The Fold and the Flock; or, Judaism and Christianity Contrasted.
THE spiritual nature of the present dispensation, the character of the worship of the Father in Spirit and in truth, characteristic of "the hour that now is," ought to be a matter of earnest, intelligent inquiry to every believer.
In my intercourse with the children of God, I have observed how very feeble is the apprehension of the distinctive features of the present method of Divine wisdom with the children of men. Sure I am, that we are living through grace in the most wonderful and glorious period of the world's history, when believers are called into the enjoyment of the substance and reality of all that which had previously been known only in outward forms and carnal ordinances, or dimly shadowed forth by signs and symbols and mysterious types.
The two parables of the tenth of John, bring before us in strong relief upon the background of a past dispensation, the nature of Christianity. Their teaching, clusters around the presentation of the Son of God in His shepherd character. We observe a development in the truth. In verse 7, He is "the Door of the sheep," the way of entrance into the new and better order of Christianity. In verse 11, He wins our confidence, and draws our affections as "the Good Shepherd"; while in verse 16, He is "the One Shepherd" to the "One flock." It is a question of unity—John's way of expressing the Pauline revelation of the truth of the "ecclesia"—"there is one body and one spirit" (Eph. iv. 4).
In the first parable (verses 1-5), the Lord commends this Messianic character, and wins the confidence of His Jewish sheep. The "fold" is Judaism, that divine system of ordinances on the earth, by means of which a whole nation was separated from the rest of the world. Both Judaism and Christianity insists on separation. But the separation of the "fold" is by means of an outward wall, while the separation of the "flock" is by means of the power of divine life within, refusing to mingle with anything contrary to the holiness and purity of its heavenly nature.
Now, among that isolated nation, the Lord had those whom He called "His own" (verse 3) —peculiarly so—as the nation as such had forfeited its title to be "His own" (John i. 11), by their refusal of the Messiah. The Lord would enter the Jewish fold, in order to bring "His own sheep" out of it. He had no other business with "the fold," as such. He did not enter it to repair its breaches and improve its state; to make it a more tolerable place of abode for His sheep there. He was not a mere Jewish reformer, as the many moderns style Him. His business was with the sheep alone.
And thus approaching them, He reached them in a legitimate way. He entered in by "the door," and did not, as the pseudo-Messiahs, climb up some other way. How often has the opening sentence of the parable been used as a Gospel text, as if "the sheepfold" were heaven, or salvation, and climbing up "some other way" attempting to reach heaven or gain salvation on the ground of creature merit, and not as a divine gift. But such is clearly not its teaching. The Lord was made of a woman, made under the law (Gal. iv. 4-5), to redeem them that were under the law, that thus the place and the Spirit of sons might be theirs. And thus He submitted to every divine requirement, and expressed publicly how becoming it was to "fulfil all righteousness," as He went beneath the waters of Jordan in the baptismal rite.
Thus "the porter" opened the door to Him. The porter's business was to guard the sheep during the Shepherd's absence, and to keep every unauthorized person out of the fold as an intruder. This was the special charge committed to "the prophet" in Israel; the prophetic institution finding its last and greatest representative in John the Baptist. Of those born of women, none were greater than he, for of none other was it written that he was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.
The prophet was raised up, upon the failure of the priest. The priest was "the regular" and "the official" mouthpiece of Jehovah to the people; but when the dying priestess pronounced "Ichabod" upon the nation in the spirit of prophecy, "the glory is departed," for the guilt of the priests had made the ark a captive of the uncircumcised. God took the child Samuel as the beginning of a regular line of prophets, which, with but brief intervals, continued in Israel until the Baptist announced, "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
This explains the almost constant rivalry and jealousy between the two institutions in Israel. "The priest," representing the established and orthodox; "the prophet," the apparently irregular and independent. God's resource in a day of ruin and departure, and God's mouthpiece of the glad tidings of a better and brighter day dawning for both Israel and the whole world, in the advent of their Messiah-King. "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" was the scathing accusation of the martyr Stephen—and the priests were often the abettors and ringleaders, as they were at the finish, when the Christ was slain.
When John the Baptist saw the heavens opening upon the Son of God, who was he, to keep the door of the sheepfold shut to Him? He pointed Him out as the expected One of prophecy and was glad to see even his own converts leaving him to follow Jesus, the "Lamb of God."
