The Spirit of God used the apostle Paul to direct the attention of the saints to the vital aspect of Christ and the assembly under the eloquent figure of the Head and the body, and He also gave to us through John a vivid illustration of the same truth in the beautiful representation of the Shepherd and the flock.
There is one Head and one body; there is one Shepherd and one flock. The first being an essential unity subsisting in one vital organism, the second an essential oneness in life also, sheep being necessary for a shepherd even as a shepherd is necessary for a flock. It is striking to observe the apostle Paul himself indicated that the assembly and the flock are to be identified as one (Acts 20:28), when he warned the elders of Ephesus regarding similar perils to those we read of in the tenth chapter of John.
The body receives protection and direction from the Head, so also does the flock from the Shepherd.
It is therefore necessary for the members to hold fast the Head as we are told in Colossians 2, and for the sheep to follow the Shepherd. This being experimentally true of us we shall be preserved in Christ Jesus where Divine love is known, and be united together unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the full knowledge of the mystery of God, for this is contained in both the figures to which we have referred. Just as it is said in Ephesians that those who are called out from the Jews and out from the Gentiles become “one body” in Christ according to the truth of the mystery, so also it is said in John 10 that “other sheep” as well as those of the Jewish fold are called to form the “one flock.”
The Shepherd and His Sheep
Divine love has been shown towards us in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Divine power is manifested in His resurrection. In these two relations He is spoken of first as “the good Shepherd” and secondly as “the great Shepherd.” In 1 John 3:16 it is said, “Hereby we have known love, because He has laid down His life for us”; and He Himself said, “I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Our sins necessitated that death if we were to be saved from perishing eternally, and elsewhere we are told that Divine love is commended towards us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). His death was the great expression of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is, however, power as well as love energizing on our behalf, and both in accord with the righteousness and holiness of God, to bring to glorious fruition His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. We read in Ephesians 1:19 of “the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe, according to the might of His strength in which He wrought in Christ in raising Him from among the dead.” That was the manifestation of Divine power, and in Hebrews 13:20 we are told that the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, was brought again from among the dead by the God of peace in virtue of the blood of the eternal covenant, therefore the present care for us of our great and exalted Shepherd is based upon His atoning death at Calvary. The good Shepherd died to save us, the great Shepherd lives to care for us. Power is exercised on our behalf in love which has fully expressed itself in Christ Jesus, therefore He could assure us that no sheep of His can ever perish.
We have said that we have both protection and direction in the Shepherd, amidst the aboundings of evils and perils in Christendom today. Nothing but fatal callousness could make us entirely indifferent to them and to the provision of Divine love and power for us in Christ the great Shepherd of the sheep. Unless we feel the one we shall not appreciate the other. In any case the dangers exist, and God has not left us in ignorance concerning them. Let the one who carelessly wanders from the flock of God heed this word of the Holy Spirit before it be too late. “Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”; also, “Men shall arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” Violence and deception are both at work.
It is true that the one who abides in Christ can say, “I will fear no evil,” but that is because he follows the Shepherd with the flock, and not that he is indifferent to what he does not fear. The Lord led Israel like a flock through the wilderness, but Amalek smote the hindmost of them. Our Lord Jesus Christ protects all His own today, but it must be remembered that a shepherd gathers the sheep together for this. They are a flock and they themselves flock together. That is in their very nature and it is proved in their so doing. We speak now of what is normal of course. This is specially true when the sheep have a sense of some peril at hand. A fox in a field is enough to cause them to run together; and, with the lambs inside the closed circle, they turn their faces to the foe. The wolf is used by the Lord in John 10 and by the apostle Paul in Acts 20 to illustrate the cruel nature of the men who trouble the flock of God today.
The danger from such is very real, they seize upon individuals wherever they can, and then proceed to scatter the sheep! The Shepherd cares for and gathers the sheep; the wolf troubles them and scatters them. The distinction may be easily observed by the feeblest lamb. Thieves are also spoken of so that we may be forewarned as to those who come for unrighteous gain. Such are ready to commit any act of deceit, violence or destruction to attain their selfish ends and to secure their ill-gotten spoils. The good Shepherd gives all for the sheep; these take all they can from them. He enriches them that they might be together in life and health; they enfeeble them. The hireling too is pointed out by the Lord as a cause of weakness; pay is pre-eminent in his thoughts; no Divine love has place in his heart; he does not truly care for the sheep, therefore he flees when danger appears. The good Shepherd dies for them, and as the great Shepherd He never leaves or forsakes them: the hireling flees at the sight of a foe and forsakes the flock he has no real love for, because he is no more and no less than an hireling.
