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“He Calleth . . . . by Name.”
“He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.”—John x. iii.
“He calleth His own sheep by name.” The unit is not lost in the indiscriminate mass. The colour of a personality is not merged in the monotonous grey of the multitude. The personalities are distinguished. “He calleth His own sheep by name.” He never mistakes one for another. We are not so much alike that we are treated as crowds. We are not repetitions of a type, uniform articles cast in a common and unvarying mould. We are individualities, every one original and unique, and bearing individual characteristics and name. “He calleth His own sheep by name.” He never confounds Thomas and John, or Peter and Nathaniel, or Mary and Martha. Each name suggests its special problem, and requires peculiar ministry. The ministries are 206varied and unequal, and in their inequality are to be found their grace and justice. In inequality is found the rarest equity. Equal bonds may mean unequal strain. Equal loads given to a dray-horse and a carriage-horse impose quite unequal burdens. One horse leaps to a sharp word, while another only responds to a heavy lash. You create the same pain by apparently unequal punishment. Therefore it is not similarity and equality of treatment that we require, but treatment guided by the discernment of the individual need. It is, therefore, a heartening evangel which comes to us from the Word of God, and which tells us that the Lord is acquainted with the individual need, and that from Him we receive the inequalities of mercy and grace. “He knew what was in man.” “I know My sheep.” “He calleth His own sheep by name.”
“He calleth his own sheep by name.” But this was said of Him in the day of His gracious travail, when He walked the heavy road of pilgrimage and pain. This was spoken in the day of His humiliation, when He companied with men, when He visited their lowly dwellings, and moved amid their common haunts, and sympathetically knew the needs of the individual heart. “He calleth His own sheep by name.” Will it be true of Him when He rises again on the third day, clothed in resurrection glory? In His humiliation He knew the individual 207heart; will exaltation create dimness and alienation? The gospel of my text is found amid the homely and companionable conditions of chapter x. But if we pass on through the deepening twilight and the hastening night, on through the darkness of chapter xix., by the terror of Calvary and the blackness of the tomb, on to the strange dawning of the Easter light, which breaks in chapter xx., shall we find Him changed? When the pilgrimage is trod, and death and the grave are left behind, when the humiliation is ended, and glory has begun, will He be the same companionable, discerning, sympathetic presence? Will He any longer know the individual life?
The same Loving Recognition after the Resurrection.
I turn to the wonderful record, with the music of my text ringing in my heart, “He calleth His own sheep by name,” and half-tremblingly I listen to His speech on the resurrection morn. “Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping . . . Jesus saith unto her, Mary!” “He calleth His sheep by name.” It is the same Master. And here is Thomas, trembling with misgiving, half stunned by the grim and unforgettable realities which he had seen on Calvary, with his hope buried in a sealed tomb, and despairing of any sweet and winsome 208morrow. “Jesus said unto him, Thomas, reach hither thy finger.” “He calleth His own sheep by name.” It is the same gracious look. And here is another of the prominent figures of the resurrection days, Simon Peter, consumed by self-distrust, fearful of vows and confessions, wanting to proclaim his love, and yet half afraid to look at the One he loved. “Jesus saith unto him, Simon, . . . . lovest thou Me?” “He calleth His own sheep by name.” It is the same unchanging and discerning sympathy. “Mary!” “Thomas!” “Simon!” It is the same Jesus, now clothed in the incorruptible, ministering to the individual life, applying His grace and comfort to the individual heart. “Mary!” There He is consoling a mourner. “Thomas!” There He is ministering to a doubter. “Simon!” There He is healing and restoring a denier. “I know my sheep.” “Mary!” There the resurrection Lord is ministering to the pain of bereavement. “Thomas!” There the resurrection Lord is ministering to the pain of misgiving. “Simon!” There the resurrection Lord is ministering to the pain of treachery and denial. Is there not something beautiful and fruitfully helpful in a record which tells us that the wealth of the resurrection ministry was given to the individual heart? The glorified Lord made His way to the three dark lanes in human life—to bereavement, to misgiving, to self-contempt, 209and He sought to bring into each of the black ways the soft warm, cheery light of the Easter morn. “Mary!” “Thomas!” “Simon!” He called the troubled sheep by name and led them out.
(1) “Mary stood without at the sepulchre, weeping, and as she wept, . . . Mary!” She knew the tone! She had heard it too often to mistake it for another. How had she learnt the tone? “Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils.” She had heard the voice then, a commanding voice, speaking in the midnight of her bondage. When her freedom was gained, when the devils had been expelled, she heard the voice then, a soothing, heartening voice, speaking in the soft, quiet dawn of her emancipation. And ever since the great enfranchisement, she had lived in the light and music of His gracious speech. And now at the grave she could not mistake the familiar tone. “She turned and said, Rabboni; which is to say, Master!” All this is not without its suggestion. If I want to be calmed by my Lord’s voice in the black crisis, I must familiarise myself with its tones in the common day. The mother hushes her little one in the dark midnight, with tones which have become familiar in the light. It is possible for one to be in the chilling midnight, and not to hear the tones of the speaking Lord! “Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” “My sheep 210hear My voice.” I want to know the voice in the crisis! Happy the soul that can say, “I heard the voice when He called me out of darkness into light. I heard it on my birthday! And I shall know the tones again if He speaks when I stand by an open grave.” Happy the soul that is so familiar with the voice, that it cannot mistake its music when the calm sunny day has passed into a troubled and tempestuous night.
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary!” What did the name mean when spoken by the Lord on that first day of the week? She was searching for death; she had met life! Perhaps the last time He had called her Mary was when He was toiling up Calvary’s slope to the cross. And between then and now there had been the crucifixion, the death, the burial. And now again, “Mary.” Then death was no blind alley, no impassable terminus, but a highway and a thoroughfare! She had seen Him enter, had seen Him emerge, and now the tones of His voice confirmed it. “Mary!” I think her conception of death was transfigured. Death is so imperious, its sovereignty appears to be so absolutely unconditioned. When we watch the dying, the transient is so obtrusive. We are held by the spectacle of the failing strength, the graspless memory, the dim discernment, the scanty breath; the brief flickering of the fading light; the expiration; 211the awful stillness. It all appears so final, with nothing suggestive of new beginnings and stronger days. But to hear the once-dead and buried Lord say “Mary,” is to have opened before one the gates of a glorious hope! “If He . . . emerged!” Then from that mighty premise I tremblingly draw a mighty inference, which He Himself has confirmed and justified in His own word. “If He,” . . . then I and mine! “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”
The Ministry of Retrospect.
Is it not a gracious thing that the witness of the risen Lord is first of all given to the weeping woman, bending near a grave? How much we need it! It is a dark lane, and the cold wind that sweeps across it blows out every earthly light! I am grateful for the gift of memory, and the gracious ministry of retrospect. To be able to sit in the twilight, before the lamps are lit, and just think about him, and about her, is to exercise a kindly gift of God. To live it all over again in memory, from the wooing days to the ministry of the last sickness, and the sacred fellowship of the declining day! It is very good of God to permit us to recall it all, to canonise our loved ones in the soft, transfiguring light of retrospect. But retrospect may be 212imprisoning; memory may paralyse me by vain regrets. If in the pensive twilight, while I recall my yesterdays, I hear the risen Lord call my name, the call awakes the thought of a wondrous tomorrow! When He calls my name, He calls my loved ones too, and my restrospect is transmuted into a glorious hope. My evening time is no longer a mere lingering over a sunset, but an eager watching for the dawn. My “good-bye” is softened into “good-night,” and I await the morrow of a brighter and more spacious day. “Thanks be unto God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Recognition of Thomas.
(2) “After eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them.”
“And Thomas with them.” I am glad that Thomas was with them. I am glad he was permitted to retain his companionship. I am glad they had not cast him from their fellowship because he was a sceptic. He must have greatly wounded his fellow-disciples when he so stoutly disbelieved what their experience had witnessed and confirmed. But they retained him in their fellowship. It is a beautiful glimpse of their broadening tolerance and their comprehensive sympathy. I think it was one of the first fruits of the resurrection light. Perhaps 213their wonderful experience had made them all so painfully conscious of the sin of their recent desertion that they had lost the very roots of a harsh censoriousness.
And I am glad that Thomas himself had not turned his back upon those whom he regarded as his credulous fellow-disciples. It so frequently happens that, when a man cannot fully accept the faith of his fellows, he severs himself entirely from their companionship and communion. This doubter might have said, “For me the matter is settled. The evidence is overwhelming. My judgment is final. I saw the ghastly scenes on Calvary. I heard His groans, and that one great cry that filled us all with fear. I saw the spear-thrust, and the expiration of the last breath. For me the promising crusade is sunk in the abyss of an endless night.” “Except I shall see in His hand the print of the nails . . . I will not believe.” And yet “the disciples were within, and Thomas with them.” “Then came Jesus.”
“I know My sheep.” “He calleth His sheep by name.” And he knew and called Thomas. The risen Lord came to him with infinite tenderness. “Peace be unto you,” and I think perhaps He directed His look more particularly upon the doubter. Do you think the Master needed to have gone further? He had not yet shown His hands 214or His feet, but He had done enough. The breathing of the blessing of peace upon this band of faithless deserters was the grandest revelation of the risen Lord. “Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side.” I don’t think Thomas ever did it. I think he tried to break in upon the speech of his Master, and check the painful repetition of his own proud speech. Indeed, the record reads to me as though Thomas leaped in with the interruption, “My Lord and my God!” He did not want the evidence of hands and feet. The great proof that the old Master was with them again was found in His marvellous love and undimmed friendship for a band of men who had deserted and betrayed Him! I go a little back in the dark story, and I read a phrase like this: “Art thou not then also one of this Man’s disciples?” . . . “I am not.” And I read again, “And they all forsook Him and fled.” And now, the deserted Lord stands again in their midst, and His words fall upon them like gracious rain: “Peace be unto you.” That is the revelation which won the heart and confidence of Thomas. And that is how Thomas will always be won; not by nail prints, not by the witness of any physical signs, but by the manifestation of spiritual glory! And so I would say to any soul troubled by misgivings to-day, Don’t forsake the 215upper room; don’t break thy fellowship with thy fellows; keep upon thy knees; bow in reverence before the unspeakable presence; watch for the signs of His coming in the realm of thy spirit; watch for suggestions and powers which come to the secret places of the soul, and thou shalt be led into a strength and quietness of communion, which will be proof to thee of the breathings of the Master’s peace.
Simon Peter’s Reconciliation.
(3) “So when they had dined Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon!” “He calleth His sheep by name.” I wonder what the risen Lord will say to him? The denial was only a few steps back in the dark way. “Art thou also one of His disciples?” “I am not.” That denial was never out of Peter’s mind. He felt he could never make another vow. He was the first to spring out of the boat when the Lord called, but he knew not what to say. He longed that the dark yesterday might be all undone, blotted out, and that he might have another chance. What will the Lord say to him? “Simon, . . . lovest thou Me?” Was it half-critical, half-ironical, a little condemnatory? Was it a sentence with an index pointing back to his denial? It may have been. To Peter it was; but whatever the Lord had said would have brought the dark hour back to 216Peter’s mind and heart. But it was something deeper than all this. Christ wanted to comfort this poor, self-distrusting soul. “Lovest thou Me?” It is more than a question; it is an appeal, an expression of the Master’s hunger. Only love hungers for love. Mere power hungers for obedience. When you do not love a person you care nothing for his love! But if you love, how you hunger for love! “Lovest thou Me?” The appeal for Peter’s love expresses the Master’s love. What the Saviour longed for He was giving. “Lovest thou Me?” implies “I love thee.” The Lord saw the love that dare not confess itself. He beheld the springs of affection welling up in Peter’s heart. But Peter was afraid to tell it! Yet the Lord wanted the confession. He knew that confession would break the alienation, and reconciliation would be complete. “Confess again, Simon!” The Lord saw in Peter a love that would be faithful unto death. In that self-distrustful soul before Him He beheld a martyred Peter wearing a martyr’s crown. “Lovest thou Me?” “Thou knowest that I love Thee!” In that confession the alienation was ended, and the old confidence more than restored. “He knew what was in man.” “He calleth His sheep by name.”
F. W. S. Clarke, Ltd., Publishers Printers, Leicester.
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