Is this gift of Eternal Life—the great gift of the Divine Shepherd of the sheep, which we have considered in the preceding chapter—placed beyond the possibility of risk or forfeiture? Passing unscathed through all perilous contacts, will His people reach with certainty the heavenly fold at last? That existence of endless bliss, so dearly purchased, is inalienably and irrevocably secured. Once within the Shepherd's fold, they are in the fold forever—in the possession of a life as deathless and imperishable as His own!

Jacob, in his touching appeal to exacting Laban, tells of sheep that had been stolen by night and day, and torn by wild beasts. How striking the contrast with the Great Shepherd, when He makes the protestation, "Of those who You gave Me, I have lost none!" He hushes every fear and misgiving as He utters the glorious guarantee—"I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."

This negative form of statement repeats, by implication under a new figure, the truth we have incidentally alluded to in a previous chapter, that there is in the world an opposing Power, or Powers, whose aim is to accomplish, if possible, the ruin and destruction of the Elect—that there is an Enemy lurking in the vicinity of the fold, and watching his opportunity to pluck the sheep out of the hands of the Shepherd. Satan is that great counter-worker. "We are of God," says John, speaking as the representative of Christ's people; "and the whole world lies in the wicked one." In combination with his legion emissaries, he is ever engaged in storming a citadel. That citadel is the heart of man—the heart of the believer. A citadel, not like many of the forts or citadels we see in our own country, where the engines and implements of war are allowed for years on years to remain unused and undisturbed—the cannon waking their sleeping thunders only on days of commemorative joy—sentinels pacing their rounds, but only keeping mock vigils—for no enemy is at the gates, and the flag of peace hangs quietly on the battlements.

But that heart is in a state of perpetual siege. By storm, and secret stratagem, the giant adversary is plotting its overthrow. And it is not the Little-hearts and Feeble-minded only, against whom he directs his missiles. It is against the Valiant and the Great-hearts too. He knows that the more prominent and illustrious will be his triumph if he can succeed in capturing some veteran in the field, or in demolishing some fortress of renown. Hear one of such veterans telling his experience (what a representation it gives us of the reality of this spiritual warfare)—"We wrestle" (WRESTLE! It is a personal struggle—foot to foot—hand to hand)—"We wrestle—not against flesh and blood—but against principalities and powers—against the rulers of the darkness of this world—against spiritual wickedness in high places."

What a picture have we here of the believer in the heat of conflict! Christ giving him the noble gift of life—Satan trying with every accursed wile and weapon to rob him of the priceless jewel. Christ leading him to heaven, step by step up the ladder of salvation—Satan watching the moment when he may find him off his guard to hurl him down. It is darkness seeking to extinguish light. It is death seeking to trample out life. It is the two antagonist forces of the material universe at work in spiritual things—the one drawing towards the central sun—the other drawing away into devious orbits.

But He who is the great center of divine life and light and being, countervails, in the case of all His own people, the might of "the prince of the power of the air." 'You cannot pluck my ransomed Church,' He seems to say, 'from its orbit of light and love, and draw it away into the regions of hopeless darkness and blank despair.' "My sheep shall never perish." "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Hall, in his "Breathings of the Devout Soul" says—What shall I do, Lord? I strive and tug what I may with the spiritual wickedness in high places, which set upon my soul; but sometimes I am foiled, and go halting out to the field. It is Your mercy that I live, being so fiercely assaulted by those principalities and powers—it were more than wonder that I should escape such hands without a wound. Even that holy servant of Yours, who strove with Your angel for a blessing, went limping away, though he prevailed. What a marvel is it that so weak a wretch as I, striving with many evil angels for the avoidance of a curse, come off with a maim or scar? But, blessed be Your name, the wounds that I receive are not mortal; and when I fall, it is but to my knees, where I rise with new courage and hopes of victory. You who are the God of all power, and keep the keys of hell and death, have said, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Lord, I do and will, by Your merciful aid, still and ever resist: O make my faith as stead fast as my will resolute. Oh! still teach my hands to war, and my fingers to fight; arm my soul with strength; and at last, according to Your gracious promise, crown it with victory.

What are the grounds of this inviolable security of the believer's bliss? GOD, the eternal Father, sets His seal to the words, "They shall never perish." The attributes of His nature—His Power, Love, Faithfulness, Immutability, all render the destruction of one member of the ransomed fold impossible. "My Father who gave them Me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." "You," says Christ, addressing the Father with reference to Himself, "You have given Me power over all flesh, that I should give eternal life to as many as You have given Me." "Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost." "That by two immutable things" (His oath and promise), in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us."

CHRIST, the adorable Son, sets His seal to the words, "They shall never perish." He has a personal interest and responsibility in the salvation of each member of His chosen flock. They are made over to Him of the Father. He can say as Jacob, on that same occasion to which we have just referred, said of his flock to Laban, "That which is torn of beasts—I bear the loss of it; of my hand do you require it."

God, the HOLY SPIRIT, sets His seal to the words, "They shall never perish." "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption." "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory."

In addition to these immutable guarantees of each of the Three Persons in the adorable Trinity, we have a more special ground of security arising out of that sublime and ennobling truth so frequently dwelt upon, directly and indirectly, in the inspired epistles, the believer's spiritual union with his Lord. Incorporated into the mystical body of which He is the Head, to perish is impossible. We are accounted one with Him. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. "If we perish," says Luther, "Christ perishes with us." Identifying Himself with His people, He may be supposed to say, as David said to Abiathar, "Abide with me, for he that seeks your life seeks my life, but with me you shall be in safeguard." And what is this safeguard? It is the Deity of the Redeemer. He who gives me life, and who promises that life is imperishable—He is "the Mighty God." My hope of eternal life, promised before the world began, stands on the Rock of Ages. Divinity gives it strength. He who is able to keep me from falling, is the "only wise GOD our Savior."

But, it may be asked, does fact or experience warrant all these strong assertions? Are the sheep of Christ never plucked from the hand and bosom of the Shepherd? Do we never see them lamentably stumbling and falling, and in some cases, so far as we can judge, perishing, and perishing irrecoverably? No, not so with one true member of the Savior's fold. Such apostates may have seemed to be of the flock—but it was only in semblance, not in reality. They may have seemed to be true coin, from the divine mint—but they were counterfeit metal—gilded alloy—they lacked the true ring of the currency of heaven. And if such apparently have perished—if such sheep have apparently been plucked from the Shepherd's hands—here is the Shepherd's own explanation, "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."

It is true, indeed, the life of the most devoted believer has its ebbs and flows—his safety, by reason of his own backslidings, corruption, and unwatchfulness, may seem at times to be endangered. The sheep of Christ, as we shall note in the succeeding chapter, may, in some moment of temptation, be found, and are found, wandering along the dark glen, entangled in brier thickets, or carried down the swollen stream. But as the shepherd among ourselves puts a mark on the various members of his flock that he may know his own; so the sheep of Christ bear upon them, what the old writers call "the blood-mark of the covenant"—and of these the Great Shepherd says (when they may be themselves uttering the cry of despair)—"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."

Their life and safety may apparently be endangered, but it is only as the flow of the majestic river is apparently impeded by the mass of opposing rock in its channel. It is fretted for the moment; but after clearing the temporary barrier, it dashes onwards, with grander impetuosity, in its way to the ocean. So with the believer. The rocks of temptation may obstruct and arrest the smooth current of his spiritual and eternal life; but it is only for the moment—He that has begun a good work—He that has begun a new life—will carry it on until the day of the Lord Jesus. You may as soon dream of stemming a river—damming up the mountain torrent as it plunges over rock and cataract in its way to the shoreless sea—as arrest the flow of that God-given life.

Remember the apostle's golden chain—"Whom He did predestinate them He also called, and whom He called them He also justified, and whom He justified them He also glorified!" We may lose sight of the links of the chain, but it never can be broken. We love this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We cannot believe in the possibility of a man being regenerated today, and unregenerated tomorrow. As Christ's blood has purchased—so will His grace sanctify and His power save. "Having loved His own who are in the world, He loves them to the end." If we are ever tempted to doubt or despond—if ever led to fear that as wandering sheep we may be fatally swept down the mountain-torrent, or fall a prey to the evening wolves—let us think of a living, life-giving, life-sustaining Intercessor on the throne of Heaven—the Shepherd's eye watching us from the mountains of myrrh and the hills of frankincense!

