From Sermons by Hugh Ross Mackintosh (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1938).
I AM THE DOOR
"I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and shall find pasture."—St. John 10:9
EVERYWHERE in this Gospel we are faced by Jesus' wonderful thoughts about Himself. Have you ever counted how many "I am's" are to be found in these central chapters? "I am that Bread of Life"; "I am the Light "I am the Vine"; "I am the Resurrection and the Life"—these are a few; and nearly always, you observe, Jesus finds the best and clearest expression of what He is in some entirely familiar object. Bread, light, the vine with clusters on its branches—nothing could be nearer to common experience, more intimately interwoven with daily life. That is something we thank Him for; it is just how we should have prayed it might be. We do not need or wish for a Redeemer far away from us, who can only be illustrated by some remote unfamiliar object we have seen but once in our lives—perhaps not even once. What He is and what He gives must come quite near ; it must be for using constantly as much as light or bread. Salvation is to be human nature's daily food. In the same way this text of ours begins with a very familiar picture. "I am the Door," Christ says; "it is by Me that men enter in."
Christ's comparison of Himself to a door or gateway recalls the great fact that in religion there really is an inside and an outside. We have all known what it means to be outside. To feel that there was a better region from which we were debarred, that when we tried to enter a blank wall rose up high before us and mocked our efforts, perhaps that others were passing us by and going in while we could not—we have all known this. Every man, except perhaps choice spirits like Richard Baxter, who had loved God as long as he could remember, has undergone this experience—they have had to grope and search and inquire; perhaps for long enough in vain. Look into your memory, and recollect how it may be you too once wandered in that outer world, and longed to enter where God was, and light and forgiveness and joy and hope. Think of the entrances you tried, and how they all seemed shut and barred. And then think how, somehow, a door opened, the light and warmth streamed out, and you felt yourself drawn in to the great friendship. That door was Jesus Christ.
Perhaps at the time you did not recognise Him as clearly as you do now. Indeed certainly you did not; it would be strange if all those months and years of fellowship with God had added nothing to the directness and accuracy of your knowledge. But now you are quite convinced, as He always was, that He is the one way of approach to the Father. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me"—does that seem an extravagant claim? Does it sound like the impatient feverish things men say before they have had time to choose their words? No; it is exactly true to life. We may come to a certain kind of God through nature, and to another kind through conscience; but if we are to reach the Father, to clasp and hold Him as our portion, an inseparable possession to which even death can make no difference—then we must come by way of Christ. That is what we mean when we speak of Him as the Mediator; that is what He also means when, in a homelier word, He speaks of Himself as the door.
Now in this text Christ details to us certain infinitely desirable things which become ours by entering in through His work, and taking advantage of the opportunity He provides. There are three things mentioned here which the Redeemer secures for us, not at the beginning merely, but continually. They all come from Christ through whom we have entered in. They are salvation, liberty, and provision. And every heart in this Church to whom Christ is dear can rise up and bear witness that He does bestow these things. He never is behind with His loving promises. The very fact that we are gathered where we are proves that we feel we have had such compassionate treatment from Him in the past, it is worth while visiting His grace again. Let us ask, then, without any elaboration, what that means—"He shall be saved, he shall go in and out, he shall find pasture."
1. First, then, salvation or safety. Naturally this is what is mentioned first, just after Christ has called Himself the door. A door shuts in, of course, but also it shuts out. When we pass through the entrance, we leave certain things behind, which we are glad to forget. There is the darkness, the loneliness, the failure, the danger, the uncertainty, the futility. Part of the charm of going in lies in escape from the haunting shadows. To be inside means safety.
Suppose we could take a frank confidential plebiscite, amongst us gathered here, as to what Christ has saved us from, I suppose when the answers came to be gone over, no two would be the same. General descriptions are very little use in such a case; God's love in human lives takes shape as variously as the shadows travelling over the hillside on a sunny day. You must settle the matter for yourself; no one knows but you what your worst danger was—whether of flesh or spirit—and how you came to be delivered. I have no doubt you do know. You would be sorry to forget; forgetting would rob you of some of your best reasons for gratitude. In every heart there is a secret place, a hidden treasury for Christ's past mercies; and we do not unlock and open it on every common occasion. No one cares to untie a bundle of old letters in a loved hand long done with writing, except in privacy and quiet; so the memories we retain of a higher succour and deliverance are sacred. But now and then we do revisit them. We comb them over again, and taste anew the fragrance of God's emancipating love, perhaps when we are tempted to despair for the future, or life is opening, or when a tried friend beside us needs a word of heartfelt testimony. But for the most part we lay them up in our heart.
For instance, some of us have recollections of far-off days when God interposed suddenly and powerfully, and snatched us away from a great danger. There were times when nothing but His mercy held us back. It was not that we broke through to safety; God broke in, with merciful violence, on our ignorance or infatuation or recklessness, and hurried us away from ruin. "Had I been left to myself another hour," we say, "the thing would have been done. The taint would have sunk in the blood: and where might I have been to-day?" "My steps had well nigh slipped: my feet were almost gone. Thy mercy, 0 Lord, held me up."
"Saved"—that is a word with various meanings; perhaps the whole Christian life consists in learning how deep the meaning can be. It is not a vague word. There is no English word more definite; nothing in life is more certain than that Jesus saves. People like us have been saved by Him all over the world: not in an obscure or unverifiable sense, but saved from guilty pollution, saved from contempt, saved from despair, saved into lovingkindness, saved into freedom to stop sinning, saved into the successful pursuit of goodness and likeness to their Father in heaven—to put it all in a word, saved into fellowship with God and man. Men who seemed to have lost the power of aspiration, whose friends had given them up in sheer disgust or sad weariness, encounter something or some one that persuades them to commit their lives to Jesus Christ: with what effect? With this effect, that instantly or by degrees new life is imparted to them, new tastes, hopes, preferences, inclinations, motives, delights; until not in boasting but for sheer thankfulness they come to say: "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me." That is salvation, and that is what you and I owe to the Lord our Christ.
Thus after all I think we can find one general name which does include every one of the dangers: they are all embraced in the word godlessness. Christ is Saviour because He has saved us—made us safe—from a life without God. The life without God is not necessarily an abandoned life there need be no gross or outrageous vices in it. But it means this—that we shirk conscience, that we feel alone and powerless in this vast universe, like children lost in a great city; that we feel no Friend beside us in sorrow; that we stand helpless and dumb before the sorest troubles of other men. And Christ has saved us because, through that wondrous love of His and its great reconciling act at Calvary, He has made us sure of God as the God Who gives Himself in pardon to the weakest and the most sinful, and to Whom, if we trust Him, we belong for ever and ever. Who can understand the danger of missing this but the man who has escaped from it? It is not as you stride on in the darkness that you know the peril; it is when you go back at dawn and see the footprints by the cliff's edge. Only they realize their debt to Jesus whose eyes have opened to what without Him they must have been.
2. The second good thing we owe to Christ is liberty. "He shall go in and out," the Master says. That, you recollect, is the familiar Old Testament expression denoting the free activity of daily life. You have it in the concluding promise of a favourite psalm The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth. We have taken over the phrase in common speech. " He goes in and out like one of ourselves," we say of an intimate family friend. We mean that when he is with us he altogether feels at home. All hours are free to him, all doors open. So Christ promises to His people perfect liberty in their Father's house. They are given access to His belongings. Nothing in all the universe with their Father's stamp on it which they may not claim and use. All things are theirs, for they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Of course, there is nothing mechanical, nothing magical or external or merely unconditioned about this liberty. It is not a freedom we can presume upon. If a man choose to say: "I belong to God, therefore I can do what I like and go wherever I please," very soon he discovers his mistake. He finds out there are atmospheres where Christian freedom cannot breathe, temptations which he dare not seek out and play with, imagery which it is fatal to admit to his secret thought. Christ gives him leave to, go in and out, but it is all within His Father's country, and affords no permission at all for self-willed excursions into forbidden country where the old enemy lurks and old besetting sins lie sleeping. The gift is freedom to love to learn, to serve; and when we are wise enough to interpret Christ so, to believe that we are free as He was free and as He makes us free and for the same great eternal purposes, then it is a never-ceasing fount of gladness. To have stopped being a slave to sin, or to the conventions of a very imperfectly Christianised world, and to accept from Christ the liberty we can enjoy in His company—there is the one secret, such that it can be lived by, such that it will bear being looked back upon, of a happy life.
We have all seen a perfect illustration of this liberty—and here if anywhere seeing is believing—I mean the children in a home worthy of the name. There the young people go about with a serene confidence that every one is a friend, pleased with their success, sorry for their mishaps, interested in their occupations. They go in and out. No one is haunted with an incessant fear of harsh criticism, or nervously afraid lest some petty household regulation should be transgressed, and a weary round of punishment begin over again. And they can always get at those who are able and ready to help them. It is told of Dr. Hort, the greatest Cambridge New Testament scholar of his time, that he would never lock his study door lest his children should not have access to him at any hour. Is there anything loftier or more sacred in the Christian privilege than this, that we have freedom of access, anywhere and at all times, to our Father? He is not weary of our coming. We cannot resort to Him too much. He calls us to "go in" and look upon His face, and hear His words addressed to us as privately and with as much care as if there were none other in the world. And there is another thing: the children in such a home accept care and love and gifts naturally, without too much distressing themselves as to their right to them. As one writer who understands boy nature puts it It never enters his head that he should be treated as he deserves. He is to be fed, because he is hungry; he is to be made happy, because his nature craves for it; not at all because he has made good a claim to be so treated." Should we be greatly pleased if our children were always thanking us effusively? Is it not better every way they should receive freely, without considering how much they deserve? Well, that is Jesus' thought of our relation to the Father. It is to be childlike freedom, all-reception and no barter. We have to take as a child takes or not at all. God sells nothing: but He gives infinitely, and all His gifts pardon, a new heart, peace of conscience, power to do His will—all of them we must accept not because we are worthy, but simply because He has love and we have need. He paid for them all once, when He gave Christ to die; and our part is to come with empty hands and receive, and to thank our Father that He has put us so deeply in His debt.
All that perhaps rather falls under the head of "coming in" but we must not, forget that there is "going out" as well. There is privilege only that there may be service. There is a world all round us, painfully in need of being kept sweet and clean; and we Christians are to go out into it, bearing with us power to change and redeem. In the old tales of the Middle Ages, the knight rode forth on his adventures with a potent charm under his doublet; and he went, fearing neither man nor devil, because he felt he had that about him which would turn the point of the best-aimed dart or the steadiest lance. If Christ has become our Saviour duty may call us into situations rife with sinful infection, where the air is charged with passion; but even there, with Christ in our heart, we are free. If we have the freedom of trust, and are free in soul, because leagued with God, we may lay anxiety aside. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
3. The third blessing is provision: in Jesus' words, "he shall find pasture." We have seen that freedom, which is anything more than an empty name, involves activity, exertion, labour; and immediately upon that follows the natural reflection that activity means the ceaseless consumption of old stores of power, so that if it is to last, and not die away in fatigue and hopelessness, some steady access of refreshment and new energy must be guaranteed. Life is a burning flame, and day by day the fire must be fed.
What Christ tells us here is that the needed provision is secure. Safety,—that blessing, at least so far as we have considered it now [belongs] largely to the past; liberty is a joy in the present; this last boon covers all the future. We must have the 23rd Psalm running half-consciously in our mind as the best commentary on this portion of the text "The Lord is my Shepherd," and all that follows after that. It is a promise that whatever task Christ may call you to, whatever burden maybe imposed, in your own behalf or that of others, He will strengthen you for it all, and when it is over He will refresh you. Sympathy that owes more than we can tell to the experience lying between Bethlehem and the Cross has taught Him how much our human weakness needs support, but better still, it has empowered and authorised Him to bestow the power we most need. How that help will come we cannot prescribe. This man meets Christ constantly in his daily toil; the most commonplace incident becomes a channel of the Saviour's love, and in the very thick of business he can touch, as it were, the hem of His garment. This other must wait for the secluded hour; when the dust and clamour are withdrawn, when the doors are shut and the heart is still, then the Lord appears, as He once did to the twelve.
The future is ours because of what the past has been. We have memories of a God who has loved and blessed us with salvation, and whose unchanging grace has taught us the joy of inward liberty; therefore we may be sure that in all coming days He will provide according to our need. On every stone of remembrance, with its inscription "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us," we can mount, as it were, a telescope that will look into farthest time, and see what has been magnified and perpetuated in what is yet to be. Now and always He will do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.