"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." (John 10:27,28)
SOME will remember that I discoursed briefly upon verse 27 on Lord's day evening, and spoke a little about the Shepherd and the sheep; and I do not purpose to go over that ground this evening in any detail, but to speak more particularly on verse 28. At the same time we have to perceive that the two verses are intimately connected, because the same Person is speaking, and speaking of, or about, the same people--the sheep--what He does for them, their eternal safety in Him and the fact that 'they shall never perish.' None are so wealthy as these sheep!
It is a wonderful mercy to be a sheep, a true sheep of Christ! There is a future before a sheep. 'I give unto them eternal life.' And if we lose that, friends, there is not much else worth having ultimately, is there? For to be without Christ, and to be without these blessings which He gives, is our greatest poverty. But if He be our Shepherd, we have 'All-and-in-all' through Him, and can never need another Shepherd.
'The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.' (Ps. 23:1) There seems to be a definite tone about this, in respect of both the Shepherd and the sheep. The Lord says of His sheep, they are 'My sheep.' 'My sheep hear My voice.' Not these others--back in the verse before, to whom He speaks, 'But ye believe not.' Why not? 'Because ye are not of My sheep.' This is what they do, they hear My voice and they follow Me. And the sheep are able to claim this blessed affinity with their Shepherd. 'The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.'
Just very briefly in passing, may I reiterate what I said on the marks of a sheep? Some of us may feel very doubtful in ourselves, possibly, as to whether we have an interest here, whether we are really the sheep of Christ or not--where we stand. But there are here three definite marks of a sheep. Could we rise to that? One is that they believe Him. 'Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep.' This means that My sheep do believe. I like very much what Peter said in John 6, when some of those disciples went away, being offended with His doctrine. The Lord said to the twelve, 'Will ye also go away?' (John 6:67) Then Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.' Thou art our Shepherd. We have nowhere else to go but Thee. 'And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.' I admit there is a distinction to be drawn in regard to this believing; that is to say, a sheep may believe in the Shepherd as to His qualities, may see in the Lord Jesus everything needful for himself, and may view, to a point, by faith, those perfections and qualities that shine in Him, in His office, and yet feel an element of doubt of himself, as to whether he is really a sheep, whether he really believes or not, as to his own case. That is, he may question whether the Lord is his Shepherd personally, may have to say, O if I could feel He is my Shepherd! Well, I believe I can say that if He is not your Shepherd, you would not see anything in Him, you would not see any attraction in Him, you would not want Him to be your Shepherd. There would be no following Him unless He is your Shepherd, because it is only His own sheep who do follow Him. At the same time you cannot rest happily as to your personal interest, by deductions. There must be a positive testimony of the truth in the heart, spoken and made known there by the Holy Spirit. It is never safe to rest on deductions in regard to truth. It is far better to wait on God for positive evidences of His favor and His mercy in a personal way. At the same time it is quite true that though there may be a cloud upon the heart, with respect to this personal interest, yet there would be no pressing after Him, no repentance, no good hope, no love flowing toward Him, no prayer, no affection, no seeking, unless He is your Jesus, for He is drawing it out of you. O these sheep believe Him. Could you say that? I believe that He is what He is, though I wish that I could believe that He is my Jesus too. I believe Him to be a perfect Saviour. I believe His precious blood is the only atonement for sin. I believe His righteousness is the robe that covers His people. I believe He prevails in heaven for their cause, and I believe He will, one day, come again and claim His flock. Yes, then He will claim you!
Still, there is another particular feature of the sheep here, and that is they hear His voice. 'My sheep hear My voice.' Perhaps you say, I do not know whether I ever have. I believe you have if you are one of His sheep; in your experience, in some of your trials, sorrows, exercises, afflictions, seekings, in your soul you have heard that voice, 'a still, small voice' speaking in the heart; speaking, it may be, an invitation, a direction, a confirming word. The voice is in the Scripture, but the voice in the Scripture is also in the heart. It is not the letter of truth, but the power of truth. Yes! Can you go to a time when, in your distress and need, you felt the comforting, directing, inviting power of a word as applied to your case? 'My sheep hear My voice.'
