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THE NATURE AND CERTAINTY OF THE ETERNAL LIFE,
WHICH CHRIST GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE.
JOHN X. 27, 28, 29, 30.—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. 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
Father are one.
(Preached at Brechin, 2d March, 1800, in the evening after the
ALL intellectual operations, and almost all intellectual objects, are expressed by terms, which are literally applicable only to corporeal objects and operations. The sacred penmen, in treating of spiritual things, were not directed by the Holy Ghost to employ any other language than the received language of the time; and seldom, except when the novelty of the ideas absolutely required it, to adopt any new modes of speech. Accordingly, the blessings bestowed by God on men are generally represented by figures and allusions, chaste indeed, but pleasant to sense, and agreeable to the imagination.
The most delightful and expressive, and perhaps also the most frequent images of this kind, are
drawn from the pastoral life. Of this, the twentythird psalm is an instance, too well known not to occur to every one's recollection. Isaiah foretels of Christ, “ He shall feed his flock like a shephoherd."* And his compassionate attention to his people is described by his carrying the lambs in his bosom, and his gently leading those that are with young. Even in predicting his atoning death, Zechariah adheres to the same figure" Awake, “O sword, against my shepherd;"† to which passage our Lord himself perhaps alludes, when he says, “ the good shepherd giveth his life for the
sheep.”In the New Testament, besides the frequent use of this image by himself, he is spoken of by his apostles as “ the great shepherd of the
sheep,”S as “the chief shepherd,"|| as “the shep“herd and bishop of souls."
The simplicity, the meekness, the tendency to stray, the naturally defenceless condition, which distinguish the harmless flock; the tender care, the watchful foresight of the faithful shepherd, still interest every heart; and exhibit a pleasing repre . sentation of the relation between Christ and his people. To the Jews, the allusion was yet more striking and interesting. Their ancestors, the twelve patriarchs, were shepherds, both they and also " their fathers."** And David, the founder of the royal line of Judah, was taken from the sheep
folds.”++ The custom in Judea, which still prevails in the East, and even in some parts of our own country, of the shepherds not driving the flock, but going before them, to repel danger, and John X. II. 1 1 Peter v. 4.
** Gen. xlvii. 3. Zech. xii. 7. S Heb. xiii. 20. Ibid. xi. 25, tt Psalm lxxviii. 7
Isaiah xl. 11.
to point out the way, adds much beauty to the image. To this our Saviour refers in the text; and more particularly in the preceding part of the chapter: “ When he putteth forth his own sheep, “ he goeth 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."* Having made these remarks, with a view to il.. lustrate, in some degree, the sense, as well as to exhibit the beauty, and prove the propriety of the fia gurative language employed in the text, I have to observe, that there are, in the passage, three leading ideas which demand our attention.
I. Eternal life; the gift of Christ to his people.
II. The persons to whom eternal life is given; the sheep whom his Father
him. III. Their security for this inestimable blessing'; his own power, his Father's gift, and his Father's power.
And do thou, O chief Shepherd of the sheep, lead all who are called thy ministers, in the ways of truth; that none of the flock, which thou hast purchased with thine own blood, may, by our misguidance, be for one moment led astray.
1. Let us attend to " eternal life,” as the gift of the Saviour to his people.
Of this, that which is the first part, though mentioned last in the text, or that, at least, which is previously necessary to it, is, their preservation from perdition : “ They shall never perish;" or, as the emphatic terms of the original may be more exactly
* Psalm xxviii. 4, se
rendered, “ They shall not, by any means, perish s6 for ever.”
The word here translated perish, has various meanings in the New Testament; such as natural deaih, bodily decay, spiritual injury; and in general, any kind of weakness, misery, or destruction. Of these meanings there are but two, which will apply to it in the text; the sin or backsliding into which christians may fall in this life; and the eternal punishment appointed in the next, for the enemies of God. Of the first we have an instance in the epistle to the Romans: “ Destroy not,” says Paul, (in the Greek, cause not to perish,) “ him with thy
meat, for whom Christ died.”* Here, it is evident, that to perish, does not mean to perish eternally ; because then, in the case of the person supposed, Christ must have died in vain ;' but to fall into a temporary sin; to be led, by example, to do that which conscience disapproves. And, accordingly, it is afterwards expressed by offending, by stumbling, and being made weak. The second meaning, eternal perdition, is that, perhaps, which the term uniformly bears, when it is used in opposition to salvation, or eternal life. " The Son of “ man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth “ in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”+ “ The preaching of the cross is to them that perish, “ foolishness; but unto us, which are saved, it is “ the power of God.”I–Of these meanings, it is probably the last, that is intended in the text. Yet either of them will accord with the doctrine of the passage; and whichever we prefer, we shall find . Rom. xiv. 15.
John iii. 130
* 1 Cor, i, 18.
the promise expressed equivalent, and the comfort conveyed the same.
1. If we understand the term as referring to sins and backsliding, and so interpret the clause as an assurance that these shall not, by any means, continue for ever; what light in darkness, what hope in death, may the members of the flock derive from this? Their frames may vary; but their state is unchangeable. Their conduct they know is often foolish: they have to lament that frequently it is perverse; but their covenant relation to God and Christ remains unaltered. They are the sheep of Jesus: the sheep which his Father gave him; and they shall not be left for ever to wander after folly, or to transgress in perverseness. “ He, even He, “ will both search his sheep, and seek them “ out.”*_* He will heal their backslidings.”+ “ He will subdue their iniquities; and will cast all “their sins into the depths of the sea."! In the people of Christ, too, though not sinless, the vital principle of holiness still continues. Even when the adversary may seem to have overpowered them, they may exclaim, “ Rejoice not against me, o " mine enemy! When I fall, I shall arise."'S “ The “ seed of God remaineth in them; and they can“ not sin,” they cannot continue in sin, " because " they are born of God.”|| Their blossoms may sometimes be blasted, their leaves withered, and their fruit blown to the ground; nay, even their branches broken off; but the promise still stands sure, “ The root of the righteous shall not be " moved.”T And it is of the produce of this root
| Mic. vii. 19:
8 1 John iii. 9. # Hos. xiv. 4. $ Ibid. 8.
| Prov. xii. 3.
Ezek. xxxiv. II.