The Priviledges of the True Christian

Jun 12, 2017
J.C. Ryle

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.” — John 10:27-28.

The blessings and privileges which Jesus the Good Shepherd bestows upon His people. The Lord grant that none of you may take to yourselves promises which do not belong to you, — that none may take liberty from God’s exceeding mercy to continue sleeping in sin. Glorious and comfortable things are written in this passage, but remember they are given to Christ’s flock only; I fence it out against all that are unbelieving and impenitent and profane. I warn you plainly, except you will hear the voice of Christ and follow Him, you have no right or portion in this blessed fountain of consolations.
Hear now what Jesus says of His believing people: “I know them . . . I give unto them eternal life; they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
Before we look into the meaning of these words more closely, I wish to answer two questions which may arise in the minds of some before me. Of whom is the Lord Jesus speaking? Are we to suppose He only has in view patriarchs and prophets and apostles — men like Abraham and David and Job and Daniel, men who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, worked signs and miracles, and shed their blood for the kingdom of God’s sake? Are these the sort of persons who alone can take comfort from those blessed words — “I know them . . . they shall never perish?” Is every one else to go on doubting to his life’s end? God forbid that I should tell you so! it were doing Satan’s work to preach such doctrine. This text may become the property of the worst of sinners,…: scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, publicans and harlots, drunkards and fornicators, murderers, thieves and adulterers, liars and blasphemers, worldly-minded and covetous ones, — all and each of them may lay firm hold on this text, and inherit its precious treasures, if they will only hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. It is for all who repent and believe the Gospel; it is for all who mourn over their past sins with a true godly sorrow, and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ with faith and prayer as their only hope, their all-sufficient Saviour, their all in all; there is not one single man or woman of whom it shall not be written in the Lamb’s book of life, “This is one known of God, this is an heir of eternal life, this is a man or a woman that is never to perish, never to be plucked out of the Lord’s hand,” …

The other question I wish to answer is this: why did the Lord Jesus Christ give us this full and complete promise? He saw they would require the strong wine of assurance like this, and so He has provided this and like texts, as a reviving cordial to cheer and enliven their hearts, whenever they feel desponding and feeble-minded and ready to halt, in their pilgrimage through this weary world.
We will now look narrowly into the parts of this promise. First, says the Lord Jesus Christ of His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him — “I know them.” I know their number, their names, their particular characters, their besetting sins, their troubles, their trials, their temptations, their doubts, their prayers, their private meditations I know everything about every one of them. Think what a comfortable saying that is! The world knows nothing about Christ’s sheep; to be sure, the world remarks there are a few people, here one and there one, who live differently to others, who seem to be more serious in their deportment, who appear to be taken up with some important consideration or other; but the world only wonders they can be so particular about little sins, and when their ways run counter to the world, the world is vastly offended. But as for their fear of sin, and their carefulness about souls, the world neither knows nor understands what they are about; the secret springs of their conduct are all hidden.
Again, a Christian’s friends do often know him not. They may possibly respect him and allow him to hold on his way unopposed — though this, alas! is not always the case — but as for his pleasures and his pains, his constant warfare with the flesh, the world and the devil, his dread of falling into temptation, his delight in all means of grace, they can neither explain nor comprehend it; there is something hidden in his character of which they know nothing.
Be ye comforted, all you who are tried and buffeted with difficulties in your way towards heaven, difficulties from without and difficulties from within, difficulties abroad and difficulties at home, grief for your own sins and grief for the sins of others: the Good Shepherd Jesus knows you well, though you may not think it. You never shed a secret tear over your own corruption, you never breathed a single prayer for forgiveness and helping grace, you never made a single struggle against wickedness, which He did not remark and note down in the book of His remembrance. You need not fear His not understanding your wants, you need not be afraid your prayers are too poor and unlearned to be attended to; He knows your particular necessities far better than you do yourselves, and your humble supplications are no sooner offered up than heard.

