sin blunts the faculties. The most exalted natures have the keenest insight. Jesus, the Perfect One, knew instantly the false and the true. (Boston Homilies.)
The Good Shepherd
These words are equivalent to
I. I am A Shepherd. I stand in a peculiar relation to a peculiar people, who are My sheep.
II. I am a GOOD Shepherd. I possess the appropriate qualifications and perform the appropriate duties of the character I sustain.
III. I am THE Shepherd--the one Shepherd--not like him of John 10:2, one of the shepherds, but the great, chief, proprietor Shepherd, whose own the sheep are--the Shepherd of shepherds as well as of sheep.
IV. I am THE GOOD Shepherd. I possess in the most perfect degree all the qualifications that are requisite for the discharge of the numerous, varied, and difficult duties of this most exalted office.
V. I am THAT GOOD Shepherd, i.e., the Divine Guardian foreshadowed in prophecy (Ezekiel 34:11-26.34.24), and answering in every respect to the type. Christ is all this
1. As He secures for His peculiar people all the blessings they require.
2. As He secures these advantages to them at the greatest conceivable expense to Himself.
3. As there subsists the most endearing mutual acquaintance and intercourse between Him and His people.
4. As He cares for the happiness, so He secures the salvation of all. (J. Brown, D. D.)
The Good Shepherd
The truth here is Christ’s exceeding love and care for the Church. He would show that He sustained towards it a relationship beyond parallel. Not a king, however wise his rule; not a parent, however fond his care; not a friend, however great his service, for all these are kindnesses of beings of the same nature only. They suggest nothing of that condescension by which a Being of the highest order could embrace one reduced to the condition of fallen man. Hence Christ selected as the type of our lost race the most helpless of animals, and compares Himself to one of the kindest of guardians. Let us consider some of His pastoral offices in which His love is set forth.
I. HE PROVIDES FOR THEIR SPIRITUAL WANTS. This would be the first thing looked for according to the predictions (Psalms 23:1-19.23.6).
1. Pasture for the flock--enough for all; variety for each.
2. Wisdom to guide.
3. Watchfulness to tend.
4. Constraint to rule.
5. Diligence to seek out.
6. Power to restore.
II. HE PRESERVES THEM FROM FOES AND DANGERS (John 10:12). It is our lot to be sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. If our soul escapes at all it is because the snare is broken by our Deliverer. That which enables the Good Shepherd to effect our deliverance is His profound and comprehensive knowledge (John 10:14). These perils are foreseen and provided for. How many tempted ones have derived comfort from the thought that when Satan has desired to have them, he has prayed, etc. Hence the encouragement, “Fear not little flock.” “He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
III. HE IS DILIGENT IN RECOVERING THOSE WHO STRAY (Ezekiel 34:1-26.34.31; Isaiah 53:1-23.53.12). In relation to the whole human family Christ came to seek and save the lost. The whole history of the Church has been the gathering in of outcasts. He is found of them that sought Him not; and under backslidings after conversion, will He go after us again. He may leave us to eat the bitter fruits of our ways for a time, and make us contrast the misery of the wilderness with the blessedness of the fold. He, who of all the saints of God lived nearest to Him, and yet wandered furthest, said, “He restoreth my soul.”
IV. HE HAS SPECIAL CARE OF THE YOUNG, whether young in years or in grace (Isaiah 40:1-23.40.31). An untended lamb is the very type of helplessness and folly. The temptations are many which beset the flock in early life from the example of companions, worldly pleasures, buoyant spirits, etc.; but for these and every spiritual danger the Good Shepherd provides. Still, there are special dangers which account for this pastoral care. The very warmth and freshness of their religious feelings render them more liable to fall. Hence the first duty enjoined on restored Peter was “Feed My lambs.”
V. HE IS WITH THE FLOCK TO THE END. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” etc. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The Good Shepherd
I. THE PASTORAL CHARACTER CLAIMED BY CHRIST.
1. We shall learn nothing from the text unless we enter humbly and affectionately into its spirit. We must dismiss all Western ideas. Here the connection between shepherd and sheep is simply one of pecuniary interest; but beneath the burning skies and clear starry nights of Palestine there grows up between the man and the dumb creatures he protects, often at the peril of his life, a kind of friendship. For this is after all the true school in which love is taught; dangers and hardships mutually shared, alone in those vast solitudes the shepherd and the sheep feel a life in common. The vast interval between the man and the brute disappears, and the single point of union is felt strongly--the love of the protector, and the love of the grateful life. Those to whom Christ spoke felt all this and more. He appealed to associations which had been familiar from childhood, and unless we try, by realizing such scenes, to feel what they felt by association, these words will only be dry and lifeless.
2. To the name shepherd Christ adds the significant word “Good”--not in the sense of benevolent, but true born, genuine, just as wine of a noble quality is good compared with the cheaper sort; and a soldier who is one in heart and not by mere profession, or for pay. This expression distinguishes the Good Shepherd from
(1) The robbers who may guard the sheep simply for their flesh and fleece: they have not a true shepherd’s heart any more than a pirate has the true sailor’s heart. There were many such marauders in Palestine. David protected Nabal’s flock from them. Many such nominal shepherds had Israel in by-gone years: rulers whose rule had been but kingcraft: teachers whose instruction had been but priestcraft. Government, teachership are sublime pastoral callings; but when the work is even well done for the sake of party, or place, or honour, or consistency, it is the spirit of the robber.
(2) The hirelings, who are tested by danger. A man is a hireling who does his duty for pay. He may do it in his way faithfully. The paid shepherd will not desert the sheep for a shower or a cold night. But he is not paid to risk his life against the lion or bear, and so the sheep are left to their fate. So a man may be a hired priest, or a paid demagogue, a great champion of rights paid by applause; and while popularity lasts he will be a reformer--deserting the people when danger comes. The cause of the sheep is not his.
3. Exactly the reverse is the Good Shepherd. The cause of man was His, and His only pay the cross. He might have escaped it all, and been an honoured leader by prudent time service. But this would have been the desertion of God’s cause and man’s.
II. THE PROOFS WHICH SUBSTANTIATE THE CLAIM.
1. I know My sheep as the Father knoweth Me, and not simply by omniscience. There is a certain mysterious tact of sympathy and antipathy by which we discover the like and unlike of ourselves in others’ character. A man may hide his opinions, but not his character. There is a something in an impure heart which purity detects afar off. The truer we become, the more unerringly we know the ring of truth. Therefore Christ knows His sheep by the mystic power, always finest in the best natures, by which like detects what is like and unlike itself; and how unerringly did He read men--the enthusiastic populace, Nathanael, the rich ruler, Zacchaeus, Judas, the Pharisees! It was as if His bosom was some mysterious mirror, on which all that came near Him left a sullied or unsullied surface, detecting themselves by every breath. This Divine power must be distinguished from that cunning sagacity which men call knowingness. The worldly wise have maxims and rules; but the finer shades of character escape. Eternal judgment is nothing more than the carrying out of these words, “I know My sheep”; for their obverse is “I never knew you.”
2. Christ’s sheep know Him, not by some lengthened investigation, whether the shepherds dress be the identical dress, the crozier genuine--but instinctively. Truth is like light; risible in itself, not distinguished by the shadow it casts.
3. Pastoral fidelity, “I lay down My life.” Here is the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice. Unitarians say He died as a martyr in attestation of His truths; but we cannot explain away the “for.” This sacrificing love is paralleled by the love of the Father to the Son. Therefore that sacrifice is but a mirror of the heart of God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The Good Shepherd
We have here
I. THE COMPLETE CHARACTER. There is more in Jesus than you can pack away in shepherd or any other emblem. But note
1. He sets Himself forth as a shepherd: not such as is employed in England to look after sheep a few months till they are slaughtered. The Eastern shepherd is
(1) The owner or his son. His wealth consists in sheep. He has seldom much of a house, or much land. Ask him “How much are you worth?” He answers, “So many sheep.” We are Christ’s wealth, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance” is in the saints. The Lord’s portion is His people. For their sakes He gave not only Ethiopia and Seba, but Himself.
(2) The Caretaker. Christ is never off duty. He has constant care for His people day and night. He knows and prescribes for their every complaint.
(3) The Provider. There is not one in the flock who knows about the selecting of pasturage. For time and eternity, body and soul, Christ supplies all our need.
(4) The Leader.
(5) The Defender.
2. Christ completely fills this character.
(1) He is the Good Shepherd--neither thief nor hireling. What He does is con amore.
(2) He is the Good Shepherd. Of others we can only say a shepherd. All the rest are shadows: He is the substance.
3. Christ rejoices in this character. He repeats it so many times here that it almost reads like the refrain of a song. And if He is so pleased to be our Shepherd, we should be pleased to be His sheep, and avail ourselves of all the privileges wrapped up in the name.
II. THE COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE.
1. Christ’s knowledge of His own, “As the Father,” etc. Do you know how much the Father knows the Son who is His glory, other self, yea, one with Him? Just so intimately does the Good Shepherd know His sheep.
(1) Their number.
(2) Their persons--age, character, hairs, constitution; and never mistakes one for another
(5) This ought to be a great comfort, inasmuch as it is not cold, intellectual knowledge, but that of love. He knows you--
(a) By acquaintance.
(b) By communion.
(c) Sympathy. “Though He were a Son yet learned He,” etc.
2. Our knowledge of the Lord, “as I know the rather.” This is
(1) By delight.
(2) By union.
(3) By love.
III. THE COMPLETE SACRIFICE. These words are repeated in different forms four times (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17; John 10:13), and mean that
1. He was always doing so. All the life He had He was constantly laying out for the sheep.
2. It was actively performed. He did not die merely.
3. It was voluntary.
4. It was for the sheep. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Good Shepherd
I. HIS QUALIFICATIONS TO MEET THE NEED OF THE SHEEP.
1. His knowledge of all the wants of the sheep is perfect.
2. His wisdom to provide is infinite.
3. His power enables Him to carry out all His will.
4. His kindness endures through all their waywardness.
5. His faithfulness will never forsake them.
6. His undying interest forgets and omits nothing for their good.
II. HIS ACTIVE WORK FOR THE SHEEP.
1. He rescues them from the great robber.
2. Brings them into His own fold.
3. Provides them with all the nourishment needed.
4. Given them refreshing repose amid the cares and toils of life.
5. Guards them from all danger.
6. Guides them in all perplexity.
7. Heals all their diseases.
8. Reclaims them from all their wanderings.
9. Folds them at last in heaven. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The slain Shepherd
I. FORESAW THAT HE SHOULD DIE FOR THE SHEEP. The termination of the Saviour’s life was not accidental nor unforeseen. Many were the intimations He gave of it, which disproves the notion that His death was the disappointment of His hopes.
II. SPONTANEOUSLY UNDERTOOK TO DIE FOR THE SHEEP. He might have saved Himself; He made no attempt at escape; He prayed for no legion of angels to rescue Him; He told Pilate that there was a limitation of his power in regard to his apparently helpless captive; He committed His spirit into His Father’s hands.
III. DIED IN THE STEAD OF THE SHEEP. A shepherd while defending his sheep sometimes falls a victim to his faithfulness. So Christ died a vicarious death, the just for the unjust, which exempted the sinner from the doom deserved. Not that there was a commercial equivalent, as when a debt is paid; but a moral equivalent accepted by a righteous and gracious God.
IV. DIED ON BEHALF OF THE SHEEP. It was not for His own but our advantage. By His sacrifice we are redeemed from the curse of the law and the power of sin, and have secured for us eternal life. Application:
1. Adore and bless the love which animated the Good Shepherd.
2. Live as those who have been bought with a price, and have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. (Family Churchman.)
The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep
In this statement we notice the following characteristics of this sacrifice which the Good Shepherd makes for His sheep.
1. It was deliberate. “For this purpose He came into the world.”
2. It was voluntary. “No man taketh My life. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
3. It is vicarious. Not for them in defence, but for them vicariously. He died for them as a substitute, “bearing their own sins in His own body.”
4. It was an accepted sacrifice. “Therefore doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again” (John 10:17). (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
The Shepherd and the sheep
I. THE FLOCK. Were we to take a walk some spring morning among the Yorkshire hills or on the downs of Sussex or Bedfordshire, we should see thousands of sheep belonging to different flocks and masters. Christ has members of His flock not only in Sussex, etc., but in Africa, India, etc.; yes, all the world over. This flock
1. Is an exceedingly large one. If you were to go on counting for a whole year you could not count them all. The patriarchs had large flocks, so have many English farmers, but not altogether one so large. Some say all who are baptized, or take the Lord’s Supper, or belong to this or that Church, are the Lord’s sheep. But many of these are wicked, and so cannot be Christ’s, while some where there are no churches and sacrament are Christ’s because they love and obey Him. Ever since Abel died men have been gathered in, and thousands are joining the upper fold every day, and still millions are left behind.
2. While it is so large it is increasing very rapidly. Other flocks are to decrease. Every new convert is an addition, and what numbers are sometimes converted in a day (Acts 2:1-44.2.47)! Missionaries tell us of whole tribes casting away their idols, etc. It ought to increase more than it does when we consider the agencies at work Bibles, tracts, churches, schools, ministers, teachers, Christian fathers and mothers.
3. Christ’s sheep are very much alike.
(1) In their actions. Just as we can tell wolves from sheep, so we can tell who are Christ’s and who are not. When we see a man roar like a lion, or greedy like a wolf, we know he is not of Christ’s fold.
(2) In their colour. “If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me.”
(3) In their disposition. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ,” etc.
(4) In the treatment they require. None can do without the Shepherd’s care.
4. They bear His mark. What strange marks farmers sometimes put upon their sheep--circles, crosses, initials. Some of Christ’s sheep have got His mark in greater boldness, but the porter can detect it however faint. If a king were to attempt to enter without it he would be turned away, while a prodigal with it would be welcomed.
(1) This mark is not being an Episcopalian, Independent, etc. We may have the Church’s mark and not Christ’s.
(2) It is likeness to Christ, and we cannot be like Him without being born again. Some try to imitate this mark and affix Morality, Liberality, Good resolution, Fasting, etc.
5. This is a loving flock. Members of the same family, school, place of worship, ought to be kind and gentle, but Christ’s flock is the most loving in the world. By this the world knows Christ’s disciples.
II. THE SHEPHERD.
1. He is awake and watchful. A good many people are awake but not watchful. Sometimes lambs are worried by strange dogs when the shepherd was asleep, and sometimes stray into danger when he is awake but inattentive. But nothing escapes Christ’s sleepless vigilance. “He that keepeth Israel,” etc.
2. He is patient. A shepherd cannot have too much patience: much as he may have it will be sorely tried. In all trials Christ’s patience never left Him; and were it to leave Him now how many would be expelled the fold!
3. He is strong. Look at what He has done in Nature. “All power is given unto Me.” All ministers, teachers, and angels combined would be unable to provide for or protect His flock. Then His stock of provisions never diminishes, and every sheep is fed according to its need.
4. He goes after every sheep or lamb that goes astray. How strange that any should desert such a fold; stranger still that those who stray should refuse to return. (J. Goodacre.)
Christ the Good Shepherd
The shepherd who can always go to bed regularly at night, and who is able to say, “I do not have much trouble with my flock,” is not the man to be envied. He coolly says, “a few lambs died last winter; we must expect that kind of thing. It is true that some sheep died of starvation; but if the meadows failed, I could not help that.” That is the kind of shepherd who deserves to be eaten by the next wolf; but the man who is able to say with Jacob, “By night the frost devoured me, and by day the heat,” is the true shepherd. He is most irregular as to his rest; the only thing regular about him is his labour and his disappointment, and yet faith makes him a happy man. When you grow very weak as a pastor, and your charge utterly overcomes you, do not repine at such weakness, for then you will be at your full strength; but when you are strong as a pastor, and say, “I think that to be a minister is an easy matter,” you may depend upon it that you are weak. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Good Shepherd and His sheep
I. WHAT THE GOOD SHEPHERD DOES FOR HIS SHEEP?
1. He protects them. Sheep are exposed to many dangers, from which they are not able to protect themselves. When David was a shepherd, he tells us of a lion and a bear, that each came and stole away a lamb from his flock; and how he went after the wild beasts, and slew them, and saved his lambs. And this is just what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does for His sheep. He protects them from Satan, their great enemy. And in the same way He protects them from all their enemies, and from every danger. A Christian mother who lived in the city of New York, in very humble circumstances, had only one child, a little boy about seven years old, whom she had taught to know and love the Saviour. One day, when this good mother was going quietly on with her work at home, she was startled by a loud knock at the door of her humble dwelling. On opening the door she received this alarming message: “Hurry away to the police station; your little boy has been run over.” She was terribly frightened, and, hastening as fast as she could to the station house, on arriving there she found her little boy surrounded by strangers. The doctor had been sent for, but had not yet arrived. She was told that the wheels of a large carriage had gone over his foot, but, on examining it carefully, she was surprised to find no real injury about the foot. “Why, Willie darling, how was it possible for the wheel of the carriage to have gone over your foot, and not have crushed it?” The child looked tenderly up into his mother’s face, and said--“Mamma, dear, I guess God must have put it in a hollow place.” This shows what faith that little boy had in the protection which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has promised to exercise over His sheep. He always has “a hollow place” to put them in when danger is near.
2. He provides for them. This is something which the sheep cannot do for themselves, and unless the shepherd does it for them they must perish.
II. WHAT THE GOOD SHEPHERD EXPECTS HIS SHEEP TO DO FOR HIM?
1. To hear His voice. “My sheep hear my voice,” He says.
2. To follow Him. The sheep set us an example here, not only in hearing the shepherd, but in obeying him. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The Shepherd and His sheep
I. THE FIGURE OF SHEEP SUITS US. We call them silly sheep.
1. They cannot guide their own way. As wild beasts can.
2. They cannot keep or defend themselves. Frightened at danger.
3. They quickly follow bad examples. Running after wilful one.
4. They are surrounded by unknown dangers. How much mother knows, and teacher knows, that we do not.
II. THE FIGURE OF SHEPHERD SUITS CHRIST. A most blessed thing that we have someone to care for us.
1. Shepherd must be strong. To defend, carry, etc.
2. Shepherd must be wise. To guide to food and water.
3. Shepherd must be watchful. To see foes.
4. Shepherd must be loving and gentle. To tend in weakness.
III. WHEN WE SPEAK OF JESUS, WE WANT TO CALL HIM THE GOOD SHEPHERD. Especially because He was willing to die in defending us, Jesus. The old and familiar tale of Eric, who threw Himself to the wolves to save his master. Or, case of shepherd who died fighting three robbers.
IV. WHEN CHRIST SPEAKS OF US, HE WOULD LIKE TO CALL US GOOD SHEEP. What is it to be good, so that Christ can think us good? A great difference in sheep. The good sheep know the Shepherd’s voice. They follow, they keep close, they obey. (Weekly Pulpit.)
He that is an hireling
The hireling is
I. MERCENARY. He tends the flock simply for wages as Jacob did Genesis 29:15; Genesis 29:13), though not with the love that Jacob showed Genesis 31:33). An emblem of the Pharisees and Jewish rulers generally who served God in a purely legal spirit, and shepherded the flock with an eye to the merit they might acquire, or the recompense they should receive; of those who in Christ’s day thrust themselves into the priest’s office for a morsel of bread (1 Samuel 2:36); of all who enter the ministry for filthy lucre’s sake (Titus 1:11).
II. SELFISH. He pursues his calling with an eye to his own interest and comfort--a type of Ezekiel’s shepherds (Ezekiel 34:2-26.34.3), and of socalled Christian pastors who use their official position solely to secure worldly emolument, social preferment, or temporal renown (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:3).
III. NEGLIGENT. Chiefly occupied with thoughts of his own happiness, he not only leaves the sheep to cater for themselves (Ezekiel 34:4; Zechariah 11:16-38.11.17), but fleeing at the first approach of danger, permits the helpless creatures to be ravaged and scattered. Once more a representative of the corrupt hierarchy that presided over Israel, and of such nominally Christian teachers who, neglecting the highest interests of their people, leave them to fall a prey to the principalities and powers of evil. (T. Whitelaw D. D.)
Paton records that at a time of great danger on Tanna he tried to prevail on one of the native teachers from Aneityum to remain at the mission house. The man insisted on returning to his post, and with this unanswerable defence of his conduct: “Missi, when I see them thirsting for my blood, I just see myself when the missionary first came to my island. I desired to murder him as they now desire to kill me. Had he stayed away for such danger, I would have remained a heathen; but he came, and continued coming to teach us, till by the grace of God I was changed to what I am. Now the same God that changed me can change these poor Tannese to love and serve Him. I can not stay away from them.” On mission ground the term “pastor” is restored to its original meaning, “shepherd,” with good reason. Hannington’s message to the ruler who compassed his death was: “Tell the king that I die for Buganda. I have bought this road with my life.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
It is not the bare receiving hire which denominates a man a hireling, but the loving hire; his loving the hire more than the work; the working for the sake of the hire. He is an hireling who would not work were it not for the hire; to whom this is the great (if not only) motive of working. O God! if a man who works only for hire is such a wretch, a mere thief and a robber, what is he who continually takes the hire, and yet does not work at all? (J. Wesley.)
