XIX. THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP.
[Lincoln's Inn, 3d Sunday after Trinity, June 8, 1856.]
St. John X. 27-29.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
A recent traveller in the Holy Land, who has looked on all its localities with honest and reverent eyes, and has enabled his readers to see them almost as clearly as himself, has suggested that the Mount of Olivet was the scene of the conversation, in which Jesus declared Himself as the Son of God to the man whose eyes He had opened. The man whom He had healed at the Pool of Bethesda He found in the Temple; but an excommunicated Israelite would not have been allowed to enter those precincts. If we suppose our Lord to have met him on that other ground which He visited so often, the interview may have been secret. And the words, 'For judgment am I come into the world,' which are so evident a commentary upon it, may have been addressed to persons, His disciples and others, whom He joined afterwards. Then it will appear how the concluding verses of the 9th chapter may have formed part of the same dialogue with the opening verses of the 10th, — how much closer a relation there is between them outwardly and inwardly than we at first perceive.
'And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, Are we blind also? Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you should have no sin: but now you say, We see; therefore your sin remains.'
These Pharisees may have fallen in by chance with Jesus and His disciples as they walked down the mount, or may have come expressly to catch Him in His words. They must have heard that He had spoken of blind leaders of the blind. They knew, at all events, that His strongest language had been directed against them, — the guides of the people, — those to whom the humble Israelites turned for light and teaching. The question, 'Are we blind also?' may have been asked in recollection of these former passages between them, or in mere scorn that a Galilæan who had learnt no letters should presume to judge them. The answer struck at the principle of the Pharisaic character. 'Alas! if you only felt that you were as blind as any of those whom you are professing to teach and show the right way, there would be no complaint to make of you. You would turn to the Source of light; you would allow the light that lighteth every man to illuminate you. "But now you say, We see." You are satisfied with the light that is in yourselves. You think that you have a light that does not belong to these poor wretches who know not the law. "Therefore your sin remains." You stumble, and you cause those whom you guide to stumble.'
If this conversation took place at eventide, on the slope of the hill, no spectacle (as the traveller to whom I have referred remarks) would be more likely to meet the eyes of our Lord and these Pharisees than that of a flock of sheep, gathered from the different pastures in which they had been wandering, and entering, one by one, through a little wicket-gate into their resting-place for the night, — the shepherd, as was and is the custom in that country, going through it before them, and leading them in. There may have been a pause after the words on which I have just commented, — then Jesus may have said, pointing to the sheepfold: 'Verily, verily, I say to you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.' As if He had said, 'Look there; see how that shepherd is behaving. The sheep are not going through one door, and he through another. Of any one who took another nearer way you would say at once, not, "He is doing so because he is a man and is wiser than the sheep," but simply, "He is not the shepherd; the sheep do not belong to him; he is come to steal them, and to kill them." The sign of the shepherd — that which the porter at the gate owns at once — is, that he goes with the sheep. But it is not only the porter that makes this distinction. The sheep know their own shepherd as well as he does. They do not in the least confound his voice with those of other men. Whether he is, as now, leading them in for the night, or leading them out in the morning, still it is the same. He knows each of them; each of them knows him. He leads them because he does not stand aloof from them.'
'This parable,' says St. John, 'Jesus spoke to them: but they understood not what things they were which He spoke to them.' They did not feel the application of it; they did not see what shepherds and sheepfolds had to do with them. They could hardly have given a greater proof how little they understood the things which were written in the books they prized most, — how their worship of the divine letter had destroyed all commerce between their minds and the realities which it is setting forth. For is not the Old Testament, from first to last, a book about shepherds? Was not Abraham a shepherd, — Moses a shepherd, — David a shepherd? Is not the shepherd of sheep, throughout, connected with the Shepherd of men? That name belongs to Greek poetry as much as to Hebrew; it is found as often in Homer as in Isaiah; it is the most universal and human of all emblems. But the Hebrew seers are the great and consistent expounders of it; they carry it from the lowest ground to the highest. 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,' is the song of the individual Israelite. 'He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather His lambs in His arms, and carry them in His bosom; and shall gently lead those that are with young,' contains the highest vision which the Prophet could see of the Divine care over his nation. And no applications of this language are so numerous as those which are directed against 'the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves, and will not feed the flock.'