In all this we learn the importance of simply trusting to the one Shepherd of the one flock. Protection is found in Him, and direction also. He not only preserves us, but He directs us to refreshing streams and nourishing pastures, where we can be built up together in our most holy faith and abide in the happy enjoyment of His unchanging love. Paul warned even elders of the danger of drawing away souls after themselves. The Lord directs us into the fields of Divine abundance, and care is needed lest any should turn the sheep from following Himself and from flocking together around Him.
There are certain marks by which the sheep of our Lord Jesus Christ can be distinguished. Religion is no guarantee that we are His, for those to whom He said, “Ye are not of My sheep,” were bigoted religionists, associated too with the place of Jehovah’s name. It was in the temple when Jesus walked in the porch of Solomon, that He told these cold professors of religion this. “It was winter” in more senses than one. They were celebrating a religious feast, and they surrounded Him, asking questions of unbelief, and He to Whom their whole Bible pointed said, “Ye are not of My sheep.” They were strangers to the faith which works by love. At heart they were unbelievers whatever their mental process of reasoning may have been.
In contrast to these the Son of God tells us what are the marks of His own sheep—“My sheep” as He calls them:
(1) They “hear My voice” (John 10:27). His Word in the Gospel has reached them in the power of the Spirit, and in this way His voice has livingly become known to them.
(2) “I know them.” There is nothing haphazard in this matter of eternal import. In view of the corruptions and imitations of the faith the real are comforted in 2 Timothy 2:19 with this same fact, “The Lord knows them that are His.”
(3) “They follow Me” He further says. This is encouraging for those who are perplexed by the rival claims of sects and parties and their leaders. The sheep of Christ simply follow the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and He gives them what none other could give, as He says,
(4) “I give them eternal life.” We may be able to explain this gift in a very limited measure, but it is ours nevertheless and it is not simply life in eternal blessedness, for it involves also the knowledge of the Father and the Son.
(5) “They shall never perish.” Tried as they may be on their journey to the Father’s house, not one of the flock, however, can be lost, thank God, for Jesus said:
(6) “No one shall seize them out of My hand.” The thief may come, the wolf may scatter, the hireling may flee, but the Shepherd’s hand of omnipotence holds every one safely. Moreover,
(7) “No one can seize out of the hand of My Father.” In the Son’s hand we are perfectly safe, and in the Father’s hand we are equally so we are doubly safe, if it be necessary so to express it, for we belong to both the Father and the Son.
In addition to these seven marks, we are told in verse 4, The sheep follow Him because they know His voice. A contrast is given in the next verse, which those who waste their own and others time and energies in dealing with the vapourings and teachings of strangers, would do well to consider: “They will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.” The importance of this should be thoroughly grasped. It may be said, Some have been known to follow evil teachers and leaders. But the Lord said His sheep do not follow them, and do not know them! On the other hand they flee from strangers. Those, therefore, who do follow them cannot be His sheep. We speak of course of what is characteristic, and not of some sudden impulse from which a true believer will be recovered. Rome educates its students as to what is considered error by that system, but Christ’s sheep “know not” the voices of strangers, and it is a serious mistake to try to make them know, and to be wise as to such. Rather should we encourage and edify each other in that which is good, till we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, the great Shepherd of the sheep.
It is true that He knows all, and that they know Him as well as His voice, nevertheless they may increase in the knowledge of Himself, and this should be furthered. Knowledge has a great place in the 10th chapter of John as being true of the sheep of His pasture. Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd and I know those that are Mine, and am known of those that are Mine, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” How blessed for the sheep to be gathered around the same glorious Object as that which fills the Father’s heart with ineffable pleasure! He is enough our minds and hearts to fill! When He spoke to those who were not of His sheep, and told them that none could pluck any of His own sheep out of His hand nor out of His Father’s hand, adding, “I and My Father are One,” they took up stones to cast at Him! It is the grace of God which gives His own a different Spirit, and draws them together around the One they rejected, for, as we said before, sheep flock together. This is one of the important marks which must not be forgotten. There is something wrong when a sheep is seen alone by itself in the field.
Fold or Flock?
