In our former essay on John 10 we have noticed that Jesus is indeed the good shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep. He is not an hireling, whose own the sheep are not and who careth not for the sheep, but He is the Shepherd who has received these sheep from the hand of His Father in electing love and tender mercy; God gave Him these Sheep, in order that He might save them to the uttermost, and raise them up in the last day!
We also noticed that Jesus receives the “sanction” of the Father, His approval upon the shepherds labors. Says Jesus: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” God loves the Son because the Son will die on the cross, and powerfully reveal Himself to be the Son of Go in His resurrection through the Spirit of sanctification. Christ must merit the Father’s love as the mediator both for himself and for all his own. He is under the law of works, that rule which says: the man that doeth the same shall live thereby! Therefor He is so certain that the Father heareth Him always, because always He is so perfectly fulfilling the will of God in saving His sheep by fulfilling the just demands of the law. He became a curse, a malediction, in order that we might be blessed forever.
That is the glad-tidings of the gospel.
Thus we saw in our essay on this tenth chapter of the gospel of John.
In this article we would call your attention to this same work of Christ on the cross and in the resurrection and ascension, as Christ perfects that work in us, so that we will not perish unto eternity. No one can pluck us out of the hand and power of the Shepherd, Christ, in whom we are in the hand of the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace! For Christ says: I and the Father are one.
John 10:27, 28 read as follows: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.“
To understand these words of Jesus we must keep in mind that fact, that Jesus is here addressing the unbelieving “Jews,” who opposed Him, contradicting Him always, legislating policies against Him, and casting His sheep out of their synagogues. And even though He told them ever to clearly that He was the Christ, the Son of God, and even though all His mighty works attested that he was approved of God, having a divine commission to fulfill, they still accuse Jesus of holding their soul in suspense and of not telling them clearly who He is.
Why don’t these “Jews,” Scribes and Sadducees know who Jesus it?
The answer: they believe not! Let this truth be written bolding in every church paper, and resound from every pulpit in every land. Let it be proclaimed with great boldness, and may all the saints implore the Lord that the true preachers of the word speak this truth boldly as they ought to speak. Let it be the seasoning salt that gives grace to the hearers, and the word that tells the unbelievers tha the mysteries of the kingdom are not understood by them.
But let everyone also understand that when he has said, that the “Jews” feel that their soul is kept in suspense, that this is due to their unbelief that he has not yet spoken the whole truth. If the preacher says nothing more than that it is due to unbelief, he has said nothing more than, and has tacitly agreed with the Remonstrant, who alleges “that the will of God to save those who would believe and would persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith, is the whole and entire decree of election unto salvation, and that nothing else concerning this decree has been revealed in God’s word.” And such a preacher is guilty of “deceiving the simple and plainly contradicting the Scriptures, which declare that God will not only save those who will believe, but that He has also from eternity chosen certain particular persons to whom above others he in time will grant both faith in Christ and perseverance, as it is written: I manifested Thy Name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world . . . . .” Rejection of Errors, Canons I, B, 1.
The deeper and more determining question is: whydid not these “Jews” believe? Jesus gives the answer here in our text: But ye believe not because ye are not of My sheep!, John 10:26. We must never say that these men were not God’s sheep because they believed not. That is a plain contradicting of the Scriptures, it is a refusing to bow before the word of Jesus. It is hostile rebellion. This is the imagination of man that must be cast down, it is a stronghold of Satan that must be overthrown in the Name and might of God, and thus all thoughts must be subjected to this word of Christ.
In the childlike obedience to Christ, and the hearing of faith we say: 1. One who does not “hear the voice of the shepherd” does not hear this because he is deaf. 2. And everyone that is deaf to the shepherd’s voice is such because he is not one of His sheep, given to Him by the Father in electing glove.
This truth gives us as believers additional matter for daily humiliation, for adoring the depths of His mercies, for cleansing ourselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to him, who first manifested so great love towards us. This teaching does not make men remiss in observing the divine commands, or from sinking them into carnal security. Such remissness is the part of evil men, who do not hear nor heed the voice the shepherd, but walk in rash presumption or in wanton and idle trifling with the grace of election, and refuse to walk in the ways of the elect. Compare: Canons I, A, 13.
Let those Canons be guide-posts to our thinking, also in interpreting the Scriptures!
Christ’s sheep hear His voice! Says Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow Me.”
What is this “voice” of Jesus?