Israel could never have coped with the war-disciplined chieftains of Amalek, but for the uplifted hands of their interceding head on the mount at Rephidim. They would have been scattered as chaff—and their bones left to bleach in the wilderness. Joshua with all his fiery courage, as column after column swept along the valley beneath, would have been nothing, had not Moses been pleading on the hill. Blessed be God, we have One on the heavenly mount, whose arms never faint—whose hands never grow weary. His words have a perpetual meaning—a perpetual music—"I have prayed for you—I am praying for you—that your faith does not fail."

You who are the sheep of Christ's pasture, see the secret of your preservation—your perseverance—see the secret of this marvelous triumph of your weakness over Satan's strength—the "worm Jacob" in the strength of his Savior-God "thrashing the mountains, and beating them small, and making the hills like chaff"—the spiritual David, with a few brook-pebbles laying low the giants of sin and unbelief and temptation! Yes, indeed, it is a mighty marvel, the security and final safety of every member of the fold. This poor plant—beaten with wind and hail, rain and tempest, outliving all, and destined to flourish in eternal luxuriance and beauty! This fragile vessel—the sport of ten thousand adverse influences—buffeted by the waves of temptation—left for nights on the starless ocean—grazing with its keel the sunken rocks—yet outriding the storm, and entering peacefully the desired haven!

This vile heart with its legion-foes confederate with Satan—Pleasure in its Proteus-shapes—Worldliness with its legion-headed power—the archers of Mammon with their golden arrows—our own sins—each individual sin we commit, a foul attempt on our part to pluck ourselves out of the Savior's hand—yet the battle is certain to end in victory!

In earthly battles, victory trembles in the scale often for long hours of bloodstained fight; neither side can predict the results. By some apparent accident—some trifle—the fortunes of the day may be decided, the destiny of a country altered, the liberty of a people lost or won. But no such uncertainty hovers over this spiritual conflict—triumph is sure—no trophy will be lost—no straggler will be left to perish—as with Israel in leaving Egypt, "not a hoof will be left behind." You will not only be conquerors, but "more than conquerors through Him that loved you!" "I give unto you," says He, "eternal life." Your names are imperishably engraved on this Heart of love— and on His priestly Breastplate, and they never can be erased!

Let us conclude with a word of explanation, of encouragement, and of warning. A word of EXPLANATION. Let not any misinterpret the truth, by imagining from what has been advanced that we reduce believers to irresponsible machines—like yonder engine careering on the iron highway, or ploughing the waters—a dumb, sluggish, inert, soulless piece of mechanism, which is reined in, or which plunges on, in obedience to the intelligence which guides it, but which has no will, or purpose, or choice of its own. Let none say that they are the mere passive subjects of a predestinated purpose—an irresistible destiny which renders their salvation a certainty; and who are, therefore, relieved from the necessity of all individual exertion in the work of their high calling—that being saved by an irreversible decree, they may live as they desire—that final perdition being impossible, they may face and encounter whatever temptations they may desire—they can even hold parley with sin, or allow it at times to gain the mastery—it matters not—they will be saved at last—none is able to pluck them out of the Shepherd's hands!

No, God deals with His elect as rational, free, responsible agents. They are "kept," it is true—so the apostle Peter beautifully expresses it—"kept" (as in a citadel or garrison)—"by the power of God." But how, says he, are they kept? "By the power of God, through faith, unto salvation." "Through faith." As it has been well said, the eye of faith and the ear of faith, and the feet of faith, are all on the watch against the incursions of the enemy. This active, living, influential principle of faith is ever on the alert; working by love, purifying the heart, and overcoming the world.

Does Peter regard the purchased safety and absolute security of the believer as an argument for unwatchfulness?—That having in possession the gift of eternal life, the Christian may cast aside the spiritual armor, and fight and wrestle no more? Hear his own words, in the first chapter of his second epistle—he speaks to those who "have obtained like precious faith, through the righteousness of God"—who have become "partakers of the divine nature." How does he address such? "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Never let any say, that these distinguishing doctrines of sovereign grace lead to unguardedness, unwatchfulness; or, what is worse, to a license to sin—that we may continue in sin because this electing and saving grace abounds. Holy living, and holy walking, are the test and proof of election—unholy living, and unholy walking are Satan's (no, they are our own) brand of reprobation. The law and the gospel enunciate the same great principle—"To those who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality," (He will render) "eternal life." But to those who are disobedient, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness," (He will render) "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish."