Satan a wolf
1. His attacks are deadly.
2. His surprises are crafty.
3. His hatred of Christ is implacable.
4. His hunger to devour is insatiable.
5. He attacks under darkness.
6. He scatters the flock by tempting them to luxury, avarice, and sensuality. Filling their minds with pride, envy, anger, deceit. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
I.…know My sheep and am known of Mine
The mutual knowledge of Christ and His people
I. CHRIST’S KNOWLEDGE OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. The faithful and experienced Eastern shepherd knows every one of his sheep. So does Christ. He knows
1. Their persons; not only the numbers of His flock. We are as well known to Him as the stars (Isaiah 40:1-23.40.31), and as our children are to us.
2. Their condition and circumstances--but general and peculiar--our sins that He may pardon them; our diseases that He may heal them; our wants that He may supply them; our fears that He may quiet them; our burdens that He may give us strength to bear them; our prayers that He may grant them, our graces that we may delight in them; our services that He may reward them.
2. We trace this knowledge to
(1) His great love. It is clear that the shepherd who loves his sheep best will know them best.
(2) His intimacy. He dwells with them.
(3) His omniscience.
II. CHRIST’S PEOPLE’S KNOWLEDGE OF HIM is
1. Peculiar. Their fellow men do not possess it or understand it.
2. Acquired. It is not natural to us. Nature does not teach it. The young sheep knows its mother by instinct, but not its shepherd. All real knowledge of Christ is the effect of a special manifestation of Him to the soul.
3. Experimental chiefly. Some knowledge we get of Him from faith in God’s testimony concerning Him, but our chief spring is this: when we have hungered, He has fed us; when we have not known our way, He has guided us; where we have fallen into danger, He has extricated us.
4. Practical. The soul that possesses it becomes willing and obedient. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The true sheep
What is the knowledge by which Christ’s true sheep are known? There are many kinds of knowledge, of which only one can be the true. There is a knowledge which even fallen angels have of Him (Luke 4:41; Luke 4:41; Matthew 8:29). This is a knowledge of the spiritual intelligence, which may be possessed in energetic wickedness, and with direct resistance of the will against the will of Christ. Again, there is also a knowledge which all the regenerate possess. The preaching of the Church, the reading of Holy Scriptures, the commemoration of fasts and festivals, the tradition of popular Christianity, and all the knowledge which from childhood we unconsciously imbibe, give us a general knowledge of the evangelical facts and of the history of our Lord. This cannot be the knowledge of which He here speaks. It must be something of a deeper kind, something more living and personal. It is plainly, therefore, such a knowledge as He has of us. It is that mutual consciousness of which we speak when we say that we know any person as our friend. We do not mean that we know him by name; for many strangers we know by name; many whom we have never seen, or further care to know: neither do we mean only that we know all about him, that is to say, who he is, and whence, of what lineage, or from what land, or what has been his history, his acts and words, and the like; for in this way we may be said to know many who do not know us, and with whom we have nothing to do. When we say we know anyone as our friend, we mean that we know not only who he is, but what, or as we say, his character,--that he is true, affectionate, gentle, forgiving, liberal, patient, self-denying; and still more, that he has been, and is, all this to ourselves; that we have made trial of him, and have cause to know this character as a reality, of which we have, as it were, tasted, by often meeting with him, seeing him at all times, under all circumstances and in all changes, familiarly conversing with him, doing service to him, ourselves receiving from him in turn tokens of love and goodness. This is the knowledge of friendship and of love. It is something living and personal, arising out of the whole of our inward nature, and filling all our powers and affections. And such is the knowledge the true sheep have of the Good Shepherd. Let us, then, consider in what way we may attain this knowledge.
1. It must be by following Him. “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me.” By living such a life as He lived. Likeness to Him is the power of knowing Him. Nay, rather it is knowledge itself: there is no other. It is by likeness that we know, and by sympathy that we learn.
2. There are peculiar faculties of the heart which must be awakened, if we would know Him as He knows us. There can be no true obedience without the discipline of habitual devotion--in prayer, meditation, sacramental communion.
3. This true knowledge of Him is not a transitory state of feeling. Out of obedience and devotion arises an habitual faith, which makes Him, though unseen, yet perceptibly a part of all our life. (Archdeacon Manning.)
The understanding between shepherd and sheep
You will notice the difference between the Old and the New translation here. The new translation makes the meaning of our Saviour’s words much clearer. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd; and there is an understanding between Me and My sheep, as there is an understanding between My Father and Me.” For people to understand one another, there must be something in common. The Pharisees could not understand our Lord. They had nothing in common with Him. As He said to them, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world.” No, they could not understand Him; any more than a man without an ear for music can understand music, or a dull prosy mind can understand poetry, or a person who always acts from self-interested motives can understand another who has more thought for others than for himself. But Christ’s disciples could understand Him: not perfectly, often very imperfectly; still they had that which made them capable of understanding Him to some extent, and of being trained to understand Him more fully in time; as one who loves music can enjoy and to some extent understand a great musician, one who is not altogether selfish can appreciate the nobility of self-sacrifice for the good of others. Some of Christ’s disciples had made sacrifices for Him, though small compared with what He had made for them. There were those among His little flock who had left all they had on earth to follow Him, and this, and the faith which led them to it, had made them able to know and understand Him who had left all He had in heaven for their sake. (J. E. Vernon, M. A.)
The shepherd’s mark
Edmund Andrews was a thoughtless, cruel boy. One day he was passing by Burlton’s farm, and saw Wilkinson, the old shepherd, busy with his pitch kettle and iron, marking the sheep with the letters “J.B.,” for John Burlton. “So you are putting your master’s mark upon the sheep, are you?” said he. “Yes, Master Edmund; but God, the Almighty Maker, has put His mark upon them before.” “What do you mean?” asked Edmund. “I mean that our Heavenly Father, in His wisdom and goodness, has put marks upon the creatures He has made, and such marks as none but He could put upon them. He gave wings to the cockchafer, spots to the butterfly, feathers to the bird, a sparkling eye to the frog and toad, a swift foot to the dog, and a soft furry skin to the cat. These marks are His marks, and show that the creatures belong to Him; and woe be to those that abuse them!” “That’s an odd thought,” said Edmund, as he turned away. “It may be an odd thought,” said the shepherd, “but odd things lead us to glorify God, and to act kindly to His creatures. The more we have, Master Edmund, the better.”
How Christ knows His sheep
Suppose one of the sheep in a fold were to go to the shepherd, and say, “I think I’m your sheep, because you get six pounds of wool off me;” and another should say, “And I think I’m your sheep, because you get four pounds of wool from me;” and a third, “I hope I am your sheep, but I don’t know, for you only get three pounds of wool from me; and sometimes it is but two.” Finally, suppose one poor scraggy fellow comes who don’t know whether he is a sheep or a goat, and makes his complaint; the shepherd would say, “I know who are the best sheep, and who are the worst. I wish you could all give me ten pounds of wool; but whether you give me ten pounds or one, you are all mine. I bought you, and paid for you, and you are all in my fold, and you every one belong to me.” It is not how much a sheep brings his owner which proves him his. The proof that the sheep belongs to the shepherd is, that the shepherd bought him and takes care of him. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ’s knowledge of His sheep
The most fearful attributes of the Godhead turn to the sweetest comfort of a believer. His justice, to the natural man so awful, requires Him to forgive those whom He has punished in our Substitute. His power so tremendous when turned against us is assuring in the same proportion, when it is for us. So with omniscience, a terror to the wrongdoer, but a comfort to the penitent believer.
I. CHRIST KNOWS WHO ARE HIS SHEEP. Leave it then to Him to pronounce who are so. We seldom make a greater mistake then when we attempt to trespass on this province of Deity. “I know,” almost as much as to say, “You do not.” And there are times when it will be best not to form the judgment respecting ourselves. Leave it thus. “He knows whether I am His; and if not, that I wish to be, and therefore will make me. If I am, He will keep me.”
II. HE KNOWS THEM AS A WHOLE. As all one, gathered out of the same desert, washed in the same fountain, etc. In this collectiveness He expects concert of action, sympathy, unity among His people. We are accustomed to regard ourselves as separate individuals, families, churches. Hence our narrowness, selfishness.
III. HE KNOWS THEM AS INDIVIDUALS. Each stands out known and loved as if He cared for none else. He knows
1. You, and not merely about you.
2. How long you have been in the fold, and expects accordingly.
3. Your natural temperament, what you can and cannot bear, how much exposure, liberty, etc. What kind of pasture you require.
4. Your future, and is always working up to it.
IV. HE KNOWS HIMSELF IN THEM AND THEREFORE HIS FATHER’S MIND ABOUT THEM. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I lay down My life for the sheep
Christ died to save men
At the time of the gold fever in California, a man went from England to the diggings. By and by he sent money for his wife and child to follow him. They arrived safely in New York, and there took a passage in one of the beautiful Pacific steamers. A few days after sailing, the terrible cry of “Fire! fire!” rang through the ship. Everything that the captain and sailors could do was done, but it was of no use; the fire rapidly gained ground. As there was a powder magazine on board, the captain knew that the moment the flames reached it the vessel would be blown up; so he gave the word to lower the life boats. These were got out, but there was not room for all; so the strong pushed in and left the weak to their fate. As the last boat was moving off, a mother and her boy were on the deck and she pleaded to be taken. The sailors agreed to take one but not both. What did the mother do? Did she jump in herself? No! Kissing her boy and handing him over the side of the ship, she said “If you live to see your father, tell him I died to save you.” That was great love, yet it is but a faint type of what Christ has done for us. (J. L. Nye.)
Damon and Pythias
Damon, being condemned to death by Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, obtained liberty to visit his wife and children, leaving his friend, Pythias, as a pledge for his return. At the appointed time Damon failed in appearing, and the tyrant had the curiosity to visit Pythias in prison. “What a fool you were,” said he, “to rely on Damon’s promise! How could you imagine that he would sacrifice his life for you or for any man?” “My lord,” said Pythias, with a firm voice and noble aspect, “I would suffer a thousand deaths rather than my friend should fail in any article of honour. He cannot fail. I am as confident of his virtue as I am of my own existence. But I beseech the gods to preserve his life. Oppose him ye winds! Disappoint his eagerness, and suffer him not to arrive till my death has saved a life of much greater consequence than mine, necessary to his lovely wife, to his little innocents, to his friends, to his country! Oh! let me not die the cruelest of deaths in that of Damon!” Dionysius was confounded and awed with the magnanimity of these sentiments. He wished to speak: he hesitated, he looked down, and retired in silence. Pythias was brought forth, and with an air of satisfaction walked to the place of execution. He ascended the scaffold and addressed the people. “My prayers are hoard; the gods are propitious; the winds have been contrary. Damon could not conquer impossibilities: he will be here tomorrow, and my blood shall ransom that of my friend.” As he pronounced these words, a buzz arose; a distant voice was heard; the crowd caught the words, and “Stop, stop, executioner!” was repeated by every person. A man came at full speed. In the same instant he was off his horse, on the scaffold, and in the arms of Pythias. “You are safe!” he cried, “you are safe, my friend! The gods be praised, you are safe!” Pale and half speechless in the arms of Damon, Pythias replied in broken accents, “Fatal haste! cruel impatience! What envious powers have wrought impossibilities against your friend? But I will not be wholly disappointed. Since I cannot die to save you, I will die to accompany you!” Dionysius heard and beheld with astonishment. His eyes were opened, his heart was touched, and he could no longer resist the power of pity. He descended from his throne and ascended the scaffold. “Live, live, ye incomparable pair! Ye have demonstrated the existence of virtue, and consequently of a God who rewards it. Live happy, live revered; and as you have invited me by your example, form me by your precepts to participate worthily in a friendship so divine.”
Other sheep I have which are not of this fold
The grace of God is no man’s little property, fenced off all for ourselves. It is not a king’s park, at which we look through a barred gateway. It is a Father’s orchard with bars to let down and gates to swing open. There are Christians who keep a severe guard over the Church, when God would have all come and take the richest and ripest of the fruit. Then, again, we have those who get up statistics and say so many Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., there, that is the number of Christians. Christ comes and says “No! you have not counted rightly, other sheep have I which are not of these folds.”
I. The heavenly Shepherd will find many of His sheep, among those who are NON-CHURCH GOERS. I do not think that the Church gains when you take sheep from one fold and puts them into another. It is the lost sheep on the mountains we want to bring back.
II. The heavenly Shepherd will find many of His sheep among those who are now REJECTORS OF CHRISTIANITY. I do not know bow you came to reject Christianity: but I want you, before you finally discard it, to give it a fair trial. You want what it alone can give--if it does not give that to you then you may reject it. But it will. Take not the word of a clergyman, who may be speaking professionally, but that of laymen who have never preached--Milton, Wilbcrforce, Newton, Boyle, Locke, Morse.
III. The heavenly Shepherd will get many of His sheep among THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN FLUNG OF EVIL HABIT. The way Christian people give up the prodigal is outrageous. They talk as though the grace of God were a chain of forty or fifty links, and, when they had been run out, there was nothing to touch a man’s iniquity. But there is only one class about whom we may be despondent: those who have been hearing the gospel for twenty, thirty, forty years, and who are gospel hardened. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Other sheep and one flock
I. OUR LORD HAD A PEOPLE UNDER THE WORST CIRCUMSTANCES. “This fold” was not the Jews, but His handful of disciples.
1. Doubtless these times are exceedingly dangerous, and some brethren never allow me to forget it, for they play well on the minor key. But I heard it thirty years ago, and the times have been bad ever since, and always will be. This is better, perhaps, than living in a fool’s paradise; but certainly the days of Christ were terrible days in the point of
(1) Utter ungodliness. A few godly ones watched for the coming of Christ, but the great mass were altogether gone out of the way.
(2) Will worship; the commandments of men were taught for the doctrines of God.
(3) Fierce opposition, as seen in the treatment Christ received. Yet He had a chosen company, and however guilty our age may be in these points, there is an election of grace still.
2. This company was a fold. Afterwards they were to be called a flock; but as yet one glance was sufficient to embrace them all.
(1) They were distinct from the world “Ye are not of the world,” etc.
(2) In that fold they Were protected from ill-weathers, and from the wolf and the thief.
(3) Even there were goats--“One of you is a devil.”
(4) They were being strengthened for future following of the Great Shepherd.
3. When Jesus had thus shut them in He would not allow them to be exclusive, but opens wide the door of the sheepfold and cries, “Other sheep I have.” Thus He checks a common tendency to be forgetful of outsiders. Seeing that He has those who would be found by Him through His faithful people, let us rouse ourselves to the holy enterprise,
4. Never despair. The Lord is with us. We may be poor, but we are Christ’s, and that makes us precious. There were three men who had to carry on a college when funds were running short. One complained that they had no helpers and could not hope to succeed. “Why,” said another, “we are a thousand.” “How is that?” “I am a cipher, and you and our brother; so we have three noughts to begin with. But Christ is ONE. Put Him down before the ciphers, and we have a thousand directly.”
II. OUR LORD HAS OTHER SHEEP NOT YET KNOWN TO US. “I have,” not “shall have.” The apostles never dreamed of His having sheep in Britain or Rome. Their most liberal notion was that the scattered seed of Abraham might be gathered.
1. Who are these sheep?
(1) Christ’s chosen--“Ye have not chosen Me,” etc.
(2) Those whom the Father had given Him.
(3) Those for whom He laid down His life that they might be the redeemed of the Lord, Ye are not your own, etc.
(4) Those on whose behalf He had entered into suretyship engagements even as Jacob under took the flock of Laban that he should lose none.
2. What was their state? People without a shepherd--lost, wandering, ready to be devoured by the wolf. Bad as the world is today it must have been far worse in the vile Roman world.
3. This thought gave Christ great encouragement when confronting their adversaries, and should be a great comfort to God’s people now. “I have much people in this city.” This is our authority for seeking the lost sheep in whoever’s preserves they may be.
III. OUR LORD MUST LEAD THOSE OTHER SHEEP, not “bring”; Christ must be at their head, and they must follow.
1. It is Christ who has to do this, even as He has done it hitherto, “also.” As Jesus has done it for us He must do it for others.
2. He “must” do it. Subjects are usually bound by a “must”; this “must” binds the sovereign. Who can resist it? Clear out all enemies!
3. How He must do it? “They shall hear my voice.” Christ is going to save people still by the gospel, and we must not look for other means. “Go ye into all the world.”
IV. OUR LORD GUARANTEES THE UNITY OF HIS CHURCH. “One flock.”
1. We hear a great deal about the unity of the Church. We are to have the Roman, Greek, and Anglican all one. God has chosen people in each, but their union would be a dire mischief.
2. This has been carried out as a matter of fact. There never was but one Shepherd and never will be but one flock. All the visible Churches contain parts of it.
3. As a matter of experience this is carried out in believers. A spiritually minded man is at one with all spiritually minded men. Set a Calvinist and an Arminian at prayer: let the Spirit work on Baptist and Paedo-Baptist. What Protestant but loves Bernard?
4. The external Church is needful, but it is not the one and indivisible Church of Christ.
5. This Church is known by its obedience to Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This fold and the other sheep
I. THIS FOLD: the seed of Israel. By His personal ministry our Lord founded the kingdom in Israel and some of the seed of Abraham were gathered in.
II. OTHER SHEEP NOT OF THIS FOLD. Here the expansive love of Jesus breaks forth. He began at Jerusalem, but the longings of His heart go forth to the end of the earth.
III. I HAVE. Mark the all encompassing sovereignty of His love. They were His in the covenant from the beginning. At a time when they were neither born nor born again He counts them His.
IV. THEM ALSO. There is no respect of persons. No poor slave will be left out because he is black; no servant pushed aside to make way for his master; no rich or powerful man is kept out at the cry of the envious mob. If any were kept back the Lord would say, “them also; gather up the fragments,” etc. What a cheering word l It embraces the prodigal, the dying thief, Saul of Tarsus.
V. I BRING. He sends none forward to make or find their own way. “In all their afflictions He is afflicted.” They shall not traverse the valley of the shadow alone. None shall stand at the Judgment to make the best of his own case. “I am the Way.” He brings them through the regeneration into the fold on earth. It often takes much bringing; but all power is given to the Captain of our salvation. The drunkard, miser, etc., are made willing in the day of His power. And that same bringing power shall rend the gates of death.
VI. I MUST. He commands the winds and the sea and they obey; who then can command Him? His own yearning love. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The missionary's warrant
We have a right to go anywhere to seek after our Master’s sheep. If they are my Master’s sheep who shall stop me over hill and dale inquiring, “Have you seen my Master’s sheep.” If any say, “You do intrude in this land,” let the answer be, “We are after our Master’s sheep which have strayed here.” You have a search warrant from the King of king’s, and, therefore, you have a right to enter and search after your Lord’s stolen property. If men belonged to the devil we would not rob the enemy himself; but they do not belong to him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Them also I must bring.--They must be brought
1. To realize the visions of ancient prophecy.
2. To accomplish the promise of the Father (Psalms 2:3).
3. To secure the object, and to recompense the suffering and the toil of the Redeemer’s mediatorial undertaking.
4. To answer the prayers, fulfil the expectations, and crown the prayers which He has animated and inspired. (T. Raffles, LL. D.)
One fold and one shepherd
I. CHRIST’S PROPERTY IN HIS SHEEP.
1. How acquired.
(1) By donation. “Thine they were and Thou gavest them Me.” “Ask of Me,” etc.
(2) By purchase, “Ye are bought with a price.”
(3) By the sanctification of the Spirit; after which He gives them back to the Father to be glorified.
2. There are but three possessions to which the word property really belongs.
(1) The sinner’s possession of his own sins.
(2) The believer’s possession of his own Saviour.
(3) Christ’s possession of His own people.
3. Possession is an endearing thing. If you possess a thing you love it; and that feeling is a faint copy of the mind of Christ.
4. Concerning this possession, Christ declares that He holds it not only over those He was then addressing, but over others separated from them--perhaps other worlds, certainly Gentiles, of whose admission Jews werejealous.
5. Note, then, that Christ said this of those who were then unconverted. Paul (Acts 13:1-44.13.52) was almost driven from Corinth by opposition, but was stopped by “I have much people in this city;” and yet, with the exception of two or three persons, all were locked in unbelief. But it was not so eighteen months after. What a joy to the Christian worker to be able to think that any man may be among Christ’s “other sheep!”
