Spiritual Meaning of
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THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
Verily, verily, I say to you, he that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the watchman opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
The repetition of the term verily is intended to denote the great importance of the subject to which it is annexed, and thus to excite the reader's attention accordingly. For the single term verily is expressive of the truth of what is asserted, and, therefore, when it is repeated, it is for the purpose of giving double force to such truth.
Under the term sheepfold Jesus Christ intended to figure and to describe His heavenly kingdom and its blessedness, and since this kingdom and its blessedness are derived solely from the conjunction of the divine love and wisdom in the minds of those angelic beings who compose that kingdom, therefore, the conjunction of those heavenly principles was intended here to be expressed by the term sheepfold. Not to enter in, then, by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way, manifestly implies an attempt to attain to the above conjunction of heavenly principles, without paying any regard to the means necessary for introduction to it, which introductory means are here expressed by the term door.
The person making this attempt is described as a thief and a robber, because, if the necessary means of introduction to the heavenly sheepfold are overlooked and disregarded, it must of necessity follow that the person who overlooks and disregards them will appropriate to himself the divine things of the Lord, which are His divine love and divine wisdom, as if they were his own, independent of the divine bounty, and thus will incur the censure annexed to the double character of a thief and a robber; for one of these titles was intended to express the enormous criminality, on the part of man, of supposing that he can understand any truth, when left merely to himself without divine influence, whilst the other term was intended to express the equal enormity of supposing that he can be affected by any good separate from that influence. The two terms, indeed, thief and robber, according to their common interpretation, have no distinct meaning, and are, therefore, generally understood as expressing the same idea; but in the language of Jesus Christ, which is the language of God Himself, we are constrained to acknowledge, that each term must necessarily be applied to a distinct idea, otherwise the two terms would be mere tautology. Jesus Christ, therefore, applied both terms according to the distinct idea above-mentioned, because He saw it to be a matter of the first importance, to guard mankind against the distinct crimes which they involve, and thus to lead them to the grateful acknowledgement, that all pure love and pure wisdom are the continual gifts of the divine unmerited bounty of the Most Merciful God.
It has already been shown what is meant by the sheepfold, and by not entering in by the door; and, therefore, it is plain, from what was said on the occasion, that to enter in by the door implies the use and application of the means necessary to introduce to the conjunction of heavenly love and heavenly wisdom in the human mind, and thus of the means necessary for man's conjunction with the Supreme Good and the Supreme Truth. The person, therefore, who so enters in, is called the shepherd of the sheep, because the term sheep involves in it all the recipients of the above heavenly principles; and, of course, the term shepherd involves in it all those who cherish those principles by incorporating them into their lives. Jesus Christ, accordingly, afterwards calls Himself the Good Shepherd, to denote that in His Humanity He was ever cherishing the principles of the divine love and wisdom, until He fully incorporated them into His mind and life, and by so doing made His Humanity Divine, or One with the Eternal Father.
It is said, to him the watchman opens. By the watchman is here to be understood the Divine Good of the Divine Love of the Most High, which is called the watchman, because it stands continually at the door which leads to the conjunction of the divine love and wisdom in human minds; and he is said to open, because through the divine good of the divine love, and through that alone, communication is effected between man and his Maker, by virtue of which communication man is finally introduced to an eternal conjunction of the heavenly principles of love and wisdom in his own mind, and thus to an eternal conjunction also with the Divine Father and Fountain of those principles.
The sheep denote, as was observed above, all those who be come receptive of the divine love and wisdom; and their hearing his voice, or the voice of the watchman, means that they are ever attentive and obedient to the Eternal Truth, which is here signified by his voice. For the term his, in this place, has manifest relation to the watchman above-mentioned, by whom is signified, as was before shown, the Divine Good of the Divine Love of the Most High, the voice of which good can, therefore, mean nothing else but the Divine Truth, because nothing else properly proceeds from the Divine Good but the Divine Truth.
It next follows, that He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out. The sheep are here called His own sheep, to denote not only that they are principled in heavenly love and wisdom, but also that they acknowledge such love and wisdom to be from their Heavenly Father, thus not their own, only so far as they derive the heavenly gift from Him. It is further said of these sheep, that He calls them by name, and leads them out; because to call them by name, denotes that He is acquainted with all their qualities, thus with the distinct manner and degree in which each is receptive of His Divine Love and Wisdom; and because by leading them out is intended to be described His fatherly care over them, in conducting them to the knowledge of Himself, by instructing them in all truth relating to Himself, and to His heavenly kingdom.
It is afterwards added, that He brings out His own sheep, and goes before them, and the sheep follow Him.
The several distinctions here made are grounded in the double operation which the Almighty exercises on human minds, by leading them, first, to the knowledge of Himself and of His eternal kingdom, through the manifestation of heavenly truth in their understandings; and, next, by influencing them to act according to that truth, from the love of it, as operative in their wills. Thus the two expressions, leading them out, and putting them forth, were intended to mark the divine leading and government exercised by Jesus Christ over man in both principles of his constitution, namely, his understanding and his will, or his thoughts and his affections, and so to denote the entire guidance and rule which the Father of Mercies continually claims to Himself, over all His intelligent creatures, for their happiness and salvation. It is, therefore, added, He goes before them, to denote that when man becomes submissive and obedient to the divine rule and government of the Most High, he then lives perpetually in the Divine presence, and beholds the divine countenance ever before his eyes conducting him to the regions of bliss, by introducing him daily to a closer conjunction with all that is good, and wise, and happy. In this case it is further said, that the sheep follow Him, because to follow Him is an expression to denote an entire submission to His heavenly rule and government, and especially the imitation of His example that as He glorified His humanity by combats against the powers of darkness, and by continual obedience to the guidance and government of the divine love in Himself, so His sheep labour to attain conjunction of life with Him, by opposing the same powers of darkness, in submission to the guidance and government of heavenly love and wisdom ever flowing from that Glorified or Divine Humanity.
It is first said that the sheep hear His voice; and afterwards, that they know His voice, to point out a distinction which is of the utmost importance to be attended to, because to hear the watchman's voice is an expression intended to denote an obedient will; whereas to know His voice, is an expression intended to denote an enlightened understanding, as resulting from an obedient will. Thus the two expressions combined were designed to mark the full reception and operation of heavenly truth, both in the will and in the understanding, until it takes entire possession of the whole man, by rendering him receptive of its purifying and enlightening influences in those two grand faculties of his life, and thereby forming him entirely after its own image and likeness. It is, therefore, added, A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers, to denote that they will no longer suffer themselves to be led by evil principles and false persuasions, originating in the powers of darkness, which are here called strangers, but will rather turn their backs upon them, and for this eternal reason, because they know not their voice; in other words, because they have no fellowship or communion with the false and erroneous doctrines signified by that voice.
We learn from this parable all the instruction which Jesus Christ sums up in the following words, as its application, where he says, Verily, verily, I say to you, I am the Door of the sheep; all that ever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the Door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (Verses 7-11).
This application teaches us that Jesus Christ, as to His Divine Humanity, is the only door of introduction to the heavenly sheepfold, and that, consequently, we can never hope for any communication or conjunction with the Supreme Good, called the Father, only so far as we seek it in that Humanity. We learn, further, that all who set aside that Divine Humanity, and seek conjunction with the Eternal Father separate from it, are thieves and robbers; in other words, that they appropriate to themselves the Divine things of God, by claiming and holding them independently of the Divine Giver. We are instructed, yet further, that if we are wise to enter in at the above door; in other words, if we draw near to Jesus Christ in His Divine Humanity, and approach Him with a sincere heart, we shall be sure to find deliverance from all evil, and a communication of every heavenly good, both internal and external. Lastly, we learn, that they who do not approach Jesus Christ in His Divine Humanity, and who consequently appropriate to themselves the Divine things of His holy love and wisdom, independently of Him, deprive themselves of all heavenly communication of love, of wisdom, and of life, whilst they who are wise to draw near to Jesus Christ as the only God, because the only Giver of every good gift, not only open in their own minds a communication with His life of love and wisdom, but also receive that life in a greater fullness than was ever before received by the children of men, agreeably to the prophetic declaration, where it is written concerning the appearing of the Incarnate God, Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven-fold, as the light of seven days (Is. 30:26). Let us resolve, therefore, from now on, to believe in and approach Jesus Christ, in His Divine Humanity, as our only God and Saviour, and no longer to attempt to climb up into the sheepfold any other way. Thus let us resolve to acknowledge all that we are, or have, to be the merciful gifts of that Great God and Saviour, that so we may no longer separate ourselves from the communications of His mercy, by calling anything our own independent of His bounty, but may rather experience a more abundant increase of His heavenly love and wisdom in ourselves, whilst we approach Him, as He wills to be approached, in that Glorified Humanity which He was pleased to assume for the gracious purpose of giving man more free access to Himself, and thus of securing to Himself a fuller and more free access to man. Amen.