1684. “Feed My Lambs”: A Sunday School Sermon

by on

No. 1684-28:565. A Sermon Delivered On Lord’s Day Morning, October 15, 1882, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

So when they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” He says to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He says to him, “Feed my lambs.” {Joh 21:15}

For other sermons on this text:
   {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 117, “Do You Love Me?” 112}
   {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1684, “Feed My Lambs — A Sunday School Sermon” 1685}
   Exposition on Joh 21 {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3057, “Following Christ” 3058 @@ "Exposition"}
   Exposition on Joh 21 {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3146, “Power of Christ’s Presence, The” 3147 @@ "Exposition"}
   Exposition on Joh 21 {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3378, “God’s Prison, Warden, and Prisoner” 3380 @@ "Exposition"}
   Exposition on Joh 21 {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3524, “Do I Love the Lord or Not?” 3526 @@ "Exposition"}

1. Read the whole chapter, and observe the change of scene. First, they are on the lake fishing, casting their nets at Christ’s command, and dragging to land a multitude of large fishes. They have all come on shore, and when they have had breakfast, their faces are not turned to the sea, but to the pastures on the hill-side. These are clothed with flocks, and the Master says no more about fishermen and fish, but speaks of shepherds and sheep. Herein lies a parable: the servants of the Lord Jesus are first fishermen and then shepherds. The first work of Christ’s servants is comprised in that commission, “Go, into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”; or, parabolically, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.” They begin their heavenly vocation as fishermen, even as Jesus said to them at the first, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their earliest work is to preach the gospel, which is like the letting down of a great seine net, {a} enclosing life of all kinds. They are not to make a selection of characters so as to preach only to likely people: that would be comparable to angling, a metaphor which is used in the Old Testament in connection with destruction, and not in reference to salvation, even as Amos says: “The Lord God has sworn by his holiness, that, ‘Lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.’ ” In gospel fishery we let down the big net and thus encompass many of all kinds. In the act of preaching the gospel, all is fish that comes into the net; the sorting of the good from the bad is to be done another day. Our urgent work — I mean yours and mine, my brethren — is to go out into the world and proclaim the blessed gospel of salvation to all who care to hear us. We are to go into every place to which we can gain access, “into all the world”; “into the streets and lanes of the city, into the highways and hedges”: anywhere and everywhere the whole world over. Our one instrument as fishermen for Christ is the gospel of the grace of God. God forbid that we should use any other. May the Lord help us to keep at our fishing, and may we come and instantly receive divine direction concerning how and where to cast the net, so that we may have a full net, and yet a net unbroken, with which we may fish again.

2. After this is done, and while it is being done, another art is to be practised. Fishing is not all, as many seem to think. It is a great part of our service, and oh that it were more attended to; but after it has been attended to shepherding comes in, and is a work of equal weight. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have his servants attend to this second task with all their hearts. If souls are converted they have been brought up from the depths of sin, and the scene changes: we see a flock, “the church of God which he has purchased with his own blood,” This flock needs as much care as any other, yes, it needs to be tended with the utmost labour and watchfulness. The Lord Jesus himself is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, the Great Shepherd who is brought again from the dead, and the Chief Shepherd under whom he has appointed shepherds to watch for the souls of men. He will have those of us whom he calls to his service to shepherdize those who are converted: leading, protecting, feeding, comforting, and helping them, he will call us to account if we neglect this charge, for he will require his flock at our hands, saying, “Where is the flock that was given to you, your beautiful flock?”

3. This shepherd work is so important that three times the Saviour tells us to attend to it, saying first, “Feed my lambs,” then, “Feed my sheep,” or as some old manuscripts have it, “my little sheep,” and then again, “Feed my sheep.” We are to feed the babes in grace; to shepherdize the young men in Christ Jesus; and to feed the older ones who feel many growing infirmities, and need again the comforts of their earliest days. Three times over we are told like this: are we, then, so apt to fail in this? Jesus spoke only once to death, and Lazarus came out: are we more deaf than the grave, and must we be commanded three times? Let us no longer be disobedient to the heavenly mandate. We must never so evangelize the outside mass as to forget to fold and feed those within. We are to disciple all nations, and then to teach them all things whatever Christ has commanded us. Not every man who can haul in a net is ready at once to tend a flock; we need much grace, for the Lord Jesus Christ spent years in most industriously educating the Twelve, training the Seventy, and getting ready a band of followers who were not only saved, but educated, in order to teach others also. We must not be indifferent to this matter. The quiet work of building up believers must be steadily pursued, even though those who sound a trumpet before them may despise such ministries.

