John 10:27, 28
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:…
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, etc. This is Christ's last word concerning himself and his sheep; his last application of the allegory set forth in the beginning of the chapter. We may well wonder at its tone. The Speaker knew where he stood and what awaited him. The ancient fold, of which he had spoken, was invaded by hireling scribes and robber Sadducees. The true sheep were feeble and apparently helpless. In a few brief months they should be scattered, and he himself, their good Shepherd, smitten to death. Yet our Lord clings to his similitude, and. seems to us to rejoice in spirit, as he speaks of the everlasting bonds between himself and his flock. For his horizon was not bounded by the cross and the sepulcher, but by the joy that was set before him; and he foresaw that in the ages to come the sound of his voice should go out into all lands, and an ever-increasing multitude should follow him and receive from him eternal life. We must, therefore, look on these words as Christ's perpetual and living testimony, and without forgetting that they were first spoken in an earthly temple, in Solomon's Porch, let us listen to them as coming to us from a heavenly temple, and from a throne of glory. They describe -
I. THE CONSCIOUS TIE BETWEEN CHRIST'S DISCIPLES AND HIMSELF. Since they were uttered, the gospel has been carried far and wide over vast continents and to the distant islands of the sea, and it would take long to tell of the outward revolution it has effected, or of the incidental blessings which have followed in its train; how it has added to the sum of human happiness and diminished the sum of human misery; how it has deepened men's thoughts and widened their horizon. But wherever it has taken root, individual souls have consciously owned its power and yielded themselves up to its guidance. No census can count up their numbers. No test that man can apply will infallibly distinguish them from all others. It is only Christ himself who can say, "I know them." But there is one great outstanding fact concerning them which he here gives prominence to: "They hear his voice, and follow him." Among the many voices, some truer, some falser, which reach their ears in this world, there is one voice that is all-powerful. Among the various influences, better or worse, which press upon them on every side, there is one influence paramount and irresistible. And this is a matter of consciousness on their part. It may be more or less vividly so at different times or in certain circumstances, but it is essentially a fact of experience which they would not part with if they could, and which all the world cannot rob them of. They hear his voice, now quickening their consciences and bidding them awake from sleep; or again saying to them, "Peace be unto you;" "Fear not;" or yet again, "Continue ye in my love." But there is always grace as well as power in his voice, and this makes it welcome to his true disciples. When he warns them, they take good heed. When he encourages them, they are of good cheer. Even when he rebukes them, they know that faithful are the wounds of such a Friend, and can only reply, "Speak, Lord; thy servants hear." And the result is that they follow him; for there is a path which he is ever tracing for them by his precepts and his example, illumined as these are by his Spirit - a path which may be trodden in solitude and in society, in health and in sickness, in the busy world and in the family circle, in the secret chamber, by young and old, by learned and unlearned. Of every disciple it may be said that the deepest desire of his heart is to be found in that good way, and, should he wander, to be brought back to it. Sometimes, indeed, it leads him through green pastures and by the still waters, at other times through some dark valley of the shadow of death; but he knows well that to forsake it willfully is to draw back unto perdition, and the very dread of this in his hours of temptation is a salutary thing. Since the day, more than eighteen centuries ago, when the disciples were called Christians in the city of Antioch, that name, first perhaps given contemptuously, has been claimed by multitudes without number. In our own day and our own country it must needs be generally accorded to all who do not care to renounce it. But oh! listen to Christ's own description of those whom he owns as members of his flock: "They hear his voice, and they follow him." The root and reality of the matter is there. Try yourselves fairly by this test. Many bear the Christian name, they scarcely know why. But none can listen to Christ and obey him, in any true sense of the word, without earnestness and purpose of heart.
II. CHRIST'S GREAT GIFT TO HIS FLOCK - ETERNAL LIFE. If life be a great word, eternal life is one of the greatest words that can be spoken by human lips. Who can utter it aright without awe, seeing that its full meaning rises so high above us and stretches so far beyond us? You know that in Scripture it sometimes denotes that state of blessedness which is reserved for God's children in the future; as our Lord says, "In the world to come life everlasting." But sometimes also it points to a blessing realized in some measure here and now. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God," etc. (John 17:3). Both applications of the word are needed to fill up its meaning. Eternal life embraces both the present and the future. It has its beginning, and it has its consummation. The same Sun of Righteousness enlightens both worlds.' The river that gladdens the city of God here below, reappears in the paradise above. And both aspects of the wondrous blessing are brought together in these words of Christ, for he speaks in the same breath of its present reality and of its glorious perpetuity. "I give unto them eternal life [not merely, 'I shall give it'], and they shall never perish," etc.