How are the sheep of Christ held together? The question is one of momentous importance. It has been raised in various forms and terms for long centuries, and ecclesiastical conflicts have furiously raged in regard to it times without number. The question may have been put in a scholarly manner or in a simple upright fashion, and arguments may have been advanced with the display of erudition or in the forcefulness begotten by the sense of right against wrong; nevertheless, the matter to be settled is simply this, Are Christ’s sheep held together by ecclesiastical hurdles in an organized fold, or simply as a flock under the hand of the omnipotent Shepherd? Many subtle disputations may be advanced according to the tendencies and inclinations of those who enunciate them and the quality of their abilities to reason them out, for we are Divinely informed, “God made man upright”, but He has sought out many “abstruse reasonings” as the word “inventions” is better translated; and, seeing that this is so, the more trustfully we bow to God’s own Word regarding this important matter the safer shall we be; for true safety lies only in accepting what the Word of God says as to it. The arguments of the human mind with its varied bias—whether against or apparently for that which we are told in the Bible—have proved themselves to be untrustworthy, and in some cases their prejudicial dogmas have become hateful even to the most tolerant of men, and despicable to the most considerate.
Influenced probably by the idea that a fold was an absolute necessity for sheep the translators rendered John 10:16, “one fold, one Shepherd,” whereas it is now well known to be “one flock, one Shepherd.” The two ideas are quite different. The first makes the Shepherd insufficient for the flock; the second simply states His all-sufficiency. The wrong translation has always been an enormous stronghold of the Romish system, and it is still the plea of sectarian ecclesiastics where ignorance of the Word prevails. One said to a servant of Christ known to me, “You must have a fold.” “Very well,” answered my friend, “have your fold, and now read John 10:3, where we are told, the Lord Jesus Christ “calls His own sheep by name and leadeth them out”! What have you left in your fold after He does that?” Not one of His sheep! Doubtless the fold refers to the religious system of Judaism, but the principle of out-calling remains; the very word translated church, ecclesia, means that! Ever since the out-call of Abraham, God has acted in that way.
When the apostasy and corruptions of Christendom, foretold in Scripture, reach their organized fruition in Babylon the great, it is imperatively commanded by a voice out of heaven, “Come out of her, My people, that ye have not fellowship in her sins” (Rev. 18:4)! God’s people so addressed are doubtless Jews. They are properly “His people,” and the flock of God, the assembly, will have been previously translated from earth to heaven like Enoch of old. We speak, however, of the principle; and before that day, even now, we are instructed to separate from iniquity and vessels to dishonour, so as to flock together after the Lord Himself (even as we read in 2 Timothy 2) and “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Unless we had the Word of God for all this we should be in a fearful dilemma, but He has given us in the Bible all the guidance we need, and His grace is abundant, while the great Shepherd is sufficient for the flock without man-made folds. It was an earnest preacher, in whose name a large fold was made after his death, who himself said, “Let names and sects and parties fall, and Jesus Christ be all in all.” He is enough for the flock truly.
Faith is required to accept this, but what have we without faith? By faith we stand! Christ dwells in our hearts by faith! Without faith it is impossible to please Him! Folds suit those who walk by sight. They are pleasing to men who prefer lifeless forms to living energies, and to those who choose legal rules instead of the Spirit’s power. Even in the addresses to the seven assemblies in Revelation 2-3, those who have ears to hear are bidden to heed what is said to all seven, wherein are found self-pleasing, Christ exclusion, dead profession, worldliness, immorality, and satanic doctrines and practises. Faith and the Spirit’s enabling are necessary therefore to follow that which is according to God’s will when such iniquity abounds in Christendom. God, however, has foretold it all for the preservation and guidance of the flock of His pasture, so that they may still follow the Lord together without distraction.
Each one may still say to the Lord the great Shepherd of the sheep, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” In spite of the evils we have named, they may still rejoice that their cup runs over, as they follow Him together. Nothing will ever force Him to give up those for whom He suffered, bled and died. None can pluck them from His hand or from the Father’s hand. Each one can look forward to the end of the journey with confidence and say, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
“Then shall we see His face
With all the saints above,
And sing for ever of His grace,
For ever of His love.”