4. I shall speak this morning upon work within the fold, the feeding of the sheep and lambs, and this I shall do in order that I may help our beloved Sunday School teachers. This is their day, and if I do not seem to speak directly or exclusively to them, I hope I shall nevertheless say much to stimulate and direct them in their invaluable labours. I speak for them that you give them your most earnest prayers and loving sympathies, and from many I would ask for a more practical co-operation with them.

5. Concerning this shepherding for Christ let us first notice the sphere — “My lambs”: secondly, the man for it — one like Simon son of Jonas: thirdly, his preparation for it: fourthly, the work itself: and fifthly, the motive under which the feeding is to be carried out. Briefly on each point. Oh for help from the Spirit of God!

6. I. First, think of THE SPHERE. Although at the other times Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” yet this is the first time he says, “Feed my lambs.” To whom does he refer?

7. I think, first, to such as are little in grace. They have only a grain of mustard seed of faith as yet: their love is not a flame, but a spark: the leaven of grace within them has begun to work, but all the measures of meal are not yet leavened. The spiritual life in these is like a candle newly lit, apparently in danger of being suddenly blown out, and therefore needing great care. Weakness is an idea in the word “lambs”; and so in the church of God all such as are weak — and, alas, how many there are — all such as are doubting, all such as are poorly instructed, all such as are easily bewildered in doctrine, cast down in spirit, and apt to be staggered, — all such, I say, are to be watched over with special care, and therefore Jesus mentions them particularly and as a separate class and in the first place. If our kindness should neglect the strong it would be a sad pity, but it might not entail so much damage as if we neglect the weak. What does the apostle say? “Comfort the feeble-minded; support the weak; be patient towards all men.” In our numbers we have always a few who wear the clothing of spiritual widowhood; these are very sincere, but sadly anxious, scarcely knowing what full assurance means, but yet true and resolute. Their faith is a trembling one, crying “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Such are not to be blamed, nor avoided, nor despised, nor in the least degree discouraged; but, inasmuch as we ourselves also may be tempted with similar fears, we are to console them. We ought to know that if we are strong, our strength does not lie in ourselves; for our own strength is perfect weakness; and therefore we should deal graciously and tenderly with the weak of the flock. I think this is the reason why the weak were committed to Simon Peter in this particular case; because he had been very weak himself: he had denied his Master through his fears, and so he was taught to have compassion on other trembling ones. He who is himself encompassed with infirmities knows the heart of the weaklings: he can enter with sympathy into their doubts and their distresses, for he has felt the same. I say therefore, this morning, in the name of the Lord Jesus, to all of you who love him, “Look well to the weak ones of the church.”

8. But I cannot think, as some expositors do, that weakness is the main idea in the word “lambs”; for the notion of a lamb is not confined to the thought of weakness, since adult sheep may be weak and lambs may be vigorous; but the most prominent thought is that of youth. The lambs are the young of the flock, So, then, we ought to look especially and carefully after those who are young in grace. They may be old in years, and yet they may be mere babes in grace concerning the length of their spiritual life, and therefore they need to be under a good shepherd. As soon as a person is converted and added to the church he should become the object of the care and kindness of his fellow members. He has only recently come among us, and has no familiar friends among the saints, therefore let us all be friendly towards him. Even if we should leave our older comrades we must be doubly kind towards those who are newly escaped from the world and have come to find a refuge with the Almighty and his people. Watch with ceaseless care over those new-born babes who are strong in desires, but strong in nothing else. They have only just crept out of darkness, and their eyes can scarcely bear the light; let us be a shade to them until they grow accustomed to the blaze of gospel day. Addict yourselves to the holy work of caring for the feeble and despondent. Peter himself that morning must have felt like a newly enlisted soldier, for he had in a sense ended his public Christian life by denying his Lord, and he had begun it again when he “went out and wept bitterly.” He was now making a new confession of his faith before his Lord and his brethren, and, therefore, because he was made to sympathise like this with recruits he is commissioned to act as a guardian for them. Young converts are too timid to ask for our help, and so our Lord introduces them to us, and with an emphatic word of command he says, “Feed my lambs.” This shall be our reward, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these you have done it to me.”