These passages might have occurred to those who knew them so well as the Pharisees. But they were divine texts merely, — they never connected themselves with the sheep and the shepherds that wandered over the hills in their day. The sheep would sell for so much in the market; the shepherds were hired for so much by the day or the week. There was no other measure of their worth. Clever teachers might, perhaps, resort to them occasionally for rhetorical illustrations. Secular and vulgar things might be converted, as the phrase is, to the service of religion. But it would always be felt that they were in themselves secular and vulgar things. God had nothing to do with them till they had been reclaimed. Thus the faith that all creation is divine, — that all occupations are divine, — that God has written His mind and purpose both upon the natural and the civil order of the world, had disappeared. Men no longer walked the earth as a holy place, filled with the presence of their Lord God; it had become utterly separated from Him, — sold and sacrificed to Mammon. Then came the Son of Man, interpreting the world which He had made, and which knew Him not; drawing forth out of it treasures new and old; deciphering the hieroglyphics which wise men had perceived in every rock and cave, in every tree, and in every grain of sand; showing that in Himself was to be found the solution of that sphynx-riddle by which all ages had been tormented.
But even His parables might be turned to an evil use. It might be supposed that we can only reach the kingdom of heaven through the forms of earth; that they are not the likenesses of the invisible substances, but that the invisible substances are the likenesses of them. This danger is of such continual recurrence, it belongs so essentially to the idolatrous nature which is in us all, that it must have exhibited itself in the Christian Church before St. John wrote. Long allegories — which seem invented rather to hide the truth from common eyes than to bring it forth that it might be a possession for the wayfarer — began to be produced immediately after the apostolical age, if not within it. Nothing like them is to be found in this Gospel. Those parts of our Lord's teaching in which the parable was not used are brought into most prominence. Yet the parable is justified; all His acts are shown to be signs. And a proverb (παροιμία) is introduced here and there, which enables us to understand in what the worth of these natural likenesses consists, and how much the divine art which draws out the spiritual truth that is latent in them differs from the elaborate artifice of the allegorizer.
'Then said Jesus to them again, Verily, verily, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'
The formal interpreter of parables would at once decide, that the most important object in the picture which is presented to the eye, must represent Christ the Son of Man. The supposition is a natural one; perhaps it may ultimately prove to be true. But our Lord's first words seem to confute it. His conversation with the Pharisees leads Him to speak of the gate through which both the sheep and the shepherd enter into the fold, before He speaks of the shepherd. And that gate, He says, is Himself. All kings, prophets, priests, teachers, had brought light and life into the minds of men, — had served to bind men into one, — just so far as they had confessed a light and life from which theirs was derived, just so far as they had identified themselves with the people. And all that had come claiming to be the sources of life and light, — to have an independent authority, — to have a right to rule, because they were in themselves stronger, or wiser, or better than others, had been thieves and robbers, the tyrants and destroyers of the earth. There is no commentary on history, the history of the whole world, ancient and modern, so grand as this, — so perfectly able to abide the test of facts. Every prophet, and monarch, and priest of the Jews brought strength and freedom into his land, while he was the witness of an invisible Prophet, and Monarch, and Priest higher than himself, living then, one day to be made manifest. Every prophet, monarch, and priest was the cause of superstition, idolatry, and slavery to his land, when he exalted himself, — when he strove to prove that he had some rights of his own which were not conferred on him for the sake of his race, — which were not conferred that he might be a witness of the glory belonging to his race.