II. CHRIST’S ENGAGEMENT FOR HIS SHEEP. “Them also I must bring.”
1. The imperative obligation. God permits Himself to be ruled by His own covenant.
2. This certified engagement is this: “They shall hear My voice.”
(1) When a soul just awakened hears “Thou art the man.”
(2) When the stricken conscience hears “Go in peace,” etc.
(3) When the soul, better knowing now Christ’s accents, hears “It is I; be not afraid.”
(4) When the heart, better ordered, always hears and says, “Speak Lord,” etc.
(5) When the ear shall drink in “Come ye blessed,” etc.
3. Your corresponding duty to this pledge is to hear--obey. This is happiness here and glory by and by.
III. CHRIST’S INTENTION WITH HIS SHEEP. “One fold,” etc.
1. This will be literally fulfilled in heaven.
2. It is spiritually fulfilled herein
(1) Unity of condition.
(2) Unity of Spirit.
(3) Unity of action.
(4) Unity of headship--“One Shepherd.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Christ’s collected flocks
I. WHAT THINGS ARE TO BE DONE FOR THE COMPLETION OF THIS END? I observe
1. The views of mankind concerning religious subjects are to be extensively changed.
2. A mighty change, also, must be wrought in the disposition of man.
3. The change will not be less in the conduct of men.
II. IN WHAT MANNER ARE THESE THINGS TO BE DONE? I answer, they are to be accomplished not by miracles, but by means.
III. BY WHOM ARE THESE THINGS TO BE DONE? Solitary efforts will here be fruitless; divided efforts will be equally fruitless; clashing efforts will destroy each other. Learn
1. The work to which you are summoned is the work of God.
2. The present is the proper time for this glorious undertaking.
3. The necessity of this work irresistibly demands every practicable effort. “The whole world,” says St. John, speaking of his own time, “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). Lieth--for such is the indication of the original--as a man slain lies weltering in his blood.
4. The day in which these blessings are to be ushered in has arrived. The day in which the mighty work will be seen in its full completion is at hand. We must labour, that those who come after us may enter into our labours. (T. Dwight, D. D.)
Unity the final purpose of God
An old Scottish Methodist, who had clung vehemently to one of two small sects on opposite sides of the street, said, when dying: “The street I am now travelling in has nae sides, and if power were now given me I would preach purity of life mair and purity of doctrine less. Since I was laid by here I have had whisperings of the still small voice telling me that the wranglings of faith will ne’er be heard in the kingdom I am nearing; and, as love cements all differences, I’ll perhaps find the place roomier than I thought in times past.” (Dean Stanley.)
United in anticipation of death
When seven men imprisoned in a Pennsylvania coal mine were rescued after five days’ imprisonment they were asked if they hoped to escape. “We prayed for it,” was the reply; “we prayed together. Some were Protestants and some Catholics, but when death is as close as that you only think of God.”
I distinguish the unity of comprehensiveness from the unity of mere singularity. The word one, as oneness, is an ambiguous word. There is a oneness belonging to the army as well as to every soldier in the army. The army is one, and that is the oneness of unity; the soldier is one, and that is the oneness of the unit. There is difference between the oneness of a body and the oneness of a member of that body. The body is many, and a unity of manifold comprehensiveness. An arm or a member of a body is one, but that is the unity of singularity. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Therefore doth My Father love Me
The Father’s love of Jesus
Observe what Christ says
I. OF LAYING DOWN HIS LIFE.
1. No mere man could have said this. Power over life is God’s prerogative. To none but the Son has He “given to have life in Himself”; and power “to take it again” is manifestly not ours. But we must not separate this claim from His obedience. Christ knows no power but to do the Father’s will.
2. Much of our metaphysics is here silenced. Is obedience free if we are not also free to disobey? The truest liberty is voluntary restraint. The freedom of obedience is learned as we love to obey. The fullest consciousness of power is that of power to do God’s will.
3. Christ’s assertion of power is intended to illustrate His obedience. “I lay down My life of Myself.” He could have withdrawn Himself from the people, or by yielding to their prejudices have won them. He could have awed them, as He did the soldiers, by His majestic presence. He had power over men’s consciences, as was seen in the case of the Pharisees who brought the woman taken in adultery, and in the case of Pilate. The concealed aid of heaven was at His bidding. But more than all this was the strength of His submission. He speaks of His power to show how full was His obedience.
4. We have here an awful revelation of the powerlessness of sin. The Jews were simply tolerated, ignorant of the power that restrained itself. So with all sinners. But Christ was thus patient that when they had done their worst He might be their Saviour.
5. The chief truth here is the fulness of Christ’s obedience. The consciousness that we might escape would be to us a motive for disobedience. We are kept submissive by weakness. He speaks not of power to avoid the sacrifice but to make it.
II. OF THY FATHER’S LOVE.
1. We see the reason of this partly in Christ’s obedience. Here is the oneness of the Father and the Son; the Son rejoices to obey; the Father commits His whole counsel to the Son that He may accomplish it.
2. The commandment was that Christ should lay down His life for the sheep. The Father’s love for the Son is not one in which all others are shut out. We read that God did not “rest” in Creation till He had made man in His own image. His love is so bountiful that it forms objects on which to lavish itself. Here we have something more surprising--the pity for lost man which is in the Father, and that pity finding response in the Son. Well was it said that “God is love.”
3. Christ tells us why the Father loves Him.
(1) That we may know the men who are dearest to God--not as with us the learned, wealthy, powerful, but the obedient and loving.
(2) That we may understand Christ’s life and death. Neither Jews nor disciples could understand the Man of Sorrows. Hence the double proclamation, “This is My beloved Son.” How many a reason has been given why Christ must die! But how poor all reasons beside the simple one that He loved us.
(3) In order that we may know God. The object of our affection reveals ourselves. If the man of force be our hero, we show ourselves worshippers of power; if a good man, we prize goodness. Christ is dear to the Father because He loves us. What a witness to the love of God.
III. OF THE ISSUE OF LAYING DOWN HIS LIFE. Christ is to reap the reward of His sacrifice, and we of the travail of His soul.
1. This alone renders His sacrifice lawful or possible, and distinguishes between sublimity of sacrifice, and scornful waste of self. The Father’s commandment is not that the Son should perish. The life which is yielded up for the ends of love is restored in the triumph of love.
2. This illustrates the true character of trust in God--the assurance that He is righteous to vindicate fidelity and loving to reward it.
3. It is not love for men which is indifferent about sharing with them the joy of their restoration--this makes any sacrifice an affront. Christ anticipates the joy of leading many sons to glory.
4. Heaven would lose its value if Christ perished to secure it for us. We should feel that our salvation had been too dearly purchased, and the bitter sorrow that He was absent whose joy it would have been to meet His redeemed.
5. To labour in hope of reward is not always selfish. We need the triumph to vindicate the suffering.
6. We learn how to sustain ourselves in Christian struggle and endurance. “If we suffer with Him,” etc. The sacrifice and resurrection of Christ is a rebuke to all despondency. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
God loving His Son
The assertions of Christ as to His relation to God are very different from those of Old Testament saints. Not once did they call God Father--this Jesus always does; and the Father acquiesces. “This is My beloved Son.” Here Christ seems to found His Father’s love on something He is about to accomplish on earth. But a stranger having rescued a child from drowning and restored it to its parent might say, “Therefore doth the Father love me.” And so some infer that Christ was related to God only in virtue of His obedience to death. Not so. God is love; but love cannot exist without an object, and this object must be coexistent with the eternal affection. So Christ is the eternal object of an eternal love, and the text only states an additional reason for that love. A king has a beloved son and a revolted province. The latter he could crush, but prefers to accept a voluntary mission of the former to win the rebels by privation, forbearance, and kindness. This succeeds. The king expresses his satisfaction, and the son says, “Therefore doth my father love me.” The idea of the text is similar. What were the elements in Christ’s death which drew forth the love of Christ?
I. PERFECT SPONTANEITY IN THE OBEDIENCE HE RENDERED. Not that His sufferings or death were in themselves well pleasing to the merciful Father. All men die, and by Divine appointment; but God does not love them for this, else the wicked would be loved as well as the righteous. It was the Divine principle that prompted it--obedience. It was not snatched from Him, nor did He yield it in idle passivity; He laid it down of His active free will, and so revealed the Father’s will, developed the plan of redemption, and is therefore the object of God’s intensest love.
II. FAITH. There would have been no merit in His death had He sacrificed Himself without assurance of resurrection. It might have been from despair. Nor could it have taken place without this assurance. The extinction of such a one could not be permitted in the government of a righteous God. Knowing that He was sinless, He must have known that death, the wages of sin, had no power over Him. Hence He never spoke of His death apart from His resurrection. The taking up was as much in the Divine plan as the laying down. He was confident of the successful issue, and God loved Him because of this. Conclusion:
1. If God finds a new reason for loving His Son in the moral qualities He displayed, He will love us if we strive to live as Christ lived. Wherever He sees men obedient and self-sacrificing He will love them.
2. We should do our duty in spite of consequences, or rather with regard to the remoter consequences. Lay down our lives that we may take them again. “Whosoever loseth his life for My sake shall find it.” (T. James, M. A.)
The stimulating power of the consciousness of being loved
What heat is in nature that love is in the human realm. It tends to quicken and expand and beautify those on whom it lights; it assists men to be better and stronger and more gracious than they would otherwise be. Under its influence, souls are enabled to bud and blossom more freely; and let none of us be ashamed of needing it, and leaning on it for succour. (S. A. Tipple.)
The Son’s work approved of the Father
I. THE GREAT WORK IN WHICH THE SON IS ENGAGED--the salvation of His sheep
1. From danger, the curse of the law, eternal death.
2. To obedience, holiness, blessedness, heaven.
II. THE APPOINTMENT OF THE SON TO THIS GREAT WORK BY THE FATHER. “This commandment.” This principle holds a high place in the Bible. Christ was predicted as the “servant” and “sent” of God; gladly accepts this subordination; and His apostles teach the same doctrine.
III. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE SON FOR HIS GREAT WORK.
1. To atone for guilt He must be and was free from guilt.
2. To save man He must be and was man, and yet more than man. As man He had a life to lay down; but He had no power as man to lay it down of Himself; this was Divine.
3. This Divine-human life had sufficient merit to expiate the sin of the world.
4. But redemption could not have been consummated without its resumption; and so He had “power to take it again.”
IV. THE SON’S ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS GREAT WORK. His offering has been effectual for the purpose for which it was presented. “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” Millions are now through His expiation “the spirits of just men made perfect,” and millions are preparing for that blessed state.
V. THE COMPLACENCY MANIFESTED BY THE FATHER TO THE SON IN AND FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS GREAT WORK. (Philippians 2:9-50.2.11). (J. Brown, D. D.)
Christ comforting Himself
The people were listening with sneers and anger to Christ’s asservations of the union between Himself and God, and contemplating a step which would expose their emptiness. When put out of the way, His presumptuous claims would be shattered. He read this thought, and answered it calmly, with the inward consciousness that that event would only culminate His voluntary self-sacrifice, and render Him the special object of the Father’s love. Such is frequently the blindness and defeat of bad men. It is poor business trying to hurt a saint. You can never be certain that your hardest blows will not ensure him more abundant consolation.
I. CHRIST COMFORTING HIMSELF
1. With the reflection that someone loves Him. We find Him constantly doing this. “I am not alone,” etc.; pausing in the midst of hostility, etc., to get soothing and inspiration. He could not get on without it any more than we can. Let none of us weakly and selfishly long for this, nor stoically determine to be above it; but value it as an impulse for work.
2. With His felt possession of power. His adversaries regarded Him as their victim. He muses, “they are mistaken; instead of being dragged helplessly, I shall march in might to die.” We need not shrink from the thought that Jesus found solace in the consciousness of His superiority to what He looked: that while He seemed weak, He was sublimely strong. It is both natural and legitimate, when we are being estimated falsely, to feel the excellence or the gift that is not perceived. We may need this in encountering disparagement, to preserve our self-possession and keep ourselves from fainting. There are others, however, who can never have this consolation. Their reputation is the best thing they have; they are meaner than the social estimate of them.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS COMFORT.
1. The Father loved Christ because He lay down His life in order to take it again. The beauty of self-sacrifice lies not in the act, but in its animating purpose. There is no necessary virtue in denying yourself. Sacrifices are often made out of mere weakness, regard for the usages of society, self-indulgence, even to spite others, and in disregard of the right and the claims of other people. Christ laid down His life in order to take it again. This explanation is at first sight disappointing. What was there to charm the heart of God in surrender for the purpose of recovery? But this recovery was meant to be a great source and fountain of good, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. It is noble to sacrifice self with a view to acquiring more capacity for service.
2. The secret of Christ’s power was not that He had a right to elect to die, which we have not, but that He felt Himself able to make the sacrifice required of Him. He did not need to be dragged or urged into it, but was able to make it freely. What happens there then is in the sense of the power to respond at once to the call of a difficult, trying duty. But He was certain not only that He could bear the Cross, but that He should reap to the full the anticipated fruit of it. What more blessed than this--the assurance of power to do what is wholly true, and an assurance of gaining the object?
3. What was the secret of it all? “This commandment,” etc. What God calls one to, one will have strength to accomplish, and it will assuredly yield its due fruit. In other things you may break down or be disappointed--never in this. (S. A. Tipple.)
I lay down My life
Victim and priest
Types, like shadows, are one-sided things. Hence in the shadowy worship of Judaism Christ was brokenly seen in a variety of disconnected images. The sacrificial lamb was a picture of Him who is the first of sufferers and the only sin bearer; but the dumb brute, led in unresisting ignorance to the altar, not otherwise than it might have been to the shambles, was no picture of the perfect willingness with which He devoted His life to God. For the type of that we must go to the white-robed priest. There was need for a double shadow. But in the one real sacrifice the two are one. Jesus is priest and victim. There are certain steps we must take in comprehending Christ’s self-sacrificing will as expressed in the text.
I. It was CONSTANT. The strength of one’s will to suffer is tested by its deliberate formation and persistent endurance.
1. Our Saviour’s resolution was no impulse born of excited feeling, liable to fail before calmer thought; nor a necessity for which He was gradually prepared, and at last shut up to through circumstances; but a habitual purpose, steadily kept in view from the first, till it grew almost to a passion. “How am I straitened,” etc.
2. Many men are heroic only by impulse; give time, and the bravery yields to “prudence.” Men have ignorantly taken the first step towards martyrdom; but, having taken it, have felt bound to go forward. But when the mind can form so terrible a purpose, and calmly hold it on for years, in the face of unromantic neglect and mockery, the purpose must have its roots deep. Such will was never in any except Christ. Precious life, which carried its own death in its bosom, like a bunch of sweet flowers, filling all its days with fragrance.
II. It was ACTIVELY FREE.
1. While resignation was the habitual attitude of His soul, there was more than resignation. We underestimate His priestly act, by thinking more of His willingness than of His will to suffer. “I lay down My life” means that, with ardent desire and fixed resolution, He is, at His own choice, giving away His own Spiritual Person, including that which is the most personal thing of all--His will. And this active exposure to penalty accompanied Him through every stage. His was both the right and strength at every stage to free His soul; but He chose to go on deeper into the darkness till all was over. This came out very plainly when Peter put before Him the alternative; when, His time being come, He set Himself to go to Jerusalem, when He said to Judas, “What thou doest,” etc.; when, on His arrest, He spoke about the legion of angels; yes, and when the torment reached Him, “Let Him now come down from the cross.”
2. Now, it is harder to will a disagreeable lot than to consent to bear it when it is laid upon us. Many a man has piety to submit to unavoidable evil, or even to rest in it as wise, who would yet be unequal to make it a choice. Most men, therefore, aim at nothing higher than passive acquiescence in suffering; but it is nobler to seal God’s afflictive will with our own, and will not to have it otherwise. It is a further advance still to enter voluntarily into affliction for righteousness sake. Yet even the martyr’s choice of death before sin is less absolute and free than that of Christ.
III. It was CROSSED BY HINDRANCES FROM THE WEAKNESS OF THE FLESH AND IT OVERCAME THEM. As you walk by the side of a deep, swift-running river, you know not how strong the current is till you reach the rapids, where its flow is broken. So on reading the smooth, constant story of Jesus’ life, there is little to tell us with what power He was advancing to His agony. Near the end came one or two places where this was seen (chap. 12:27-29). That was a short struggle. His will to die soon overcame the momentary perplexity, and the voice from heaven was needed not by Him, but for the bystanders. This, however, was only a foretaste of the greater strife in the garden--the weak flesh against the willing spirit; yet in the end it is divinely upborne to bear the unimaginable suffering for the world’s guilt. In that hour He sacrificed Himself--laid down His life. With what relief do we read, “It is enough, the hour has come,” etc. (J. O.Dykes, D. D.)
I have power to take it again
Our Lord’s resumption of life
I. WAS HIS OWN ACT. Nowhere is the majesty of our Lord’s Divine Person more manifest than here.
1. He had power to lay His life down. Could we use His words? There is much in life we can control, but not our way of leaving it.
(1) So far from laying it down, we yield it up. It is wrung from us by disease, violence, or accident. No men of this century have wielded more power than the two Napoleons; they little meant to die--the first at St. Helena, the third at Chislehurst. Bishop Wilberforce never entered a railway carriage without reflecting that he might never leave it alive. He was a fearless horseman, but he met his death when riding at a walking pace.
(2) But cannot a man lay down his life at pleasure? And did not the Stoics commend it? As a matter of physical possibility, we can; but what about its morality? It is at once cowardice and murder.
(3) A good man may find it his duty to accept death at the hands of others. Patriots and martyrs have had moral power to lay down their lives; but they could not control the circumstances which made death a duty.
(4) Our Lord’s act differs from that of the suicide in its moral elevation (John 10:11), and from that of the martyr in His command of the situation. As the Lord of Life, He speaks of His human life as His creature.
2. He had power to take it again.
(1) Here His majesty is more apparent, for He speaks of a control over His life which no mere man can possibly have. When soul and body are sundered, there is no force in the soul such as can reconstitute the body. In the Biblical cases of resurrection, the power came from without.
(2) Here barbarism and civilization are on a level. Science has done wonders in bringing the various forces of nature under control; but no scientist cherishes the hope of undoing the work of death, or of keeping it indefinitely at bay.
(3) When Christ claims to take His life again, He stands in relation to His life, which is only intelligible if we believe Him to be the Son of God.
II. WAS HIS ACT AND THE FATHER’S CONJOINTLY?
1. He is repeatedly said to have been raised by the Father. This was Peter’s language (Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40), and Paul’s (Acts 13:30-44.13.37; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 2:3; Romans 3:11; Romans 3:11, etc., etc.).
2. On the ether hand, our Lord speaks of it as an act distinctly His own Mark 10:34; Luke 13:33; John 2:19, and text).
3. There is no contradiction here. The resurrection does not cease to be Christ’s act because it is the Father’s. When God acts through mere men, He makes them His instruments; but the power which effected the resurrection is as old as the eternal generation of the Son (chap. 5:26).
4. There is a moment when imagination, under the conduct of faith, endeavours, but in vain, to realize when the human soul of our Lord, surrounded by myriads of angels, on His return from the ancient dead, came to the grave of Joseph and claimed the body that had hung upon the cross.
III. SUGGESTS THE FOLLOWING CONSIDERATIONS.
1. What Christianity truly means. Not mere loyalty to the precepts of a dead teacher, or admiration of a striking character who lived eighteen hundred years ago. It is something more than literary taste or a department of moral archaeology. It is devotion to a living Christ. If it were a false religion, literary men might endeavour to reconstruct the history of its earliest age. This is what has been done with the great teachers of antiquity, and with Christ. But there is this difference. What Socrates, etc., were is all that we can know of them now. They cannot help us or speak to us. But in the fulness of that power which He asserted at His resurrection, Christ still rules and holds communion with every believer. A living Christianity means a living Christ.
2. What is the foundation of our confidence in the future of Christianity? Based as it is on a Christ who raised Himself from the dead, it cannot pass away.
(1) Mankind has lavished admiration on great teachers; but they have died and been forgotten. Their age proclaimed the dust of their writings gold; a succeeding age scarcely opens their folios. Why are we certain that this fate does not await Christ? Because men’s loyalty rests not on His words mainly, but in His Person. Christ is Christianity. And why is it that, in thus clinging to His Person, Christian faith is so sure of the future? Because she has before her not a Christ who was conquered by death.
(2) Had it been otherwise Christianity might have perished more than once; by the wickedness of the Roman Court in the tenth century; by the hordes of Islam in the first flush of their conquests, or by the great Turkish sultans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; by the accumulated weight of corruption which invited the Reformation; by the Babel which the Reformation produced; by the relation of the Church to corrupt governments: by the dishonest enterprises of unbelieving theologians. Men said the Church was killed under Decius and Diocletian, after the French Revolution. But each collapse is followed by a revival, because Christ willed to rise.
