What does it mean to have life to the full or have life more abundantly? Does it mean having more money, power, and pleasure? Or does it mean having the freedom to do whatever pleases us?
Jesus told the Pharisees: “9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:9-10).
One does not know whether the width or the depth of this marvellous promise is the more noteworthy. Jesus Christ presents Himself before the human race, and declares Himself able to deal with the needs of every individual in the tremendous whole. “Whoever enters through me” – no matter who, where, when.
For all noble and happy life there are at least three things needed: security, sustenance, and a field for the exercise of activity. To provide these is the end of all human society and government. Jesus Christ here says that He can give all these to everyone.
The imagery of the sheep and the fold is still, of course, in His mind, and colours the form of the representation. But the substance is the declaration that, to any and every soul, no matter how ringed about with danger, no matter how hampered and hindered in work, no matter how barren of all supply earth may be, He will give these, the primal requisites of life. ‘He shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’
Let us take a look at the three aspects of the blessedness of a true Christian life which our Lord holds forth here as accessible to us all: security, the unhindered exercise of activity, and sustenance or provision.
I. First, then, in and through Christ any man may be saved.
In our union with Jesus Christ, by simple faith in Him and loyal submission and obedience, we do receive an impenetrable defence against the true evils, and the only things worth calling dangers. For the only real evil is the peril that we shall lose our confidence and be untrue to our best selves, and depart from the living God. Nothing is evil except that which tempts, and succeeds in tempting, us away from Him. And in regard to all such danger, to cleave to Christ, to realise His presence, to think of Him, to wear His name as an amulet on our hearts, to put the thought of Him between us and temptation as a filter through which the poisonous air shall pass, and be deprived of its virus, is the one secret of safety and victory.
Real gift of power from Jesus Christ, the influx of His strength into our weakness, of some portion of the Spirit of life that was in Him into our deadness, is promised, and the promise is abundantly fulfilled to all men who trust Him when their hour of temptation comes. As the dying martyr, when he looked up into heaven, saw Jesus Christ ‘standing at the right hand of God’ ready to help, so we may all see, if we will, that dear Lord ready to succour us, and close by our sides to deliver us from evil, its power to tempt. If we could carry that vision into our daily life, and walk in its light, when temptation rings us round, how quickly will all the inducements go away! There is a power in the remembrance of Jesus to slay every wicked thought; and the things that tempt us most, that most directly appeal to our worst sides, to our sense, our ambition, our pride, our distrust, our self-will, all these lose their power upon us, and are discovered in their emptiness and insignificance, when once this thought flashes across the mind-Jesus Christ is my Defence, and Jesus Christ is my Pattern and my Companion.
Oh, brother! Do not thrust yourself out amongst the pitfalls and snares of life without Him. If you do, the real evil of all evils will seize you for its own; but keep close to that dear Lord, and then ‘no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent’ (Psalm 91:10). The hidden temptation you will pass by without being harmed; the manifest temptation you will trample under foot. ‘You shall not be afraid of the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday’ (Psalm 91:6). Hidden known temptations will be equally powerless; and in the fold into which all pass by faith in Christ you shall be safe. And so, kept safe from each danger and in each moment of temptation, the aggregate and sum of the several deliverances will amount to the everlasting salvation which shall be perfected in the heavens.
Only remember the condition, ‘Whoever enters through me.’ That is not a thing to be done once for all, but needs perpetual repetition. When we clasp anything in our hands, however tight the initial grasp, unless there is a continual effort of renewed tightening, the muscles become lax, and we have to renew the tension, if we are to keep the grasp. So in our Christian life it is only the continual repetition of the act which our Lord here calls ‘entering in by Him’ that will bring to us this continual exemption from, and immunity in, the dangers that beset us.
Keep Christ between us and the storm. Keep on the lee side of the Rock of Ages. Keep behind the breakwater, for there is a wild sea running outside; and our little boat, undecked and with a feeble hand at the helm, will soon be swamped. Keep within the fold, for wolves and lions lie in every bush. Or, in plain English, live moment by moment in the realising of Christ’s presence, power, and grace. So, and only so, shall we be safe.