9. But surely we must include in this those who have been converted while young in years. We thank God greatly that we have among us and all around us many dear children who already know Christ. We have never as a church thought that a certain number of years must have passed over a child before he can confess his faith in Christ and be received into the church. It is sometimes said that we teach adult baptism. We do nothing of the kind. We practise believer’s baptism, and baptize all who confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they are children or adults. Our enquiry concerning fitness does not refer to age, but to faith. The number or the fewness of days or years is no consideration whatever with us. Our question is, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” If that is fairly answered we say at once, “What hinders you to be baptized?” However young a believer may be he should make a public confession of his faith, and be folded with the rest of the flock of Christ. We are not among those who are suspicions of youthful piety: we could never see more reason for such suspicions in the case of the young than in the cases of those who repent late in life. Of the two we think the latter are more to be questioned than the former: for a selfish fear of punishment and dread of death are more likely to produce a counterfeit faith than mere childishness would be. How much has the child missed which might have spoiled him! How much he does not know which, please God, we hope he never may know! Oh, how much there is of brightness and trustfulness about children when converted to God which is not seen in elderly converts! Our Lord Jesus evidently felt deep sympathy with children, and he is very little like Christ who looks upon them as a trouble in the world, and treats them as if they must be either little deceivers or foolish simpletons. To you who teach in our Sunday Schools is given this joyful privilege of finding out where these young disciples are who are truly the lambs of Christ’s flock, and to you he says, “Feed my lambs”; that is, instruct such as are truly gracious but young in years.

10. It is very remarkable that the word used here for “feed my lambs” is very different from the word employed in the precept, “feed my sheep.” I will not trouble you with Greek words, but the second “feed” means exercise the office of a shepherd, rule, regulate, lead, manage them, do all that a shepherd has to do towards a flock; but this first “feed” does not include all that: it means distinctly feed, and it directs teachers to a duty which they may, perhaps, neglect, namely, that of instructing children in the faith. The lambs do not so much need keeping in order as we do who know so much, and yet know so little: who think we are so far advanced that we judge each other and contend and are jealous. Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel: they require to have divine truth put before them clearly and forcibly. Why should the higher doctrines, the doctrines of grace, be kept back from them? They are not, as some say, bones; or if they are bones, they are full of marrow, and covered with fatness. If there is any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher’s conception of it than of the child’s power to receive it, provided that child is really converted to God. It is ours to make doctrine simple; this is to be a main part of our work. Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great need of the child’s nature. A child has not only to live as you and I have, but also to grow; hence he has double need of food. When fathers say of their boys, “What appetites they have!” they should remember that we also should have great appetites if we had not only to keep the machinery going, but also to enlarge it at the same time. Children in grace have to grow, rising to greater capacity in knowing, being, doing, and feeling, and to greater power from God; therefore above all things they must be fed. They must be well fed or instructed, because they are in danger of having their cravings perversely satisfied with error. Youth is susceptible to evil doctrine. Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error. They will hear of it somehow, even if they are watched by the most careful guardians. The only way to keep chaff out of the child’s little basket is to fill it brimful with good wheat. Oh that the Spirit of God may help us to do this! The more the young are taught the better; it will keep them from being misled.

11. We are especially exhorted to feed them because they are so likely to be overlooked. I am afraid our sermons often go over the heads of the younger folk, who, nevertheless, may be as true Christians as the older ones. Blessed is he who can so speak as to be understood by a child! Blessed is that godly woman who in her class so adapts herself to girlish modes of thought that the truth from her heart streams into the children’s hearts without restraint or hindrance.