We pointed out that just as in the epistle to the Ephesians we have the truth of the mystery made known, that those whom God calls out from both Jews and Gentiles become one body in Christ, “joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus by the Gospel” (Eph. 3:6), so in John 10 we have the same truth made known in relation to the one flock, for we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ leads “His own sheep” out of the Jewish fold, and brings the “other sheep which are not of this fold,” but who hear His voice when He calls, and consequently there is one flock formed of both over which He is the one Shepherd. Each figure gives us the truth of the oneness of the saints in life and nature, the former, however, being a corporate oneness, whereas the latter is collective. Both, however, are vital, and remain true notwithstanding the failure which was foretold and which is so evident in Christendom.
Now although each figure involves oneness, and also as another has expressed it togetherness, nevertheless the idea of religious organization is foreign to both, for the body is an organism with all its members vitally united together, and a flock is made up of sheep who because of their very nature flock together. An organization may lose many of its members and yet remain intact, but this is not so with the body of Christ. A fold would still be a fold even if the sheep were outside of it and only goats remain within; the one flock of Christ is not a fold nor goats of His flock. Some say, “True there is one flock but there are many folds.” Yes, there are many folds, but there is no instruction given in the Bible for men to make them. The flock is the result of the work of God Himself. What would happen if man-made hurdles were thrown down? The sheep would flock together after the Lord alone.
Others say, “See how the sheep are scattered! Look at the divisions in Christianity! You must have a fold to hold them together!” Such reasoning is common enough amongst earnest and well-meaning men, but it is very bad reasoning all the same. Nor has the oft-tried remedy of the fold proved successful. It has turned out contrariwise: it has hurdled off sheep from sheep and helped forward the scattering. Moreover the scattering was foretold by the Lord in John 10, and in the same chapter He told us what was the only remedy—Himself, the Shepherd of the sheep. His voice is heard, He brings them together, He knows His own sheep, they know their Shepherd, His hand and the Father’s hand hold all safely, and one flock without a fold is divinely secure.
The Old Testament indicates the same thing. Ezekiel 34 speaks of the sheep of that day being scattered, but the Lord said, “I will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will feed them. I will save My flock and they shall be no more a prey”, and “I will set up one Shepherd over them and He shall feed them” (v. 23). “Ye, My flock, the flock of My pasture are men, and I am your God, says the Lord God” (v. 31) There was no one shepherding them, for those that should have done so “fed themselves and fed not the flock.” Just as in our day, however, there were not only those who fed themselves, but those that scattered the flock abroad, and the Lord Himself alone could gather the sheep. In the history of Christendom this process of scattering has been in evidence from the days of the apostles, not that the Lord ever ceases to care for His flock; nevertheless ruthless men have fulfilled His words in this work of cruelty under the guise of zeal and religion. Nevertheless the “one flock” is always in the care of the Lord. He watches over them all and the feeblest is not overlooked by Him. The flock may suffer from direct enemies, self-seekers and false friends—this was foretold by the Lord—but in Him they have all that is necessary for them.
In Jeremiah 31, the chapter of the “new thing” and “the new covenant,” whilst not excusing the bad men who have scattered the sheep of Israel, the Lord shows that He has Himself been behind it all for good, and calls to the nations to see that they are not out of His care, saying, “He that scattered Israel will gather him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the Lord has redeemed Israel and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore shall they come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd; and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.” They shall “flow together!” Take the hurdles away! that is what the one flock will do! Let the scatterers cease their scattering! The sheep will flow together to the goodness of the Lord! The good Shepherd knows His own sheep and they know Him. Let the hindrances disappear, and the liberated sheep—the one flock as we have said—will happily flow together and flock around the One who gave His life for the sheep.
There is but one flock, and they bear the sheep marks we have spoken of. Even though the sheep be scattered there is still the one flock. They may be distressed and suffer, as we have seen, but they do not seek the hurt of others. It is not God’s mind, however, that the sheep should be separated from each other, but that they should be together. We see this in the truth of Christ and the assembly as well as in the Shepherd and the flock. We are to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace, for there is one body and one Spirit. The sheep are to follow the Shepherd together, and it is natural for them to do so, because of their life and nature. Moreover, in view of the approaching day of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ we are exhorted not to forsake the “complete assembling” of ourselves together.