3. What is our hope for the departed? Because Christ lives, they live also; because He rose, they shall rise. (Canon Liddon.)
The mastery of life
These are the strongest words that human lips have uttered, I think; the strongest, because they give us a glimpse of what elsewhere we cannot find in man or his history--the complete mastery and control of life. Where is the man who comes to life as the workman comes to his clay or marble, and shapes out his idea precisely as he first has thought and designed it, and leaves it fulfilled without that obedient material having demanded any change in the work? How little of such mastery you and I have. Your very purpose in life, of which you speak so proudly, have you not got it by living? And when you had conceived it, when you had said “I will,” “That is my purpose,” did life flow liquidly and obediently into your mould, and stay there, and harden in it lastingly? Who has just the life he planned? And when you begin to see your purpose, or something like it, coming on:, of life, what control have you over it and its continuance? You have time to say, “Yes, that is the shape of my wish, of my plan,” and you or it are hurried away. But even suppose that a man cares not whether his purpose be lasting, if for a moment he reaches the place at which he had aimed; if he stands there where he had struggled through life to be; if he has made life carry him there--is he not master and victor? May he not say, as the soldier who dies in victory, “I die happy”? The hands that stiffen at that moment, are they not, after all, a conqueror’s? Oh! but think if the mastery of life does not include something else. It is not only to carry one’s own purpose for a moment; it is to do it in such a way as to show that you are not indebted to life’s favour for it; that it is not a gift to you; that you will take it at your own time, as one who is completely, unanxiously master; that you will not be hurried by the thought, “Now life is offering me my prize; if not now, never”; but can quietly choose the time of acquisition when it is best, and then reach out the hand to take it. But stop again. Mastery of human life--is it not something vastly more than all of this? Is it not to be above counting it indispensable, to use it only as one help in the working out of the great purpose; to lay it down, and yet win the aim by other help; to lay it down as a workman puts down a tool and takes it again? But who of us is so boldly independent as that? Who can work out his human purpose without the help of human life? But I must go yet one great step farther in this description of what it is to be a master of human life. It is this: Suppose you were independent of this human life, yet you are not master of it if it can withdraw itself and you have no power to keep or resume it. If, after showing your ability to do without it, it were able to keep away from you, if you had no power to take it again, you would not be its master. That is the complete mastery of human life, not only to work out your purpose independently of it, but to really resume it, to take it again when it has been laid down … I find, in the midst of all this history of man and his life--believing himself master, and yet never so in reality--one life which has no such feature, which could never have been troubled by the thought of fate. There is One among all human existences which bears all the marks of the mastership of life, which claims from all the title of Lord and Master. First of all, Christ comes to human life with His own purpose fully formed and self-originated. He brought a Divine purpose to earth. Then see how absolutely, without change, that purpose of Christ’s is carried out. Not a feature is altered; not a circumstance is varied, nor any addition made. It is accomplished just according to the heavenly purpose. Life has no power to change it in the smallest particular. But this royal purpose, will not human life override it, and outgrow it, and destroy it, or gather it into itself and its own purpose, like the little rift that your hand makes in the water of the strong river? Will it remain as it was planned? How those words, “the everlasting gospel,” answer our question! What is there but the word of God, which endures forever? Oh! what is there today in the world which remains unchanged but the salvation of Christ? But did life give to Him the fulfilment of His purpose, as it does to its favourites, granting the prize to Him in its own time as its favour? I do not know anything more quietly grand about Jesus’ life than the way in which He chooses the very time when it all shall be done. “My time is not yet come;” “I lay down My life of Myself”; “I must work today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected,” He says, conscious of controlling the time completely. But how His Mastership grows upon us! Still let me go on to show you how His great purpose is independent of human life. Life is not indispensable to it as to our purpose. He can fulfil His purpose in loss of life, and by loss of life. “I lay down My life of Myself. This commandment have I received of My Father.” The Divine purpose is not lost, but won, by passing into death. “I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.” How little is human life necessary to His purpose, who died that we might live! How little dependent on this human existence is that love of God which came from heaven, which has heaven’s life, which is greater than death, which survives the loss of earthly life! There is but one more addition. “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” Here is the highest and last sign of the Master. Can you not see how the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, where Christ, the ascended God-man, sits, who has taken human life again? Christ would take us all into His great purpose. Follow your own human purposes alone, and then, indeed, life is your master. But become our Lord’s follower, have a share in His purpose, have a real part and place in the salvation of Christ, and then you, too, have a superiority to life, a mastery of life. Then you, too, are living for an aim which life did not give you; an aim which life cannot modify or destroy; an aim which will be fulfilled in its own chosen time of heavenly happiness; an aim that can survive death and the loss of human life; an aim which, in a resurrection, will be able by its power to resume life as its obedient servant. (Fred. Brooks.)
There was a division … for these sayings.
I. A BAD SPIRIT.
1. Schismatic. “There was a division.” Sad that Christ and His doctrines should divide men into sects. One might have thought that as His life was so pure, loving, morally commanding, and His doctrine so congruous with reason and spiritual wants, that all men would have centred in Him. Schism in relation to Christ is bad--a calumny on the gospel and a curse to the race.
2. Blasphemous (John 10:20). There are two evils men commit on the question of moral causation.
(1) Some ascribe bad deeds to God. The warrior after his bloody achievements returns thanks to God who commanded us not to kill, and declared that woes arise from the lusts of the wicked heart. The priest who presumes to stand between God and the people ascribes his crafty deeds to God. Islam and Mormon leaders impose on credulity a pretended heavenly authority. How much despotism, plunder, and oppression are enacted in God’s name!
(2) Some ascribe good deeds to Satan, as these jealous, cavilling, and malicious Jews. To trace this Divine act to God’s arch foe was heinous sin; yet the principle of this is too common in every age. What is the conduct of those who assign the effects of Christianity to the ingenuity of imposters who designate the Bible a “cunningly-devised fable,” and brand as hypocrites the most holy and useful men?
3. Intolerant. “Why hear ye Him?” This is the spirit of all bigots and persecutors. The same language is often used by one sect about a preacher of another sect.
II. A SOUND ARGUMENT (John 10:21). A devil could not, and would not if he could, give eyes to the blind. This is the same principle as Christ’s--“By their fruits ye shall know them.” This is an infallible test. Judge, then, Christianity by its works. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ’s words and deeds
“There arose a division again among the Jews” because of the words which Jesus had uttered. It is the old story. Jesus Christ has always divided human communities. He cannot be ignored. How can He be accounted for? He is the great enigma which calls forth many answers. In the preceding verses we have one of those hurried estimates of Christ given in the white heat of anger--“He hath a devil and is mad.” There are a class of men who never fail to come to very speedy and decided conclusions. They arrive at them by a short cut, and very often by astounding leaps. They have a keen sensitiveness to the presence of a devil a long time before he appears, and as a rule point in the direction from which he is least likely to come. The explanation that Jesus had a devil had became a commonplace, but had carried with it no conviction in being frequently repeated. There were keen-sighted men in the crowd who saw through it all--“Others said, These are not the words of Him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” There is true philosophy in these words uttered hurriedly by unknown speakers in that surging throng. Some of the world’s best utterances are anonymously recorded. The truth suggested by our text is--That words and deeds are tests of character which men should not ignore.
I. Our Lord’s SPEECH as a test of His character--“These are not the sayings of one possessed with a devil.” Some one possibly smiles incredulously and asks--“Who can judge a man by his speech?” Napoleon the Great held that speech was made to conceal thoughts and purposes. But did he succeed in confining speech within these ignoble limits? For a time and in certain cases he doubtless did. But what of those peevish and angry utterances of his at St. Helena? As we read the story we are forced to exclaim, “Oh, man, thy speech bewrayeth thee!” That great actor was no longer able to conceal himself, when he fretted and fumed and swore in helpless pevishness. Watch a man’s utterances through and through, and he cannot hide himself from you. He may at times flatter himself that he has succeeded in the attempt, but his speech so wronged and misused at length plays traitor with him in return, and reveals what manner of man he is. Speech, graciously given by God to man alone on earth, as a means by which he shall be able to express truth, will not suffer itself evermore to be made the degraded instrument of diplomacy and deceit. It will at times involuntarily start and assert itself. In the records of the best lives we find words uttered in haste, unpremeditated, or under great provocation, which needed an apology, since they revealed the weaker and less noble side of character. When did Christ utter such words? In speech He was never overtaken in a fault. His disciples often were, but He never. Again, see if there were immature words uttered at the outset of His ministry, which revealed the crudities of youth, or an imperfect estimate of that ministry to which He had committed His life. Was there ever anything said by Him which betrayed a wrong motive, or defective moral teaching? Have succeeding ages been able to find a flaw in His doctrine, or have they been able to add a single virtue to those which He taught men? Have any words lived like His, or living, exerted such a sanctifying, healing and ennobling influence over human lives? Let us refer to one or two features of His incomparable utterances. What does he say about God? No teacher of men can be silent on this great theme. He tells men many tender, loving things concerning God--that He clothes the lily, feeds the sparrow, numbers the hairs of our head, and, finally, “that He so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Has any teaching concerning God given such light and joy to human heart as this? Verily, “These are not the sayings of one possessed with a devil!” Again, what has He to say about man? By the graveside of our dearest and best ones can any assurance compare with His--“I am the Resurrection and the Life, he that believeth in Me shall never die”? “Because I live ye shall live also”? “Whence hath this man these things?” “These are not the words of one possessed with a devil.” We consider
II. Our Lord’s DEEDS as tests of His character. “Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” It is the prerogative of the devil to close men’s eyes, not to open them. It is not so much the miracle of giving sight as the beneficent nature of it that stamps it as undiabolic. What was the tendency of our Lord’s deeds? Precisely the same as His teaching. Did He not always go about doing good? There is a harmony of goodness and of benevolence in His works from the beginning to the close. Above all, is there anything for power and tenderness to compare with His Cross? And here we come to the root of the whole matter. Theology, history, and moral philosophy can all apply their tests; but no test can compare with Chat of our own experience. Our experience may fail to appeal powerfully to others, but nothing is so convincing to ourselves. Among our Lord’s disciples are the noblest men and women whom the world has ever known, and they attribute all their blessings to Him. (David Davies.)
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of Dedication
The origin and character of the feast of Dedication
Antiochus Epiphanes, on his return from the conquest of Egypt, having entered Jerusalem with very great slaughter, and having pillaged the city, proceeded to pollute the sanctuary, placing on the altar of God the abomination of desolation; offering swine’s flesh; burning the books of the law; and putting to death those who ventured to keep that sacred volume in their possession.
This was, no doubt, a time of great mourning to the godly in Judah; and with many prayers and tears would they sigh for deliverance. And as under the oppression of Pharaoh, so under that of Antiochus, the Lord looked upon the affliction of His people and sent them a deliverer. Judas was raised up, a warrior who is said to have taken for the motto of his standard, “Who is like unto Thee among the gods, O Jehovah!” the first letters of which words in Hebrew when put together made up the word Maccabi, whence it is supposed his surname of Maccabaeus was derived. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
Three decisive victories in the first two years (B.C. 166, 167) of the campaign at Samaria, Bethoron and Emmaus, secured Judas’ fame and success; and, finally, an encounter at Bethzur made him master of Jerusalem. They entered and found a scene of havoc. The corridors of the priest’s chambers which encircled the Temple were torn down; the gates were in ashes, the altar disfigured, and the whole platform was overgrown as if with a mountain jungle or forest glade (1Ma 4:33). It was a heartrending spectacle. Their first impulse was to cast themselves headlong on the pavement, and blow the loud horns which accompanied all mournful, as well as all joyous, occasions. Then, whilst the Greek garrison still remained in the fortress, the warriors first began the elaborate process of cleansing the polluted place. The first object was to clear away every particle which had been touched by the unclean animals. On the 22nd of Marchesvan they removed the portable altar which had been erected. On the 3rd of Chisleu they removed the smaller altars from the court in front of the Temple and the various Pagan statues (2Ma 10:2-3). With the utmost care they pulled down the great platform of the altar itself, from the dread lest its stones should have been polluted. But with the scrupulosity which marked the period, they considered that stones once consecrated could never be entirely desecrated, and accordingly hid them away in a corner of the Temple, there to remain till the Prophet (Macc. 4:46)--the solver of riddles--should come and tell what was to be done with them. How many stones of spiritual or intellectual edifices excite a like perplexed fear, lest they have been so misused that they cannot be employed again--at least, till some prophet comes to tell us how and when! For the interior of the Temple everything had to be refurnished afresh--vessels, candlesticks, incense, altar, tables, curtains. At last all was completed, and on the 25th of Chisleu, the same day that three years before the profanation had occurred, the Temple was rededicated. It was the very time predicted in the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 9:24-27.9.27; Daniel 12:6-27.12.7). The three years and a half from the time of the first beginning of the sacrilege was over, and the rebound of the national sentiment was in proportion. The depth of winter (December) could not restrain the burst of joy. From the first dawn of that day for the whole following week songs of joy were sung with cymbals and harps. In the Psalms of Solomon (11:2, 3, 7) there are exalting strains which echo the words of the Evangelical prophet, and welcome the return unto Jerusalem. The smoke once more went up from the altar; the gates, and even the priestly chambers, were fumigated. The building itself was studded with golden crowns and shields, in imitation of the golden shields which in the first Temple had adorned the porch. What most lived in the recollection of the time was that the perpetual light blazed again. The golden candlestick was no longer to be had, its place was taken by an iron chandelier cased in wood; but this sufficed. It was a solemn moment when the sacred fire was again kindled on the new altar; and from it the flame communicated to the rest of the building. As in the modern ceremony of the “Sacred Fire” in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, so this incident was wrapped in mystery and legend. The simple historical account is that they procured the light by striking the fresh unpolluted stones against each other. But later representations, going back to the like events in Nehemiah’s life, imagined some preternatural origin of the fire itself. It was further supposed that one unpolluted crevice was found which furnished the oil for the lighting of the Temple during the whole week; in remembrance of which every private house was illuminated, beginning, according to one usage, with eight candles, and decreasing as the week went on; according to the other, beginning with one and advancing to eight. Partly, no doubt, from these traditions, or (as Josephus thinks) from the returning joy of the nation, the festival in after days bore the name of the “Feast of Lights.” This would receive a yet fuller significance in connection with another aspect of this great day. Though the latest it took rank at once with the earlier holy days. It won for itself a sanctity which neither the dedication of Solomon nor Zerubbabel had acquired. Both of these consecrations had been arranged to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles. That season had already passed whilst the patriots were hiding in the mountains. Now, however, it was determined to make this new solemnity a repetition of that feast. It was called afterwards “The Tabernacle Feast of Winter”; and on this, its first occasion, there were blended with it the usual processions of that gay autumnal holiday, brandishing their woven branches of palm and other trees, whose evergreen foliage cheered the dull aspect of a Syrian December. And we can hardly doubt that they would, in accordance with the name “Feast of Lights,” add to it that further characteristic of Tabernacles--the illumination of the precincts of the Temple by two great chandeliers placed in the court, by the light of which festive dances were kept up all through the night. There was an additional propriety in the transference of the national festival of the vintage to this new feast, because it coincided with the natural solemnity of welcoming the first light kindled in the new year. December 25th was at Tyre, as at Rome in after times, celebrated as the birthday of the Sun--the revival, the renewal, the Encaenia of man and nature. (Dean Stanley.)
The lawfulness of national and ecclesiastical festivals
There was nothing in this institution against which the most correctly informed conscience could object, and it was enjoined by the lawful authorities; Jesus therefore would submit to an ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; and not only so, but He would willingly encourage this feast of dedication as a solemn acknowledgment of Divine mercies. On exactly the same footing stand several of the observances of our Church. The fifth of November, for instance, is observed as a memorial of a like deliverance from the machinations of those, who, after the example of Antiochus, would burn the Scriptures, and those who were found to possess them; and even our Christmas, and Lent, and Good Friday, and Easter, and Whitsuntide, rest on the same foundation. They were appointed by man, and are supported by the authority of the Church; a higher authority they do not claim: but who that feels as a Protestant and as a Christian, and regards the example of Christ, would refuse to comply with them? (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
It was winter
Consider it in relation
I. TO GOD.
1. As a display of Divine power (Job 33:22-18.33.30). God humbles thewildest elements of nature by His northern blast. It not only arrests the mountain stream, but congeals into mountains of ice the polar seas; not only withers the flowers, but strips the forest; not only binds up the vegetable powers, but chains the solar heat. Who can stand before His cold? No one, but for the safeguards provided by the God of winter. And if such securities be so valuable, how invaluable the robe of righteousness for the naked and destitute soul!
2. As a display of Divine wisdom and goodness. Frosts purify the air, destroy noxious vermin, etc.; and if it occasion some disorders it prevents many others; and even these disorders by confining us at home, induce reflection.
3. As a display of Divine faithfulness. The fulfilment of the promise to Noah requires the annual preparation of the soil for fertility, and the preservation of seed from destruction. The first is secured by the action of frost, the latter by snow, which affords a warm garment, and cherishes infant growth. Then, touched by the sun, the vesture melts and saturates the pores of the soil with the dissolving nitre, thus replenishing the earth with the principles of vegetable life. Were there only snow the soil would be too damp; were there only frost the seed would perish. So God blends both together.
II. TO MANKIND AT LARGE. It reminds us
1. Of the condition of the poor. We must not excuse ourselves from benevolence because we have paid the Poor Rate. We are compelled by law to do that; but how dwelleth the love of God in him who, having this world’s goods, does nothing but pay his legal dues.
2. Of the reverses of lot to which we are all liable. Often affairs that were once as promising as spring, bright as summer, and rich as autumn, are now desolate as winter. It is not necessary to forget prosperity in adversity. To so remember it as to beget impatience is foolish and sinful, but not if it deepens our convictions of the uncertainty of human affairs, and warns others against trusting in uncertain riches. And then, again, how often is adversity the season when we first began to think seriously.
3. Of the evening and end of life. As winter comes freezing the streams, and weakening the powers of vegetable life, so old age congeals the warm blood and impairs the mental faculties. And yet this is the season to which the soul’s weightiest concerns are often left. Old age is not the time for business effort, much less, then, for spiritual.
III. TO THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. Winter should remind us
1. Of the entrance of sin into the world. For as winter deforms the face of nature, so sin brought a curse upon the earth. Sin quenched light, froze love, destroyed holiness.
2. Of the natural state of the heart in the sight of God. The heart and life of every man ought to be as spring: rich in buds of holiness; as summer, rich in the bloom of holiness; as autumn, rich in the ripe fruit of holiness. But, alas! it is not so. It is winter in every heart withheld from the Sun of Righteousness. And every year of neglect hardens the heart further against God.
3. Of the unhappy state of the backslider; its desolation and despair contrasted with its former fruitfulness and hope.
4. Of the great salvation. God has made the whiteness of winter’s snow an emblem
(1) Of the purity of salvation, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
(2) Of pardon and sanctification, “Come, now, let us reason together, etc.” (R. Philip, D. D.)
Winter as an emblem
I. OF THE STATE OF THE UNCONVERTED.
1. In winter the light of heaven is obscured. Even in our temperate zone, our day is brief; but in the far north for months the orb of day never appears above the horizon. So the unconverted see not the Sun of Righteousness, nor the light He sheds on things important and interesting. They “sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
2. The deadness and barrenness of winter is figured in the unregenerate state. There is no foliage, corn, fruit, but what may be forced by artificial heat, and wanting in natural flavour. So in spiritual husbandry: the unconverted bear no fruit of approved quality “of the Spirit.”
3. The cold of winter typifies the state of those who are strangers to the genial glow of pure and spiritual affection. Their tenderest feelings in religion are but a partial thaw produced by a transient sunshine which leaves no memorial behind except the pendant icicle and slippery surface, hardening the more for the momentary softening.
4. The winds and storms of winter are apt emblems of those ill-regulated and malignant passions which agitate with ceaseless tempest the souls that have no rest in God.
II. OF THE STATE OF SPIRITUAL DECLENSION. When summer and autumn have gone a change is soon perceptible. Where the golden light, luxurious warmth, precious produce? Nothing remains but cold barrenness. Emblematic of those who started well but have fallen out. Sometimes this change is gradual, as the days gradually shorten; sometimes more rapid through the influence of temptation, as when winter is hastened on by a premature and unexpected storm. But to remain in that state is to die.
III. OF A STATE OF DESERTION AND TEMPTATION. In winter nature seems barren of charm, and so the soul when Christ has withdrawn. Such an act is usually the result of man’s negligence; but sometimes it is for the trial of faith and patience. Thus it was with Job, our Lord, Paul, and all great saints.