If we read Pagan history and literature by the light of Scripture, we should find abundance of proofs that the maxim is equally true and satisfactory with reference to them; that every Greek or Roman patriot and sage, whom we ought to love, and whom only a heartless, atheistical religion can hinder us from loving, did good and was good, so far as he did not seek his own glory, — so far as he did not attribute his wisdom and power to himself, — so far as he was in communion, amidst whatever confusions, with the Light that lightens every man; and that every oppressor and invader of freedom, whose character it is our duty to hate, was so because he came in his own name, claiming to be a king, a Christ, a god. With tenfold momentum do the words bear upon the ages since the incarnation, and declare to every priest, pope, emperor, philosopher, and master of a sect or school, — 'In so far as you have assumed to be the Son of Man, — in so far as you have set yourself to be something when you art nothing, — in so far as you have claimed to have light, which has not come from the Fountain of light, — and power, which is not imparted by the righteous Power, — so far you have been a thief and a robber, caring for nothing but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.'
But if in this sense it is true now, and has been true always, that Christ is the only Door through which any man enters, whose designs towards human beings are good and not murderous; can it be equally true that 'the sheep did not hear' the voices of false prophets, of usurping tyrants, who climbed up some other way? How then have they prevailed so mightily? Dare we say that no true men have given heed to them? Dare we judge all that have yielded to impostors, — all that have welcomed them as deliverers? Shall we not certainly be judged if we do?
Assuredly we shall. And, therefore, let us proceed to judge ourselves first, and at once. We have listened to impostors, — have we not? We have been beguiled by men who we thought were to give us life, and really took life from us. Well, but was there nothing in us which refused to hear these teachers, — to follow these guides? Was there no inward protest against them? Where some strong external evidence, some evil fruits in ourselves, showed that a pernicious juice had issued from the tree, did we not feel that we might have known it before — that if we had been true to the light which was shining into us, we should have known it? And, even when the enchantment was strongest upon us, was there no crying for another guide, — no bleating after a better shepherd? Here, then, is the confirmation of our Lord's sentence; we need go no further to understand what He means. Something in us did follow the strange voice, but the sheep — the true man in us — did not. That could make no answer to the counterfeit voice; that detected the thief in the shepherd's dress; that was certain that there must be one who had a right to command, and whom it could obey.
I say again, this sheep is the 'true man in us.' Each of us in himself knows that it is; we may know it also by the echo which the history of our race makes to the witness in our consciences. Why have the oppressors of mankind been so short-lived? How is it that, though there may be a succession of lies, each lie wears itself out in a generation, — in much less than a generation? How is it that what seems for a while the weakest possible testimony against it waxes stronger and louder, till at last the world gives into it, and the lie and the liar are indignantly trampled underfoot? How is it, but because the spirit of humanity does not and cannot hear the voices of those who break into the fold by the wrong way? How is it, but because all their temporary power is only derived from the tones of the true Shepherd, which they are able to mimic? How is it, but because they bear witness, by their reign and by their downfal, that they do not rule the earth, and that He does?
Yes, brethren, 'He who comes, that His sheep might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,' does not teach us to talk of ourselves as His sheep, and of other men as having no part in Him. This is the teaching of robbers and destroyers, — of those who would sever us from our kind, — of those who would persuade us that it is a privilege to have a selfish, separate life, — to have selfish, separate rewards. This selfish, separate life is what Christ promises to save us from. The wide, free pastures into which He would lead us, are those upon which we can only graze, because we are portions of a flock; the fold into which He would bring us is for those whom He has redeemed from their separate errings and strayings to rest together in Him. We cannot, therefore, make a more deadly misapplication of this discourse, than when we turn it into an excuse for drawing lines of separation between those for whom Christ has died. While we draw these lines, we never shall discover the deep line in ourselves between that which can only follow the Deliverer, and that which can only follow the destroyer.
'I am the good Shepherd: the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep.'