I wish to underscore the truth that, both according to the Scriptures and the confessions, this “voice” is not a “voice” that can be “heard” apart from thepreaching of the gospel. This preaching of the gospel is the “voice” of the shepherd; the word of God as this is proclaimed clearly and purely to the church. Oh, it is true, this voice is not only in the external preaching of the word, but it is never such that it is heard apart from the preaching of the word. Such is the contention of the Anabaptists of the days of the Reformation fathers, as this led to Quakerism and all forms of false mysticism and rationalism. For when one has separated the content of’ the word of the gospel from the Holy Spirit (that is in vain imagination) then one puts his own content back in it, and one has rationalism!
No, this “voice,” of Jesus is the same as the voice of all the prophets who rose up early and late. This is the “voice” that, although it is not heard by unbelievers, nevertheless went out to them; their sound went out into all the earth and their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4, Romans 10:18. In the sense that all “heard” the preaching with their natural hearing and their psychological response, which was ethically qualified as either believing or unbelieving, Isaiah writes “all day long did I stretch forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Under the imagery of “outstretched hands” we have the same truth as when the “voice” of Christ in the prophets is sounded, calling promiscuously to faith and repentance.
The objective “voice” is there.
As many as are “called” by the “voice” of the shepherd are unfeigned called; all are called unto faith’s repentance, with the “external calling.” None will ever be able to say that the gospel, as it was externally preached, was, feigned.
But only the “sheep” heard his voice with spiritual hearing. They respond to this “voice” of the shepherd as He proclaims Himself as their peace, as he promises life and peace to all who come and believe. And why? Because it is given them to know the mysteries of the kingdom, and, therefore, “beware how they hear!” God gives the sheep regeneration, working powerfully in their hearts, effecting this in no wise merely by the external preaching of the gospel, moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be converted or to continue unconverted, but it is, evidently, a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead!
By virtue of this power the sheep “hear my voice!”
It is true: the manner of this operation we shall never fully comprehend. It is the mystery of faith. It is the work of God that is deeper than hell and higher than heaven. God is great and we do not comprehend Him: Also here His paths are past tracing out! We here too touch but the hem of His garment.
Yet, we must maintain that the “voice” of the shepherd is “heard” by the sheep. And that the sheep hear something “objective,” they hear the voice of Jesus in the Scriptures. These are the means of grace, as they are proclaimed and preached! It is the gospel proclaimed in mystery; mystery it is, which must not be confused with contradiction, but which is grasped by those who have the mind of Christ. It is the mystery, that we call faith, which lays hold on all that is promised in the gospel to the elect believers.
The sheep hear in faith; they recognize that it is Christ Himself speaking to them in this Gospel preaching. Themselves then they do not know fully how it is that this message is so sweet. It is past finding out. But we believe with our hearts that God gave us to Christ in electing love, sent His Son to save us, powerfully called us by the Holy Spirit of sanctification in regeneration, calling, faith, justification and sanctification, and the hope of final glory! And we love our Savior. So much has been forgiven us, and so sure is His salvation. And all this certainty we have and this power of God we experience in faith.
In no little part does God give new strength and power in our life by telling us through the “voice,” of all the Scriptures, as these are preached to us and applied to our hearts through His Holy Spirit, that as the coming ones and as the believing ones (venientibus et credentibus) we have and shall forever have life and peace. Such is the concrete gospel message which works as a power of God in the hearts of the sheep. Thus we know that no one shall ever take our crown.
The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes never had this faith, this hearing ear for the “voice” of the shepherd. They were none of Christ’s sheep given to Him by the Father. They are not glad, but are still in the “suspense of unbelief and complain that they cannot understand His preaching, even when it is ever so clear and lucid. But this clear gospel, spoken in mystery, is only hid to those who, by unbelief, the god of this age hath blinded. To these Christ never says in the preaching, not even in its concrete addressableness, you are my beloved sheep. Be assured of life and peace. In their hearts He never speaks of peace through the preaching as applied by the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, they are convicted of sin, judgment and the righteousness of Jesus’ cause, without following Him!
But the sheep hear His voice. And “blindly” they follow, for they know that where He leadeth all is well.
No one can tempt them to depart from the gospel truth.
They know not the “voice” of strangers. The truth in Jesus is exceedingly precious to the sheep. They love the “Everyone that believeth” gospel, for it bespeaks the gospel as a power of God unto salvation!
And: it gives all the glory to the shepherd, who saith: I and the Father are one. And, no one can pluck the sheep out of our hand!