IV. OF A STATE OF AFFLICTION. In the case of the poor, winter is much more than an emblem, and that is the time to show our true religion, which is “to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction.” How many are exposed on the stormy sea or amid the drifted snow! Let us then be thankful for our security. But there are sorrows that create winter in the soul. Conclusion: Winter precedes spring in nature, and may do also for the unconverted, the backslide, the troubled, etc. (H. Grey, D. D.)
The moral uses of winter
We have one whole season that bears a look of unbenignity; but while many of God’s doings do not represent His disposition, they exhibit His modes and ends of discipline. Turning our thoughts in this direction we shall find enough in winter to satisfy us of God’s benignity. Some have thought that God would have shown His goodness more perfectly if He had omitted winter altogether. But would the advantages of a cylindrical world be greater than a spherical one in spite of its winter? In winter
I. WE SEE THAT GOD’S BENEFICENCE IS NOT ALWAYS CONCERNED IN THE PROMOTION OF PHYSICAL ENDS. He here takes us off into a field to show on how large a scale He builds and governs, and works for ends that are superior. Our God is not a summer God, but a winter God, caring visibly less for all mere comfort than for the grand prerogatives and rigours of principles.
II. WE NOTE A MARKED CHANGE IN OUR BODILY AND MENTAL HABIT AND TEMPERAMENT.
1. Diseases are of a different type, and health itself a different experience. In summer the senses are more awake, and the body has free communication with nature through every pore. In winter these gates are closed; the vital force retreats to sustain the internal heat by extra exertion then. We fold our cloak instinctively about us, and ask to be separated from nature by impervious walls.
2. This change naturally effects the tone and temperament of the mind which is less given up to sensation and passion. In the perpetual summer of the tropics the soul’s capacities are all but macerated; but where there is a good interspersing of winter habit, a more rugged and distinctly moral temperament is induced.
(1) The contrast between summer and winter life in respect to reflection is remarkable. After the mind has received the summer into its storehouse then it wants winter to review its stores. Now the senses lose their objects, we listen to conscience and think of other worlds. Every prospect without is forbidding, the indoor fire more attractive, and if we ever think cogently we do now.
(2) It is well understood that the mind never attains to strength without the habit of reflection. The same is necessary to a vigorous pronouncement of the moral man. Hence the intellectual and moral dearth of the tropics, Their moral nature wants the frigorific tension of a well-nurtured life and experience. Who would undertake to form a Scotch people as to a sense of principles in Jamaica?
III. We are made MORE CONSCIOUS OF OUR MORAL WANTS. The prodigal came to himself in a time of short allowance; and when, as in winter, shall our want of God be awakened? Everything around is an image of the coldness of a cold heart. Cut off from the diversions of summer pleasures, then, if ever, a man will feel those wants which set all moral natures reaching after God.
IV. We are MORE CAPABLE OF REALIZING INVISIBLE SCENERIES AND WORLDS. God is more vividly imagined in summer, and the tropical attractions of paradise, with its twelve manner of fruits, are intimated. But the time for realizing these invisible things is when a pall is thrown over their visible resemblances. When creation is bare we call upon our imaginations to paint and picture, and make it blessed above all seen facts.
V. THE WILL BECOMES MORE ERECT AND DETERMINATE. Men in the tropics seem to have no will, and are commonly inefficient for decisive action. How many of them have become martyrs? And who is not languid and averse to resolution even in our northern summer? We speak of the bracing of winter, by which we mean that we have a nerve to do, determine, endure, i.e., have a new instalment of will, and so of practical energy.
VI. THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS OF LIFE ARE AFFECTED BENEFICIALLY. Winter is not commonly productive, but is rather a time of expenditure; and in this way it impels by the most stringent motive to habits of industry and providence. And these habits help to set one on forecasting the wants and necessities of the life beyond. And then, having this also provided, he will have it in his heart to borrow the larger lesson, and be no more churlish or barren of gratitude; but, seeing that God gives for expenditure, he will set his comforts in contrast with the desolations around, and thank God for the supplies of the year. VII. We see THE CONTRIBUTIONS IT MAKES TO HOME LIFE. Home is an exclusively northern word. Tropical families living out of doors for the whole year are less regularly gathered into domestic proximity. It is only at the hearth when the winter fire is kindled that fatherhood, motherhood, and other tender relationships become bonds of unity. A whole half-year spent at the hearth--mornings there begun with prayer, long evenings enlivened by mutualsociety, books opening their treasures, and games their diversions--this condenses a home. Who can imagine a “Cottar’s Saturday Night” in the tropics?
VIII. WE HAVE BEEN TRACING PARTICULAR RESULTS OF CHARACTER OPERATED BY WINTER CLIMATES. LET US LOOK AT A FEW WINTER SCENES AND OCCASIONS THAT ARE WORKING RESULTS NOT LESS IMPORTANT. Note
1. The almost religious impression of winter storms. Tropical storms are so terrible as to leave no moral impression at all. But our winter storm gathers up its force more thoughtfully, as if moving only great instigations, and under this performance, by God’s aerial orchestra, our soul is in vibration as never under any combination of act, instrument, or voice.
2. The moral value of winter as a time for charity. In the summer God pours out His bounty so freely that none scarcely miss their needed supply.
In the winter He withholds that we may take His place. The conditions of hunger and cold authenticate themselves. If there is no fire the lack can be seen. The poor ragged child, saying by his piteous look, “Who can stand before His cold?” wants no certificate.
3. Winter funerals. These are a trial that awakens strange inward commotions. Our heart shudders, but while our feeling is protesting, the thought arises “Our departed is not in that hole. Let the snows fall heavy--we thank Thee Father Lord of the warmer clime that our dead one liveswith Thee.” Practically, almost nothing will compel a faith in immortality more than to bury a friend in the winter.
4. Winter religious movements. It is remarkable, and a fair subject for congratulation, that the great Church days are in winter or early spring--Christmas and Easter, e.g. Whether Lent is fixed because at that time the mind is more congenially tempered for the higher meditation and severer exercises of religion some may question, but Lent in July would have much less chance of the intended benefit; and in churches not observing Lent, the time is distinguished by what are called revivals of religion. But in both cases winter becomes the harvest of religion. The tonic force of winter gives a possibility of thought and tension specially needed for earnest religious exercises. It is also an advantage that we love proximity in winter, and covet more easily the warmth of assemblies and high social impulse.
5. Winter seems the time to meditate all our most serious concerns of life anew. Doing this it will not much concern us if our flight should be in winter. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The beauties of winter
When the sky is blue above, and the morning air fresh and bracing, and the frost has gemmed every twig and spray of bush and tree, and every weed and blade of grass by the roadside--aye, and every stone and dead leaf, and straw even, and nature’s myriad brilliants glitter like diamonds in the sun; and the hard ground rings under your quick tread; and the boys shout on the slippery pond; and the skater hurries to the lake in the park; and the woodman’s axe is heard in the copse; and in the barn the flail comes down with a will; and the carter’s boy whistles beside the smoking team; and the brown leaves of the oak rustle; and the lark sings overhead--then winter is a brave old boy, and shall have a crown of shining holly with scarlet berries on the dark leaves of glossy green; and the log shall burn on the hearth, and the mistletoe hang in the hall, and the young shall be merry, and the old cheerful, and the thoughtful remember gladly who it is that hath made the winter. (H. H. Dobney.)
Temple views of winter
National humiliation and rejoicing may at times be proper, but if annually perpetuated they may become unmeaning. In addition to fasts and festivals of Divine appointment, the Jews had this and others. With how much more reverence men treat Church institutions than those sanctioned by God. Christianity is contrasted with Judaism in as much as it is not an outward religion, has no feasts, attaches no sanctity to days and years, but is inward.
2. At this feast Jesus walked in Soloman’s porch, and men sought to stone Him for asserting His Oneness with the Father. Men may attach greater importance to the sanctuary than to the gospel. What was passing through His mind? The contrast between the outward beauty of the Temple and the real condition of the Church? Or the little moral influence it had in the world? For the world’s winter was only the symbol of its spiritual state.
3. What does the season suggest to us in the sanctuary? The ritualism of nature is most expressive, and furnishes us with types of spiritual ideas. Christ uses nature’s illustrations exclusively.
I. DEATH PRECEDES LIFE. Our year begins with winter, which prepares the way for all that follows. Winter is the type of death. It paralyzes old age, takes the colouring from childhood, and fills many a grave.
1. If mental life is to be developed how much have we to die to--early prejudices, mistaken opinions, confused conjectures.
2. If the spiritual life is to be developed, death must precede it. Old principles must be renounced, old habits abandoned.
(1) There must be death to sin that there may be life to God. Crucifixion with Christ precedes Christ living in us.
(2) There must be death to things seen if we would live to the things unseen. The world must be dead to us if we would seek the things above.
(3) The body must die that it may live a new life.
II. LIFE HAS ITS SUCCESSIVE DEVELOPMENTS.
1. Winter is necessary that one form of life may pass away to be succeeded by another.
(1) It is not all spring. Earth’s beautiful garments become worn and soiled, and must be laid aside, and in darkness and silence nature makes preparation for her new vesture.
(2) It is not all activity and growth. There must be a time for the gathering up of energies.
(3) It is not all fruitfulness; the fruits must be gathered in to answer the purposes of their growth, and the developments must begin anew.
2. The length of the year is adapted to the constitution of the world. If any change were to take place the wonderful mechanism would be disarranged and come to a stand, and so in the constitution of man. We get robustness not in summer but in winter, and grow more spiritually then.
3. These successive developments, though almost numberless in their forms, may be repetitions. Every year sees leaves, flowers, etc., like the last. But some forms may be succeeded by new manifestations of life, increase of beauty and fruitfulness. There is not a leaf that falls but has accomplished its purpose and makes way for its successor. And so some successive manifestations of spiritual life seem copies of each other. These are necessary to Christian character, but they would not go on did not winter intervene, and some are replaced by manifestations far surpassing those that have preceded them.
III. LIFE CONTAINS THE GERM OF ALL FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS. Winter does not destroy life. The first act of faith contains in it the germ of all the future sinless and sorrowless life. (H. J. Bevis.)
Jesus walked in the Temple In Solomon’s porch
The word “porch” rather means what we should call a verandah 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 defences of the Temple at the siege of Jerusalem. (Bp. Ryle.)
This discourse of our Lord concerning His own Divine power as proved by His works was delivered in winter in Solomon’s porch. And then the Jews rejected Him (John 10:39). But afterwards this porch was the place in which His apostles, having wrought mighty works in His name, boldly proclaimed His Messiahship and Divine power to the people, who gladly accepted the gospel (Acts 3:11; Acts 5:12). Both in nature and in grace it was then spring. Christ had ascended and the Comforter had come. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
The Lord in our assemblies
1. The presence of Jesus brings into prominence
(1) The place: “at Jerusalem, in the Temple.”
(2) The exact part of it: “Solomon’s porch.”
(3) The time: “winter.”
(4) The proceedings: “feast of Dedication.”
2. The main feature in all history, and in the event of every life, is the presence or absence of Jesus.
I. WILL HE BE HERE? The place may be a very Jerusalem, our meetingplace may be a temple, it may be a high day, but will He be with us? It may be cold and wintry; but what of that if He be here? Our own eager inquiry is about His presence, and we feel sure that He will come, feral. We have invited Him, and He will not refuse His friends.
2. We are prepared for Him, and are waiting to welcome Him.
3. We have great need of Him, and He is full of compassion.
4. We have some of His brethren, and these bring Him in them; indeed, He is in them.
5. We have those here whom He is seeking--lost sheep.
6. He has premised to come (Matthew 13:20).
7. Some declare that they have already seen Him. Why should not others of us enjoy the same privilege?
II. WILL HE STAY? He will
1. If we prize His company, and feel that we cannot live without it. We must by earnest prayer constrain Him to abide with us (Luke 24:29)
2. If we love His truth, and delight to make it known.
3. If we obey His will, and walk in sincerity and holiness.
4. If we are diligent in His service and worship.
5. If we are united in love to Him, to one another, and to poor sinners.
6. If we are humbly reverent and sit at His feet in lowly confession. The proud He will never favour.
7. If we are jealously watchful.
III. WHAT WILL HE DO IF HE COMES?
1. He will walk among us and observe what we are doing, even as He noticed those who went to the Temple at Jerusalem.
2. He will grieve over the spiritual condition of many, even as He mourned over the ruin of Jerusalem.
3. He will wait to give audience to any who desire to speak with Him.
4. He will teach by His servant; and His Word, whether received or rejected, will be with great authority and power.
5. He will this day explain to us the Temple itself, by being Himself the Key to it. Think of Jesus, who is the Temple of God (Revelation 21:22), in the Temple, and then understand by the light of His presence
(1) The Temple (Hebrews 9:11; Revelation 15:5).
(2) The altar (Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 3:3).
(3) The Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
(4) The shewbread (Hebrews 9:2).
(5) The veil (Hebrews 10:20).
(6) The ark and mercy seat (Hebrews 9:4-58.9.5; Rev
(7) The priest (Hebrews 10:12).
6. He will to His own people reveal His love, as once the Lord’s light shone above the mercy seat.
7. He will take us where He always walks, but where there is no winter: to the New Jerusalem, to the temple, to a more beautiful building than Solomon’s porch (Revelation 21:10-66.21.11). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then came the Jews round about Him
The scene and circumstances
Here in this bright colonnade, decked for the feast with glittering trophies, Jesus was walking up and down, quietly, and apparently without companions, sometimes, perhaps, gazing across the valley of Kidron at the whited sepulchres of the prophets whom generations of Jews had slain, and enjoying the mild winter sunlight, when, as though by a preconcerted movement, the Pharisaic party and their leaders suddenly surrounded and began to question Him.
Perhaps the very spot where He was walking, recalling as it did the memories of their ancient glory--perhaps the memories of the glad feast which they were celebrating, as the anniversary of a splendid deliverance wrought by a handful of brave men, who had overthrown a colossal tyranny--inspired their ardent appeal. “How long,” they impatiently inquired, “dost Thou hold our souls in painful suspense? If Thou really art the Messiah, tell us with confidence. Tell us here, in Solomon’s porch, now, while the sight of these shields and golden crowns, and the melody of these citherns and cymbals, recall the glory of Judas the Asmonaean--wilt thou be a mightier Maccabaeus, a more glorious Solomon? Shall these citrons and fair boughs and palms, which we carry in honour of this day’s victory, be carried some day for Thee?” It was a strange, impetuous, impatient appeal, and is full of significance. It forms their own strong condemnation, for it shows distinctly that He had spoken words and done deeds which would have justified and substantiated such a claim had He chosen definitely to assert it. And if He had in so many words asserted it--in the sense which they required--it is probable that they would have instantly welcomed Him with tumultuous acclaim. The place where they were speaking recalled the most glorious scenes of their ancient monarchy; the occasion was rife with the heroic memories of one of their bravest and most successful warriors; the political conditions which surrounded them were exactly such as those from which the noble Asmonaean had delivered them. One spark of that ancient flame would have kindled their inflammable spirits into such a blaze of irresistible fanaticism as might for a time have swept away both the Romans and Herods. But the day for political deliverances was past; the day for a higher, deeper, wider deliverance had come. For the former they yearned; the latter they rejected. Passionate to claim in Jesus an exclusive temporal Messiah, they repelled Him with hatred as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. That He was the Messiah in a sense far loftier and more spiritual than they had ever dreamed His language had again and again implied: but a Messiah in the sense they required He was not, and would not be. And therefore He does not mislead them by saying, “I am your Messiah,” but He refers them to His repeated teaching, which showed how clearly such had been His claim, and to the works which bore witness to that claim. Had they been sheep of His flock, they would have heard His voice, and then He would have given them eternal life. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Christ’s account of Himself
I. THE NATURE OF HIS CREDENTIALS.
1. His sayings. He had often told them who He was (John 10:25).
2. His miracles. These had been signs that they should have understood (John 10:25; John 10:33).
3. His acceptance by the pious. Jehovah’s flock and His own sheep had recognized Him; an indirect testimony that He was no imposter (John 10:27).
4. His ability to save. He could and did bestow eternal life on those who believed and followed Him (John 10:23).
II. THE DIGNITY OF HIS PERSON.
1. The Father’s Commissioner (John 10:26).
2. The Father’s Shepherd (John 10:29).
3. The Father’s Son (John 10:36).
4. The Father’s equal (John 10:30; John 10:33). The Jews understood this (John 10:33).
III. THE VINDICATION OF HIS PRETENSIONS.
1. The charge preferred against Him. Blasphemy, in making out Himself, a man, to be God (John 10:33).
2. The punishment proposed for Him. Stoning, the penalty prescribed by the law for such offenders.
3. The answer returned by Him.
(1) Scriptural--drawn from their own holy writings.
(2) Logical. If God’s Word called civic rulers “gods,” it could not be blasphemy for God’s Son to call Himself “Son of God.”
(3) Final. They could not reply to it except by violence; and He withdrew Himself beyond the reach of such machinations, Learn
1. The sufficiency of the existing evidences for Christ and
2. The irreconcilable antagonism between the unrenewed heart and Christ.
3. The ease with which objections and objectors to Christ can be answered.
4. The certainty that evil men can never achieve a final triumph over Christ. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
I. IT DOES NOT LACK EVIDENCE (John 10:24-43.10.25).
1. Christ’s works were such as no mere man had ever performed or could ever accomplish--productions of Divine power, expressions of Divine benevolence.
2. If these in His day were sufficient evidence, how much more His moral works in Christendom since. For eighteen centuries they have been multiplying. To sceptics who say, How long are we to be held in doubt? we answer, If you are sincere in your inquiries, you need not be held in suspense a moment longer.
II. IT LACKS SYMPATHY WITH TRUTH (John 10:26-43.10.27). This, and not lack of evidence, is the cause of scepticism. The Jew’s sympathy was with the formulae and conventionalities of religion and not with the truth. The wish is evermore father of the thought. Men are atheists because they do not “like to retain” God in their thoughts--anti-Christians because they do not like Christ. He is too pure, too honest. Are men responsible for this lack of sympathy? As well ask, Are men responsible for being truthful, just, virtuous? Conscience is bound to answer in the affirmative.
III. IT EXPOSES TO ENORMOUS LOSS (John 10:23). This implies
1. That they, the sceptics, would not have eternal life--goodness, freedom, perfection, joy--that the absence of which meant to “perish.”
2. That they would not have eternal security. His sheep would be safe in His and the Father’s hands from ruin and misery. But those who were not His sheep would be in a perilous condition.
Conclusion: See here
1. How hypocritical is scepticism. They professed to be in search of truth, whereas they only wanted a pretext to destroy truth.
2. How irrational is scepticism. It refuses to accept the most overwhelming evidence in favour of truth--the mighty and ever multiplying works of Christ.
3. How immoral is scepticism. It springs from the state of the heart--destitution of sympathy with Christ.
4. How egregiously foolish is scepticism. It risks eternal life and security. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The works of the Christ
We are dealing with the truth of the Divinity of the Christ, as it has been proclaimed by Christendom ever since the day when He lived and died on this earth. We are endeavouring to test the weight of evidence in favour of such a tremendous claim. And in order to do this effectually we are summoning certain witnesses before us that they may bear their testimony for or against it. The works of a man, like his character and words, are very eloquent. They speak for or against him. The works of the Christ. This, then, is our witness today. They are the works of One the beauty of whose character and words is acknowledged by all men whose judgment is worth having. “They bear witness of Me,” says the Christ. What do they say? Do they justify or condemn, do they speak for or against Him?