How, and by what means the sheep came to recognize Him, and to attach themselves to Him, as the new and divine centre of gathering, we hope to look into, if the Lord will, in our next paper.
TO Him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear His voice." Not by His wonderful miracles was the Messiah recognized, but by the voice of heavenly music heard by the inner ear divinely opened.
The testimony of the miracles was valuable as confirming faith but was never intended as the basis of attachment to Christ. When many believed on His Name at Jerusalem when they saw the miracles which He did, Jesus did not commit Himself to them, for He knew the true state of all by divine omniscience. Thus, Nicodemus, who owned Him as a teacher sent from God, because of His miracles, was given to understand that "the Kingdom of God" was beyond his spiritual eyesight so long as he remained a stranger to the greater miracle of the Holy Ghost in the soul of man, the new birth (John ii. 23 to iii. 3).
The sheep, called "His own," heard His voice, found refreshment in His ministry, and abandoned themselves to the safe guidance of that voice. His ministry of teaching might astonish the multitude, for He spake as one having authority and not as the scribes, and it might even gain momentary applause, because of the gracious words which came out of His lips, but the Shepherd's voice is a much deeper thing. That can only be heard by the ear of the soul, and in order to that, a deep work of God is necessary. Without that, the accents of that voice of melody and tenderness will fall in vain upon the sinner's ear. When many apparent disciples stumbled over His "hard sayings," those very difficulties were "the words of eternal life" to the true sheep, and they knew they could hear them nowhere else (compare John vi. 60 with 68). Simon Peter was thus a sample sheep. What flesh and blood could not have shown him, the Father's work in his soul had "revealed." The lowly carpenter from Nazareth, was to His divinely illuminated soul, "the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Conversion is not the result of some clever trick played by "the evangelist," nor is it even the result of believing some "text." The inward knowledge of divine things no man can communicate to another, and even the Scriptures in themselves are not enough. The Jews had the Scriptures and searched them well, yet found not eternal life in them. No one knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. The Scriptures point me to the Son in whom the life is, and who alone knows the Father. The work of God in my soul brings me to the Son, and hearing Him, the Father is revealed. God thus becomes known. The light of life has chased out of the soul, the darkness of death. When the Shepherd entered His fold, He was recognized only by those divinely wrought upon. There were the Simeons, Elizabeths, Annas, and obscure shepherds on the fields; afterwards those who bowed beneath the solemn messages of the Baptist and submitted to have all their religious pretenses buried beneath the baptismal waters of Jordan. They were the sheep to whom the voice of the Shepherd was clear and distinct, vibrating through their divinely prepared souls. They looked beneath His outward poverty and the lowliness of His manifestation. They had heard "the voice."
And where did that voice lead them to? As they followed it, a step at a time, sure that it would not misdirect them, as the strange guide they instinctively shrunk from would, they at last found themselves outside their traditional fold. The voice had led them outside the camp.
The voice of the gentle Shepherd had more weight over their consciences than all the learning of the Scribes and Pharisees, and all the authority of a dead priestcraft. The prophet greater than Moses was in the land, and they would hearken to Him alone now. The law was given by the first, but grace and truth came by the second. The "Come and see" of the Lamb of God drew them on and on, until Judaism, with all its time-honoured institutions and its ancient glory, was left behind. That which had captivated their hearts once, had lost its magic spell, because of the wondrous beauty and harmony of the Shepherd's tender voice, heard in the silent depth of their inward souls.
That voice is still heard to-day. "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice" (verse 16). It is a "still small voice." But where the heart has learned the secret of becoming still, it will make itself heard. Above the confused noises of martial preparation in the armed camps of Europe, above the bitter wail of our crowded cities, as well as where the unspeakable groan of dark despair is wrung from heathen lands, the gentle Shepherd goes from heart to heart and causes it to hear His voice of peace and love.
Jesus is our Shepherd, wiping every tear,
Folded in His bosom, what have we to fear?
Only let us follow whither He doth lead,
To the thirsty desert, or the dewy mead.
What following that voice brings the sheep into, we shall try and gather up from the 10th of John, in our next paper.
