Judges 21:25; John 10:3-5, 28-30
These are two very different passages. I will speak about the one in Judges first. What was going on then is just what is going on all round us. There was no king in Israel, and every man was doing what was right in his own eyes. The same thing is happening to-day. There is no king, that is, the King is absent and invisible, and is only perceived by the spiritual, and therefore nearly everyone is doing what is right in his own eyes. When the King returns, and is on earth, He will make His presence felt very clearly. He will put down evil with a strong hand, He will not allow rebellion, and it will be no longer possible for men to do what is right in their own eyes. But this is yet future and as yet the kingdom is in mystery, and during the absence of the King all has got into almost hopeless confusion. It is not only that there is much open evil, but there is also so little knowledge of the will of the Lord that even the zealous and the earnest are continually adding to the confusion.
Why were the Israelites in such a state? They had the law, they had the Priests with the Urim and Thummim, they had the place where the Lord chose to set His name, but they were not sufficiently spiritual and dependent to reap advantage from these things. The tabernacle instead of being at Shiloh has somehow or other, how we know not, got to Bethel (see Judges 20:18, N.T.). Very little is heard about the priests throughout this book, and even on the occasion when they did wait on the Lord there was much self-will mixed up with their actions. They did what they thought was right, but they knew not the mind of Jehovah, hence the terrible condition into which they had fallen.
Yet, terrible as it was, this and even worse is the condition of the professing Church of God to-day. You may say, "Yes, I see how wrong people are." But look within and you will see the counterpart of all the wrong there is around you, in your own heart. We have not come here to run down our fellow-Christians. We are come to humble ourselves before God and to learn of Him. If we are not spiritual we shall not profit much by the guidance which the scriptures give, and unless we are humble and broken in spirit we shall go utterly wrong in our interpretations. We only understand scripture up to the measure of our spirituality and by the Holy Spirit's teaching, and if we are not spiritual we shall go astray even though we have the scriptures. I will prove this to you. Look at 2 Peter 3:16; there, in speaking of the apostle Paul, he says, "As also in all his epistles, speaking of these things in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." What did they do with scripture? Why, they turned it up the wrong way, and to their own destruction. It is very easy to do that if unlearned and unstable in the things of God. We may be learned and stable in the things of this world, but this will not help us unless taught of God and established by Him. Our present spiritual condition is the measure of our understanding of the mind of God. Having been spiritual yesterday will not enable me to understand to-day. Hence it is that we see sometimes the mighty man of yesterday misses the simplest road to-day. Why is this? He is out of communion, and is seeking to interpret God by means of his intellect and not by the Spirit of God. There is no possibility of getting the mind of God merely by reading the scriptures intellectually. How differently people interpret scripture. Why is this? Because there is so little spirituality in us.
The first thing is to be poor in spirit. What do you look for as a sign of the work of God in a soul? The sign I look for is that of a humble broken spirit, a soul that is sensible of its own utter worthlessness, and with that a sense of the goodness and love of God. I have seen some people, who are not clear about a single doctrine, but I believe they are very sensible of the love of God, and I am very glad to meet with these people. Again, we meet with some wonderfully clear in doctrine, and they glibly say they are saved, but there seems to be no humility and brokenness of spirit in them. Where this is the case you may be sure they are not pleasing to God. God wants me to say, "I am all wrong, but God is right." I want to get God's mind in the matter. If you are in this condition, i.e. broken in spirit, God can speak to you. He says, Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of God. We must come down to enter into it in truth.
The peculiar character of the kingdom of heaven to-day in its outward aspect is, that a fearful amount of licence is possible, and we have fallen into the snare, for we can pass current as good Christians while yet we are full of lawlessness, doing a great deal that we call good, but which is only the activity of our flesh. Hence hopeless confusion characterizes the visible kingdom to-day.
