"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.
There were religious people all around, but were they Christ's sheep? This was the all-important question. There was "the hireling" too, and "the thief," "the stranger" and "the wolf;" but oh, how different from the Good Shepherd! We cannot forget that there are still many sheep round about us who are very dear to the heart of Jesus. He calls them "His own sheep." They belong to Him. He loved them, and gave Himself for them. He said, "The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." What amazing love!
"When blood from a victim must flow,
This Shepherd by pity was led
To stand between us and the foe,
And willingly died in our stead."
One characteristic of Christ's sheep is, that they hear His voice. No matter who may be the instrument, the question with them is, Is it Christ's voice? What is He saying? This is one mark of the sheep of Christ from first to last. "They know not the voice of strangers," but the Shepherd's voice they well know. It is Jesus they love to hear. When Paul went to Thessalonica, they received his testimony because it was God's truth. They were not taken up with the servant, but with the message that he brought. They owned it to be God's testimony. In it they heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. They did not receive the testimony as Paul's opinions; for it came to them, "not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance;" they therefore "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered them from the wrath to come."
When Paul went to the polished citizens of Corinth, he purposely sought to preach in simple language; and though he was a learned man, he laid aside eloquent and enticing words of man's wisdom, lest the people should hear only Paul's voice, and not receive God's testimony, and thus their faith stand in the wisdom of men instead of the power of God. Thus they heard and received God's truth about the Lord Jesus; they heard the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd through Paul.
The question is, What is the Lord Jesus, who is seated on the right hand of God in the heavens, saying now? If He were now to speak in an audible voice, would it not be, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life"? Surely this is His testimony. See, then, that you refuse not His voice who speaketh from heaven. The believer looks up to heaven, beholds the face of Jesus by faith, hearkens to His word, and receives His testimony. Christ's sheep hear His voice. Many know the way of salvation, but have not received Christ as their Saviour. They do not hear His voice in the gospel. "Ye believe not," said Jesus, "because ye are not of my sheep."
Christ knows His sheep. True it is that He knows all things; but He peculiarly knows His own. The acquaintance is mutual. They know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent, and He knows them. "He knoweth them that trust in Him." Many a professor will come in that day, saying, "We have prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works;" but Jesus will say unto them, "I never knew you: depart from me." They never had any acquaintance with Christ — had no personal dealing with Him. Have you, dear friends, known this personal intimacy with Jesus? Have you known what it is to be reconciled to God through the death of His Son? Those who know Christ, however feebly, do not hesitate to cast themselves into His open arms; and such always prove Him to be a Friend that loveth at all times, a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
"Happy they who trust in Jesus!
Sweet their portion is and sure;
When the foe on others seizes,
He will keep His own secure:
Even though despised and poor."
Another feature in Christ's sheep is, that having heard His voice, and being assured that Christ knows them, it leads to practical action — they follow Christ. This is not following rules, creeds, ordinances, however true in themselves they may be, but Christ. It is not following men, however godly they may be, further than they are following Christ. This Satan hates, and tries to hinder. He would sometimes use even Christian people, who may be in a bad state of soul, to hinder others from wholly following the Lord. He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. We are kept here for no other object than to follow Christ; not to follow our own inclinations, nor to follow other saints, but to follow Christ. This marks Christ's sheep. Jesus said, "They follow me." Do we know what this is? Are we searching the Scriptures to find out His steps, that we may follow Him? Are we, through honour and dishonour, seeking only to please Him? Are we aiming to be "meek and lowly in heart" as He was? to take His yoke upon us, and learn of Him? We are told that Christ's sheep are thus exercised; they follow Christ. It does not say they ought to do so, but that they do follow Christ. This shows them to be Christ's sheep.
Now, mark the security of Christ's sheep. 1st. They have everlasting life. "I give unto them eternal life." This is His gift. It is in no way earned or deserved. No. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Eternal life, then, comes to us in the way of gift. Christ does not give less. It is not life for a day or a year, but for ever — eternal life. Your life is hid with Christ in God. Christ is our life. Christ is the Giver, the sinner the receiver. My dear reader, have you really received this gift of God? Have you eternal life? I trust you will not rest for a moment, till you are certain that you have eternal life. Oh, you must have eternal life, or you will be in everlasting burnings! "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36.)
2nd. "They shall never perish." What perfect rest and peace this gives the soul; for He is faithful that promised; He cannot deny Himself. David's fear and distress were not a little that he would one day perish by the hand of Saul; but the true believer need have no misgiving as to the eternal future. He who is almighty in power and perfect in love says, "They shall never perish." Observe, it is absolute and unconditional — "They shall never perish." Dear trembling believer, you cannot be lost. You are in Christ. You have eternal life, and Christ declares you "shall never perish." He died for you. His blood cleanseth from all sin. "Your life is hid with Christ in God." What more can you need to give you perfect rest of soul?
3rd. "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." The word "man" is in italics. It shows us that no power shall be able to separate us from Christ's keeping.
"Not all that earth or hell can say,
Shall turn His heart of love away."
When He said, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out," it implied three things: — 1st. I will receive. 2nd. I will hold him fast; and 3rd. I will never give him up — "in no wise cast out." So here He says, "None shall pluck them out of my hand." What perfect security this gives! Surely it is a threefold cord, that can never be broken. 1st. The present possession of "eternal life." 2nd. The promise of the faithful and Good Shepherd" They shall never perish." 3rd. Christ's own almighty hand keeping firmly in its grasp — "None shall pluck them out of my hand."
All dear children of God do not enter into the joy of these precious realities. They read men's books, and embrace men's opinions, instead of going only to the Scriptures for God's mind, and resting on His precious words about Jesus, which can never pass away.
"NEVER perish!" words of mercy,
Coming from the lips of One
Who, though here a homeless stranger,
Fills the high eternal throne;
Brightness of the Father's glory,
God and man in One combined;
Faithful Shepherd of the chosen,
Safe are those to Him assigned.
"Never perish!" words of sweetness,
Dissipating every fear;
Filling all with joy and gladness,
Who the Shepherd's voice can hear;
Bringing richest consolation
To the soul fatigued, oppressed;
Sweet refreshment to the fainting,
And to weary spirits rest.
"Never perish!" words of power;
Satan now I can defy:
Safe my soul beyond my keeping,
Hid with Christ in God on high.
Come what will, I'm safe for ever —
'Tis the promise of my God;
Written in His word unfailing,
Sealed with Jesus' precious blood.