Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday morning, December llth, 1955

"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I might take it again." 1 John 10:17

HOWEVER familiar this chapter may be, it is in fact, a discourse by our Lord in the understanding of which there is no little difficulty. In verse 2, part of the opening parable He declares: " But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep." Then later, in amplification, He asserts: " I am the door of the sheep," adding subsequently :'"I am the Good Shepherd." No one figure could ever explain Him Who is at once the Door and the Shepherd Who passes through it to whom the anonymous "porter" opens. Of anybody else this would be confusing, but of Him it is revealing, especially for those to whom there has come enlightenment and, out of enlightenment, experience.

In the immediate context our Lord declares He has other sheep " not of this fold." Them also He must, bring to the end there shall be one fold and one Shepherd. Our friends, hot on the, scent of ecumenicity, value this text highly. Questions concerning the original manuscripts disappear, doubts as to whether this is an authentic word of our Lord vanish with the questions and the world church in which the sects and heretics are embraced as they penitently submit to the episcopal order thrills the imagination. But any comprehension of the one fold must be related definitely by the word "therefore " to that part of our text which follows. The text itself is not easy.

We are not to suppose that the Father manifested His love to the Son as and when He was prepared to lay down His life. Nor are we to suppose that the Son was willing to lay down His life only on the condition that He could take it again, What we have is the affirmation by our Lord of a commandment He has received of the Father. The nature of that commandment is in itself the expression of the fulness of the Father's love. It evokes from the Son such obedience as allows for the expression of the fulness of His life and love. That is to say: only as the Father thus commands the Son and the Son thus complies could Divine love find its consummation.

The Son, by the Father's commandment, has authority to lay down His life which, as sinless, was not condemned to death. He has authority to take it again, as the Second Adam, the Firstborn of the new creation. It is in this commandment and compliance that the Father and the Son bring Divine love to its consummation. Love itself is not easily defined. In some tribes it is unknown. With us it is usually associated with sex and parenthood. In either case it has a real element of possessiveness. But the Father loves the Son not because the Son yields to the Father possessively, but because He lays down His life, His all, not for the Father, but for the sheep! This is the Love of the Father and the Son that the Father freely gives the Son that He may freely give Himself for the sheep. Of this we should have known nothing, but that this marvellous love comes within the realm of our apprehension at Calvary, wherein we see a sacrifice so to speak, within the Godhead for sheep who need a fold. This revelation means that God is best understood in the manifestation of love and that love itself is revealed in its fulness in the laying down and the taking again of His life. It is love therefore that explains


The Jews were surprised and perplexed by the discourse. They could not believe that love was the ultimate spring of power. We cannot condemn them because few today so believe in love. We are more at home with hatred and suspicion. On this basis, what are called the Great Powers manufacture their bombs and missiles at phenomenal cost for the one purpose of destroying as much property and life as is possible for ends that are as destructive as the means. If our Lord be right the last word that will describe them will be power. Love finds its beginning and end in God. It is the eternal element in God most perfectly expressed in time. God is love and love has no meaning except in Him. Of ourselves we should never think of God as love, or even, according to our standards, as loving. But here our Lord declares the Divine love in this unique self-giving sacrificial act wherein even as the Son lays down His life so the heart of the Father shares in the costliness of the blood.

Human terms are unavoidable and have their obvious limitation. The love of God in all its fulness could not be bestowed on sinful man because he has no capacity for it, but love at its zenith is expressed in terms of pain and agony within the Godhead with Whom it alone can be known in perfection. It is a simple, albeit profound, step, however amazing to conclude in the light of the text that world reconciliation is by some, shall I say, rending of the Indivisible Trinity which we can describe only as a Divine heartbreak wherein the love of the Father and the Son eventuates in eternal blessing to the sheep. Therefore in any time of darkness, fear, sorrow or loss by the inwardness of the text we may be well assured that pain is not the denial of love; it may indeed be the perplexing path by which we come to know its experience in a way not otherwise to be known. It is love also that explains


Why did our Lord take His life again? That requires that we understand as we may, the laying down of His life. He came into the world, merging in His Personality the human and Divine, the human demanding what we call visibility and corporeity. This Christmastime we celebrate the profound mystery. He laid down that life in the behalf of the corrupt race of Adam. In so doing He was at once acting in full obedience to the Father and bearing the sin of the race. By the Father's commandment He had authority to lay down His life in this precise way, and for this particular and peculiar end, the redemption of a lost mankind.