You will say, 'The image is changed. Christ was the wicket-gate; but now He has become the person who passes through that gate.' Yes, and if you have followed the course of the thought; if you have seen why He is described as the door through which shepherd and sheep must enter in, — why the shepherds of Israel are reproved when they will not pass through that door, — you will see the necessity of the double image. You will feel that He whom all shepherds are bound to acknowledge, if they would have the sheep hear them, must be Himself, in the highest sense, the Shepherd. And the test that He is this Shepherd, explains the perpetual worth and significance of the other symbol. 'He gives His life for the sheep.' The false shepherds wish to find out a way for themselves, which is not the way that the sheep take. They do not like the thought of stooping — beings of another and higher race as they are — to the conditions of these silly creatures. He identifies Himself with them. They have to die. He dies. That is the first and obvious view of the sentence; and it is the one to which we come back at last, as the deepest and most wonderful of all. But before we can take it in its full force, we must recal the old sentence, 'In Him was life;' and the other which He has just uttered, 'I am come that they might have life more abundantly.' The property of death is, that it is solitary and incommunicable; the property of life is, that it must be communicated, — that from him in whom it dwells most it must be poured forth most. He in whom the source of life is, from whom all the streams of it have issued, comes into the world to encounter death, which appears to have got the mastery, — to claim them whom He has created capable of life, for life. But how can He give life? How can He overcome death? He must give up life. He must die. The highest life is the life that sacrifices itself. All older shepherds had shown that it was. For their country and their brethren they had poured out their life; that men had received as the proof that they were from God, — that they were quickened by Him. The good Shepherd, the Shepherd of shepherds, justifies the belief. He shows that they had done what they did by inspiration from Him. He shows that, in this instance also, — in this instance especially, — they were receiving of His fulness, and grace for grace. The Word takes flesh and blood, because the children are partakers of flesh and blood. The Shepherd dies, because the sheep die.
Thus, the doctrine which He has been preaching to the Pharisees is brought out in all its power. They claimed to be shepherds of the people, because they were above them, — because they did not share their weakness and blindness. His claim to be the Shepherd of the people was, that He would not be above them; that He would bear what they bore, and sink as low as they had sunk. And this not from some great effort, — in virtue of some arrangement, — but because He had the most intimate and original sympathy with them, because they had always been His, and because He had made Himself one with them in all things. This is the contrast which He draws between the good shepherd and the hireling. The one shepherd does his work because he looks to be paid for it. He feels altogether aloof from his sheep. He regards them as beings of a different nature from his own. He is to be very great and condescending to them. He is to fold them carefully at night, — to do all needful services for them by day; not because he cares for them, but because he has sold his work for so much, and he may lose his wages if he commits any serious oversight. And this motive serves him well enough till some great danger threatens the sheep, till the wolf breaks into the fold. Then the hireling feels rightly that life is more precious than money; it is wiser to lose his pay than to run the risk of being devoured.
From whom do these hireling shepherds expect their wages? I do not think it signifies much whether they expect them from man or from God, — in this world or in another. The temper is the same; the result which our Lord prophesies must be the same. For he who does his work in hope of getting a reward hereafter for what he has done, will, in general, regard God as an uncertain, capricious Being, whom it is very hard to please, who may punish as well as reward. Therefore he will pause before he will risk death for the sake of his work. Death may bring him into the presence of the Being whom he dreads. Death may surprise him before he has done all that he ought to have done. If there is nothing better in us than this expectation, we shall never throw away ourselves as soldiers do on the battle-field; we shall, perhaps, give ourselves credit for being better and holier than they are, because we do not.
But are we not to serve the sheep from a sense of duty to God? Are we only to serve them from certain feelings of affection for them? Let us hear what our Lord tells us of Himself, then we shall know better what we are to be.
'I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.'
There are heights and depths in these verses which no man may look into; but the principle which is declared in them is needful for the daily practice of life, profound as it is. Christ declares that He knows His sheep. He opposes this knowledge to the motives and feelings of the hireling. Let us think of these. We can describe them to you; for, brethren, which of us may not say, — should not say, — in dust and ashes: 'They have been mine. I have felt cold and estranged from those I was seeking to guide; out of communion with their fears, their sorrows, their doubts, their temptations; ready to reprove the rich for being rich, and the poor for being poor, the tradesman for his basenesses, the lawyer for his; ready to condemn all the sins which I had no mind to commit; but not knowing them individually, not bearing their burdens, not feeling them as my own. And, therefore, when the wolf has come, which is always ready to divide the flock, — to rend them from each other, — to take away the life that should unite them, — I have not been ready to encounter him. How much less should I have been ready if he had come in the form of some terrible persecution, scattering them here and there!' We know the hireling's mind all too well; that we do not learn from report. And oh! that we might understand something of that other mind which is opposed to it, — of that which is expressed in the words, 'I know my sheep, and am known of mine!' If you would think rightly of the Son of Man, think of the Person who knows thoroughly everything that each one of you is feeling, and cannot utter to others or to himself, — every temptation from riches, from poverty, from solitude, from society, from gifts of intellect, from the want of them, from the gladness of the spirit, from the barrenness and dreariness of it, from the warmth of affection and from the drying up of affection, from the anguish of doubt and the dulness of indifference, from the whirlwind of passion and the calm which succeeds it, from the vile thoughts which spring out of fleshly appetites and indulgences, from the darker, more terrible, suggestions which are presented to the inner will. Believe that He knows all these, that He knows you. And then believe this also, that all He knows is through intense, inmost sympathy, not with the evil that is assaulting you, but with you who are assaulted by it. Believe that knowledge, in this the Scriptural sense of it, — the human as well as the divine sense of it, — is absolutely inseparable from sympathy.
But it is added, and 'am known of mine.' I am sure we should fix our minds upon those words which express His knowledge before we come to these, else they will either drive us to despair, or lead us to great presumption. When we have done this, we may say that the highest knowledge of Christ which any, the holiest, man, has attained, — that which we attribute to an à Kempis or to a Leighton, — is what is meant for the sheep of Christ, — their proper characteristic. But having said this, we should also say that every apprehension, which any man struggling with ever so much of evil, ever so much overcome by it, has of a higher and better life, of a Divine Teacher and Reprover, is part of this knowledge, — is in kind like theirs. We should say that to be absolutely without this knowledge is a dreadful possibility, which is threatening every one of us, — which those who are most occupied with divine mysteries must often feel to be near to themselves — but which is a reprobate condition, one into which we have no right to suppose that any person has sunk, so long as he has any perception of that which is good and true, — any, the faintest, desire to lay hold of it. Truly, the voice of him who was a liar and murderer from the beginning is speaking to us and in us all, — is tempting us all down into death. But the voice of the true Shepherd is also speaking to us, inviting us, claiming us as His sheep. And there is not one who has not at times heard that voice, — who has not been sure that he had a right to follow it, and that no man or devil had a right to say, 'You are not His; you have not a claim on Him; and He does not desire you to follow Him.'
Brethren, if shepherds and sheep made more of an effort to understand each other, — if the shepherds were more sure that they could enter into all that is drawing the sheep astray, because the same evil is in themselves, — if the sheep thought that they might give the shepherds credit for knowing all that is worst in them, not as judges, but as fellow-sinners and fellow-sufferers, — we should each and all of us have more communion with the Chief Shepherd. Those who guide would be driven, by the sense of their own ignorance and coldness, to seek for light and warmth from Him; those who are guided would feel that the pastor on earth did not intercept their communication with the heavenly Pastor, but existed to show them what He is, and how near He is to them. All has gone wrong in ourselves from our losing this fellowship with each other, — from our forgetting that the Highest of all was the lowest of all, — that He proved His right to rule us by becoming one of us, and one with us.
And yet there is a deeper error still at the root of our selfishness and want of sympathy. We do not confess the ground of Christ's own sympathy, of His own sacrifice. He declares to us here that His knowledge of the sheep, and the knowledge which the sheep have of Him, rests upon the Father's knowledge of Him and His knowledge of the Father. He has been telling us the same thing in previous discourses. This union of the Father with the Son, — this dependence of the Son upon the Father, — has been the mystery which the whole Gospel has been discovering to us. Those words, in which He tells us that this relation is at the basis of our relation to Him and to each other, — of all our social and spiritual sympathies, — do but carry us one step further in the revelation. Those words, in which He tells us that He lays down His life for the sheep, because He is one with His Father, do but bring out more fully that love of the Father, of which His life and death were testimonies; a love to which He yielded Himself in simple obedience, when He gave the greatest proof He could give of love to the sheep.