I. And, first of all, we want to know WHAT THIS WITNESS IS. The works of the Christ are many and manifold. There are works of love, of sympathy, of mercy; there are works of wisdom, of power, of greatness; there are works of warning, of judgment, of condemnation. Which of these shall we summon as our witness today? No; our Lord Himself narrows the issue for us. He points to certain of His works and by them will be judged, “The works that I do in My Father’s name.” It is quite clear that He is speaking of His miracles. The miracles of the Christ! “Oh,” some will say, “no one believes in miracles nowadays. If you have no ether witness but this your case must surely fall to the ground. Miracles do not happen!” Why is a miracle impossible? Hume denies the possibility of a miracle because “it is contrary to all experience.” Mr. Mill, the greatest of modern logicians, shows theft after all this statement is really worth nothing. He tells us that it only means that you cannot prove a miracle to a person who does not believe in a Being with supernatural powers. If by all experience he literally means “all” he is simply begging the question. No one ever supposed for a moment that miracles have been experienced by all. The philosopher Rousseau tells us that objections to miracles from their improbability cannot reasonably be urged by any man who seriously believes in a living God. But others urge, a miracle is impossible because it is a violation of the laws of nature. But is it? Let us ask what is meant by violating nature’s laws. What is a miracle? It is a lower law suspended by a higher. And who shall say this cannot be? To say so were to contradict daily experience. For instance, we can, we do continually counteract the great law of gravitation by a higher law. A miracle is impossible. No, not to any man who believes in a God at all. And we are taking this for granted. Very few deny it. Yea more, we live in a world of miracles. “We cannot see,” writes James Hinton, who was at once a man of science and a philosopher, and they do not always go together, “that we walk in the midst of miracles, and draw in mysteries with every breath.” A miracle is impossible. Nay, the miracles of the Christ are not a discredited witness: they are not impossible or improbable. On the contrary, miracles are natural and reasonable, and under certain circumstances they are to be expected. But, you say, were not His character and His words enough? Nay, they might be for us, but not for them. In those early days many among men knew but little of His character, and heard only a few of His words. There was need of other credentials in those days, plainer and more striking, to support the claim which Jesus made. We need them not. The miracles of the Christ were like the bells of the Church, that ring before the service begins, and call men by their music to come and worship. But the bells cease when the congregation has assembled and the act of worship commenced. And so we say that it was to be expected that a supernatural revelation, brought by a supernatural Teacher, should, in the absence of all earthly power and greatness, be accompanied by supernatural signs, to attest the truth of the Messenger and of the message He delivered unto men. If, then, these miracles are neither impossible nor improbable, what can we learn about the nature of the witness they give? First, then, I would have you bear in mind that they, too, like the other witnesses we have called, are well-authenticated facts. They are facts which His disciples believed in, and who were so likely to know as they? They are facts, for even His enemies admitted their reality. The Jews did not deny them. Secondly, the miracles of Christ are to be expected. They were the natural accompaniments of His mission of love, the embodiments of His character and words, in harmony with all else that we are told of Him. “They were perfectly natural and ordinary in Him, they were His, His powers or faculties, His capacities, just as sight and speech are ours.” Thirdly, the miracles of the Christ are unique. No other religion was ever founded upon miracles, as is Christianity. “Whence, then, hath this Man this wisdom and these mighty works?” Christendom answers, “He is the Son of the Living God.” Yea, Jesus Himself tells us, “The works which the Father hath given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me.” But as in the first days of Christianity, so still men refuse to believe this. They offer us other solutions instead. Renan, for instance, says He deluded His disciples. Others tell us that the Christ was enabled to do His miracles by His greater knowledge of the laws of science. But can we accept this solution? Or, again, we are told that these miracles are the outcome of the imagination of the disciples--that miracles were in the air, so to speak. Moreover, are we really entitled to take for granted, as do so many, that at the time the Gospels were written there was a predisposition in the minds of men to accept what was extraordinary? In his book on miracles Mr. Litton writes with considerable force, “No mistake is greater than to suppose that the period at which the Gospels appeared was favourable to imposture of this kind. It was an age of literature and philosophy, the diffusion of which was promoted by the union of the civilized world under one sceptre. In Palestine learning had especially taken the form of critical inquiries into the integrity and genuineness of ancient books.” But there are others who accept the force of this reasoning, and say the miracles of the Christ are the creation of a later age. But, as has been well pointed out by the same writer, such a man must have been a forger surpassing all the world has ever known in cleverness. Once more, it is said that the results attributed to miraculous power were in reality brought about by the forces of His personal qualities. His strength of will, His beauty of character, His personal attraction, influenced men, and worked upon them wonderful cures. But even if it were so with the miracles of which men and women were the subjects, how will this account for the stilling of the storm or the withering of the fig tree. There is only one alternative. Jesus Himself tells us what it is, “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.” Shall we believe Him or shall we reject Him? (C. J.Ridgeway, M. A.)
My sheep hear My voice
The order of thought
The reference to those who believe not (John 10:26) because they were not of His sheep, introduces the contrast between them and those who were, and the position of the true members of the flock is expanded in this pair of parallel clauses. One member of each pair refers to the act or state of the sheep; the other to the act or gift of the good Shepherd. The pairs proceed in a climax from the first response of the conscience which recognizes the Divine voice, to the eternal home which is in the Father’s presence.
1. “My sheep hear My voice,”…”and I know them.”
2. “And they follow Me,”…”and I give unto them eternal life.”
3. “And they shall never perish;”…”Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”
By reading successively the clauses printed in the ordinary type, we trace the progress of the human act and state; by reading in the same way those printed in italics, we trace the progress of the Divine gift; by reading each pair in the order of the text, we see how at each stage the gift is proportioned to the faculty which can receive it. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
The sheep and the shepherd
While far from flattering this emblem is very consolatory, for of all creatures none are so weak and helpless as sheep, and none are the subjects of such care.
I. THE PROPRIETOR OF THE SHEEP. “My.” They are Christ’s
1. By choice.
2. By the Father’s gift. We often value a gift for the donor’s sake irrespective of its intrinsic worth.
3. He bought them. We value that for which we have to pay.
4. By capture. A man esteems that which he procures with risk of life and limb. When we were astray He sought, found, rescued us.
5. By the cheerful surrender of ourselves to Him. We would not belong to another if we might; not even to ourselves. All this is
(1) A great honour. To belong to a king carries distinction.
(2) A guarantee of safety.
(3) The stamp of sanctity. We are the Lord’s separated flock.
(4) The key to duty.
II. THE MARKS OF THE SHEEP.
1. Their ear mark: “Hear My voice.”
(1) They hear spiritually.
(2) They hear Christ in the ministry, Bible, providences, etc., and they distinguish His voice from that of strangers.
(3) They hear obediently.
2. Their foot mark: “They follow Me”--not are driven. They follow Christ
(1) As the Captain of their salvation.
(2) As their Teacher.
(3) As their Example.
(4) As their Commander and Prince. “Whatsoever He saith unto you do it.”
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SHEEP. It does not look very large, but it is amazingly blessed. “I know them,” the reverse of which is “I never knew you.” He knows us
(1) Our sins that He may forgive them.
(2) Our diseases that He may heal them, etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Answering the call
In a beautiful English churchyard is a small grave remarkable for its simplicity. It is evidently the resting place of a little lad who loved his Saviour. The inscription is as follows: “Freddy!”… “Yes, Father!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ knows us thoroughly
You have a watch, and it will not go, or it goes very irregularly, and you give it into the hands of one who knows nothing about watches, and he says, “I will clean it for you.” He will do it more harm than good. But here is the person who made the watch. He says, “I put every wheel into its place; I made the whole of it from beginning to end.” You feel the utmost confidence in entrusting that man with your watch. It often cheers my heart to think that since the Lord made me He can put me right. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE MARKS.
1. They know His voice. This is universal in the East. They hear it
(1) In conversion.
(2) At the time of duty.
(3) In affliction.
(4) In the hour of death.
2. They follow Him
(1) That they may get pardon.
(2) To obtain the living water.
(3) To share His unspeakable love.
(4) To commune with Him in prayer.
(5) To learn from His example.
II. THE BLESSINGS.
1. Christ knows them. The world does not; the Church may not; but Christ does, whatsoever their state or condition.
2. Christ gives them eternal life. This implies
(1) Daily pardon.
(2) Spiritual life.
3. Christ keeps them safely.
(1) They are in His land.
(2) In His Father’s land.
(3) To all eternity. (Pulpit Analyst.)
The sheep of Christ
These are known
I. BY HEARING. The most important of all the senses, and of scriptural emblems, is the ear. (Isaiah 55:1-23.55.13) “Faith cometh by hearing.” The sheep hear
1. Christ’s personal voice. He still speaks in the Scriptures. Many do not recognize that voice, as a stranger would not recognize your child’s voice in a letter; but every syllable becomes audible to you. The word of battle is to the soldier not the voice of the trumpeter, but the call of his general.
2. The voice of truth. No voice but Christ’s is, because nothing else is permanent.
3. The voice of grace and of love.
4. The voice of power over the world, the flesh and the devil. Hence it imparts courage to the Christian soldier to go on conquering and to conquer.
II. BY PERSONAL APPEARANCE, as we are able to distinguish our friends and children. Christ knows His sheep.
1. In whatever condition of life, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, in sorrow or in joy.
2. Whatever company they may keep.
3. Whithersoever they go.
4. Whatsoever they do. The knowledge in this aspect of it is admonitory and encouraging.
III. BY FOLLOWING. They follow Christ’s example
1. In obedience to His earthly parents.
2. In conformity to all the righteousness of religion.
3. In nonconformity to the world. (H. Cooke, D. D.)
They follow Me.--Christ’s flock often addressed by the seductive voice of strangers. They are promised the treasures, honours, and pleasures of the world. They are told that there are other and smoother ways of reaching heaven. But there is none but this: following Christ.
I. In HOLINESS. “Be ye holy for I am holy.”
II. In LOVE. “By this shall all men know,” etc.
III. In SELF-DENIAL. “If any man will come after Me,” etc.
IV. In MEEKNESS. “Let this mind be in you,” etc. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Believers must not go before Christ
With my brother I was once climbing the Cima di Jazi, one of the mountains in the chain of Monta Rosa. When nearly at the top, we entered a dense fog. Presently our guides faced right about and grounded their axes on the frozen snowed slope. My brother, seeing the slope still beyond, and not knowing it was merely the cornice overhanging a precipice of several thousand feet, rushed onward. I shall never forget their cry of agonized warning. He stood for a moment on the summit, and then, the snow yielding, he began to fall through; one of the guides, at great risk, had rushed after him, and seizing him by the coat, drew him down to a place of safety. So Christ is our guide amid the mists and the difficult place of light. It is not ours to go before Him. Where He leads we may go, when He stops, we should stop. It is at our peril if we go a step beyond. (Newman Hall.)
The test of piety
A little girl was once asked what it was to be a Christian, and she wisely answered, “It is to do just what Jesus would do if He was a little girl and lived at our house.” I give unto them eternal life
This doctrine has been found in this passage. But we must carefully distinguish between the certainty of God’s promises and His infinite power on the one hand, and the weakness and variableness of man’s will on the other. If man falls at any stage in his spiritual life, it is not from want of Divine grace, nor from the overwhelming power of adversaries, but from his neglect to use that which he may or may not use. We cannot be protected against ourselves in spite of ourselves. He who ceases to hear and to follow is thereby shown to be no true believer (1 John 2:19). The difficulty in this case is only one form of the difficulty involved in the relation of an infinite to a finite being. The sense of the Divine protection is at any moment sufficient to inspire confidence, but not to render effort unnecessary (comp. John 6:37; John 6:39-43.6.40; John 6:44). St. Paul combines the two thoughts, Philippians 2:12, etc.). (Bp. Westcott.)
The security of believers
I. IN WHAT SENSE THEY ARE SECURE.
1. From the condemnation of the law.
2. From the power of temptation.
3. From the dominion of Satan.
4. From everlasting death.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS SECURITY.
1. Negatively. Not their own
(4) Fidelity. Nor
(5) The efficacy of the means of grace.
(6) The security of the asylum, i.e., the Church, to which they have betaken themselves.
(1) The covenant of redemption.
(2) The work of Christ.
(3) The indwelling of the Spirit.
(4) The fidelity of God.
1. Not that we may live in sin and yet be saved, because the security of believers is a security from sin. This is the great distinction between the doctrine of perseverance and Antinomianism. As it is a contradiction to say that God saves the lost, so it is to say that He preserves those who indulge in sin.
2. Not that we may neglect the means of grace. For the security promised is as much security from negligence as from every other evil.
3. This truth is adapted
(1) To fill the heart with abounding gratitude and love to God.
(2) To produce peace and a filial spirit.
(3) To engender alacrity in the service of God and in working out our salvation. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
I. THE PAST HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
1. They had lost eternal life. Every one fell in Adam.
2. They could not have obtained life except by its being given. God never works an unnecessary miracle. If the soul could save itself God would let it do what it could.
3. Eternal life is not secured by merit. That which is given is unmerited. Man merits nothing but death; life is God’s free gift.
4. Those who now have it would have perished but for Christ. Sin made all men heirs of wrath.
5. God’s people have many enemies who would pluck them out of His hand. They were once in the hand of the enemy.
II. THEIR PRESENT STATE. Notice here
1. A gift received--“life.” Distinguish between existence and life. Existence may be a curse. This life is
(1) Spiritual; as distinguished from the existence of a stone, and from vegetable, animal, and intellectual life.
(2) Mysterious. You who have mental life cannot explain to a horse what it is, neither can one explain spiritual life to those who have it not.
(3) Divine. We are made partakers of the Divine nature.
(4) Heavenly in its nature, origin and end.
(5) Energetic. It is the spring of all activity.
2. Preservation secured.
(1) “They” shall never perish. Some of their notions, comforts, and experiences may, but they never shall.
(2) They shall never “perish.” The life in them shall not be starved, beaten, or driven out.
(3) “Never? position guaranteed--in Christ’s land.
A place of
(1) Honour. We are the jewel He wears on His finger.
(2) Love. “I have graven thee on the palms of my hands.”
(3) Power. Christ’s hand encloses all His people.
(4) Property. “The saints are in my hand.”
III. THEIR OUTLOOK INTO THE FUTURE. Eternal life comprehends all the future. Your spiritual existence will flourish when empires decay, when the heart of this world shall grow cold, when the pulse of the sea shall cease to beat, and the sun’s bright eye grow dim with age. When, like a moment’s foam which melts into the wave that bears it the whole universe shall have gone, it shall be well with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The eternal life of Christ’s flock
1. The shepherd owns the flock.
2. The shepherd tends his flock.
3. As the effect of the shepherd’s training and watchful care the sheep learn to know him.
4. The flock follow the shepherd wherever he may lead them.
I. THE SHEEP IN THEIR RELATION TO THE SHEPHERD IMAGE THE MEMBERS OF THE SPIRITUAL FOLD IN THEIR RELATION TO JESUS CHRIST, THE SHEPHERD AND BISHOP OF THEIR SOULS.
1. The Good Shepherd is the proprietor of His spiritual flock. The earthly image cannot be pressed beyond proper limits. The sheep on the Judaean hills were beasts, and their shepherd was a man. Between Christ and His sheep there is no such gulf. Though He is the Creator and they are creatures yet He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are of one nature. In that nature He has vanquished their enemies and has become their Proprietor as well as their Brother.
2. The ownership of the Good Shepherd in the sheep is ever the same. Time, circumstances, death cannot break it.
II. THE GOOD SHEPHERD GIVES HIS SHEEP ETERNAL LIFE. He has given His life for them; He also gives it to them. Errors to be guarded against
1. That eternal life means everlasting existence in heaven. It is this but it is more, even the union and communion of love between God and man originated and perfected by Jesus Christ.
2. That it is something future. On the contrary Christ says explicitly that the believer hath it. It is a present possession and a continuous power.
III. THEREFORE THE SHEEP OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD shall never perish.
1. There are at least two enemies of the flock.
(1) The flesh, the wolf within the fold, the traitor within the citadel.
(2) The spirit of this world.
2. The combined attacks of these foes are vain. For Christ
(3) feeds His sheep. Hence “Goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their life.” (E. V. Gerhart D. D.)
By what aids can we conceive of it. Some men say, describe a circle; let the sun be the centre, and let the line of circumference pass through the most distant planet. Let this be as one cycle of existence, and let such cycles be innumerable: this is everlasting life. Traverse the woods and forests of our planet during the season of leaf fall, count the fallen leaves, and repeat this through endless years: this is everlasting life. Visit the deserts and seashores of our globe, number the sands, and let each grain represent a century: this is everlasting life. Separate the waters of this globe into drops, the waters of all pools and lakes, of all brooks and rivers, of all oceans and seas; let each drop represent a century: this is everlasting life. But these illustrations represent duration only, continued existence might be a curse. The life which Jesus promises is pure life and holy, peaceful life and happy, true life and godly; life in a garden more paradisaical than that of Eden; life in a country better far than Canaan; life in a city more sacred than Jerusalem, more magnificent than Nineveh, Athens, or Rome; life in a kingdom to which the kingdoms of this world yield no comparison; and life in a home as peaceful and as pure as the heart of God. (S. Martin.)
The Almighty hand
I have read of a father and son who worked in a deep mine, and one day when they were together in a basket in which the miners were drawn up from the pit to the surface, the son overbalanced himself and fell out of the basket; his father seized hold of part of his clothing and thus prevented his sudden fall. But, alas! this was only for a short time. Crying loudly for help, the father held on to his son’s clothing as long as he was able, and then his hand falling in its power to bear up so heavy a burden, relaxed its hold, and his son fell and perished. Only the hand of Jesus is all-sufficient and almighty, and it never fails. (R. Brewin.)
The safety of the saints
A swallow having built its nest upon the tent of Charles V, the emperor generously commanded that the tent should not be taken down when the camp removed, but should remain until the young birds were ready to fly. Was there such gentleness in the heart of a soldier towards a poor bird which was not of his making, and shall the Lord deal hardly with his creatures when they venture to put their trust in Him! Be assured He hath a great love to those trembling souls that fly for shelter to His royal courts. He that buildeth his nest upon a Divine promise shall find it abide and remain until he shall fly away to the land where promises are lost in fulfilments. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The safety of the saints
Plutarch, in relating Alexander’s wars, says, that when he came to besiege a certain people who dwelt upon a rock, they jeered him, and asked him “whether his soldiers had wings or not; unless your soldiers can fly in the air we fear you not.” Such is the safety of God’s people; he can set them upon a rock, so high that no ladder can be found long enough to scale their habitations, nor any artillery or engine strong enough to batter them down, so that unless their adversaries have more than eagle’s wings to soar higher than God Himself, they cannot do them the least annoyance; their place of defence is the munition of rocks, safe enough from all dangers.
The least saints shall not perish
They that work in gold or silver let fall many a bit to the ground, yet they do not intend to lose it so, but sweep the shop, and keep the very sweepings safe, so that which they cannot at present discover the refiner brings to light. Thus, the world is God’s workshop, many a dear child of God suffers and fails to the ground by banishment, imprisonment, sorrow, sickness, etc., but they must not be lost thus, God will search the very sweepings, and gather them out of the very trash, and preserve them. What though they be slightly set by here in this world, and lie amongst the pots, no better accounted of than the rubbish and refuse of the earth? God will find a time to make them up amongst the rest of His jewels.
Believers need not fear that they shall perish
A man crossed the Mississippi on the ice, and fearing it was too thin, began to crawl on his hands and knees in great terror; but when he gained the opposite shore, all worn out, another man drove past him gaily, sitting upon a sledge loaded with pig iron. That is just the way most Christians go up to the heavenly Canaan, trembling at every step lest the promises shall break under their feet, when really they are secure enough for us to hold our heads and sing with confidence as we march to the better land.
The safety of the saints
Not long before he died James Janeway blessed God for the assurance of His love, and said he could now as easily die as shut his eyes, adding “Here I am longing to be silent in the dust and to enjoy Christ in glory. It is not worth while to weep for me. Then, remembering how busy the devil had been about him, he thanked God for rebuking him. (Memoir of J. Janeway.)
The safety of the saints
“I want to talk to you about heaven,” said a dying parent to a member of his family, “we may not be spared to each other long.” His beloved daughter exclaimed, “Surely you do not think there is any danger.” He replied, calmly, “Danger, my darling! Oh, do not use that word. There can be no danger to the Christian whatever may happen. All is right! All is well! God is love! All is well! Everlastingly well! Everlastingly well! (Jn Stevenson.)
My Father which gave them Me.--If He was given them, then
I. HE IS THEIR ABSOLUTE PROPRIETOR. This is undeniable. All souls are His.
II. IT MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH THEIR OWN FREE CONSENT. Souls cannot be given away as material objects can. They are essentially free, and the great Father would not outrage the nature of His offspring.
III. IT IS NOT IN SUCH A WAY AS TO INVOLVE THE RENUNCIATION OF HIS CLAIM UPON THEM. When we give a thing away, we cease to have any right to it. God will never relinquish His right to the existence, love, reverence and service of souls. Indeed in this passage Christ tells us that they are still in His Father’s hand. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
God an impregnable Refuge
The French were very proud of the stronghold of Metz, and over one of the principal entrances to it was this inscription, deeply cut in the stone, “This fortress has been nine times besieged, but has never been taken.” But when the Prussian army swept over the borders of France and laid seige to this far-famed place of defence, it was not long before those who had taken shelter within its walls found that their hiding place was not a safe one, and soon the flag of the victorious Germans floated above its walls, and the French soldiers within it fell into the hands of their enemies. God is a strong refuge, and will never give up those who trust in Him. (R. Brewin.)
The safety of believers
Backed by the Almighty! As the little constable in the Bay State said to the fellow who threatened him, “If you shake me you shake the whole State of Massachussetts.” It is a great thing to be not a forlorn little wheel that mast be turned by hand, but one geared into the machinery of God’s eternal laws of moral order.