'And I know them.' I know them; I know them perfectly; I knew them in the covenant of grace. I know every feature about them, I know every mark they bear, I know every desire they have. I know all their sinful propensities, I know how silly they are--silly sheep! Yet I know also their beauties, their attractions, their desires, their prayers, their pleadings--yes, 'I know them, and they follow Me.' This is a great mark; the sheep follow the Shepherd through the trackless desert. They cleave to Him as the children of Israel followed the cloud in the wilderness. These sheep follow the Shepherd. They are only happy when they are with Him, hear His voice and are comforted by His words.
'And I give unto them eternal life.' O how can we comprehend what is involved in this? I have been rather struck by the fact that every thing in the gospel to a sinner, has to be given. It all has to be given; the Holy Spirit has to be given; He is a free gift to these poor sheep. 'If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?' He is a free gift. The Holy Spirit can never be purchased or claimed by us on account of anything in ourselves. He is freely given. All the mercy is on the Lord's side in His care for His flock, in His teaching, in His gifts. I give unto them these.
Is it life? That life must be given; it is nothing we can rise to, nothing we can purchase or manufacture of our own--it must be given. 'According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.' It is a great place for us to be brought to, to realize that every covenant blessing must be given; freely given too. We shall never get to the cross with a penny; we must fall flat and accept what the Lord gives, with nothing to give Him in return but a grateful heart, for His wonderful mercy to such poor sinners; heaven can never be wages, though it will be a reward. It will be a free reward but it will never be wages; we can never buy it, we can never buy anything in grace, in this sense, for we have nothing to give. And yet this is our greatest mercy, for we should have no hope if we had to give an equivalent for what we receive. 'When they had nothing to pay, He frankly forgave them both.' (Luke 7:42) And this life is given in His Son; it is the life of Jesus in us if He is our Shepherd. 'Because I live, ye shall live also.' (John 14:19) But all has to be given, and all is freely given!
Is it repentance? That has to be given. Can you make yourself repent? Can you give yourself a soft heart? a humble heart? We may think we are humble, and be as proud as we can be. But I do not know anything sweeter than true humility before the Lord; it breaks us, we fall into the dust, we feel to be but as worms--dust and ashes! Can we produce it of ourselves? Can we purchase it? No, it has to be given, and it is given, and given freely. 'For Christ hath God exalted with His right hand to...give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.' (Acts 5:31) What a wonderful channel of mercy is here for a sinner! What a fullness! Heaven, as it were, opens itself to supply the need of a lost soul; an infinite fullness, shall I say, is at the right hand of a coming sinner, open to him to receive, for
And yet to be unrepentant, hard, indifferent and unfeeling, is our sin. We can produce nothing gracious inherently. All has to be given.
Is it faith? That has to be given. There is nothing to boast of here; for though, indeed, the Scripture and the gospel speak so much of this faith; even if we had it but as a grain of mustard seed, we could shift a mountain with it; yet all has to be given. 'For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.' (Eph. 2:8) All has to be given. And yet it is this that is so sweet to faith because it is the work of faith to receive these things. All is freely given. To Christ every blessing we owe.
'To Him every comfort I owe,
Above what the fiends have in hell;
And shall I not sing as I go,
That Jesus does everything well?'
Can you believe He does? Can you look at your life and circumstances, disappointments, trials, crosses, losses, difficulties and changes, and say of them all, He hath done all things well? The sheep do! But they do not always say it. No, but these sheep have moments when they can commit all their concerns into the hand of the Shepherd, and leave them with Him as to the issue thereof. But He must give this faith, and He has it to give, too.
Is it grace? Grace to live, grace to bear our burdens, grace to walk, grace to speak, grace to honor Him, grace to follow Him, grace to walk in His ways, grace to glorify Him--He must give us this. He gave it to Paul when he suffered from a pricking thorn. He said, 'My grace is sufficient for thee;' (2 Cor. 12:9) and he said, Yes, Lord, so it is; for he said, 'Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities.' All is freely given. And it is very sweet that it is so, because then there is no glorying in self, no taking the praise of anything to our poor flesh, but He has all the praise and all the glory too.
'I give unto My sheep eternal life.' I give it to them; they cannot buy it, for they have nothing to purchase it with. I give it to them. If a kind friend gave (we will say) a very poor person a nice house with pleasant rooms and nice furniture in a pleasant situation and everything he could desire; he gave it to him--he gave it to him--why, what admiration that would call forth from the receiver of such a bounty! But the Lord says, 'I give unto My sheep eternal life.' That is really worth more than all the property in the universe. If we possessed millions and lost this, we should be undone for ever; and yet he says, I give them this. I give them eternal life.
What do we understand by eternal life? It is more than we can understand! The issues of it are beyond our conceptions, and yet faith can believe it to be true. Paul speaks of it in the Epistle to The Romans, 'The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' (Rom. 6:23) Eternal life stands as distinct from, or opposite to, eternal death! Eternal life is not merely an eternal existence--though it is that--but it is something immeasurably beyond that; it is not just a mere existence, dragging on through countless years in an eternal world. Eternal life is more than that. What is it? Eternal life is eternal deliverance; deliverance from sin, from death, from hell. It is eternal deliverance. Those who possess this life are free for ever from all tormenting conflicts that pertain to this poor world. Eternal life will be eternal love! For those who enter into it will be in the light of His countenance, in the enjoyment of it, to love Him there without anything to mar the happiness of that love. There our cup will run over; it will be 'waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.' It is sweet to feel a moment of this love here. Eternal life is eternal love.
Further, eternal life is eternal joy; and He says, I will give them this. He has it to give; in fact, He will be their joy. 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.'
Eternal life will be eternal rest! A rest from conflict, temptation, sin, everything that mars the peace of a believer here. 'There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.' (Heb. 4:9) It is very sweet to feel the mind at rest here even if it be for a few hours, to feel a rest in your spirit; to be able to rest in Jesus. But that will be an eternal rest, for the former things will have passed away. This is eternal life, and He gives the sheep this. 'I give unto them eternal life.'
Eternal life will be eternal worship: 'Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.' (Rev. 1:5) Sweet worship! The saints never weary there of that enjoyment. There is always an attraction that never fails.
Eternal life will be eternal conformity, for there we shall be like Him; we shall see Him as He is. We shall be like Him for I think it must be said, that the risen bodies of the saints will be like unto the risen body of the Saviour; they shall see Him as He is and will be with Him. This is eternal life for the sheep and it is a gift. It is for the sheep. It is a mercy to be a sheep! How can the Lord give this great gift unto His sheep; how can it be? Why, it can be, because He Himself has redeemed them from the curse of a broken law. 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.' (Gal. 3:13) He could not give eternal life if justice were not satisfied. But as we have been singing in the first hymn, stern justice is satisfied by the price He paid to purchase the flock. He bought them with His own heart's blood, therefore they are His property and He has a right to give them this. It is His to give.
'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.' They shall never perish. This does not mean that they will never fear they shall perish, for many poor, timid, fearful sheep do--the sheep of Christ do. In fact, I think it may be said, all, more or less, are subject to these fears, especially before the Lord graciously confirms them by some merciful token of His grace and love to their souls. There is a fear which hath torment; and this fear is felt too, where the conscience is convinced of sin, where a poor sinner is brought to feel what he deserves, and has to acknowledge it before God and has no excuse to make. He knows he has sinned and violated the divine law and has brought himself under this condemnation. But He says, 'They shall never perish.' 'There is therefore now no condemnation' (Rom. 8:1) to these sheep.
'I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.' Not, they shall perish for a time and then be gathered up again. No, they shall never perish though they know they deserve to perish. I believe every one does. I believe the Lord brings these sheep to acknowledge Him to be just in His law, even should they perish. But they shall never perish. What is it to perish? To perish is the wages of sin; to perish is death--the eternal death of the soul. This is an awful consideration! Nothing can be compared to an interest in Jesus, to a good hope in His mercy--nothing can be compared to that. These sheep of Christ shall never perish. To perish is the second death. Death and hell shall be cast into the lake of fire that burneth with fire and brimstone. O who can comprehend what the wrath of God shall be, in regard to the lost souls in perdition? To perish is not to be annihilated and cease to be; it is to be under the wrath of God under a broken law for ever. To perish will be to hear that voice, 'Depart...ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' (Matt. 25:41) To perish will be to have a worm at the conscience that will never die. 'For their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.' O, how can I speak of this? And yet the Scriptures reveal it--very solemnly too; and we must not close our eyes to what is there revealed. The twofold destiny of men--eternal misery or eternal happiness; who can conceive the issue? And there will be no reprieve from that awful punishment. What a solemn consideration! O, to perish, to perish, will be unspeakably awful!
But the sheep here--they shall never perish, He says. A very confirming consideration this! They shall never perish. No; they may have been as near as it was possible to be, in their feelings, and have been almost sure they would perish, have practically given up under the darkness, bondage, fear, and torment. But they never have perished yet. There never has yet been one of the Lord's sheep perish for whom He paid the price.
'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.' O poor, trembling soul, take strength by this, cleave to Him, wait upon Him, seek His mercy, press your case, urge it on Him through all unfitness. A believing soul will never perish--a sheep will never perish.
'Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.' This is their security in Him. Neither shall any man (though he may try, and they will try). No angel can do this; no devil can do this--not for a sheep! But O, the temptations, torments, assailments, the words that may be spoken, the voices, the conflict! Yes, but they are safe in the fold of Jesus; none shall pluck them out. No devil can pluck them out. 'I AM He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I AM alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.' (Rev. 1:18) No devil shall pluck them out of My hand; no false teacher shall pluck them out of My hand. They do a vast amount of harm by their heresies and pretences but they shall never pluck a sheep out--they are safe in this fold. They are in the covenant--they are safe there. If, as we read in Jeremiah's prophecy, if the ordinances of the day and of the night shall cease to be, then will I cast off Israel from being a seed to Me for ever. (Jer. 33:25,26) But has that happened? Have the ordinances of day and of night failed or gone into confusion? have they been cut off? No, they have continued unto this day; and so will these sheep, for they are safe in the fold of Jesus and shall never perish. No imposter, no false teacher shall pluck a sheep out of the fold. Many have they turned aside by their heresies and plausible pretences, but never a sheep; not one sheep is lost, not one. No, no, nothing shall pluck them out of My hand.
This expresses their security in Himself. 'Out of My hand.' They shall not pluck them thence. By His hand we understand His power, and He says, 'All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth,' (Matt. 28:18) and it is this upholds a poor sinner; it is this power that holds him up; not a determination, not his natural determination, but this power that is in the hand of Christ. None shall pluck them thence. They are safe there. They are secure there; they are secured in His love because He has loved them with an everlasting love; none shall pluck them out of His hand. But O what fears often there may be, concerning this; the darkness, the storm, the wind; what fears often may be concerning our own safety. Yes, you may say, The sheep are safe--I do not question that--but it is, where do I stand? Well, that is the point. And yet there is much encouragement for those who feel doubtful of this. He can make it plain; He can turn darkness into light, make crooked things straight, and rough places plain.
But if you are a sheep you will be following Him. Follow His teaching; read it closely and ask Him to pour light upon it and enlighten you in your soul. Yes, you will follow His word, follow Him, cleave to Him through the wilderness. 'He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.' (Deut. 32:10) Yes, there is no separation; the sheep will follow the Shepherd because they have confidence in Him and know His voice. Yes, and they know what He has to give; He has the food they need and He has also this gift of eternal life and they shall never perish. Sometimes you can feel that in your soul, and believe that it never will be. We have in Ps. 23, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.' The way is dark, is it not? but you must follow Him. The cross lies heavy, does it not? but you must follow Him. There are many briers and thorns in the way; yes, but you must follow Him. There are mountains ahead; yes, but you must follow Him. There is a deep valley; yes, but you must go into it. My sheep follow Me; no one else can provide for them; no one else has what they need. The shepherd understands them. Yes. 'I know My sheep and am known of Mine.' 'I lay down My life for the sheep.' It is the highest manifestation of His love toward His flock.
What a future is before these sheep!--eternal life! Conformity to Him, likeness, passing 'from glory to glory' into His presence; leaving earth for heaven, death for life, time for eternity. O what can be compared to this? May the Lord help us in His mercy to walk after Him and to listen for His voice--listen for it--listen for it! It speaks in your heart, that gentle whisper; it is such a quiet voice. O, one moment you may be in a turmoil, bewildered, torn this way and that but a word just drops in and there is a quietness and you can 'be still.' Is that not true? What voice is that? It is the voice of the Shepherd speaking to His sheep. Have you ever heard it? They know His voice; they know it to be the voice of the Shepherd. Could you tell that? You can tell it by the effect it has on your spirit. O may the Lord look upon us and number us among His true sheep and bestow this inestimable gift, that we may never perish, but experience that safety that belongs to those who are in His keeping.