This is the answer to the question which was asked before, whether duty to God is not as good and powerful a motive as love to man? Yes, brethren, a more powerful motive, a deeper and safer ground to stand upon, if we accept what our Lord says here. He boasts of no love to man as dwelling in Himself, — it is all derived from His Father. He merely submits to His will, merely fulfils it. And because that will is a will of absolute love, the mere submission to it, — the mere consenting that it should be accomplished upon Him and in Him, — involved the most perfect love to men, — the most entire communion with them, — the dying for them. He says this expressly in the 17th and 18th verses, though there is one interposed between them and that which I last quoted, which it would be shameful indeed to pass over. 'And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.'
Our translators have carelessly substituted fold for flock in the last clause of the first of these verses. But most readers, I think, have of themselves restored the true reading, and perceived that the Gentiles were not to be brought into the Jewish fold, but to form one flock with the Jews after the temporary enclosure of their fold had been broken down. Perhaps they have been more puzzled to understand why what we describe as the calling in of the Gentiles should be spoken of in connection with Christ's laying down His life. The second, modern theology represents as an event necessary for the salvation of individual men; the first, as an event connected with the outward economy of the world. And so, modern theology is out of harmony with the language of the Scriptures to which it appeals. For that represents the death of Christ as the uniting power which breaks down the barrier between man and man, — as the deliverance of each man from the selfishness which sets him apart from his fellows, and apart from His Father in heaven. If it is this, it is surely nothing strange to speak of the union of the two different classes into which the world was divided as the mighty effect of the death of Christ. If it is this, the calling in of the Gentiles belongs not to outward history, but to the most inward and spiritual part of God's dispensation. The recognition of Christ's other sheep as His sheep, — the acknowledgment of the heathen as having been always His, no less than those who had been called out to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, — was the mightiest witness that the Brother and Lord of man had met the wolf who was destroying the fold, had redeemed all from death by sharing their death.
It was the witness, too, of that other profound truth which the 17th verse announces, that there was a Man in whom the Father was perfectly satisfied, and that the ground of His satisfaction was that this Man entirely loved men — entirely gave Himself up for men. He could be satisfied with nothing less than this; for nothing less than this was the expression of His own mind and will. In no act of less love than this could His love declare itself. The thought is so wonderful, the mystery is so deep, that men have shrunk from it as incredible, and have invented any reason to account for Christ's death but that which He gives Himself. That an entirely voluntary act should be yet the fulfilment of a commandment, — that the highest power of giving away life and taking it should be realized in the most perfect obedience; this idea clashes so much with our natural pride and self-glorification, that we would rather think Christ died because He was not one with the Father, — that it was not the Father's love that was satisfied, but His wrath and fury, — than accept a statement which shows us that His thoughts are not as our thoughts or His ways as our ways; that He is not made after our image, though He would have us conformed to His. But seeing that all our morality, all our relations to one another, depend upon the question, what He is and what He has made us to be, we must ask for strength to cast away the schemes and theories of man's devising, and to receive simply, as little children, the teaching of Him who is the brightness of the Father's glory, our Brother and our Judge.
'There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He has a devil, and is mad; why hear you Him? Others said, These are not the words of him that has a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?'
I do not know whether the Jews who held these different opinions were the Pharisees to whom He originally spoke, or whether His sayings were reported to those who were gathered at the feast of Dedication. The opinions themselves are exactly what one would expect that such sayings would call forth. 'How can you listen to a madman, a demoniac, who says that He shall lay down His life and take it again, — who denounces our teachers, and calls Himself the good Shepherd?' This is the language of the respectable citizen of Jerusalem, the representative of the feeling of the Jewish religious world. 'But do we not want a Shepherd who shall guide us to something better? Are we satisfied with our present state? May not He who can give sight to the blind be the Light of men, as He says that He is?' These would be the cautious suggestions of those in whom some cravings had been awakened, which the teachers of the day could not stifle.