The commandment and the compliance were in the expression of a perfect love. Having thus expressed His love in laying down His life He expressed it again in taking it. It was in human form that He ascended into heaven and that as a Man at the right hand of the Father that He was anointed with absolute omnipotence. In His Person Deity and humanity are eternally wedded. The love of the Father and the Son is such that redeemed mankind can never be excluded. God and redeemed man are as inseparable as the Father and the Son. That is the true unity to which this chapter bears witness. As surely as the Father and the Son are one, so surely are the Son and the redeemed by His Blood, one. In Christ the redeemed are one with the Father. It is a union of life to be consummated in union of will and ultimately in the perfection of Christlikeness in the body of immortality. This is the true union of which our Lord speaks. The theory of some kind of union in an episcopal order which lacks the authority of history, morality and life eternal is an hallucination serving only to exalt a priestly order which is bereft of spiritual vitality.

Once, however, that we see this union of the sons of God as "joint heirs" with Christ, then we understand the marvellous love of the Good Shepherd in taking again the life He had laid down. In taking in His Person human nature and form He has achieved in heaven the true life giving union of man and God. He has secured for redeemed man all the Divine energy of love. He ever liveth to make intercession for us, that is to say, He has become the unique channel whereby the omnipotence of God can act in and through the believer in any given circumstance, making all things to work together for good. He has not taken His life again in order to regain heaven for Himself; He has taken that life again in order to secure heaven's power for us now and heaven's presence for us for all eternity. He is the living link now between the Father and every child of God and in this intercession He releases to each one all that each may need of Divine sufficiency. It is love no less that explains


Who are the sheep? Some things may be said of them. They know the mystery in measure of the life laid down. They know also something of the life taken again for none is in the fold unless he have eternal life, the life that Jesus took from the grave. They know the Shepherd and they know His voice. They will not follow a stranger but will flee from him for they know not the voice of strangers. By some means not indicated the sheep have discernment, there is a quality developed by association and instruction whereby they recognise THE voice. They know its distinctiveness. Sheep are gregarious, they are a fellowship in which the life taken again and now in heaven is expressed on earth in them. A life that is eternal moves and actuates them in time. And when the sheep are entering into blessing the love of the Father and the Son in heaven comes to manifestation in them and overflows one to another and to the world. If you see the truth of the union of redeemed man with God in the Person of Jesus in heaven then some things in the light of the text will be clear.

For one thing, this union of redeemed man with Christ in love is not a proposition or a creed but an experience. Nobody who has ever fallen in love can forget the transformation of life as all the emotions that have lain dormant have an object upon which they may centre. Even so, when thus the love of the Father and the Son is revealed and apprehended so love for Jesus thrills the heart of the redeemed child of God. It is no longer religion, it is certainly not ecclesiasticism, it is far beyond even a creed, it is the thrill of the human heart opened to a new sensation in the love of Christ.

Again the sheep may look into this love in laying down the life and perceive its sin bearing qualities. Wonderful love so expressed provides a new assessment of our sin. In that love we look deeper than ever before into our hearts and that which we see provokes a new amazement that the Father and the Son should have such a love as would yield the life of the Son for the sake of such sheep! In such circumstances it is impossible to restrain the conviction that such a love as is thus expressed between the Father and the Son in the behalf of the sheep must transform the heart and outlook of the sheep

. No child of God with this vibrant eternal life within him can know much about the love of the Father and the Son until he too, sees that the love of God needs for its fruition in the redeemed, something " laid down ." It is in the behalf of those who may neither desire it nor be grateful for it. It is the understanding of a ministry of love and sacrifice finding its impulse not in the appeal and the gratitude of those who are ministered unto, but finding its spring in the love of the Father and the Son made active in the sheep who truly are one with the Shepherd. Did He lay down His life for me? What wonderful love! Did He take His life again for me? What a wonderful experience the child of God may have as in the joy of the love of the Father and the Son, he, too, lays down somewhat for those who while not asking for it may yet one day enter into the joy of love Divine.

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