We may draw a lesson of ENCOURAGEMENT. What a glorious prize is this set before us!—what a glorious incentive for our immortal energies! Life! the only thing worth calling life—the life of God in the soul—a life whose infancy is on earth, and its perfected manhood in heaven. What is there worthy of aspiration in comparison with this? What though other earthly blessings are lacking, if you have this everlasting possession? What though outward things may elude your grasp, and perish in the very using, if you have "the better part" which is indestructible? What would the sculptor care though his packing-case is broken, if the priceless marble statue which it contains escape uninjured? What would the mother care though her cradle got burned in the flaming house, if her loving child, her loving treasure, be spared? What though the thief have escaped with the casket, if the jewel remain? "Let the perishable things go," says a good man—"the inheritance is ours!"

Be indifferent to what the world gives or withholds. Learn that a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. Life is not, as the world estimates it, composed of wealth, riches, honors, possessions; these are but the incidentals of life—the outer shell—the perishable and corroding gilding. But it is the inner wealth of peace with God—the assurance of His love—a pure heart, a peaceful conscience, the humble hope of eternal fellowship and communion with Him above. "Our cause," says Luther, "is in the very hands of Him who can say with unspeakable dignity, 'No one shall pluck it out of my hands.' I would not have it in our hands—and it would not be desirable that it were so. I have had many things in my hands, and I have lost them All—but whatever I have been able to place in God's hands I still possess." "The world passes away, and the lust thereof, but he that does the will of God abides forever!"

Finally, let us hear a word of WARNING. This eternal life hangs on the small thread of the present. As we are now, so shall we be forever. Eternal life is a synonym for character. "The child," it is said, "is the father of the man." This has a more solemn and awful—a more significant and truthful meaning with regard to a world to come. The childhood of time will determine the manhood of eternity. The passing moments of the present will color the infinite future. Life in this world is the cartoon—the dim shadowy outline—which will be filled up and embodied in the life hereafter. What an untold value all this gives to the present! And what! Have we been letting its consecrated moments filter like sand through our fingers? Have we been "seeking our portion in this life?" Toiling up the hill after a fancied something, which turns out to be an airy nothing!—Seeking to gain the world, and to pay that awful price for it—the losing of our own souls? Have its pleasures—its riches—its ambitions—its vanities—been dimming to our souls their nobler destinies? Have the things that are temporal and seen, been supplanting and superseding the things that are eternal and not seen?

And if the eye of any who know not God—who are yet strangers to the fold and to peace, should fall on these pages, let them not twist the words of this scripture unto their own destruction. Mark, He who utters them does not say regarding you and your sad condition—"I give unto them eternal death!" No, no. God gives—God apportions to no one so terrible a destiny. This is what He gives. He gives you vessel—oars—sails—chart—compass—rudder—He points you to the distant harbor—He warns you of the environing and approaching storms. But He tells you, if you sail by His chart you will outride them all, and cast anchor in the heavenly harbor.

What is the conduct of many, in the face of all these provisions, to ensure safety and peace? They fling their ballast into the depths of the sea. They hoist their sails, but they are passion. They are guided by a compass, but that is the world's opinion. They steer by a helm, but that is base expediency. God has given them His Bible as their lighthouse, but they are lured by the balefires of sin. Unhappy castaway! Had you yielded to heavenly influences, your sails would have been filled with propitious breezes, which would have wafted you safely to the haven. But can you wonder—can you upbraid God with your ruin, if you are now found rudderless; with tattered sail and leaking hulk and splintered masts—drifting, drifting onwards, amid the howling winds and wintry sea of a dark and cheerless eternity? Therefore, while we congratulate Christ's true people on their noble heritage of eternal life, see that all this may not be to you the forecasting and foreshadowing of eternal darkness—of sin, and shame, and everlasting contempt! See that you are not yourselves responsible for being among the hapless ones, who are shut out and excluded forever from the heavenly fold! "Many," we read, on the great day, "shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able."

The entrance to the sheepfold is open this hour. It is open to all who seek it. "By me," says Christ, "if any man enters in he shall be saved." But once that final day is come, and you are found standing outside the fold, Omnipotence itself cannot unlock its closed gate! The door is shut—the invitation is withdrawn—mercy can plead no more. "And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us!"

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