We may suppose that the former party would press this argument upon the others; 'But if He is the Christ, why has He not courage to call Himself by that name? Why does He adopt these phrases, "Shepherd," "Light of the world," "Son of Man," which we do not understand, instead of that with which we are familiar, the purport of which we know?' Of some such suggestion the question in the following verses may have been the fruit: 'And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch. Then came the Jews round about Him, and said to Him, How long do you make us to doubt? If you be the Christ, tell us plainly.' The demand seemed most reasonable, 'Tell us plainly.' What an honest sound there is in those words! What can be better than plain speaking? Why should He who denounced all lies have shrunk from it? The question is not a new one. To have said, 'I am the Christ,' would have been to deceive them, unless He showed them what the Christ was, unless He made them understand that He was in nearly all respects unlike the Christ they had imagined for themselves. 'May we not then, after His example, avoid direct answers? May we not use expressions which people call ambiguous?' Yes, if the answers we give are more perilous to ourselves than those we avoid, as His were; if the expressions that are called ambiguous bring the hearers more face to face with facts, than those which are called straight. This is our Lord's example. Let all who dare follow it.
'Jesus answered them, I told you, and you believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But you believe not, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.'
He had told them that He had come from the Father; He had testified by acts what His Father was. He had shown them that the Father was working for them on common days and Sabbath-days to bless them. This act had begotten no faith in them; would the words, 'I am the Christ,' beget faith in them? Neither words nor acts, so long as they were not seeking as sheep for the true Shepherd. He had said to them before, that instead of looking for a shepherd who should point the way to them and the humblest Israelite, — who should fold them together, — they were aspiring to be independent shepherds; they were refusing to enter by the same door as the sheep. Those who were sheep, — those who needed a shepherd, — would own His voice. They did not want Him to tell them that He was the Christ. A sure and divine instinct would tell them, that He who gave up Himself, He who entered into their death, must be the guide they were created to follow, — that there could be no other. And He would justify their confidence. They were longing for life, — for the life of spirits, — for the life of God; nothing less would satisfy them. He would give them that life, — that eternal life of love, in which He had dwelt with the Father. They were surrounded by enemies who were seeking to rob them of life, to draw them into death. He was stronger than these enemies. They should not perish; neither man nor devil should take them out of His hands. The eternal will which He came to fulfil was on their side. The Father who gave them to Him was greater than all. Those who were seeking to separate them from their Lord and Shepherd were at war with this Father; for He had owned them, they were His.
To this mighty declaration all His discourse concerning the sheep and the shepherd has been tending; but at the ground of it lies a mightier still: 'I and my Father are one.' All that He has been teaching is without foundation, if it has not this foundation. The unity of the Father and the Son is the only ground of the unity between the shepherd and the sheep; undermine one, and you undermine both. And when I say this, I mean you undermine all unity among men, all the order and principles of human society. For if these do not rest upon certain temporary conventions; if they have not been devised to facilitate the exchange of commodities, and the operations of the money market; if there is not a lie at the root of all fellowship and all government, which will be detected one day, and which popular rage or the swords of armed men will cut in pieces; — we must recognise, at last, the spiritual constitution of men in one Head and Shepherd, who rules those wills which every other power has failed and shall fail to rule. We must recognise it. The existence of a Christendom either means this, — either affirms that such a constitution is, and that national unity and family unity imply it, and depend upon it; — or it means nothing, and will dissolve into a collection of sects and parties, which will become so intolerable to men, and so hateful to God, that He will sweep them from His earth. Do you think sects would last now for an hour, if there was not in the heart of each of them a witness for a fellowship, which combinations and shibboleths did not create, and which, thanks be to God, they cannot destroy? The true Shepherd makes His voice to be heard, through all the noise and clatter of earthly shepherds; the sheep hear that voice, and know that it is calling them to follow Him into a common fold where all may rest and dwell together. And when once they understand that still deeper message which He is uttering here, and which the old creeds of Christendom are repeating to us, 'I and my Father are one;' whenever they understand that the unity of the Church and the unity of mankind depends on this eternal distinction and unity in God Himself, and not upon the authority or decrees of any mortal pastor, the sects will crumble to pieces, and there will be, in very deed, 'one flock and one Shepherd.'