You may sometimes sigh and mourn for want of Christian brethren, you may sometimes lament that you have not more around you with whom you might take sweet converse about salvation; but remember there is a Good Shepherd, who is ever about your path and about your bed, His eyes are on all your movements, and no husband, brother, father, mother, sister, friend, could take more tender interest in your soul’s welfare than He does. If you transgress He will grieve, but He will chasten and bring you back; if you bear good fruit, He will rejoice and give more grace; if you sorrow He will bind up your broken heart and pour in balm; He is ever watching and observing and listening; none so humble and lowly but He is acquainted with all their ways.
And does not Jesus know the men of this world, the faithless and ungodly? Unquestionably He does. He knows their proceedings; there is not a single sin they have committed but will appear written down in full in the great book; but He only knows them as His enemies — as careless, thoughtless ones, who will not take the trouble to hear His voice and follow Him — and in the last day, when all shall stand before Him, He will say, “I know you not: you would not seek to know me on earth, and I know nothing of you in heaven; depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” No doubt there will be many a Balaam there, many a barren figtree, many a foolish virgin, many a fruitless vine, many a loud-talking hypocrite, who will say, “Lord, Lord, open to us: have we not taught in Thy name, and in Thy name quoted many texts, and in Thy name made a great profession?” but still the answer will be, “I never knew you . . . depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.”

Oh, what a blessed and comfortable thing to be known of Christ, known and marked as His friends, His relations, His dear children, His beloved family, His purchased possession! Here we are often cast down, often discouraged, often persecuted, often spoken against, often misunderstood, — but let us take courage, our Lord and Master knows all. A day shall come when we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face — a day when we shall know even as we are now known; for the union between us and our Redeemer, which we so often feel disposed to doubt, shall then be clearly seen, and we shall no more go out to battle.
What is the next part of my text? The Lord Jesus says of His sheep, “I give unto them eternal life.” What is the portion which Jesus gives His people? “ETERNAL LIFE” — a perfect, never-ending happiness for that which is the most important part of a man, his immortal soul. They shall not be hurt of the second death, which alone is to be really feared. What greater things could our Lord bestow upon His people? Health and riches and honour and pleasures, houses and lands, and wives and children, what are they? how long do they last? — it is but threescore years and ten, and we must leave them all, and six paces of the vilest earth is room enough for us. Naked came we into the world, and naked must we return unto the dust, and carry nothing with us. Where is the difference between the rich and the poor in death? They both go unto one and the same place; the worm feeds sweetly on them both; it is but a short time, and you would not be able to distinguish between their bones. But if the poor man sleeps in Jesus, while the rich man dies in his sins, oh, what a mighty gulf then is between them! The rich will take up his abode in that fire which is never quenched; the poor will awake to find he has an everlasting treasure in heaven, even eternal life. Eternal life! compared to which this world’s concerns, weighty and important as they seem, are like a drop of water.

Wonderful indeed that men should disquiet themselves about the things of earth, and sweat and toil after a little more gold and silver, and spend their strength upon these frail, sickly bodies of ours, to get enjoyment for them, and yet remain careless and dead and frozen about the life of that precious talent the soul!
But about eternal life? “I,” says the Lord Jesus Christ, “do give it to my people.” Who says this? He says it who bought and paid the full price; He who has in His hands the keys of death and hell; He who opens and no man shuts, He who shuts and no man opens; He says it who is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, who is not a man that He should lie, who never breaks His promise; He says it who has a right to say it, for He came down to do His Father’s will and die in our stead to obtain redemption for us, and when He declares “I give eternal life,” death and hell must be silent, none can gainsay Him.
“I give,” He declares, “eternal life.” He does not speak after the fashion of the world; this world is cold, and calculating and heartless; there is little giving, — it is all bargaining and selling and paying what is the value of things. Blessed be God, the Lord Jesus does not deal with sinners as they deal with each other. He gives eternal life freely, and of grace, and for nothing, without money and without price; He does not give it because we are worthy or deserving, nor yet because we shall show ourselves worthy and deserving; but He gives it as a free gift, because He loves us and has set His affection upon us.
Consider with yourselves how glorious that doctrine is; how thoroughly it takes away all excuse from the impenitent: pardon and forgiveness are here unconditionally bestowed; we are not told that we must pay off so much every day, and then shall be saved — that would drive us to doubt and despair — but if a man will only hear Christ’s voice and follow Him, “Behold” says Jesus, “I give unto him eternal life, there remaineth no condemnation for him.”

Additional Reading