I and My Father are One
The Divinity of Christ
That Christ in such assertions claimed absolute Divinity is evident from the conduct of the Jews. In scarcely any other case did they seek to lay violent hands upon Him. When He exposed their sins they restrained their rage and waited for their revenge. But at such assertions as these their pent-up wrath burst forth in indignation at His presumption, or in violent action. Now, if they had been misunderstood Jesus would have explained them away; but instead of that He accepts the interpretation of His words and proceeds to argue from it, and, further, it was for standing by this interpretation that He died. We have here a claim to
I. UNITY OF NATURE. The mysterious thing is that He who made this claim was a man with whom the Jews had been long familiar. He had been in being before His human nature was formed (Joh 3:53; John 17:5). He had come forth from the Father to assume that human nature, and now clad in it He was conscious of no change in His Divine nature. This unity
1. Implies absolute equality with the Father (Philippians 2:6). There is not one perfection to be found in the First person of the Godhead that does not exist undimmed in splendour in the Second. We are to conceive of Christ as possessing all the Father’s self-sufficiency, eternity, omnipotence, holiness, etc., “All that the Father hath is Mine.”
2. Is claimed by Christ through His Sonship. It is as the Son He always regards Himself, even when speaking most strongly of His equality. It is not a separate independent equality, but equality through union; therefore One with the Father because Son of the Father--possessing the Father’s nature by virtue of Sonship. This relation is never lost sight of, and all His claims to Divinity are founded upon it. This shows that He is Son not merely through His incarnation, but eternally. If Son in human nature only, He cannot be in any special sense Son of the Father, still less “only begotten.”
3. Preserves the distinction between the Father and the Son. Unity is not identity. One in all that is essential to the Godhead, but two distinct persons. When the words were uttered the distinction was evident: the Father was in heaven on the throne of Majesty; the Son was on earth in the form of a Servant.
4. Does not contradict the assertion, “My Father is greater than!” (John 14:23), because just before He had claimed unity with the Father (chap.
14:10, 11). It is simply a recognition of the filial relation. The Father’s glory is undenied; the Son’s is from the Father (chap. 5:26). In this sense only can the Father be greater, and this is consistent with perfect union and equality.
5. Is confessedly mysterious. Let us not then seek to break irreverently through and gaze; but reverently and joyfully accept the truth that we have a Saviour so qualified to save.
II. UNITY OF PURPOSE. Between such a Father and such a Son there can be no collision--unity of nature must embrace unity of will. We should not need to dwell upon this, but for the perversion of the doctrine of the atonement, which has been represented as implying an unwillingness of God to pardon, which had to be propitiated by the sacrifice of Christ. The New Testament nowhere teaches this God-dishonouring tenet (John 3:16). The purpose to save is represented as originating with the Father, and voluntarily accepted by the Son. In the execution of that purpose Jesus repeatedly testifies that He came to do His Father’s will. The Son died, not because the Father was unwilling, but unable to save them otherwise.
III. UNITY OF ACTION. (verse 37, etc.). This so follows from the former part of the subject, that there is no need to enlarge upon it. The Bible abounds with illustrations of it--in Creation, Providence, and redemption. Conclusion: Jesus makes this unity the type of that which should exist between His people and Himself, and amongst ourselves (John 17:20-43.17.23). (W. S.Dewstoe)
The Divinity of Christ
The oneness of our Lord with the Father is demonstrated by the following line of argument.
I. DIVINE NAMES ARE GIVEN TO HIM.
1. God. This term is used sometimes in a secondary sense of Moses Exodus 7:1), and magistrates, etc. (Exodus 22:23; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 32:6), because of some imperfect resemblance they bear to God in some one particular. But it is in no secondary or figurative sense that Christ bears this Matthew 1:23; John 20:23; John 20:23; Acts 20:23; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 2 Peter 1:1); and as if to shut out this sense He is called “the Mighty God,” “God over all,” “The true God, “The great God.”
2. Jehovah, the incommunicable name, significant of eternal, independent, and immutable existence (Isa 6:5 cf. John 12:41; Jeremiah 23:5-24.23.6; Joe 2:32 cf. Romans 10:13; Isa 11:3 cf. Matthew 3:3; Isa 3:13-14 cf. 1 Peter 2:3; 1 Peter 2:3; Zechariah 12:1; Zec 12:10 cf. John 19:37).
II. DIVINE PERFECTIONS ARE ASCRIBED TO HIM.
1. Eternal existence (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:2; Is
44:6 cf. Revelation 1:11; Revelation 2:3; Revelation 22:13).
2. Omnipresence (Matthew 23:20; Matthew 23:20; John 3:13).
3. Omniscience (John 21:17; John 21:17; Colossians 3:3; Rev 2:23 cf. 1Ki 3:32).
4. Omnipotence (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 1:3; Philippians 3:21).
5. Immutability (Hebrews 1:10-58.1.12; Hebrews 13:3).
6. Every attribute of the Father (John 16:15; Colossians 2:9).
III. DIVINE WORKS ARE PERFORMED BY HIM.
1. Creation (John 1:3-43.1.10; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-58.1.10).
2. Providential government (Matthew 23:13; Luke 10:22; John 17:2; John 17:2; Acts 10:36; Romans 14:9; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 17:14).
3. The forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:2-40.9.7; Mark 2:7-41.2.10; Colossians 3:13).
4. The final dissolution and renewal of all things (Hebrews 1:12; Philippians 3:21; Revelation 21:5).
5. The resurrection and universal judgment (John 5:22; John 5:27-43.5.29;Philippians 3:20-50.3.21; Matthew 25:31-40.25.32; Acts 17:31; Acts 17:31; Romans 16:10; 2 Timothy 4:1).
IV. DIVINE WORSHIP IS PAID TO HIM.
1. This worship is recognized as the distinguishing peculiarity of New Testament saints (Acts 9:21; Acts 9:21; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 10:12-45.10.13).
2. This worship has been actually paid by inspired men (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:24; Acts 7:59-44.7.60; 2 Corinthians 12:3; 2Co 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-52.3.12; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-53.2.17; 1 Timothy 1:2; Revelation 1:5).
3. Angels have joined in this worship (Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:11-66.5.12).
4. Every creature in the universe will offer it (Philippians 2:9-50.2.11; Revelation 5:13-66.5.14).
V. DIVINE EQUALITY IS CLAIMED BY HIM. (John 14:9; John 16:15; John 10:30) This claim we must acknowledge, or accept the terrible alternative that He was destitute of the human excellencies of humility and truthfulness.
VI. HIS NAME IS CONJOINED WITH THAT OF THE FATHER.
1. In the promises He made (John 14:21-43.14.23).
2. In the embassy of the apostles (Titus 1:1-56.1.16; Galatians 1:1).
3. In the designation of the Churches addressed (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1.; Philippians 1:1; Philippians 1:1-50.1.30 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1).
4. In benedictions besought (1 Timothy 1:2; 1Th 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-53.2.17; 1Co 13:14).
5. In the worship of heaven (Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:10). To associate the Creator with a creature in such a way would forever destroy the infinite distinction between God and man. (B. Field.)
The oneness of Christ with the Father
What kind of unity is that which the context obliges us to see in this solemn statement? Is it such a unity as that which our Lord desired for His followers in His intercessory prayer; a unity of spiritual communion, of reciprocal love, of common participation in an imparted heaven-sent nature (John 17:11; John 17:22-43.17.23)? Is it a unity ofdesign and cooperation, such as that which, in varying degrees, is shared by all true workers with God (1 Corinthians 3:3)? How would either of these lower unities sustain the full sense of the context, which represents the hand of the Son as one with the hand, i.e., with the love and power of the Father, securing to the souls of men an effectual preservation from eternal ruin? A unity like this must be a dynamic unity, as distinct from any mere moral or intellectual union, such as might exist between a creature and its God. Deny this dynamic unity, and you destroy the internal connection of the passage; admit it, and you admit, by necessary implication, a unity of Essence. The power of the Son, which shields the redeemed from the foes of their salvation, is the very power of the Father; and this identity of power is itself the outflow and manifestation of a oneness of nature. Not that at this height of contemplation the person of the Son, so distinctly manifested just now in the work of guarding His redeemed, melts away into any mere aspect or relation of the Divine Being in His dealing with His creatures. As St. Augustine observes, the “unum” saves us from the charabdis of Arianism; the “sumus” is our safeguard from the Scylla of Sabellius. The Son within the incommunicable unity of God is still Himself; He is not the Father but the Son. Yet this personal subsistence is in the mystery of the Divine life strictly compatible with unity of essence; the Father and the Son are one Thing. (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s two natures
The picture produced in the stereopticon is fuller, rounder, and more natural than the same picture seen without the use of that instrument. But to produce the stereoscopic picture there must be two pictures blended into one by the use of the stereopticon, and both the eyes of the observer are brought into requisition at the same time, looking each through a separate lens. Thus Christ is only seen in His true and proper light when the record of His human nature and the statement of His divine are blended. It is a fiat unfinished Christ with either left out. But it is as seen in the Word, with the moral and mental powers of our being both engaged in the consideration, and thus only, that we get the full and true result. (Pulpit Treasury.)
Christ entitled to Divine honours
The Emperor Theodosius being seduced from the truth by Arian teachers, Bishop Amphilocus, at Rome, took the following eccentric means of convincing him of his error. Theodosius had raised his son, Arcadius, to the dignity of Caesar. Together in royal state they received the homage of their subjects. Amphilochus, on one of these occasions presented himself and bowed his knee before the emperor, but took no notice of his son. Theodosius, offended, exclaimed: “Know you not that I have made my son the partner of my throne?” The bishop thereupon turned on Arcadius, put his hands upon his head, and invoked a blessing upon him, and then turned to go away. Naturally dissatisfied with patronage in place of homage, Theodosius asked in angry tones if that was all the respect the bishop paid to an occupant of the throne, but the latter replied: “Sire, you are angry with me for not paying your son equal honour with yourself; what must God think of you for encouraging those who insult His equal Son in every part of your empire?”
The unity of God to be believed
Out of the harbour of Goodwin Sands the pilot cannot make forth, they say, unless he so steer his ship that he bring two steeples so even in his sight that they appear one. So it is here. (J. Trapp.)
The unity of God
“Sitting lately,” says one, “in a public room at Brighton, where an infidel was haranguing the company upon the absurdities of the Christian religion, I could not but be pleased to see how easily his reasoning pride was put to shame. He quoted those passages ‘I and My Father are one ‘; ‘I in them and thou in Me ‘; and that there are three persons in one God. Finding his auditors not disposed to applaud his blasphemy, he turned to one gentleman, and said with an oath, ‘Do you believe such nonsense?’ The gentleman replied, ‘Tell me how that candle burns?’ ‘Why,’ answered he, ‘the tallow, the cotton, and the atmospheric air produce the light.’ ‘Then they make one light, do they not? ‘ ‘Yes.’ ‘Will you tell me how they are one in the other, and yet but one light?’ ‘No, I cannot.’ ‘But you believe it?’ He could not say he did not. The company instantly made the application, by smiling at his folly; upon which the conversation was changed.” (Anecdotes on New Testament Texts.)
Then the Jews took up stones again
persecutes a man on account of
HIS RELIGIOUS OPINIONS. The Jews took up stones merely because Christ had proclaimed a doctrine which was in conflict with their opinions, prejudices, interests and pride. This intolerance has been rampant in every age. It cannot now inflict physical suffering, but it employs means more subtle and powerful to wound the supposed heretic. Such conduct is
1. Most absurd. Such are the constitutional differences in minds and educational processes that it is almost impossible for two persons to have exactly the same view of the same subject. The inevitable diversity is interesting and useful; it stimulates discussion and promotes thought. Were all to think alike how monotonous would be the social life of the world!
2. Most arrogant. There is no greater audacity than for an individual or a Church to attempt to bring all men’s opinions to one theological standard. Who were Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley that men should be bound to accept their opinions? “Jesus I know, and Paul, etc.” Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
II. HOWEVER EXCELLENT HIS LIFE MAY BE (John 10:32). Numerous were the works of Christ, and all to bless men both in body and soul. “He went about doing good.” This was not denied, but tacitly admitted, and yet though they knew that He was their greatest Benefactor, and that His character was one of exemplary excellence, because His doctrine clashed with their opinions they stoned Him. Good men here in England are stoned for their opinions, not with flint or granite, but with slander and social influences. Bigots of all sects throw stones at men, not because they are not good, but because they are not of their sect (John 10:33). We stone thee because Thou art not one of us.
III. HOWEVER STRONG THE ARGUMENTS IN THEIR FAVOUR (John 10:34-43.10.36). Christ seems to say that even in the assumption that He was no more than man there was no blasphemy. Their law called magistrates “gods” Psalms 32:6). And if they allowed that, what blasphemy was there in Him who “was sanctified by the Father,” “One with the Father,” and who, as they were bound to acknowledge, performed works which those whom their law called “gods” never had accomplished and never could? If your Scriptures call men gods “unto whom the Word of God came,” surely there can be no blasphemy in Me representing Myself as God, who am the “Word of God” itself. The argument is a minori ad magus. In what respect?
1. From those blameworthy judges and their lofty title to Christ.
2. From those who derived their dignity from the Mosaic institution to Him whom God hath sanctified.
3. From those to whom the Word of God did but come, to Him who was the Word of God. But His argument went for nothing, although it was so clear and conclusive. Conclusion: What an accursed thing this religious intolerance is! Absurd, arrogant, cruel, regardless of moral excellence, dead to argument, alive only to what it deems heresy. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The courage of Christ
Holy boldness honours the gospel. In the olden times, when Oriental despots had things pretty much their own way, they expected all ambassadors from the West to lay their mouths in the dust if permitted to appear before his Celestial Brightness, the Brother of the Sun and the Cousin of the Moon. Certain money-loving traders agreed to all this, and ate dust as readily as reptiles; but, when England sent her ambassadors abroad, the daring islanders stood bolt upright. They were told that they could not be indulged with a vision of the Brother of the Sun and Cousin of the Moon, without going down on their hands and knees. “Very well,” said the Englishmen, “we will dispense with the luxury; but tell his Celestial Splendour, that it is very likely that his Serenity will hear our cannon at his palace gates before long, and that their booming is not quite so harmless as the cooing of his Sublimity’s doves.” When it was seen that ambassadors of the British Crown were no cringing petitioners, our empire rose in the respect of Oriental nations. It must be just so with the cross of Christ. Our cowardice has subjected the gospel to contempt. Jesus was humble, and His servants must not be proud; but Jesus was never mean or cowardly, nor must His servants be. There was no braver man than Christ upon earth.
The Scripture cannot be broken
The integrity of Scripture
I. THE GRAND PRINCIPLE ASSERTED. It is impossible to shut our eyes to the fact that a teaching is gaining ground whose fundamental principle is opposed to this, and which affirms that the Scripture can be broken. It is of the first importance that we should distinctly understand the amount of authority which is due to the Bible. The Romanists say that tradition is of co-ordinate authority with the Bible; the Rationalists that only part of the Bible is authoritative, and what portions are to be received as such is determined by the “verifying faculty.” When Christ endorses, as He does in the text, the Old Testament, these philosophers affirm that He was liable to mistake, and so overthrew His prophetic office and nullify His mission, which was to “bear witness to the Truth.” But turn from theory to fact, and we find that Christ’s affirmation is proved.
1. From the history of the Jews, who from their first settlement as a nation down to the present moment show in all their vicissitudes that the Scripture cannot be broken.
2. From the fate of heathen nations. Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, and Sidon, etc., verify the predictions to the very letter.
3. The life of our Lord, every detail of which from Bethlehem and Calvary was detailed beforehand, and occurred “that it might be fulfilled.”
II. THE BASIS ON WHICH THE PRINCIPLE RESTS.
1. That man’s word may be broken. Why is it that friends and relatives in the slightest business transaction have a legal and written form?
(1) Because man is changeable. That which he honestly and determinately promises today he may see reasons to change tomorrow, or he may change from simple fickleness.
(2) Man is sometimes unfaithful, and deliberately false to his engagements.
(3) Man is often unable to fulfil his promises and obligations, however willing he may be.
2. That for contrary reasons God’s word cannot be broken.
(1) God is unchangeable. “His counsel shall stand.”
(2) God is faithful. God is not a man that He should lie.
(3) God is able. These points are well illustrated in the promise to Abraham.
1. For comfort.
(1) To the Church. In every age God’s people have been depressed by the taunt, “Where is the promise of His coming?” But God takes time to fulfil His word. Be patient, it cannot be broken.
(2) To the individual believer. He has delivered in six troubles and He will deliver in seven. Past promises fulfilled are assurances that His word cannot be broken.
2. For warning. Though God’s threatenings be long delayed for merciful reasons they will assuredly be fulfilled. (Cannon Miller.)
Christ’s reverence for Scripture
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY SCRIPTURE? The Old Testament as accepted by the Jews of our Lord’s Day.
1. This fixes the canon of Scripture for Christians and excludes the apocrypha.
2. This stamps the Old Testament with a Divine authority, against which it is infidelity and blasphemy to protest.
II. HOW DID CHRIST DEAL WITH SCRIPTURE?
1. He was zealous in fulfilling it. In looking at Christ as our example this is to be observed. Scripture declares what Christ would be and do and suffer, and all this He was and did and suffered “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” It tells us too what we must be and do and suffer, and in order to these we must follow Christ, and in the earnest eager spirit in which He saw that no jot or tittle of the word concerning Him was broken.
2. He submitted to it. The only man capable of judging for Himself always submitted His judgment to the written Word.
(1) As the servant of God He came to do God’s will; but that will was not God’s secret will, but His will as declared in the Bible.
(2) He submitted to that will without question, and with the utmost joyfulness.
III. THE USE CHRIST MADE OF SCRIPTURE.
1. As a weapon against His enemies. To the devil in the wilderness He said, “It is written,” and to the Sadducees about the Resurrection (Matthew 22:1-40.22.46).
2. As His authority. When He drove the money changers from the Temple, His only warrant for doing so was “It is written.” On the same grounds He defended His disciples for plucking corn on the Sabbath.
3. As the court of final appeal in different questions (Matthew 19:1-40.19.30).
4. As His inspiration for suffering (Luke 13:1-42.13.35).
5. As a consolation in trials. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not
The works of Jesus the works of God
The works of God must necessarily have relation to the attributes of God, and in their nature must partake of His. Will the works of Jesus sustain this test? If so, then His claim to be one with the Father is made out. Note, then, that the works of Jesus were
I. WORKS OF MERCY AND LOVE, and this without exception; the seeming exceptions when fully examined are seen not to be really so. Consistently and continuously He went about doing good. All succeeding time has acknowledged the influence of heavenly love which eighteen hundred years ago was manifested. Charity has ever taken her lessons from it. He was merciful as His Father was merciful; and His mercy on the diseased bore witness then, as His mercy on the sinful bears witness now, that He and the Father are one.
II. WORKS OF WISDOM. His contemporaries confessed as much--“Whence hath this Man this wisdom, etc.” His works were performed at the right time, in the right way, on the right persons. He made no mistake in His diagnosis, in His prescription, in His application of His remedies, nor in the result. The cleverest men fail in one or other of these circumstances. It is the same now with His administration of His providence, and the pardoned sinner and the comforted saint alike are constrained to say, “Thou hast done all things well.” Of whom can this be said but of Him who, being “the wisdom of God,” could say, “I and the Father are one.”
III. WORKS OF POWER. Divine love, as exhibited on earth, can, in a measure, be imitated, and Divine wisdom as taught on earth, can, in a measure, be communicated and received. But “power belongeth unto God.” This power was demonstrated by Christ. He was no Divine instrument as were the miracle-working prophets. There is a Divine independence and originality about all His operations. “I say unto thee arise.” And the power that made men walk in apostolic days was the power of Jesus of Nazareth, and the power which now heals the decrepitude of sinful man is His. Conclusion: This testimony to the mutual onebeing of Father and Son (John 10:33) is
2. Hence our responsibility.
Without this evidence men are guiltless, for they are not unbelieving, but ignorant. But with this evidence before Him, for a man to refuse to believe in Christ’s Deity, and to decline to submit to His claims, is morally fatal. (J. W. Burn.)
I. WHAT MEN MIGHT LOOK FOR IN THE WORKS OF GOD.
II. THAT THE WORKS OF JESUS WERE MARKED BY THESE CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Water made into wine.
2. The miracles of healing.
3. The resurrection of Lazarus.
4. His own resurrection.
III. THAT NOT TO SEE THESE FEATURES IN THE WORKS OF JESUS IS TO BE BLINDED BY PREJUDICE. As in the case of the Jews.
IV. THAT TO REJECT THE DIVINITY OF HIM WHICH DID SUCH WORKS IS THE HEIGHT OF FOLLY. We judge of the nature of a creature by its works. When we see a bird’s nest we know that it was not made by a horse; when we see an ant hill we know that no lion threw it up; as we contemplate a building or read a book we have evidence of the work of man. But what creature can give sight to the blind, life to the dead? etc.