"I AM the Door of the sheep." In these words does the Shepherd present Himself before His own, as the door of entrance into the new order of things on the earth, which we style "Christianity." This last is not to be confounded with "Christendom." That is, alas! what man has made of Christianity; mixing the heavenly truths of Christianity, with the earthly principles of Judaism and the heathenish practices of Gentilism.
Christ, then, becomes the door into a new and heavenly sphere of blessing on the earth. His Cross closed the old order; His resurrection began the new. Moses and Elias contemplated on the Mount of Transfiguration, the near approach of the dissolution of that religious system, the pillars of which they had been, as they talked with the glorified Man of His decease or "exodus," which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. For by death, He finally closed all connection with the "old covenant" order. When He resumes "official" dealings with the Jewish nation, it will be on the ground of the "new" and "everlasting" covenant, ratified in His blood, and witnessed unto in His resurrection from the dead (Heb. xiii. 20).
In the meantime, He becomes the way of entrance into blessings surpassing the best the fathers had in "the fold." He speaks of salvation, liberty, satisfaction, life, and that "abundantly"; intimacy of communion, and, in final preservation, the guarantee of the sheep being kept from ultimate apostasy, whatever their backslidings may have been (see verses 9, 10, 14, 28, 29). These are essentially Christian privileges, impossible under the law, and they are enjoyed on the other side of the Shepherd's death and resurrection. The new order is not an improvement of the old. Not a stick or stone of the former building enters into the new. It is a new creation, where all things are of God, and where never an element of decay can intrude. And what is so wonderful here, is the blessed thought that the door is open for "any man" to enter; the far-off Gentile is sure of the same welcome as the Hebrew sheep now liberated from the ancient fold.
But here a word is necessary. The whole company of the ransomed, here regarded as the Rock of Christ, is indeed brought into this place of blessing and unspeakably precious privileges, but it is quite another matter whether these privileges are actually enjoyed by the sheep as divine realities. I am now, through grace, in the place where they are reckoned as mine. I can survey the whole range of redemption and resurrection blessings and call them mine. The youngest and feeblest sheep can. But in order to enjoyment, I must be disciplined and exercised to "lay hold" on them one by one.
Ah! we have talked loudly of our wealth "in Christ," and have taken stock of our heritage, which shall never fade away. But has there not been a danger of looking at Christianity more in the light of a religious science to be mastered, than as a divine experience to be enjoyed? And is not this the very charge against Laodicea? (see Rev. iii. 17).
And here it is well to pause awhile for still further investigations. I should like to make a remark or two concerning the ministry of the apostle John. Its inwardness, if I may use the term, has struck me much. He writes as one to whose eyes, not only the Jewish nation and the Gentile world, but also the professing Church, is "in ruins." He lived to see it. He never mentions "the Church," except as fallen and still falling into deeper depths; yea, into Babylon filthiness; or as the hotbed of clerical assumptions, with the aged John himself outside, as in his third Epistle.
It is striking to notice the absence of "ordinances" in His teaching. If we had John's writings alone, we would not know there was such a thing as baptism or the memorial supper. He lived to see the rise, and sketched out the progress, and predicted the final doom of that system of ritual, blossoming into the sacerdotalism of the "catholic" church. In view of the abuse of ordinances, He is silent as to them. But he constantly presses upon believers the importance of having "within" them the things themselves, of which the ordinances are objective types. Inward experience is the keynote of his ministry. Look at his first epistle, for instance. The truth is to be in us, the word in us, no occasion for stumbling in us, the anointing abideth in us, the seed of God dwelleth in us, the life and love of God is to be known as in us, etc., etc. He withdraws us from outward things, to know the power of divine things within.
Is not this the unfolding in detail of the Lord's counsel to the listening individual in Laodicea? "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, / will come IN TO him, and I will sup with him and he with Me" (Rev. iii. 20). As the outward state of things crumbles into pieces, the possibilities of the inward assume more and more importance.
And thus it might well be. For if the outward has its importance and place in the dispensational ways of God, dispensations are only for time. That which by divine workmanship is wrought within, abides forever. It has the stamp of eternity upon it. Thus, there is another word of special importance in the writings of John: "ETERNAL LIFE," and this is truly the crowning blessing of Christianity. It is nothing less than Christ imparting Himself. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." "I give unto them eternal life." "That eternal life with the Father hath been manifested unto us." "Our hands have handled the Word of Life," etc. But here I stop. We have reached the threshold of another subject, which we must devote a special chapter to, if God permit.