What is the real state of Christendom? Think of what India was in the days of the mutiny and of the confusion that existed then. Was it not terrible? and yet I say India in the time of the mutiny was in far better order than Christendom is in to-day. I am far more afraid of lawlessness than Ritualism or Roman Catholicism. However bad the latter may be, yet lawlessness is the thing above all others that we should be afraid of. There is a great deal of lawlessness that professes to be full of love, earnestness, and faithfulness, and many are ensnared thereby. It is a day when there is very little brokenness of spirit, very little trembling at the word of God, very little thought of obedience, though there is very much activity, and the benefit of man is very much thought of. Let us take heed that we are willing to go God's way even in doing good, and that we do not try and persuade ourselves that we can get God round to our way of thinking. This can never be.
Now, what is the Bible? The Bible is a heart-book; it speaks to the heart. And what is the gospel of John? It is just the centre, so to speak, of this heart-book. How we come to so much grief is we do not read it as if it were a heart-book, we read it critically. This will not do, but if you come with a humble and a broken heart to find a satisfaction you have failed to get elsewhere, it will tell you of the One who alone can satisfy, and in the company of that One you will find your heart's desire. Have you read it thus, and have you found the One of whom it speaks, and has He satisfied?
John speaks essentially to the heart. Once we know rest of conscience by the finished work of Christ then we want to know the person of Him who has given us this blessing. He is the Son of God, and it is especially in this gospel we learn Him thus.
The early chapters of the epistle to the Romans are to shew us the way to get rest of conscience through the righteousness of God, but eternal life of which John speaks is all for the heart, and even the epistle to the Romans, though it begins by leading to rest of conscience, cannot stop there, it goes on to teach of love, for we do not know God until we know love, and God must ever, therefore, lead us on to know love. Never think that you have found the goal until you are grounded in the sense of God's love.
Who are the sheep mentioned here in John 10? How am I to know that I am one of the sheep? A sheep here is one that hears the voice of the Son of God and follows Him. Have you heard His voice? You say, I know my Bible from beginning to end. This is quite possible, and yet you may never have heard His voice once in all your life. This voice is an inward thing, and can only be heard by those, whose ears are opened to hear. Their state is such that they can hear now that which they could not hear before, and they prove it by following Him. Follow Him where? To the place where He has gone. Where is that? He has gone out of this world unto the Father, and you follow Him into this out-of-the-world condition of things to the place where He has the pre-eminence. The preeminence of love. It is not an outward thing. Outwardly all may be unchanged, and yet inwardly all be different because you are changed and belong to a new sphere; in the sense of your soul you are outside the old.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." This is characteristic. Do get hold of the present tense. Some people say, Do you believe that "Once saved for ever saved?" I say, I don't like it put in that way, for that is not the way in which the scriptures speak; and, dear friends, you will soon be led into error if you do not adhere to scriptural ways of expression. I see no comfort in this book for the man, who says, "I [am?] the one who is in touch with Christ to-day. I see no comfort in this book for the man who says, "I did believe once," but I see every comfort for the man who is connected with a living Christ to-day. I see nothing for the man who says he had something yesterday but has not got it to-day. The whole point is that God is speaking about to-day. The question is, Are we His sheep to-day? If you are, what happens? Why, you are hearing His voice today. Not the voice of scripture only that everybody hears, but that inward small voice that only His own hear. No one else hears it, but you hear, and you are attracted. You say, "There is no one like that One who is speaking to me. He wants me, and I must follow Him. There is no one like Him. Even though it goes against father, mother, children, my best interests here, I must follow Him."