But, that we may enter thoroughly and deeply into the meaning of these words, we should meditate earnestly upon those which followed them, those especially in which our Lord justified what the Jews declared to be blasphemy. 'Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do you stone me? The Jews answered Him, saying, For a good work we stone you not; but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, makest yourself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, You are gods? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say you of Him, whom the Father has sanctified, and sent into the world, You blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works: that you may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in Him.'
We are eager to quote these words of Jesus, as a proof that He is God. I fear that, very often, we only mean, that He took to Himself the name of God. We associate with that name a certain idea of power and absoluteness; we believe that He vindicated that power and absoluteness to Himself. No, brethren. He came — if we may believe His own words — to show us what God is; to deliver us from our crude, earthly, dark notions of Him; to prevent us from identifying His nature with mere power and sovereignty, as the heathens did, as the Jews in that day were doing. He came to show us the Father. Instead, therefore, of eagerly grasping at the divine name, and appropriating it to Himself, the method which He takes of proving His unity with the Father is, to humble Himself, to identify Himself with men, to refuse to be separate from them. 'You charge me with calling myself God. "But did not he call them gods, to whom the word of God came?"' We are startled at the defence. We ask ourselves whether He was not abandoning the very claim which He had put forward; whether He was not allowing others to share the incommunicable glory with Him? No! but He was showing that a dignity and a glory had been put upon men by the word of God itself, which proved that there must be a Son of Man who was indeed the Son of God.
It was not only heathen sages who had spoken of man's divine faculties, divine origin, divine destiny. The Scriptures had called those whom God had set over men, gods. Psalmists, who were most jealous for the honour of Jehovah, had not feared to use the language. Prophets could not maintain the truth of their own mission — could not declare that the word of God was speaking by them and in them — without falling into it. There was the greatest peril of men becoming Lucifers, — of their setting themselves up in the place of God. It is the very danger of which Christ has been speaking in this discourse, — the temptation into which kings, prophets, priests, — even teachers who pretended to no inspiration, who merely stood on the ground of their traditional greatness, or of men's preference for them, — had fallen. Nor was there any deliverance from such pretensions, and from the robberies and murders which were the consequence of them, unless One came who did not exalt Himself, who did the works of His Father, who simply glorified Him. Such a One could justify all the high words that had ever been spoken of our race, and yet could lay low the pride of those who had aspired to be the lords of it. He could show what the true man is; and, in doing so, could show what the true God is. By putting Himself into the position of the lowest of the sheep, by enduring the death to which each one of the sheep had been subjected, He could prove that the glory of man is to serve; He could show that the true sons of God had been the true servants of men; He could show that the perfect servant of all must be the Son of God. All titles, honours, dignities among men, had derived their virtue and efficacy from Him. Their virtue and efficacy lay in His Sonship. He was content to be a Son, to be nothing else than a Son. So He showed forth His eternal consubstantial union with the Father. If God is merely absolute Power, then all this Christian theology is a dream and a falsehood, — then there is no Son of God or Son of Man, in any real sense of the words. But if God is absolute Love, then He who died for the sheep must be His perfect image and likeness, the 'only-begotten, full of grace and truth;' then to separate Him from the Father, to seek for the Father in any but Him, must lead to the denial of both, ultimately to the glorification of an evil spirit, a being of absolute selfishness, in place of both. From which frightful consummation, brethren, may the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the one God, whose name is Love, preserve us and His whole Church!
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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