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“They shall never perish.”
“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. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” – John 10:27-30
Sheep are weak, helpless, defenseless creatures. They have no strength to withstand their enemies. If they are lost, they cannot find their way home again. If sick, they cannot fight off their disease. If threatened, they cannot run fast enough to escape danger. If attacked, they cannot defend themselves.
The only security sheep have is in their shepherd. If their shepherd is wise, good, and strong, they are secure. If the sheep survive, if they live and flourish, the honor belongs to the shepherd. If the sheep perish, the blame belongs to the shepherd. It is the shepherd’s responsibility to keep the sheep. Knowing these things, those who are the Lord’s sheep rejoice to hear him say, “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. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”
The doctrine of our Lord in this text is very plain and obvious: We who believe are Christ’s sheep — weak, helpless, defenseless creatures. And the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Shepherd, wise, good, and strong. Because Christ is our Shepherd, we are secure in him. This is what the Son of God, our dear Shepherd, says concerning all his sheep: “They shall never perish!” With those words, the Son of God declares the absolute, infallible, unwavering security of God’s elect in Christ.
I realize that some pervert the doctrine of Holy Scripture concerning the eternal security and preservation of God’s elect in Christ. Some twist it into a lie to the eternal ruin of their souls. They attempt to justify their ungodliness by claiming to believe in God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of all responsibility. And they try to soothe their consciences with the delusion that they really are saved, though they live in utter, abhorrent ungodliness. Others cry, “Such teaching as that promotes lawlessness and antinomianism.” Because they must be ruled by law, they presume that everyone must. Because they are forced servants and mercenary soldiers, they presume that there is no such thing as voluntary obedience to the Son of God.
I regret such perversions; but I will not hold back the truth of God for fear that some godless wretch will pervert it, or be offended by it. Our Lord never hesitated to proclaim the truth, even when he knew the people to whom he was preaching would twist his words, pervert his doctrine, or be offended by the gospel he preached. When our Master preached the fulfillment of the law, his enemies said, “He is an enemy of the law.” When he preached election, they took up stones to kill him. When the Son of God preached the free forgiveness of sin, they said, “He is the friend of publicans and sinners, a promoter of licentiousness.” When the Lord Jesus Christ preached moral freedom, freedom of conscience, his enemies said, “He is a glutton and a wine bibber.”
Following the example of Christ, I want all who read these lines to know and rejoice in the absolute security and preservation of God’s elect in Christ. Some of you may be confused by this doctrine. Some may twist and pervert my doctrine to the ruin of their own souls. But, for those who believe God, the doctrine set forth in this chapter will be full of comfort, peace, assurance and joy for their souls.
Without question, the Word of God teaches the perseverance of the saints. Those who are born of God must and shall persevere. They will continue in the faith of Christ. God’s elect both believe and keep on believing. The true believer begins in faith, lives in faith, and dies in faith. True faith never quits (Matthew 10:22; John 8:31; 1 Corinthians 15:1; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:6, 14). The Word of God is very clear in this matter: Only those who continue in the faith shall enter into glory. This is the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints.
However, the Bible also teaches the preservation of God’s elect in Christ. Those who are truly born of God will most certainly persevere in faith, because we are preserved in Christ by almighty grace. Not one of God’s elect shall ever perish. The Word of God teaches the preservation of the saints just as plainly, just as fully, just as forcibly as it teaches the perseverance of the saints. Perseverance is the believer continuing in faith. Preservation is God keeping his people in faith. Perseverance is the believer holding Christ by the hand of faith. Preservation is Christ holding the believer by the hand of grace.
“Jesus is our God and Savior, Guide, and Counselor, and Friend:
He will never, never leave us, Nor will let us quite leave Him.”
Having Christ as our Shepherd, all of God’s sheep are absolutely secure in his hands. It is not possible for any true believer to perish, because we are preserved by the grace of God in Christ.
A Divine Distinction
Here is a divine distinction: — “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Let men denounce it as they may, the God of the Bible does distinguish between men. He chooses some and passes by others. He redeems some and leaves others under the curse. He calls some and rejects others. He saves some and does not save others. Grace is God’s prerogative. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:16).
Our Lord clearly teaches his sovereignty in salvation in this chapter. He said to the unbelieving Jews who refused to believe his word, “Ye are not of my sheep.” And he told them that the reason for their unbelief was the fact that they were not his sheep (v. 26). The gift of faith and all other grace is reserved for God’s elect.
Catch these words and let them sink into your heart. God our Savior says of you and I who believe, these people are “my sheep.” In everlasting love, by sovereign grace, the Son of God has distinguished us from all other people, and made us to be his own sheep, his own peculiar possession.
All who believe are Christ’s sheep by a distinct election. We became his sheep by his own eternal choice. In the covenant of grace God branded his sheep and set a hedge about them, securing their eternal salvation (v. 16). The Lord Jesus says, “I know them.” And his knowledge is the peculiar knowledge of his own elective, omniscient love. Blessed word of grace this is. Christ knows his sheep! He knows who they are, where they are, what they are, all that they have done and all that they have been, what he will make of them, when he will be gracious to them, and how to bring them home.
We are his sheep by a distinct purchase, too. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 11, 15). The Lord Jesus Christ laid down his life for his sheep, in the place of his sheep, as our Substitute, in our room and stead. He offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice for sin. The Son of God died as a vicarious Substitute, suffering the penalty of the law for his sheep. Our great Savior accomplished redemption for us as a victorious Savior.
And God’s elect are made to be his by a distinct call. — “He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” This is that special irresistible call that Christ issues to his sheep alone. It is always effectual. It always accomplishes salvation. It always brings the sheep to the Shepherd. The good Shepherd calls his own sheep, and no one else (v. 3). He calls his sheep by name. When he calls them, he effectually leads them out. — Out of darkness into light! — Out of bondage into liberty! — Out of death into life! And they follow him. “These are they that follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth.” Do you hear the Shepherd’s voice?
The Lord assures us of something else regarding his sheep. His sheep will not follow a stranger. They know truth from error (v. 5; 1 John 2:20, 27). Those who are his sheep are taught of God; and, being taught of God, they have the mind of Christ and are enabled by his Spirit to discern truth from error in all matters spiritual.
A Divine Gift
Here is a divine gift. — “I give unto them eternal life.” This is one reason why we must believe in the eternal security of God’s elect. Eternal life is the gift of God. It is not God’s offer to men, but God’s operation in men. Eternal life comes to chosen, redeemed sinners as a matter of free grace. Man does not have eternal life by nature. Eternal life does not evolve from man’s sinful heart by some mysterious process of “spiritual evolution.” It is given to men graciously. It is performed in the heart by the power of God’s sovereign grace. The very word “give” forbids the idea that eternal life comes to men as a matter of debt or reward. “The gift of God is eternal life.” There was nothing in our hearts or conduct, which caused God to bestow eternal life upon us (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:30; Ephesians 2:1-4). And there is nothing in the believer’s heart or conduct which can cause God to take away his gift of eternal life (Isaiah 54:10; Psalm 89:30-36).
R. L. Dabney wrote, “God was not induced to bestow his renewing grace in the first instance by anything which he saw meritorious and attractive in repenting sinners; and therefore the subsequent absence of everything good in them would be no new motive to God for withdrawing his grace.”
It is contrary to the nature and character of God to take away his gifts so freely bestowed (Romans 11:29). This gift of eternal life is a gift freely bestowed. It is in no way dependent upon the contingencies of this present, mortal existence. If we acknowledge that eternal life is entirely the gift of God, in no way earned by or dependent upon the goodness of man, it must be concluded that those to whom eternal life is given are eternally secure in Christ (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
Any child who has not been blinded by religious error must recognize that eternal life must of necessity be eternal. I realize that “eternal life” refers more to the quality of the believer’s life union with Christ than it does to the duration of his life. But it certainly implies a life of eternal duration. When our Lord says, “eternal,” he means “eternal.” How can life be eternal if it comes to an end? If I have received from God the gift of eternal life, it is not possible for me, by any act of mine, or upon any grounds, to lose it and perish. “The gift of God is eternal life.” That which is born of God, the new nature created in us by the power of God cannot sin and cannot die (1 John 3:5-9).
The believer’s life must be eternal because it is a life in union with Christ. We who believe are so really and truly joined to Christ that we cannot possibly perish, unless he also perishes. We are truly one with Christ. He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” This union between Christ and his people is an immutable, indissolveable union. We are married to Christ (Hosea 2:19-20; Ephesians 5:30). We are members of Christ’s body, the church (Ephesians 1:23). Can you imagine Christ with a maimed body? Perish the thought! Yet, his body would not be complete if so much as one member were lost.
The believer’s life in Christ must be a life of eternal duration, because we are preserved in life by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30). The Holy Spirit was sent into the world both to call and to preserve God’s elect. He is the Giver of life and the Preserver of life. The Spirit of God is the seal of the new covenant (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). A seal is a mark of ownership. It is that which keeps something legally secure. A seal suggests permanent freshness. A seal means everything is okay!
A Divine Promise
Here is a divine promise. — “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.” Our Lord Jesus here makes a blanket, unconditional promise. It takes into consideration all times, all circumstances, all contingencies, all events, and all possibilities. Our Lord says, concerning all his sheep, I give unto them eternal life,” and because they are my sheep and I give eternal life to them, “they shall never perish.”
What if they are babes in Christ and their faith is weak? “They shall never perish.” What if they are young men in Christ and their passions are strong? “They shall never perish.” What if they are old men and their vision grows dim? “They shall never perish.” What if they are tempted? “They shall never perish.” What if they are tried? “They shall never perish.” What if all hell breaks loose against them? “They shall never perish.” What if they sin? “They shall never perish.” What if they sin again? “They shall never perish.” What if they fall? “They shall never perish.” What if they fall seven times a day? “They shall never perish.” What if they fall seventy times in a day? “They shall never perish!”
This promise takes in all the flock. “They shall never perish.” Not one of Christ’s sheep shall ever perish; no, not even one! This is not a distinctive privilege reserved for a favored few. It is a common mercy to all the chosen flock. If you are a believer, if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have received eternal life, you shall never perish! Christ himself has promised it. No, you cannot even sin away the grace of God bestowed upon you in Christ. Noah’s fall did not alter God’s grace. Abraham’s weakness did not make God’s grace less strong. Lot’s wickedness did not make him less righteous before God. David’s crime did not cause him to perish. Peter’s denial of the Lord did not cause his Lord to deny him. “Salvation is of the Lord!” Christ’s sheep shall never perish.
This doctrine of the believer’s security in Christ is in every way consistent with all revealed truth. It is most surely believed among the people of God. Deny this promise and with it you deny every promise of God. If one word from God cannot be believed, no word from God can be believed. Here are seven reasons why the sheep of Christ shall never perish.
The Book of God declares an actual, literal, accomplished, substitutionary redemption. Since Christ died for his sheep, in their room and in their place, they cannot and shall not die. He paid all our debts. — We have no debt to pay. He bore all our punishment. — There is no punishment left for us to bear. Christ satisfied the offended justice of God for us. — There is nothing left for us to bear, and nothing for us to satisfy. Justice pleads as strongly as mercy for the eternal salvation of those people for whom Christ died at Calvary (Romans 5:10; 8:31-34). If even one of those for whom Christ died were to perish, then his purpose in dying for them would be frustrated (Ephesians 5:25-27; Galatians 1:4-5; Titus 2:14). If even one of those for whom Christ died were to perish, then he could never see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.
4. The believer’s justification in Christ is an irreversible act of grace.
The trial is over. The court of heaven has pronounced an irreversible verdict upon us — “Justified!” God will not impute sin to a believing soul (Romans 4:8). God has put away our sins forever by the sacrifice of his Son. Our acceptance before God is in Christ. Our justification is free, full, and forever!
That which God has begun he will carry on to perfection. God is willing to complete his work in us. God is wise enough to complete his work in us. God is strong enough to complete his work in us. Without the least presumption, every true believer may gladly sing,
“The work which God’s goodness began, The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen, And never was forfeited yet:
Things future, nor things that are now, Not all things below nor above,
Can make Him His purpose forego, Or sever my soul from His love.
My name from the palms of His hands, Eternity will not erase:
Impressed on His heart it remains In marks of indelible grace:
Yes, I to the end shall endure, As sure as the Earnest is given,
More happy, but not more secure, The glorified spirits in heaven.”
7. The seal of the Holy Spirit cannot be broken (Ephesians 1:13-14).
A Divine Security
Here is a divine security. — “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” We are preserved in the heart of his love. And we are preserved in the hands of his power. “All thy saints are in thy hands.” We are in the hands of Christ our God and Savior. We are always in his hands. What a blessed place to be! This is the place of our security. These are the hands that were pierced to redeem us. These are the hands of omnipotent power. These are the hands that hold the reins of universal dominion. These are the hands that hold us in life. These are the hands of God himself. — “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:29-30).
This blessed doctrine of the believer’s security in Christ always draws a strong response from men. The self-righteous religionist says, “That is a dangerous doctrine. Such a doctrine will lead men into sin.” The presumptuous professor of religion will say, “Let us sin that grace may abound.” The true believer will say, “Such marvelous grace compels me to give my heart to Christ in undivided love, praise, and devotion.” (See Romans 11:33 - 12:2). Grace produces gratitude; and gratitude produces devotion.
Perhaps you are asking, “How can I know that this word of grace is for me?” This word of grace is for every self-confessed sinner who trusts Christ alone as Lord and Savior. If I trust him, it is for me. If you trust him, it is for you. Do you hear the Shepherd’s voice? Do you follow Christ? If so, you have eternal life; and you shall “never perish.”