12. We ought especially to feed the young because this work is so profitable. Do what we may with people converted late in life, we can never make much of them. We are very glad of them for their own sakes; but at seventy what remains even if they live another ten years? Train up a child, and he may have fifty years of holy service before him. We are glad to welcome those who come into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, but they have hardly taken their pruning hook and their spade before the sun goes down, and their short day’s work is ended. The time spent in training the late convert is greater than the time reserved for his actual service: but you take a child convert and teach him well, and as early piety often becomes eminent piety, and that eminent piety may have a stretch of years before it in which God may be glorified and others may be blessed, such work is profitable to a high degree. It is also most beneficial work to ourselves. It exercises our humility and helps to keep us lowly and meek. It also trains our patience; let those who doubt this try it; for even young Christians tax the patience of those who believe in them and are therefore anxious that they should justify their confidence. If you want big-souled, large-hearted men or women, look for them among those who are much engaged among the young, bearing with their follies, and sympathising with their weaknesses for Jesus’ sake.

13. You see the sphere which is presented to your zealous activity. Will you not occupy it? Many of you are already engaged in it; see to it that you fulfil your high calling, and to the utmost feed the lambs.

14. II. Secondly, let us speak of THE MAN who is to do this.

15. I look upon my text as addressed, not to Peter only, but to those who are like Peter. What if I say it is addressed to us all? As servants and lovers of Jesus, he says to us, “Feed my lambs.” Who should do it? Christ selected Simon Peter as a leading man. He was one of the chief of the apostles, if we may use such a word. He was one of the triumvirate that led the vanguard — Peter, and James, and John. But though a leading man, he was to feed the lambs, for no man may think himself too great to care for the young. The best of the church are none too good for this work. And, dear friends, do not think because you have other service to do that therefore you should take no interest in this form of holy work, but kindly, according to your opportunities, stand ready to help the little ones, and to cheer those whose chief calling it is to attend to them. This message comes to us all: “Feed my lambs.” To the minister, and to all who have any knowledge of the things of God, the commission is given. See to it that you look after the children who are in Christ Jesus. Peter was a leader among believers, yet he must feed the lambs.

16. But he was especially a warm-hearted man. Simon Peter was not a Welshman, but he had a great deal of what we know as Welsh fire in him. He was just the kind of man to interest the young. Children delight to gather around a fire, whether it is on the hearth or in the heart. Certain people appear to be made of ice, and children speedily shrink away from these: congregations or classes grow smaller every Sunday when cold-blooded creatures preside over them. But when a man or a woman has a kindly heart, the children seem to gather readily, just as flies in these autumn days swarm on a warm sunny wall. Therefore Jesus says to warm-hearted Simon, “Feed my lambs.” He is the man for the job.

17. Simon Peter was, moreover, an experienced man. He had known his own weakness; he had felt the pangs of conscience; he had sinned much and had been forgiven much, and now he was brought in tender humility to confess the love and loveliness of Jesus. We want experienced men and women to talk to converted children, and to tell them what the Lord has done for them, and what have been their dangers, their sins, their sorrows, and their comforts. The young are glad to hear the story of those who have been further on the road than they have. I may say of experienced saints — their lips keep knowledge. Experience lovingly narrated is suitable food for young believers, instruction such as the Lord is likely to bless to their nourishing in grace.

18. Simon Peter was now a greatly indebted man. He owed much to Jesus Christ, according to that rule of the kingdom — he loves much to whom much has been forgiven. Oh you who have never entered upon this service for Christ, and yet might do it well, I beseech you to consider your obligation to Jesus. The state of our Sunday Schools at the present moment is a strong argument for your assistance. We have plenty of children and few teachers; around this place of worship many Sunday Schools are doing their work in a lame and halting manner for lack of teachers. Oh you who owe so much to Christ, will you not feed his lambs? Ought you not to be eager to offer yourselves? Will you refuse him? Come forward at once and say, “I have left this work to younger hands, but I will do so no longer. I have experience, and I trust I still retain a warm heart within my bosom; I will go and join these workers, who are steadily feeding the lambs in the name of the Lord.” So much for the man who is called to feed the lambs.

19. III. Thirdly, when the Lord calls a man to a work, he gives him THE PREPARATION necessary for it. How was Peter prepared for feeding Christ’s lambs?

20. First, by being fed himself. The Lord gave him a breakfast before giving him a commission. You cannot feed lambs or sheep either unless you are fed yourself. It is quite right for you to be teaching a great part of the Lord’s day; but I think a teacher is very unwise who does not come to hear the gospel preached and get a meal for his own soul. First be fed, and then feed.

21. But Peter was especially prepared for feeding the lambs by being with his Master. He would never forget that morning, and all the incidents of it. It was Christ’s voice that he heard; it was Christ’s look that pierced him to the heart: he breathed the air which surrounded the risen Lord, and this fellowship with Jesus perfumed Peter’s heart and tuned Peter’s speech, so that he might afterwards go out and feed the lambs. I commend to you the study of instructive books, but above all I commend the study of Christ. Let him be your library. Get near to Jesus. An hour’s communion with Jesus is the best preparation for teaching either the young or the old.

22. Peter was also prepared in a more painful way than that, namely, by self-examination. The question came to him three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Often the vessel needs scouring with self-examination before the Lord can properly use it to convey the living water to thirsting ones. It never hurts a true-hearted man to search his own spirit and to be searched and tried by his Lord. It is the hypocrite who is afraid of the truth which tests his profession: he dreads trying discourses, and trying meditations; but the genuine man needs to know for certain that he really does love Christ, and therefore he looks within him and questions and cross-examines himself.

23. Mainly, dear friends, that examination should be exercised concerning our love; for the best preparation for teaching Christ’s lambs is love, — love for Jesus and for them. We cannot be priests on their behalf unless like Aaron we wear their names upon our hearts. We must love or we cannot bless. Teaching is poor work when love is gone; it is like a smith working without fire, or a builder without mortar. A shepherd who does not love his sheep is a hireling and not a shepherd: he will flee in the time of danger, and leave his flock to the wolf. Where there is no love there will be no life; living lambs are not to be fed by dead men. See, brothers and sisters, we preach and teach love: our subject is the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can we teach this if we have no love ourselves? Our object is to create love in the hearts of those we teach, and to foster it where it already exists; but how can we convey the fire if it is not kindled in our own hearts? How can he promote the flame whose hands are damp, and dripping with worldliness and indifference, so that he acts on the child’s heart rather as a bucket of water than as a flame of fire? These lambs of the flock live in the love of Christ: shall they not live in ours? He calls them his lambs, and so they are; shall we not love them for his sake? They were chosen in love; they were redeemed in love; they have been called in love; they have been washed in love; they have been fed by love, and they will be kept by love until they come to the green pastures on the hill tops of heaven. You and I will be out of gear with the vast machinery of divine love unless our souls are full of affectionate zeal for the good of the beloved ones. Love is the grandest preparation for the ministry, whether exercised in the congregation or in the class. Love, and then feed. If you love, feed. If you do not love, then wait until the Lord has quickened you, and do not lay your unhallowed hand on this sacred service.

24. So I have described the sphere, the man, and his preparation.

25. IV. Let us now consider THE WORK: “Feed my lambs.”

26. I have given you the gist of this subject already. With the weak of the flock, with the new converts in the flock, with the young children in the flock, our principal business is to feed. Every sermon, every lesson, should be a feeding sermon and a feeding lesson. It is of little use to stand and thump the Bible and call out, “Believe, believe, believe!” when no one knows what is to be believed. I see no use in fiddles and tambourines; neither lambs nor sheep can be fed upon brass bands. There must be doctrine, solid, sound, gospel doctrine to constitute real feeding. When you have a steak on the table, then ring the dinner-bell; but the bell feeds no one if no food is served up. Getting children to meet in the morning and the afternoon is a waste of their steps and yours if you do not set before them soul-saving, soul-sustaining truth. Feed the lambs; you do not need to pipe to them, nor put garlands around their necks; but do feed them.

27. This feeding is humble, lowly, unostentatious work. Do you know the name of a shepherd? I have known the names of one or two who follow that calling, but I never heard anyone speak of them as great men; their names are not in the papers, nor do we hear of them as a trade with a grievance, claiming to be noticed by the legislature. Shepherds are generally quiet, unobtrusive people. When you look at the shepherd, you would not see any difference between him and the ploughman, or the cart driver. He plods on uncomplainingly through the winter, and in the early spring he has no rest night or day because the lambs are needing him: he does this year after year, and yet he will never be made a Knight of the Garter, nor even be exalted to the peerage, albeit he may have done far more useful work than those who are floated into rank upon their own beer-barrels. So in the case of many a faithful teacher of young children; you hear very little about him, yet he is doing grand work for which future ages will call him blessed. His Master knows all about him, and we shall hear about him in that day; perhaps not until then.

28. Feeding the lambs is careful work too; for lambs cannot be fed on anything you please, especially Christ’s lambs. You can soon half poison young believers with bad teaching. Christ’s lambs are all too apt to eat herbs which are deleterious; we need to be cautious where we lead them. If men are to take heed what they hear, how much more should we take heed what we teach? It is careful work the feeding of each lamb individually, and the teaching of each child by himself the truth which he is best able to receive.

29. Moreover, this is continuous work. “Feed my lambs,” is not for a season, but for all time. Lambs could not live if the shepherd only fed them once a week. I think they would die between Sunday and Sunday; therefore good teachers of the young look after them all the days of the week as they have opportunity, and they are careful about their souls with prayer and holy example when they are not teaching them by word of mouth. The shepherdry of lambs is daily, hourly work. When is a shepherd’s work over? How many hours a day does he labour? He will tell you that in lambing time he is never done, he sleeps whenever he can, often taking much less than forty winks, and then rousing himself for action. It is so with those who feed Christ’s lambs; they do not rest until God saves and sanctifies their dear ones.

30. It is laborious work, too; at least he who does not labour at it will have a terrible account to render. Do you think a minister’s life is an easy one? I tell you that he who makes it so will find it hard enough when he comes to die. Nothing so exhausts a man who is called to it as the care of souls; so it is in measure with all who teach — they cannot do good without spending themselves. You must study the lesson; you must bring out something fresh for your class: you must instruct and impress. I have no doubt you are often driven very hard for material, and wonder how you will get through the next Lord’s day. I know you are severely pressed at times if you are worth your salt. You dare not rush to your class unprepared, to offer to the Lord what costs you nothing. There must be labour if the food is to be wisely placed before the lambs, so that they can receive it.

31. And all this has to be done in an exceptionally choice spirit; the true shepherd spirit is an amalgamation of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion; he is gentle, and yet he rules his class; he is loving, but he does not wink at sin; he has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp; he has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not licence; solemnity, but not gloom. He who cares for lambs should be a lamb himself; and, blessed be God, there is a Lamb before the throne who cares for all of us, and does so all the more effectively because he is in all things made like us. The Shepherd spirit is a rare and priceless gift. A successful pastor or a successful teacher in a Sunday School will be found to have special characteristics, which distinguish him from his fellows. A bird when it is sitting on its eggs, or when the little ones are newly hatched, has about it a motherly spirit, so that it devotes all its life to the feeding of its little ones: other birds may be taking their pleasure on the wing, but this bird sits still the lifelong day and night, or else its only flights are to provide for gaping mouths which seem never to be filled. A passion has taken possession of the bird; and something like it comes over the true soul winner: he could gladly die to win souls; he pines, he pleads, he plods to bless those on whom his heart is set. If these could only be saved he would pawn half his heaven for it; indeed, and sometimes in moments of enthusiasm he is ready to barter heaven altogether to win souls, and, like Paul, he could wish himself accursed, if they would only be saved. This blessed extravagance many cannot understand, because they never felt it; may the Holy Spirit work it in us, so we shall act as true shepherds towards the lambs. This, then, is the work: “Feed my lambs.”

32. V. Lastly, let us consider THE MOTIVE. Our Lord Jesus heard Peter’s assurance of love, and then he said, “Feed my lambs.”

33. The motive for feeding the lambs was to be his Master’s self, and not himself. Had Peter been the first Pope of Rome, and had he been like his successors, which indeed he never was, surely it would have been fitting for the Lord to have said to him, “Feed your sheep. I commit them to you, oh Peter, Vicar of Christ on earth.” No, no, no. Peter is to feed them, but they are not his, they are still Christ’s. The work that you have to do for Jesus, brothers and sisters, is in no sense for yourselves. Your classes are not your children, but Christ’s. This is not my church, but Christ’s. The exhortation which Paul gave was, “Feed the church of God,” and Peter himself wrote in his epistle, “Feed the flock of God who is among you, taking the oversight of it, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but with a ready mind.” Let these lambs turn out to be whatever they may be, the glory is to be to the Master and not to the servant; and the whole time spent, and labour given, and energy exerted, is every particle of it to redound to his praise whose these lambs are.

34. Yet while this is a self-denying occupation, it is sweetly honourable, too, and we may attend to it feeling that it is one of the noblest forms of service. Jesus says, “My lambs: my sheep.” Think of them, and wonder that Jesus should commit them to us. Poor Peter! Surely when that breakfast began he felt awkward. I put myself into his place, and I know I should hardly have liked to look across the table to Jesus, as I remembered that I denied him with oaths and curses. Our Lord desired to set Peter quite at his ease by leading him to speak upon his love which had been so seriously placed in question. Like a good doctor he puts in the lancet where the anxiety was festering: he enquires, “Do you love me?” It was not because Jesus did not know Peter’s love; but in order that Peter might know of a surety, and make a new confession, saying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” The Lord is about to hold a tender controversy with the erring one for a few minutes, so that there might never be a controversy between him and Peter any more. When Peter said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” you half thought that the Lord would answer, “Ah, Peter, and I love you”; but he did not say so, and yet he did say so. Perhaps Peter did not see his meaning; but we can see it, for our minds are not confused as Peter’s was on that memorable morning. Jesus in effect said, “I love you so much that I trust you with what I purchased with my heart’s blood. The dearest thing I have in all the world is my flock: see, Simon, I have such confidence in you, I so completely rely on your integrity as being a sincere lover of me, that I make you a shepherd for my sheep. These are all I have on earth, I gave everything for them, even my life, and now, Simon, son of Jonas, take care of them for me.” Oh, it was “kindly spoken.” It was the great heart of Christ saying, “Poor Peter, come right in and share my dearest cares.” Jesus so believed Peter’s declaration that he did not tell him so in words, but in deeds. Three times he said it, “Feed my lambs: feed my sheep: feed my sheep,” to show how much he loved him. When the Lord Jesus loves a man very much, he gives him much to do or much to suffer. Many of us have been plucked like brands from the burning, for we were “enemies to God by wicked works”; and now we are in the church among his friends, and our Saviour trusts us with his dearest ones. I wonder when the prodigal son came back and the father received him, whether when market day came he sent his younger son to market to sell the wheat and bring home the money. Most of you would have said, “I am glad the boy is come back; at the same time I shall send his older brother to do the business, for he has always stuck by me,” As for myself, the Lord Jesus took me in as a poor prodigal son, and it was not many weeks before he put me in trust with the gospel, that greatest of all treasures; this was a grand love-token. I know of nothing that excels it. The commission given to Peter proved how thoroughly the breach was healed, how fully the sin was forgiven, for Jesus took the man who had cursed and sworn in denial of him and told him to feed his lambs and sheep. Oh, blessed work, not for yourselves, and yet for yourselves! He who serves himself shall lose himself, but he who loses himself really serves himself in the best possible way.

35. The master motive of a good shepherd is love. We are to feed Christ’s lambs out of love.

36. First, as a proof of love. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” If you love me, feed my lambs. If you love Christ, show it, and show it by doing good to others, by laying yourself out to help others so that Jesus may have the joy of them.

37. Next, as an inflowing of love. “Feed my lambs,” for if you love Christ a little when you begin to do good, you will soon love him more. Love grows by active exercise. It is like the blacksmith’s arm, which increases its strength by wielding the hammer. Love loves until it loves more, and it loves more until it loves more; and it still loves more until it loves most of all, and then it is not satisfied, but aspires after enlargement of heart so that it may copy even more fully the perfect model of love in Christ Jesus, the Saviour.

38. Besides being an inflowing of love, the feeding of lambs is an outflow of love. How often have we told our Lord that we loved him when we were preaching, and I do not doubt you teachers feel more of the pleasure of love for Jesus when you are busy with your classes than when you are by yourselves at home. A person may go home and sit down and groan out — 

   ’Tis a point I long to know
   Oft it causes anxious thought,

and wipe his forehead and rub his eyes, and get into the dumps without end; but if he will rise up and work for Jesus, the point he longs to know will soon he settled, for love will come pouring out of his heart until he can no longer question whether it is there.