It is a thing for to-day, not for to-morrow, and everything is his, who is in that place to-day, while there is nothing for anybody else. More and more it comes home to me how much all that the scripture speaks of is for to-day. A person says, Don't you believe in the eternal security of the believer? Of course I do, but how am I to know I am a believer unless I am believing to-day? God does not want to comfort a man in carelessness, to encourage him in a bad, wrong, proud, self-satisfied condition of soul, God would humble not comfort him. God cannot tell that man that he is all right. But if you want God to-day there is everything for you. God's day is to-day. Who are the sheep of the Son of God? They are those who are hearing His voice to-day, and following Him to-day. He set their conscience at rest by His work on the cross. That settled the question of their sins, but that is not enough. We need something for the heart — we want company. The whole point in scripture is that God wants to satisfy Himself by giving His creatures the enjoyment of Himself as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. If your heart is not satisfied, you have not got as yet that which is in God's heart for you. You may say, I have the forgiveness of sins, I have justification, I have this and that, but it will not do. Have you got the satisfaction that the knowledge of the perfect love of God gives? If not, do not rest. You have not received as yet that which God gives. Supposing you marry a wife, what do you want? You want her to be satisfied, don't you? With what? With your love, and not with a fine house, fine furniture, position in society, etc.? No, not if you are a man. You want her to be satisfied because you love her and she shares your heart and all that is yours. God wants you to be satisfied because He loves you. And why is it we are such poor Christians? Because really we do not know this, and, therefore, not being attracted by the love of God's Son, we are always hankering after something or other in this world. That we are Christ's sheep is proved by the fact that we hear His voice, and can go on in quiet confidence and rest while all is in confusion around us. There is no other voice for us because His voice is heard, and we must go after Him because there is none like Him. We must have Himself, He has won our hearts.
We must, I believe, be careful to avoid definitions, but we are very fond of them. God's word always deals with characteristics, while we want definitions because we are carnal. Definitions will not help us. People continually ask, Do tell us what this eternal life is. I say, When you have eternal life you will know well enough what it is. Until a person gets possession of a thing, and knows it experimentally he will never understand it. This is true in natural things. There was a blind man to whom some friends tried to explain the meaning of colours. When they had finished they asked him as a test, What is red like? He replied, It is like the sound of a trumpet. Poor man! how could he know? He had never seen colours. So with us, no amount of definitions will help, but get the blessing and then you can recognise what it is by the characteristics thereof recorded in the scriptures, but for these characteristics we should not be able to say what it was we had received.
For instance, take up "Born of God." "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," and again, "Whosoever is born of God does not commit [practise] sin." If these two characteristics are found in us then we are born of God. These characteristics prove it and are most useful for the encouragement of God's children, and for the detection of all counterfeits and imitations.
Here also it is a question of the characteristics of the sheep. A sheep is one, who hears the voice of the Son of God, and follows Him. If this characteristic is not found in me, what is my claim to be a sheep founded on? God challenges us. Can you take that place? We need the boldness of faith, and the confidence, which the sense of being loved inspires. No amount of explanation will shew you what a blessing means unless you are in the blessing itself. Once you are in the power of the thing then fixing the right name to that thing may help you, and you will see the place it has in the mind of God. Definitions do not do any good, they cramp and narrow the soul, and lead us into many errors; but get the blessing, and then your heart will be enlarged.
We are always wanting a cut-and-dried method of arriving at the point God would lead us to without the exercise of soul which is so necessary, and without real vital contact with the Son of God, and this cannot be done. In these matters men try to deal with things as wise men deal with them, whereas God's way is to be like a little babe. You ask a babe, What is an apple? "Oh!" it says, "very good," but that is no definition. It says again, "It is very sweet, and I like it very much." Well, that little child, who has eaten several apples knows much better what an apple is than all the wise men in the world, who have never eaten an apple, but only reason about it from its shape, colour, etc. Be like the child. Give it a fruit, what will it do? Why, begin to eat it at once. Do not reason about God's feast but eat, listen to Wisdom's call in Proverbs 9. She says, "Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved." Then when you have done this you will get the enjoyment and strength you lack. There will be plenty of time to get the right name by and by; at all events, see that you get the thing.