The works of Christ
The term “works,” as applied to the miracles of our Lord, is eminently significant; as though the wonderful were only the natural form of working for Him who is dwelt in by all the fulness of God; He must, out of the necessity of His higher being, bring forth these works greater than man’s. They are the periphery of the circle whereof He is the centre. The great miracle is the Incarnation; all else, so to speak, follows naturally and of course. It is no wonder that He whose name is “Wonderful” does works of wonder; the only wonder would be if He did them not. The sun in the heavens is itself a wonder: but it is not a wonder that, being what it is, it rays forth its influences of light and heat. These miracles are the fruit after its kind which this tree brings forth; and may be called the “works” of Christ, with no further addition or explanation. (Archbishop Trench.)
The evidential value of Christ’s works
Consider the general expression respecting our Lord’s Person which arises upon a survey of our Lord’s miracles. To a thoughtful humanitarian they present, taken as a whole, an embarrassing difficulty. In the case of “the miracles of power,” Schenkel observes: “These are not cures which could have been effected by the influence of a striking sanctity acting on a simple faith. They are prodigies such as Omnipotence alone could achieve. The laws of nature are simply suspended. Jesus does not here merely exhibit the power of moral and mental superiority over common men; He upsets and goes beyond the rules and bounds of the order of the universe.” The writer proceeds to argue that such miracles must be expelled from any life of Christ which “criticism” will condescend to accept. But the question arises how much is to be expelled? Is the Resurrection, e.g.? If so, then there is nothing left to argue about, for Christianity itself is gone (1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:13). And if this conclusion be objected to, we must reply that our Lord’s credit and honour were entirely staked upon this issue (Matthew 12:39-40.12.40) But the Resurrection was attested by evidence which must outweigh everything except an a priori conviction of the impossibility of miracles, since it was attested by two hundred and fifty persons (1 Corinthians 15:6). As to a priori objections, St. Paul would have argued, as most Theists, and even Rousseau have argued, that they cannot be urged by any man who believed seriously in a living God at all. But on the other hand, if the Resurrection be admitted, it is puerile to object to the other miracles. As compared with them, that occurrence has all the force of an a fortiori argument, and are fitly complemental incidents of a history in which the Resurrection has made it plain that we are dealing with One in whose case an ordinary experience of the limits and conditions of human power are altogether at fault. But if the miracles of Jesus be admitted in the block, as they must be by a “rational” believer in the Resurrection, then they point to the Catholic belief, as distinct from any lower conceptions respecting the Person of Christ. They differ from those of prophets and apostles, in that, instead of being answers to prayer granted by a Higher Power, they manifestly flow forth from the majestic life resident in the Worker. And instead of presenting so many “difficulties” which have to be surmounted or set aside, they are in entire harmony with that representation of our Saviour’s personal glory which is embodied in the Creeds. St. John accordingly calls them Christ’s “works,” meaning that they were just such acts as might be expected from Him, being such as He was. They are like the kind deeds of the wealthy, or the good advice of the wise; they are like that debt of charity which is due from the possessors of great endowments to suffering humanity--Christ as Man owed this tribute of mercy which His Godhead had made it possible for Him to pay to those whom (such was His love) He was not ashamed to call His brethren. (Canon Liddon)
Therefore they sought again to take Him
MORAL INCORRIGIBILITY. What was the result of Christ’s appeal to His works and to their law? Of His noble life and strong logic? Were their prejudices broken down and their opposition overcome? No! here it is (John 10:39). Their opposition was intensified, and their determination to stone Him strengthened. There are, undoubtedly, men who have reached the stage of moral incorrigibility. Their opinions are fossilized, their habits confirmed, and their characters stereotyped. Christ taught this when He said, “Give not that which is holy to dogs,” etc., and when He wept over Jerusalem. Examples lie thickly around us. There are men so canine in temper, so swinish in materialism, that to argue with them would be waste of labour, and expose to insult and persecution. With these the day of grace is over, retribution has already got them into its iron grasp. Two evils befel these men to which all such characters are liable.
1. Disappointment. They made all arrangements to stone Him, and when their plans were complete they looked for Him; but He had gone. And sooner or later the incorrigible sinner will discover that all his calculations are false. He will have all his plans thwarted and his hopes blasted.
2. The loss of Christ. Christ had withdrawn. He was not afraid of them, but His time was not yet come. When the hour struck He would voluntarily fall into their hands; but meanwhile they had lost Him. The greatest calamity for a man or a community is the withdrawal of Christ, which must happen sooner or later to the incorrigible, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” When He withdraws from the soul, it is as if the sun withdrew from its orbit, and all the planets rush into black, fathomless chaos.
II. POSTHUMOUS USEFULNESS (John 10:40-43.10.42). The ministry of a man who had been for some time in his grave prepared the people to receive Christ.
1. It was remembered. The ministry of Jesus recalled that of John. The ministry of faithful preachers will never be forgotten by their hearers.
2. It was useful.
(1) It served to set off the superiority of Christ’s ministry. “John did no miracle.” His work was purely moral.
(2) It served to confirm the Messiahship of Christ, “All things that John spake of this Man were true.” Consequently, “many believed,” and “there He abode.” How long we are not told. How delightful must have been that unconstrained, free and secure intercourse! Conclusion: Faithful ministers may take courage that their ministry will operate for good when they are in their graves. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
And went away beyond Jordan.
A model ministry
I. The ministry of John was LOCAL.
1. There are special trials and temptations about a fixed and restricted sphere of service. The local minister is apt to feel that his work is monotonous and disappointing--there is little variety in it, little stimulation. He often frets like an eagle in a sack, and sighs to spread his wings.
2. let there need be no disappointment or disgust with a ministry in narrow bounds. A large, varied field of action appeals to the imagination, but faithful service in an obscure corner tells far and wide, deep and long. How often have we heard writers regret with our poet that so many brilliant flowers are born to blush unseen, “and waste their sweetness on the desert air?” But this is exactly what they do not do. The scientist corrects the poet, for he tells us how the date trees of the Nile, the magnolias of the Susquehanna, the rhododendrons of the Himalayas, the myrtles of Cashmere, the aromatic forests of the Spice Islands, the blooms of untraversed prairies and woods, all contribute to vitalize the common air of our daily life. So men whose life is pure and useful in one place are sweetening the air of the whole world. “The Word of God is not bound.” Local brother, be comforted. The tree is fixed, it cannot move however it may tug at its roots, but the fragrance is borne away on every breeze; the lamp is fixed, swaying to and fro as if vexed by the narrow bondage of its chains, but its beams shine afar into the darkness; the fountain flows in a narrow, obscure basin, and the living, sparkling waters seem to fret against the stones, but the stream at last fills distant valleys with fruit and beauty. Be faithful, and it will be found some day that the fixed star has been as useful as the wandering star.
II. The ministry of John was MODEST.
1. “Did no miracle.” He came in the power of Elijah, without the mantle of Elijah. People were disappointed. So now, we are disappointed in men if they do not work miracles--if they are not brilliant, surprising, extraordinary in one way or another.
2. “All things that John spake of this Man were true.” He was a faithful witness to Christ. The glory of John was here; he witnessed to his Master, his miracle was in his message. So with us now. When Winstanley built the first Eddystone lighthouse, he built it firmly as he thought; and then proceeded to add as many ornamentations as if the building had been designed for a summer house; it is said to have been quite a picturesque object, like a Chinese pagoda, with open galleries and fantastic projections. Now, many people would have greatly admired such a lighthouse, they dearly love a pagoda; they would have pronounced it lovely, surprising, a thing to visit on summer seas for a picnic. But, after all, the value of a lighthouse is in the light that it sends forth in the night of storm and darkness; and when Winstanley’s lighthouse perished, it was felt that a pagoda was not the best form for a light beacon on the deep. Many people today are running after miracles in the religious world, miracles of preachers, miracles of ceremonies, miracles of architecture, music, and method; they are anxious to turn the Church of Christ into a pagoda; but our grand duty is not to amuse, or astonish, or delight, we are to hold forth the Word of Life that souls may be saved from shipwreck, and severe simplicity best befits the Church of Christ as it does the beacon of the seas.
III. The ministry of John was EFFECTIVE. Not immediately successful, but indirectly and ultimately so. No true work for Christ fails. It may be done silently, softly, and seem of little effect, but in the wide view and the long view it will be seen to avail much. In Southport the other day, I noticed a monument which has been erected there, in one of the public streets, to the founder of the town. The inscription sets forth that this gentleman came to the place when it was only a sandy waste; he saw the possibilities of the situation, and built the first house, which was known as his “Folly.” But, despite the ridicule, the place grew into the elegant town that it is today, with its many mansions, museums, galleries, gardens, temples. Such is the history of many a flourishing cause in our Church today The genesis of it was feeble indeed; it grew up an obscure mission station nursed by a local ministry, but it has grown into power, a centre of life and blessing. (W. L.Watkinson.)
A season of retirement
I. OLD SCENES REVISITED (John 10:40). Bethany, beyond Jordan, the scene
1. Of His baptism by the Forerunner.
2. Of His consecration by the Father through the voice of the Dove.
3. Of His showing unto Israel as the Lamb of God.
4. Of his first acquisition of adherents in Andrew, John, Peter,
James, Philip and Nathanael.
II. ACCUSTOMED LABOURS PURSUED (verse 41).
1. With disinterested zeal. Though Christ needed rest, He could Hot resist the silent invitation of the people who flocked towards Him.
2. With unwearied diligence. He neglected no opportunities of doing His Father’s work.
3. With practical beneficence. He performed miracles.
III. FRESH TESTIMONIES GAINED (verse 41).
1. That He was greater than John the Baptist. He did signs which John did not.
2. That John’s witness concerning Him had been true (chap. 5:33-35).
IV. NEW DISCIPLES SECURED (verse 42).
2. Intelligent--actuated by conviction.
3. True. They believed on Him as the Messiah.
1. Grateful remembrance of past experiences.
2. Diligent employment of present opportunities.
3. Hopeful expectation of future vindication. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
A cheering incident at Bethabara
1. Because our Saviour’s reasoning was unanswerable, “therefore the Jews sought again to take Him.” When men cannot answer holy arguments with fair reasonings they can give hard answers with stones. He who hates the truth soon hates its advocate.
2. When our Lord found that there was nothing to be done He went away. He knew when to speak and when to refrain. Opposition in one quarter is sometimes an intimation to labour elsewhere. But though our Lord left the obstinate He never ceased to do good. Many despair under similar circumstances. But the flight of Christ from men in one place may cause the flight of souls to Him in another. Though Jesus withdrew from the stones which filled the hands of the angry Jews, He went to the place where John had said, “God is able with these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
I. IT IS VERY PLEASANT TO KNOW THE PLACE WHERE MEN BELIEVED. Not that this is essential. A man may live and yet not know where he was born, although we may be glad to know our birthplace. And so the main question is, Are you born again? Still it is a help to know the place, and some of us know it to a yard. What was there particular about this place? It was the place
1. Where Divine ordinances had been observed. Where the Lord is obeyed we may hope to see Him revealed. In keeping His commandments there is great reward, although the outward ordinance of itself cannot secure a blessing.
2. Where faithful preaching concerning Jesus had been heard.
(1) John preached the gospel of repentance, and where that is the case men will come to believe in Jesus. The plough must lead the way, and then it is good sowing.
(2) He testified that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” etc. No wonder that men believed when the savour of such a ministry lingered in men’s minds! What an encouragement to the faithful preacher; though dead, he will yet speak.
3. Where God had borne witness to His Son. The Holy Ghost is wont to go where He has gone before; and where the Father has borne witness to Christ once we may expect Him to do so again.
4. Where the first disciple had been won. To visit the place of their own spiritual birth would cause a renewal of their vows, and act as an encouragement to persevere in winning others. Where solid stones have been quarried, there remains more material which may yet be brought forth.
5. In what place cannot Jesus triumph? He needs no temple: nay, in its porch He finds cavillers, but yonder by the willows of the Jordan He finds a people that believe on Him. So in all times and now.
II. IT IS INSTRUCTIVE TO NOTE THE TIME WHEN MEN ARE LED TO FAITH. Some cannot, and it is not essential, yet it is blessed to those who can.
1. It was after a time of obstinate opposition. The Saviour could make nothing of the cavilling Jews; but no sooner does He cross the river than many believe on Him. Opposition is no sign of defeat. When the devil roars it is because his kingdom is being shaken.
2. It was a time of calm, unbroken quietude. Those who came were prepared to hear thoughtfully. Some persons may be converted by those who strive and cry to make their voice heard in the streets, but solemn consideration is the healthiest for gospel preaching.
3. It was a time of great desire for hearing “many.” You cannot catch fish where there are none; but when they come swarming up to the net we may hope to take some of them. When men are as eager to enter the house of prayer as to go to a theatre, we may hope that God means to bless them.
4. It was a time of which nothing else need be said, but that many believed. The happiest days are when many believe; this is the most honourable record for a Church.
III. IT IS CHEERING TO OBSERVE THE FACT ITSELF.
1. It was a great refreshment to the Saviour’s heart. “There He abode.” He seemed at home there. When the polished citizens rejected Him, when the wise Jews would not hear Him, the plain rustics of Peraea stood listening with delight. This was to be an oasis of comfort before the burning desert of the passion.
2. It was the fruit of John’s word. Good work never dies.
3. It was more directly the result of our Lord’s own presence. They first saw what He did, and compared it with what John had testified, and then drew the conclusion that all that John said was true.
4. The faith produced was
(1) Decided. They did not promise to try to believe, to think about it, etc.; they believed on Him there.
(2) Prompt. Christ had preached without result for years to some others; but to these He spoke only for a short time, and they believed on Him.
(3) Solid. They could give a reason for it.
(4) Widespread “many.” We should look for numerous conversions since Christ gave His life a ransom for many.
(5) What Christ lived and died for, what we preach for, what the Bible was written for, what churches are built for.
IV. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT WE SHOULD HAVE A SECOND EDITION OF IT.
1. Many are here.
2. Christ is here.
3. The witness borne here is more abundant than that borne at Bethabara. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The narrative of the raising of Lazarus is unique in its completeness. The essential circumstances of the fact in regard to persons, manner, results, are given with perfect distinctness. Four scenes are to be distinguished.
1. The prelude to the miracle (John 11:1-43.11.16).
2. The scene at Bethany (John 11:17-43.11.32).
3. The miracle (John 11:33-43.11.44).
4. The immediate issues of the miracle (John 11:45-43.11.57). In studying the history several points must be kept in view.
I. The sign itself is the last of a series, which has evidently been formed John 20:30, etc.) with a view to the complete and harmonious exhibition of the Lord’s work. The seven miracles (John 2:1; John 4:46; John 5:1; John 6:5; John 6:15; John 9:1; John 12:1-43.12.50) form a significant whole. And in this respect it is of interest to notice that the first and last are wrought in the circle of family life, and among believers to the strengthening of faith (John 2:11; John 11:15); and both are declared to be manifestations of “glory” (John 2:11; John 11:4; John 11:40). So the natural relations of men become the occasions of the revelation of higher truth.
II. The circumstances of the miracle ought to be minutely compared with those of the corresponding miracles recorded by the Synoptists (Mark 5:22, etc., and parallels; Luke 7:11, etc.). The omission of the raising of Lazarus by the Synoptists is no more remarkable in principle than the omission of these raisings by St. John. In each case the selection of facts was determined by the purpose of the record. The miracles at Jerusalem were not included in the cycle of apostolic preaching which formed the basis of the Synoptic Gospels.
III. Numerous minute touches mark the fulness of personal knowledge, or the impression of an eyewitness: e.g., the relation of the family to Jesus (verse 5); the delay of two days (verse 6); the exact position of Bethany (verse 18); the presence of Jews (verse 19); the secret message (verse 28); the title of “the Master” (verse 28); the pause of Jesus (verse 30); the following of the Jews (verse 31), and their weeping (verse 33); the prostration of Mary (verse 32); the successive phases of our Lord’s emotion (verses 33, 35, 38); the appearance of Lazarus (verse 44).
IV. Not less remarkable than this definiteness of detail are the silence, the omissions in the narrative; e.g., as to the return of the messenger (verse 4); the message to Mary (verse 27, etc.); the welcome of the restored brother (verse 44). Note, too, the unexpected turns of expression; e.g., “unto Judaea” (verse 7), verses 11, etc., 37.
V. That, however, which is most impressive in the narrative, as a history, is its dramatic vividness; and this in different respects. There is a clear individuality in the persons. Thomas stands out characteristically from the apostles. Martha and Mary, alike in their convictions, are distinguished in the manner of showing them. Then, again, there is a living revelation of character in the course of the narrative. Martha reflects the influence of the Lord’s words. The Jews are tried and separated. And above all the Lord is seen throughout, absolutely one in His supreme freedom, perfectly human and perfectly Divine, so that it is felt that there is no want of harmony between His tears and His life-giving command.
VI. Apart from the antecedent assumption that a miracle is impossible, and that the record of a miracle must, therefore, be explained away, it is not easy to see any ground for questioning the literal exactness of the history. No explanation of the origin of the narrative, on the supposition that it is unhistorical, has even a show of plausibility. Those who deny the fact are sooner or later brought to maintain either that the scene was an imposture, or that the record is a fiction. Both of these hypotheses involve a moral miracle.
VII. No overwhelming influence is assigned to the miracle by the Evangelist. It is a “sign,” a revelation of Divine glory, to those who believe, or who have sympathy with the truth. But others, apparently, without questioning the reality of the fact, simply find in it a call to more energetic opposition. The work arrests attention; and then it becomes a touchstone of character. In this respect it completely answers to the functions assigned to miracles in the New Testament. (Bp. Westcott.)
The connection between the two incidents
I can conceive of no diviner introduction to the story of the raising of Lazarus than John 10:40-43.10.42. It prepares us to understand that what we are about to hear of is not one of those signs which Jesus rebuked His countrymen as sinful and adulterous for desiring; not one of those wonders which draw men away from the invisible to the visible--from an object of faith to an object of sight; but just the reverse of this--a witness that what John spake of Jesus was true--a witness that in Him was life, and that this life always had been, wasthere and always would be, the Life as well as the Light of men. With what care the story is related so that it shall have this impression--how all those incidents contribute to it which would have been passed over by a reporter of miracles, nay, which would have been rejected by Him as commonplace, and therefore as interfering with His object. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The importance of the miracle
I have been assured that Spinoza would say to his friends: If he could have convinced himself of the resurrection of Lazarus he would have dashed to pieces his entire (Pantheistic) system, and embraced without repugnance the common faith of Christians. (Boyle.)
The miracle and the parable
There is a remarkable analogy between this great miracle and one of our Lord’s parables--that of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:20-42.16.25)--the only one that deals with the mysterious subject of the “intermediate state” from which the spirit of Lazarus was called to revivify his body at his resurrection. That is the only parable in which any of the persons introduced is mentioned by name. And in the parable and the miracle the name is the same. And when our Lord delivered that parable, He put into the mouth of Abraham the words--“If they hear not … though one rose from the dead.” He thus delivered a prophecy. Though one rose from the dead--though a Lazarus be sent unto them, they will not be persuaded. No. And the fact was, that when Lazarus was raised, they, who would not hear Moses, sought “to kill Lazarus” (John 12:10), and did kill Him who had recalled him to life. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
Lazarus and the other railings from the dead
The Bible mentions eight persons raised from death and two translated to heaven without dying.
1. Son of widow.
2. Son of Shunamite.
3. Dead man cast into Elisha’s grave.
4. Young man of Nain.
5. Daughter of Jairus.
8. Eutychus. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The omission of the narrative by the other evangelists
The raising of Lazarus is not mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This has stumbled many persons. Yet the omission of the story is not hard to explain. Some have said that Matthew, Mark, and Luke purposely confine themselves to miracles done in Galilee. Some have said that when they wrote their Gospels Lazarus was yet alive, and the mention of his name would have endangered his safety. Some have said that it was thought better for the soul of Lazarus not to draw attention to him and surround him with an unhealthy celebrity till after he had left the world. In each and all of these reasons there is some weight. But the best and simplest explanation probably is, that each evangelist was inspired to record what God saw to be best and most suitable. No one, I suppose, imagines that the evangelists record a tenth part of our Lord’s miracles, or that there were not ether dead persons raised to life, of whom we know nothing at all. “The dead are raised up” was our Lord’s own message, at an early period of His ministry, to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:5). “If the works that Jesus did should be written everyone,” says John, “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). Let it suffice us to believe that each Evangelist was inspired to record exactly those events which were most likely to be profitable for the Church in studying his Gospel. Our Lord’s ministry and sayings at Jerusalem were specially assigned to John. What wonder then that he was appointed to record the mighty miracle which took place within two miles of Jerusalem, and proved incontrovertibly the guilt of the Jerusalem Jews in not receiving Jesus as the Messiah. (Bp. Ryle.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany