THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
'Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.'—John xxi. 15.
Ieter was a fisherman. After the first
X miraculous draught of fishes, the Lord had said, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Peter's work on earth was made the symbol of his heavenly calling. After the second miraculous draught of fishes, in the days preceding the ascension, our Lord no longer calls Peter a fisherman, but a shepherd. There is a deep meaning in the change. One great point of difference between the fisherman and the shepherd is, that while the former catches what he has neither reared nor fed, and only seeks what is full-grown, casting away all the little fish out of his net back into the sea, the shepherd directs his special attention to the young and the feeble; on his care for the lambs all his hope depends.
The type of the fisherman gave no place for the Master to give special charge concerning the children of His Church. The shepherd's calling at once suggested the words, Feed My lambs, and sets forth the deep importance and the blessed reward of giving a first place to the little ones of the flock. Peter, and Christ's ministers, were not only to feed the sheep—the prosperity of the Church would specially depend upon their feeding the lambs. What was said to them is very specially applicable to parents as under-shepherds, who each have their little flock of lambs to keep and rear for the Master. Christ's commission to His Church through Peter shows the place the little ones have in His heart, and teaches us to think of the weakness, the value, the need, and the hope of our children.
Feed My lambs, Jesus says, and reminds us of the feebleness of our children and their religious life. I was once leaving a sheep-farm in company with its master towards evening. There were threatening clouds; just as we had left he hurried back to call his son, and cry out, 'Take great care of the lambs! there is a storm coming.' The Lord was just about to ascend the throne; one of His last words is, Care for the lambs. The sheep is a weak and helpless animal; how much more the little lamb! It cannot care for itself. The Master would have every minister and every parent think much how utterly dependent the child is on the care of those to whom it is entrusted. It cannot choose the company under whose influence it comes. It knows not yet to choose between good and evil. It knows nothing of the importance of little words or deeds, of forming habits, of sowing good or bad seed, of yielding itself to the world or God. All depends upon its surroundings: parents especially have the children in their power. What a solemn responsibility to lead and nourish them carefully, to feed them, not with the husks of this world's thoughts and pleasures, but with food convenient, the milk for babes which our Father has provided, to lead them only in the green pastures!
Feed My lambs: the words remind us of the high value of the little ones. In the lambs the shepherd sees the possibilities of the future: as the lambs, so the coming flock. The Church of the next generation, the servants with whom, in but a few years' time, Jesus has to do His work of converting and saving and blessing men, are the children of to-day. No wonder He says, — alas! how little we have understood or heeded the voice,—Feed the lambs. He says more, He says, 'Feed My lambs,' 'of such is the kingdom.' Not only for what they are to become, but for what they already are in their childlike simplicity and heavenliness, He loves them and counts them of great worth. For the lesson they continually have to teach grown-up people, for all the influence they exert in making their parents and elders gentle and humble and trustful, for all the blessings they bring to those who receive them in the name of Jesus, they are to Him of unspeakable worth, the most beautiful part of His flock. Let us try to catch His spirit as He cries,' Feed My lambs.' Oh, let us learn to look upon our children in the light in which Jesus looks upon them! Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to make the familiar words, Jesus' lambs, a deep spiritual reality to us, until our hearts tremble at the thought. Our little ones are His lambs: we are daily to feed them as such, that they may grow up as the sheep of His pasture.
Feed My lambs: the children's great need is here set before us. Food is the condition of growth. Food is something received from without, to be assimilated and taken up into our very life. The body has its food from the visible world. The mind is nourished by the thoughts that enter it. The spirit feeds, through the mind, on the thoughts, the words of God. The little ones cannot seek pasture for themselves; Christ looks to parents to bring to them day by day, not a chapter of the Bible just read over, and in most cases beyond their comprehension, but some of the thoughts of Divine wisdom and love, without which the soul cannot possibly grow. Not less carefully than the mother studies daily how to let the child have something to eat, and what it is to eat, ought she day by day to feed each lamb entrusted to her care. The one desire and aim must be to rear it for Him. The consecration of the child to the Lord must be the chief thing in its life. The idea of its being His, and growing up entirely and alone for Him, the absorbing desire, this will make the duty easy.
Feed My lambs: the words tell the provision Christ has made for His feeble ones. To whom were the words spoken? To one of whom the question had been asked, 'Lovest thou Me?' and who had answered, 'Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.' It is only one who is inspired by love to Jesus who can truly take charge of the lambs. This is the examination of fitness for the duty of parent and shepherd of the lambs,—' Lovest thou Me? This is the provision Jesus has made for the lambs: true love to Jesus can do the work.
Let every parent who longs to know how he can obtain the needed qualification for his work, give in his name for this examination. Let Jesus search your heart,—once, twice, a third time,— until the remembrance of past unfaithfulness brings tears, and the answer conies, Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I do love Thee. Alas! it is this that is the blight of so many a Christian home—the conscious, fervent, and confessed love of Jesus is wanting. Nothing influences a child like love: the warmth of a holy love to Jesus will make itself felt. There may be a great deal of religion, and of teaching, and of praying; it is only love that will conquer. Love to Jesus will lead to obey Him very carefully, to walk with Him very closely, to trust Him very heartily. Love to Jesus will make the desire to please Him very strong, and the charge He gives us to keep very precious. Love to Jesus will make *our testimony of Him very personal. The food with which we feed the lambs will have the warmth of a Divine love about it. Jesus wants parents who love Him, who love Him with their whole heart and strength: this is the provision He has thought out for His little lambs.
The religion of Jesus is a religion of love. Of the Father it is said, 'God is love.' Jesus Himself is the gift of a love that passeth knowledge. His own life and work is one of love,—love stronger than death. When the Holy Spirit comes to us He sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God. Our whole relation to the Divine is to be one of love. And our relation as parents and children was meant to be one of love. It was to restore this that Jesus came. And He does it by calling parents to love Himself, and then, receiving the little ones in His name, for His sake, and in the fervour of His love, to take charge of them. The love of earth He purifies and elevates by the love of heaven. And the home is consecrated by the light of Jesus' love resting on the children, and the power of His love dwelling in the parents, and the whole of education being made a work of love for Him.
Christian parents! see and accept your blessed calling; you are the shepherds of the Divine love to tend and feed the lambs. In His Church the Chief Shepherd has many shepherds to care for the flock, but none who can so care for the lambs as the parents. 'He maketh Him families like a flock:' it is to parental love, inspired and sanctified by redeeming love, that Jesus looks for the building up of His Church. Let us pray very earnestly to have, in the first place, our eyes opened to see things as Jesus sees them, to realize by the Holy Spirit what He feels for our little ones, what He expects of us and is ready to do for us in giving us wisdom and strength. 'Teed My lambs:' when this word is made the law of a parent's duty, what gentleness and love will it inspire, what heavenly hope, what faithful, watchful care, and what an unceasing life of faith in the love and grace and blessing of Jesus on our home! Let us often wait for the voice to say to us, 'Lovest thou Me? feed My lambs.'
Blessed Saviour! Thou art the good Shepherd, of whom my soul hath said, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.' I bless Thee for the tender love that did not forget the little ones, but didst so carefully commit them to the charge of Thy servant Peter, at his installation to the office of shepherd, in Thy precious, 'Feed My lambs.' I bless Thee for the holy privilege Thou hast bestowed on me of being a parent, and also bearing Thy commission: 'Feed My lambs.' I bless Thee with my whole heart for the honour and blessedness of being, in my little sphere, what Thou art in Thine, of being to others what Thou art to me, a gentle, loving shepherd. O my Lord! may my daily experience of the way in which Thy shepherd-love does its work on me be a daily lesson to teach me how to feed my little flock of lambs.
Blessed Master! the servant of whose love I am to my children, I beseech Thee open my eyes to look upon my children as Thou dost, to regard them always and only in the light of Thy claim upon them. Open my eyes to see what a holy life of fellowship with Thee, of separation from the world and its spirit, of watchfulness and trust, is needed, to do my duty to Thee and Thy lambs. Take away every thought of reluctance and fear of difficulty and burden, and let me see how a simple, childlike life with Thee is the best, the only true training for doing a parent's work aright.
And to this end, my Lord! fill me with Thy love. I confess with shame that there has been in my life so little of an enthusiastic love to Thyself. Lord, forgive it me, and deliver me from it. Let love to Thee, a bright, obedient love, be the atmosphere of the home in which my children grow up. O Thou who art Thyself the Lamb of God, and dost allow my children to bear the same name Thou dost, to be God's lambs; oh, let Thy holy love in my heart be the inspiring power of all my intercourse with Thee and with them. And let me so prove how wonderfully Thou art my Shepherd, and how blessedly I am their shepherd.
For Thy name's sake. Amen.