All blessing is obtained by contact with the Son of God. We get nothing really apart from Him. He has no intention of giving us anything in order that we may go away and enjoy it apart from Himself. He will give you everything with Himself, but nothing apart from Himself. It is like the case of Ruth's next of kin. He would have liked the possession, but would not marry Ruth, so he got nothing. If we have not Christ we have nothing. That is the point we want to ascertain, Is it Himself that is before me? With many of us it is not Himself who is our object. We want to be sure of getting to heaven by and by, and in the meantime we want to get as much comfort down here as possible. We do not want to taste of heaven now. We say that we want heaven by and by, but we prove the falsity of our claim by seeking to gratify the flesh (though, of course, we are very respectable people, and would not like to do anything wrong). What is profession of this kind worth? It is neither flesh, fish, nor fowl. It is a dreadful kind of thing, an abomination to God. God has got everything for the man that wants Christ to-day, but nothing for anyone else.
I said to a little boy one day, "Which is hotter, the sun or the moon?" "The sun," he replied. "How do you know?" I asked. "I read it in a book," was his reply. Now that is how we would fain learn the things of God. We read about them in a book. Well, I said to him, "You go and sit for a couple of hours to-morrow in the sun at midday" (it was in the hot weather), "and see if you do not get some better way of knowing that the sun is hot than by reading about it in a book." My advice to you is, Do not be bothering about definitions, but go and bask in the sunshine of the love of the Son of God, and let that warm you. The beauty of it is that His love must have vent, and, therefore, He cannot do without me, while I am so needy I cannot do without His fulness, so that we are just suited to each other. When the sense of that love permeates your soul you will then know what eternal life is, but no amount of definitions will help you a bit. May God give us the childlike spirit that must abide in the presence of God's Son and must have Him. The one who has this spirit will find that he has everything.
One word more. It says in John 10:6, the disciples did not understand the things which Jesus spake unto them. Why was this? They were still Jews, still attached in heart to the things of the flesh, and while in that condition they could not understand these things. Alas! that so many of us Christians are only Jews (practically), hence we do not understand.
When the Spirit had come then a change came over the disciples (yet even with them it was not in a moment but gradually). Jesus had died, and they loved Jesus supremely, and they learnt that the death of Jesus had broken their links with that which was down here. Not only the links with bad things, but with good things, even with the very best, i.e. with the Jewish system. They were delighted to have their place with Him outside. In heart they were outside, because He had gone outside. They were glad when they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake. I am so glad, said the apostle Paul, that I have lost everything, and I count it all but dung that I may win Christ. It was not only that he lost what was material. He lost his reputation, his honour, and all that men glory in. He was looked upon as a lunatic and a fool, but it was his delight to suffer shame for the sake of Him to whom he had gone out. Every one of us has to go out, so to speak, if we are to share with him, for He is outside all the range of things ordered by man. If you do this, you will seem a fool according to the wisdom of men.
What has Christ to offer us here? His path was one of shame and loss and reproach down here, and He can only offer to those who follow Him the same kind of path as that which He Himself had. He was cut off and had nothing, so it will be with us according to the measure with which we follow Christ. But in this losing we gain everything, and in retaining we lose everything. This is one of God's strange paradoxes so difficult to the wise, so simple to the childlike in spirit. If you love your life you lose it. If you hate your life you keep it unto life eternal. Alas! we are most unwilling to let go our honour, our position, our place. A man says, "I have always been an honourable man, I am not going to stand reproach." Then I say, "You must be content to be without Christ, that is all." Surely you cannot accept such loss. You must have His blessing no matter at what cost. Well, every blessing in this book is yours if Christ is yours to-day. Do get hold of that. The test is not in that which is told us about the past, or about that which is to come, but the test is this, What is my attitude towards God and His blessed Son to-day. That is what God wants us to get hold of. The world is morally exactly the same as it has been all along, and therefore you may be certain that all that applied 1,800 years ago applies now. There has been no change in the world, and most certainly there has been no change in God and His truth. If, therefore, there was perfect satisfaction for those who followed Christ, then there is the same now, and if there was reproach for the disciples then there must be so now. Once we are spiritual then what is written in this book becomes the living voice of God to our hearts. God wants us for Himself. However much we may lose in this world there is infinite gain to be found in the Son of God, but the only way to get it is by following Him and having Him as the object of our hearts.