39. So let us remain in this blessed service for Christ that it may be the delight of love, the very ocean in which love shall swim, the sunlight in which it shall bask. The recreation of a loving soul is work for Jesus Christ; and among the highest and most delightful forms of this heavenly recreation is the feeding of young Christians; endeavouring to build them up in knowledge and understanding, so that they may become strong in the Lord. May the Lord bless you, dear fellow labourers in the Sunday School, from this time on and for evermore.

[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Joh 21]
{See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Spirit of the Psalms — Psalm 104” 104}
{See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Privileges, Unchanging Love — ‘Lovest Thou Me?’ ” 735}
{See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3564, “Publications” 3566 @@ "Almanac for 1883"}

{a} Seine net: A fishing net designed to hang vertically in the water, the ends being drawn together to enclose the fish. OED.

Spirit of the Psalms
Psalm 104 <10s. 11s.>
1 Oh worship the King,
   All glorious above;
   Oh gratefully sing
   His power and his love;
   Our Shield and Defender,
   The Ancient of Days,
   Pavilion’d in splendour,
   And girded with praise.
2 Oh tell of his might,
   Oh sing of his grace.
   Whose robe is the light,
   Whose canopy, space;
   Whose chariots of wrath
   Deep thunder clouds form;
   And dark is his path
   On the wings of the storm.
3 The earth with its store
   Of wonders untold,
   Almighty, thy power
   Hath founded of old;
   Hath stablish’d it fast
   By a changeless decree,
   And round it hath cast,
   Like a mantle, the sea.
4 Thy bountiful care
   What tongue can recite?
   It breathes in the air,
   It shines in the light,
   It streams from the hills,
   It descends to the plain,
   And sweetly distils
   In the dew and the rain.
5 Frail children of dust,
   And feeble as frail,
   In thee do we trust,
   Nor find thee to fail;
   Thy mercies how tender,
   How firm to the end,
   Our Maker, Defender,
   Redeemer, and Friend!
6 Oh measureless might!
   Ineffable love!
   While angels delight
   To hymn thee above,
   The humbler creation,
   Though feeble their lays,
   With true adoration
   Shall lisp to thy praise.
                  Sir Robert Grant, 1839.

The Christian, Privileges, Unchanging Love
735 — “Lovest Thou Me?” <7s.>
1 Hark, my soul! it is the Lord;
   ‘Tis thy Saviour, hear his word;
   Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee:
   “Say, poor sinner, lov’st thou me?
2 “I deliver’d thee when bound,
   And, when bleeding, heal’d thy wound;
   Sought thee wand’ring, set thee right,
   Turn’d thy darkness into light.
3 “Can a woman’s tender care
   Cease toward the child she bare?
   Yes, she may forgetful be,
   Yet will I remember thee.
4 “Mine is an unchanging love,
   Higher than the heights above:
   Deeper than the depths beneath,
   Free and faithful, strong as death
5 “Thou shalt see my glory soon,
   When the work of grace is done:
   Partner of my throne shall be,
   Say, poor sinner, lov’st thou me?”
6 Lord, it is my chief complaint,
   That my love is weak and faint;
   Yet I love thee and adore — 
   Oh for grace to love thee more!
                     William Cowper, 1771.

Spurgeon Sermons

These sermons from Charles Spurgeon are a series that is for reference and not necessarily a position of Answers in Genesis. Spurgeon did not entirely agree with six days of creation and dives into subjects that are beyond the AiG focus (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism, modes of baptism, and so on).

Terms of Use

Modernized Edition of Spurgeon’s Sermons. Copyright © 2010, Larry and Marion Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario, Canada. Used by Answers in Genesis by permission of the copyright owner. The modernized edition of the material published in these sermons may not be reproduced or distributed by any electronic means without express written permission of the copyright owner. A limited license is hereby granted for the non-commercial printing and distribution of the material in hard copy form, provided this is done without charge to the recipient and the copyright information remains intact. Any charge or cost for distribution of the material is expressly forbidden under the terms of this limited license and automatically voids such permission. You may not prepare, manufacture, copy, use, promote, distribute, or sell a derivative work of the copyrighted work without the express written permission of the copyright owner.

Spurgeon Sermon Updates

Email me when new sermons are posted:

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390