“I Know My Sheep”
We are writing that the saints of God may be encouraged to gather together according to the truth, that they may meet in assembly and know the Lord Himself in their midst. It is always possible, of course, that goats and hirelings and even a thief may be present, but the sheep have protection and direction in the great Shepherd. They look to Him. They follow Him. Moreover in Ezekiel 34, He says, “I will judge between cattle and cattle, and I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them” (v. 22). This principle of the Lord judging His people is found all through the Bible. In Hebrews 10 from which we have already quoted, it is stated again in verse 30. The exercises through which we pass are to educate us to simply trust in Him.
Those who belong to the Father and the Son find rest in the knowledge of the omniscience of the great Shepherd. He knows His own sheep: He knows their names; He knows themselves. This truth is given for our comfort and direction also in 2 Timothy 2, as we have pointed out. There may be false doctrines taught, unrighteousness practised, and vessels of dishonour at hand, nevertheless “the Lord knows them that are His”; the foundation of God standeth sure. Therefore, in spite of others, the real are exhorted to follow that which is good “with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The pure or sincere heart in calling on the Lord characterizes the true sheep, and it is the Lord Himself upon whom they together call. Therefore let such be found in assembly around Him according to the Word of God. We cannot correct other’s mistakes, but surely the sheep can follow their Shepherd together instead of being hurdled off from one another or led astray by biased men.
Nor must we be hindered when some turn away to the mire of the world, for Scripture supposes this. They may have been washed in the waters of religion, figuratively speaking, and remain still unclean in their nature. The sheep are clean animals, but some are not sheep, they are unclean. 2 Peter 2:22 speaks of such turning back like a dog to his own unclean vomit, or like a washed sow to her rolling in the mud. These things are foretold so that we should not be deterred from going on together after our Lord Jesus Christ, growing in grace and in the knowledge of Himself, and finding all we need and more in Him, ever remembering that He knows His own perfectly. The foreknowledge of God overlooked none of the sheep of Christ. They were “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” and, indeed, they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). So perfect is the Divine knowledge of the flock, we read, “Whom He has foreknown, He has also predestinated to he conformed to the image of His Son, so that He should be the Firstborn among many brethren.” That is the end in view, for from eternity to eternity they are known to Him. “But,” this Scripture reads on, “whom He has predestinated these He has also called.” The time arrived when the call of grace reached each one, and that in an effectual manner.
From this time a work of Divine grace and power in the sheep gives them a nature and capability to know the great Shepherd, the Son of God. He said, “I know My sheep and am known of Mine.” How blessed this is. They know His voice and they know Himself. One could say, The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. The good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep, and they know Him. They know not the voice of strangers, and they do not follow them, for they have the Lord Jesus Christ to follow. Twice in John 10 He says, “I am the good Shepherd”. First in connection with laying down His life, and then as to what He is in Himself (John 11:14). Outwardly in His work, and inwardly in Himself, He is good. The sheep have tasted indeed that the Lord is good, and they know Him.
The character of this knowledge or intimacy is also exceedingly blessed, for the Lord Jesus said, “I know My sheep and am known of those that are Mine,” “as the Father knows Me and I know the Father” (N.Tr.). How wonderful! Of course this does not state the measure of the intimacy which exists between the sheep and the Shepherd, for they could never reach to the same measure that exists between the Father and the Son, nevertheless it is true that the same character of intimacy is theirs with Him. Great indeed are the grace and power and love which brought this about and made it known to us. To know the Son of God, the great and good Shepherd of the flock as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father! Who could have imagined such exalted blessedness?—yet so it is!—the sheep of His flock know Him thus! We might have said with one of old, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me! but His grace and power and love have produced by God’s Word and Spirit a nature in the sheep divinely fitted for this marvellous privilege. The knowledge of God’s things and God’s Word has a great place in the Bible, and the word “know” often occurs in John 10, but what can compare with that of which we have spoken?
Lord Jesus Christ, what grace is this,
Which gives our hearts to know
The Fountain of eternal love
Whence living waters flow?
The Father’s well beloved Son,
Wellspring of grace divine,
Thou giv’st our hearts to know Thyself
And we are ever Thine.
In closing may we not challenge our hearts and ask, Do we respond to the grace and love which have made us one with all the saints of God? Do we meet often in assembly with our fellow-members of the body of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the glorious Head? Do we flock together with the sheep of God’s pasture? Do we seek to be completely assembled together as the day of Christ’s return draws nigh? In simple words, Do we walk according to the truth that there is one body? Do we gather in the truth that there is but one flock? Do we put into practise the truth of the mystery that all the saints are “fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and joint-partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6)?