1. What, then, are the present aspects of this life which Christ bestows upon his true disciples? What does he do for them? What does he give them? As they hear his voice and follow him, imperfectly, no doubt, but unfeignedly, lo! the mists of earthly things dissolve and disappear, the veil is lifted from the holy of holies, and he admits them to communion and fellowship with the eternal God. Ah, this is a blessing which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. There is mercy in it, there is peace in it, there is joy in it, but, above all, there is life in it; for "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Think how this Divine friendship is described in that benediction, which from the beginning has been pronounced over the assemblies of Christ's disciples at the close of their worship, it is called "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," because it is bestowed on the unworthy through the humiliation of the God-Man. It is called "the love of God," because it is the unveiling and outpouring of the Father's heart. And it is called "the communion of the Holy Ghost," because it unites God's children with himself and with each other by one and the same Spirit. We must admit, indeed, that custom has made us s,, familiar with these words, that too often they seem only a becoming formula expected at a certain moment; but the glorious things they speak of can never pall upon the renewed heart. If there is a freshness about each sunrise, as the traveler sees the morning spread upon the mountains, so there is a spiritual freshness about each glimpse of the glory of God. What child ever wearied of his father's smile? What Christian of the light of his heavenly Father's countenance? "With thee is the fountain or' life: in thy light shall we see light." Such are the springs of the life of God in the soul of man; but what are its characters, its pulses, so to speak, or its breathing, by which it may be known in our own experience?
"'Tis life of which our souls are scant;
Oh, life! not death, for which we pant;
More life and fuller that we want!" In the text it is contrasted with perishing, and something may be learned by the contrast; for though none in this place of hope know what it is to perish, yet many may know what it is to be ready to perish. It is to have no object worthy of the soul's capacities to cling to or lean upon. It is to be involved in uncertainty as to where we are or whither we are going. To have the sphere of expected good growing narrower, the circle of expected evil growing wider. To have a heart becoming more selfish, more dead, or more cold! And if this is to be ready to perish, then to have eternal life is the opposite of all this. It is to have the gracious presence of God in Christ; to have the assured and ever-brightening prospect of better things to come; to breathe that love which is the reflection of the Divine image, because God is love; and which cannot be separated from happiness, for God is ever blessed. Such are the beginnings of eternal life, and he who gives it can sustain it in the hearts of his disciples. For he is mightier than all the enemies they can meet with here below; and as to time itself, which buries so much in the waters of oblivion, and tests, and wastes, and weakens so many earthly ties, even time cannot impair this friendship; "for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
2. But what are the future aspects of eternal life; for, as its name imports, it passes beyond the frontiers of time, and transcends all the experiences of the present? A change indeed awaits even the disciples of Christ, mysterious, unknown, inconceivable, when this world shall vanish from their sight, and the voices of their friends shall cease to sound in their ears, and when the powers of speech and even of will and thought shall fail them. Passive and helpless they shall leave this stage of existence; passive and helpless they shall enter on the next. But see in the words before us how Christ makes himself responsible, not only for the dread transition, but for all the experiences that lie beyond it. "They shall never perish," etc. He does not speak of his great gift as becoming the independent possession of his disciples, which they themselves are to guard in the solemn hereafter. No, even there it will be the result of the happy and enduring relation between the great Shepherd and his flock. And this is the very thought which the Apostle Paul expands and makes his own in the climax of the eighth chapter of Romans: "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." However far, then, we look forward to the future, we may say this much - that eternal life, in all its stages, will be the continuation and unfolding of what is begun here. The life of grace will pass into the life of glory, but its thread will not be cut, nor its purposes broken off, nor its center changed. Here its frail tent is a body of humiliation; there its dwelling-place shall be a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; but in its root and essence it is ever the same life, upheld by the same Spirit, watched over by the same Redeemer. "All his saints are in his hand," and none shall pluck them thence. What the Ultimate glory of eternal life will be, was morn than the beloved disciple himself could well conceive. He says in his First Epistle, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." And is not this enough? Can your thoughts and desires rise higher? We are taught, indeed, that when the mystery of God has been finished, the children of the resurrection shall open their eyes on a new heaven and a new earth, where nothing that defileth shall ever enter. They shall have congenial society there; the companionship of the loyal and the true. Activity without weariness shall be their everlasting rest. But the crown of their blessedness shall be this, that they shall bear the image of their heavenly Lord. Once in the days of his flesh he prayed as never man prayed: "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." The answer to that prayer shall be eternal life. - G.B.
Parallel VersesKJV: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
WEB: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.