THAT the life that was in the Man Christ Jesus, should be in us to-day—centuries after—is the great miracle of the Holy Ghost, and the criterion of genuine Christianity. To make this possible, was the design of the coming to earth of the Son of God, incarnate in His blessed, holy humanity. "I am come, that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John x. 10). "The Father hath life in Himself." But the Son is the Fountain of that life for men on earth. "He hath given to the Son to have life in Himself" (John v. 26), and "the Son quickeneth whom He will" (v. 21).
This He has always done in His divine rights and sovereign will. "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John i. 9). But NOW, since His death and resurrection has removed every obstruction, and met every possible question raised by divine righteousness, He is OFFICIALLY the Life-Giver. "The first man, Adam, was made a living soul; the last Adam, a quickening spirit (1 Cor. xv. 45). So that grace reigneth through righteousness unto eternal life now. Now the life of God in man is to practically supersede and supplant the life of the fallen first man in us. We are to know "life more abundantly." As the Apostle beautifully expresses it: "For if by one man's offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ" (Rom. v. 17). It is the supremacy of the kingdom of God in man.
If I go to the hospital, I would find plenty of life there, but I could hardly call it "life more abundantly." No one there, but is alive. The moment death sets in, the physician leaves and the undertaker takes his place. But while still under treatment, the very pains are evidences of continued life. Dead men do not feel pain. How many believers are content with this sort of existence! They require to be constantly nursed and doctored. The life is there, but under disabilities. It is life indeed, but life stunted, dwarfed, hindered, hampered, and hurt; a life just struggling to maintain its mere existence. It does not resemble the "life more abundantly," which the Son of God came to impart to His sheep. For "life" implies growth, development, and expansion, and in this case, as divine life is in question, an infinite expanse of blessed possibilities stretch themselves out before the soul, laid hold of by the quickening power of the good Shepherd.
In John iii., the kingdom is seen and entered into through the life beginning in the soul, however feeble the experience of the start. In chap, iv., there is evident growth. The life is in the believer "A WELL of water springing up into everlasting life." The soul is in a state of divine satisfaction and liberty. In chap. vii. 57, there is more yet—"He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow RIVERS of living water."
You might keep your well to yourself, but you can't monopolize A RIVER, much less RIVERS. The believer's body, having become the temple of the Holy Ghost, is to be the vessel of divine life, until streams of love, joy, peace, power, blessing and goodness, overflow into all directions.
"As the Scripture has said." Is it the Ezekiel passage about a river of living water proceeding out of the holiest, in the millennial temple, when the glory of God has filled it? (Ezek. xlvii.). I strongly yield to the thought, especially in the light of Rev. xxii. 1, which is a spiritual application of Ezekiel's vision, to the day of the Holy Ghost, the Glorifier on earth of the Man glorified in heaven.
And there we see that there is constant advance. "Life more abundantly" has no limit. Ankle deep becomes knee deep, knee deep becomes loin deep, and eventually there are depths to swim in; the man is lost to sight in the river of divine life. O that this were true among us, beloved brethren! O that the life that was before the fall, before sin and death invaded the inheritance of the first Adam, might reign supreme over all, in the power of His resurrection, who is the Second Man, the Lord from heaven!
Following Christ, the Light of the world, we have the light of life. The life makes room for itself, by its light discovering to our inward sight the tendencies of the flesh, rebuking, exposing, and reproving them, so that we become still before God, and “all flesh" becomes silent within us. As we listen to its holy teaching to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, it will, as we follow it, bring us out from under the captivity of the sins it has made manifest to our consciences. This is a life-long discipline, and it means "death" to the cravings of the Adam nature. "The Cross" becomes thus "the power of God" to slay our lusts. Of all the wonderful sayings of the Divine Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only one that I remember being quoted by all the four Evangelists, and that twice by Matthew and Luke, is—"He that loveth his life loseth it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal" (John xii. 25, R.V.; Matt. x. 39; xvi. 25; Mark viii. 35; Luke ix. 24; xvii. 33). We are not to glory in a Cross which leaves us uncrucified.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1900