II. Now, secondly, note, in Jesus Christ any man may find a field for the unrestricted exercise of his activity.
That metaphor of ‘going in and out’ is partly explained to us by the image of the flock, which passes into the fold for peaceful repose, and out again, without danger, for exercise and food; and is partly explained by the frequent use, in the Old Testament and in common conversation, of the expression ‘going out and in’ as the designation of the two-sided activity of human life. The one side is the contemplative life of interior union with God by faith and love; the other, the active life of practical obedience in the field of work which God provides for us. These two are both capable of being raised to their highest power, and of being discharged with the most unrestricted and joyous activity, on condition of our keeping close to Christ, and living by the faith of Him.
Given the union with Jesus Christ by faith, there must then, as the basis of all activity, follow very frequent and deep inward acts of contemplation, of faith, and aspiration, and desire. We must go into the depths of God through Christ. We must go into the depths of our souls through Him. We must become accustomed to withdraw ourselves from spreading ourselves out over the distractions of any external activity, howsoever imperative, charitable, or necessary, and live alone with Jesus, ‘in the secret place of the Most High.’ It is through Him that we have access to the mysteries and innermost shrine of the Temple. It is through Him that we draw near to the depths of Deity. It is through Him that we learn the length and breadth and height and depth of the largest and loftiest and noblest truths that concern the spirit. It is through Him that we become familiar with the inmost secrets of our own selves.
But then, further, if there have been, and continue to be, this unrestricted exercise through Christ of that sweet and silent life of solitary communion with Him, then there will follow upon that an enlargement of opportunity, and power for outward service such as nothing but emancipation by faith in Him can ever bring. Howsoever, by external circumstances, you and I may be hampered and hindered, however often we may feel that if something outside of us were different, the development of our active powers would be far more satisfactory, and we could do a great deal more in Christ’s cause, the true hindrance lies never without, but within; and it is only to be overcome by that plunging into the depths of fellowship with Him. And then, if we carry with us into the field of work, whether it be the commonplace, dusty, tedious, and often repulsive duties of our monotonous business; or whether it be the field of more distinctly unselfish and Christian service-if we carry with us into all places where we go to labour, the sweet thought of His presence, of His example, of His love, and of the smile that may come on His face as the reward of faithful service, then we shall find that external labour, drawing its pattern, its motive, its law, and the power for its discharge, from communion with Him, is no more task-work nor slavery; and even ‘the rough places will be made smooth, and the crooked things will be made straight,’ and distasteful work will be made at least tolerable, and hard burdens will be lightened, and the things that are ‘seen and temporal’ will shimmer into transparency, through which will shine out the things that are ‘unseen and eternal.’
III. Lastly, in Jesus Christ any man may receive sustenance. ‘They shall find pasture.’
He is ‘the Bread of God that came down from heaven to give life to the world.’ Do I want an outward object for my intellect? I have it in Him. Jesus Christ is the home of love in which the dove may fold its wings and be at rest. Do I want (and I do if I am not a fool) an absolute and authoritative command to be laid upon my will? I find absolute authority, with no taint of tyranny, and no degradation to the subject, in that Infinite Will of His. Does my conscience need some strong detergent to be laid upon it which shall take out the stains that are most indurated, inveterate, and ingrained? I find it only in the ‘blood that cleanses from all sin.’ Do my aspirations and desires seek for some solid and substantial and unquestionable and imperishable good to which, reaching out, they may be sure that they are not anchoring on cloudland? Christ is our hope. For all this complicated and craving of the common good that we carry within our soul, there is but one satisfaction, Jesus Christ Himself. Nothing else nourishes the whole man at once, but in Him are all the constituents that the human system requires for its nourishment and growth in every part. So in and through Christ we find ‘pasture.’
Let us praise God with the song “Take and Eat”: