How The Lambs Feed
“Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture.”
THE sense of this passage may be that Judea would be so desolated that it would become rather a wild wilderness pasture for flocks than an inhabited country. But that is not the meaning which the old readers of the Bible were accustomed to give to it. The Hebrew commentators considered “the lambs” to mean the house of Israel and regarded this as a promise that in all times of distress and affliction, God’s flock would still be fed–there would still be a people kept alive and these should still meet with suitable support. Whether that is the correct sense or not, I shall use the words as having some such meaning.
Our text deals with the lambs, and to the lambs we intend to speak–may the Good Shepherd speak to them also! Young converts, newborn souls, these words are for you–you shall feed in your pasture.
- Our first observation is that GOD WOULD HAVE ALL HIS CHURCH FED–a simple enough observation, certainly, and clearly to be inferred from the common course of nature, for no sooner is any living thing created than there are appliances for its feeding. No sooner is a seed cast into the ground and vitalized than it gathers to itself the particles upon which it feeds. And no sooner is an animal born than it receives food. Surely the Lord does not create life in the regenerated soul without providing stores upon which it may be nourished! Where He gives life, He gives food.
Simple as this statement is, it has often been forgotten by those who should best have borne it in mind. It strikes me that it has been forgotten by some ministers. They have exhorted, threatened and thundered, but they have never fed those to whom they have preached! They have cried, “Believe! Believe!” but seldom explained what was to be believed,or, when they have mentioned the simple elements of the faith, they have gone no further, but have continued to speak the first principles of the Gospel and no more. These Brothers have their proper sphere, but they should not be pastors unless they can feed the flock of God! The wanderers must be gathered first, but afterwards they must be fed. For lack ofthis, many have remained in weakness and bondage–and have made no advance in the Divine Life. The necessity for spiritual food has been forgotten by some ministers who have continually harped upon the sublime Doctrines of the Gospel, but have not preached the elementary Truths of God. Surely they have not carried out their Lord’s command, “Feed My lambs.” They have been content to feed the older people, who by reason of use have had their senses exercised, forgetting that the same necessities befall all the flock and that the lambs need to be fed as well as the sheep.
If the teachers have forgotten this, the taught have also failed to remember it. I have been very anxious, Beloved, that you should be diligent in the service of God and I have continually stirred you up, not to be sitting listening to sermons when you ought to be doing good–and the consequence has been that some have gone forth to attempt to do good whom I should not have exhorted to do so–for them it would have been better if they had waited a while, till they had learned somewhat more, both of Doctrine and experience. Young Brothers, there is a time for feeding as well as a time for working. There is work for strong men and there is nurture for babes. To little children we do not allot the labors of husbandry–some little service in the house is suitable for them and will do them good–but we do not exact much labor from them, for we know that youth is a time in which they must be learning and growing. Therefore let me say to some of you who know little or nothing of your Bibles, or of your own hearts–Wait a little, and run not before you are sent. Sit, young Brother, a while at Jesus' feet and learn what He has to say to you. Then, when you run as a messenger, you will have a message, whereas, perhaps, you now have more foot than heart, more tongue than brain, and this is dangerous!
Let us not forget that our souls need to be fed and this I say to some of you who do but little for the Lord Jesus, andmay be said neither to work nor to eat. Look at the mass of our Christian people, what do they do? Monday morning early at business and on till Saturday evening late at business! What is their reading? The daily paper! I condemn it not, but of what use is this to their souls? What, then, do they read to nourish the inner life? Ah, what? A magazine with areligious tale in it! A tale which will probably be spun out to two or three volumes! If the religion were taken out of it, it would probably be improved–and if the rest of the book were burned, some light might come of it–but none comes by reading it! I will not judge severely, but what is the reading of many Christians? Is it food for their souls? And beyond reading, what else are they doing that their spirits may be nourished? Our fathers would go into their chamber three times a day and take a quarter of an hour for meditation–how many of us maintain such a habit? Is it done once a day? It was once my privilege to live in a house where, at eight o'clock, every person, from the servant to the master, would have been found for half an hour in prayer and meditation in his or her chamber. As regularly as the time came round, that was done, just as we partook of our meals at appointed hours. If that were done in all households, it would be a grand thing for us! In the old Puritan times, a servant would as often answer, “Sir, my master is at prayers,” as he would nowadays answer, my master is engaged.“ It was still looked upon as a recognized fact that Christians did meditate, did study the Word, and did pray–and society respected the interval. It is said that if in the days of Cromwell, you had walked down Cheapside in the morning, you would have seen the blinds down at every house at a certain hour. Alas, where will you find such streets nowadays? I fear that what was once the rule is now the exception! When will God’s people perceive that it is not enough to be born-again, but that the life then received must be nourished daily with the Bread of Heaven? It is not enough to be spiritually alive–our life, to be vigorous–must be familiar with its Source! Every Christian should know that he needs times for supplying his soul with the food which endures unto life eternal. As the body needs its mealtimes, so must you sit down to your heavenly Father’s table until He has satisfied your mouth with good things and renewed your strength like the eagle’s. The more intensely earnest we are in feeding upon the Word of God, the better!
My young Friends, you require to be fed with knowledge and understanding and, therefore, you should search theScriptures daily to know what are the Doctrines of the Gospel, and what are the glories of Christ. You will do well to read the “ Confession of Faith,” which is a grand condensation of Holy Scripture. I would say, even to many aged Christians, that they could not spend their time better than in going over the Shorter Catechism again and comparing it with the Book of God from which it is derived. Truly, in these days, when men are so readily decoyed to Popery, we had need know what it is that we believe! Protestantism grew in this land when there was much simple, plain, orthodox teaching of the Doctrines which are assuredly believed among us. Catechism was the very bulwark of Protestantism. But now we have much earnest preaching and yet people do not know what the doctrines of the Gospel are–be you not ignorant, but be you nourished up in the Truth of God!
My young Friends, may you obtain a spiritual understanding of God’s Word which is more than knowledge! Mayyou discern the inward sense, compare spiritual things with spiritual, and see the relation between this Truth and the other, and the relation of all Truths of God to yourselves and to your standing before God! May the Holy Spirit feed you so! May you also be fed by mingling with the saints of God and learning from their experience! Many a young Christian gathers from advanced saints what he would never discover elsewhere. As they tell of what they have felt, and known, and suffered, and enjoyed, the lambs of the flock are strengthened and consoled. Seek for your companions those who can instruct you! It is a dreary thing for a young man to have association with those only who are below himself in experience and not to know those from whose lips drop pearls because they have been in those deeps where pearls are found. Be much with experienced Christians who have been with Jesus, and you will be fed by them!
Young Friend, much feeding will come to you by meditation on the Truth that you hear. As the cattle lie down andchew their cud, so does meditation turn over the Truth of God, and get the very essence and nutriment out of it. To hear, and hear, and hear, and hear, as some do, is utterly useless because when they have heard, it is all over with them–it has gone in one ear and out the other–and has left nothing upon the mind. Press the Truth of God as men tread the grapes in the wine vat, filing the red clusters into the press of memory, and trample on them with the feet of meditation–then shall the rich juice flow forth to cheer your heart and make your spirit strong within you! Meditate, young man and maiden! This is the thing you need if you would be fed.
And, higher still, there is a Divine nourishment in Communion when the soul ascends to Jesus Christ and feeds on the Lord, Himself–when the Incarnate God becomes the soul’s Bread and the bleeding Savior in His substitutionary Sacrifice, becomes the heart’s wine. Feed on Him, O Beloved, you who have lately come to Him! Eat, yes, drink abundantly, O Beloved! May the Lord give you a mighty hunger after His Word, after Himself and then lead you by the still waters, and make you to lie down in green pastures!
Thus much on the first simple fact–that God will have all His sheep and His lambs fed.
II. Secondly, the text says that the lambs shall feed “in their pasture,” and that leads us to observe that YOUNG BELIEVERS HAVE THEIR OWN WAY OF FEEDING.
I believe every single Christian has his own idiosyncrasy in that matter. Beloved, there are some of you who could not constantly hear me to profit and yet this is neither my fault nor yours, but a wise arrangement, for you can hear some other Brother and thus there is work for him as well as for me. If all could be fed by me, and by no one else, where would I put my congregation, and where would others get theirs? Certain persons can receive the Truth of God from one man better than they can from another, not because that man is any better, or the other any worse, but because there is a way of putting it, or there is a kind of congruity of nature between the hearer and the preacher. I am glad to think that God has not cast all His people in one mold and made them all desirous to listen to one voice in order to be spiritually fed!
It may happen, moreover, that in our Church there are people who cannot be instructed in one of our classes. Well, if it is so, do not quarrel with the Brother who conducts it–go to another teacher and try him! Or perhaps you are not edified by the teaching of some Christian with whom you associate. Well, the world is wide–try another. “Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture.” Each Christian has his own way of feeding on the Word. Let him have it in his own way, and do not judge him! There may be something of self in his peculiarity, but perhaps there is also something of God’s purpose in it. Do not pass an Act of Uniformity, but rejoice in the diversities of operations–provided you see the same Lord!
There are several things certain about the manner of feeding of all lambs. The first is, that if they feed in their pasture, they feed on tender grass. Young Christians love the simple Truths of the Gospel and, therefore, these ought to be often preached. And we ought not to be angry with newborn Believers if they cannot understand the higher Doctrines. I hope we shall never, as a Church, exact from young converts the wisdom of age. I trust we shall never say, “There, you must go back. You won’t do for us, you are not up to our mark, for you cannot expound the deep things of God.” God forbid! If we shut out the lambs, where shall we get our sheep? If the Lord has received them, let us receive them! No father excludes a child from his table when he is three or four years old because he is not yet able to speak Latin. If the little ones know their A B C, it is a good beginning. We think a great deal of the first little verse our babes repeat–they say it in such a strange way that nobody thinks it is language at all except father and mother, but they are charmed with the simplest form of speech which infant lips can try! So, to see a little spiritual knowledge in new converts should gratify us and cause us to love them. Leave the lambs to feed on tender grass and you older ones may take as much of the tougher herbage as you like.
Again, lambs like to feed little and often. They are not able to take in much at a time, but they like to be often at it. Ilove to see our young people coming to the Prayer Meetings and week-day services so continually. You will grow in Grace if you are often engaged in the means of Grace–but it is possible to make such things a weariness to the flesh if they become protracted. Strong saints can bear whole days of devotion and delight in them. Yes, a whole week spent alone in a sacred retreat might be a glorious holiday–a holy day–rather, an anticipation of Heaven! But for young Believers, let them have here a little and there a little–a text and a text, line upon line, precept upon precept–but let them have it often. “Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture.”
The lambs, if they feed well, feed quietly in their pasture. If there is a dog in the field, they will not feed. If they are driven about here and there and not allowed to rest, they cannot feed. I pity young Christians who get into churches where there are disturbances and troubles. Oh, may we always be kept at peace! I bless God for the love that has reigned among us. May it continue and may it deepen! Beloved Friends, when we fall out with one another, we shall find that the Spirit of God has fallen out with us! We cannot expect to see young converts among us at all, much less can we hope to see them advance in Divine Grace if we indulge a party spirit, or a controversial spirit within the fold. All Believers should endeavor to maintain a sacred quiet within the Church for the sake of the little ones. Have you never heard of the child who was greatly impressed under a sermon and had resolved to pray on reaching home, but he heard his father and mother on the road home discussing the discourse and finding such fault with it, that the happy season of tenderness passed away from that child and, in later years, he was accustomed to say that his becoming an infidel was due to that conversation? Let the lambs feed in quiet. If a little bit of the sermon suits my boy, though it seems childish to me, let me be glad that there is something for him! If the preacher stated the Truth in a way which I do not like, I daresay the preacher’s Master knows how to guide him far better than I do! And perhaps my neighbor who sat next to me has profited by precisely that which I have criticized. Let the lambs feed quietly. I would say to young Christians–Never mix up in the controversies of these days. There are people about who seem to be cut on the cross and the only use they are in this world seems to be to raise irritating questions. They and the mosquitoes were created by Infinite Wisdom, but I have never been able to discover the particular blessing which either of them confer upon us! Those persons who discuss and discuss, and do nothing else, had better be left alone. If there is a way to live peaceably with all men, I should say to the young Christian, “Follow it.” The lambs feed best when they are not worried, but dwell in peace with all.
Then, next, when lambs feed in their pasture, they feed in pleasure. A very disorderly lot the lambs are! If you lookover the gate at them, they are never proper and solemn. An artist could scarcely sketch them in their frisking and frolicking about! Young Christians ought not to be told to cease their holy mirth–they ought not to be expected as yet to groan with those that groan–but let them rejoice with those that rejoice! Their days of sorrow will probably come soon enough, without their being anticipated. Let them rejoice in the Lord, yes, let them rejoice always! I am glad our friends do not universally call out in the Tabernacle, “Hallelujah,” and “Hosannah,” and the like. But, for my part, when I am preaching in the open air in the country and our Methodist friends do so, it seems to stir my blood and I am glad of it. It is much better than having a sleepy congregation!
A little excitement in the Christian Church, especially by young converts, is by no means to be deprecated. I remember hearing dear Doctor Fletcher say, when talking to a number of children, that he once saw a boy standing on his head, dancing on the pavement and displaying all sorts of antics of joy. He stopped near him and said, “Well, my Lad, you seem to be exceedingly merry.” “I think I am, and so would you be, Sir, (or Guv'nor, I think he said,) if you had been locked up three months and had just got out.” “Well,” said the venerable man, “I thought it very reasonable, indeed, and I told him by no means to stop his performances because of me.” Now, when a poor man has felt the burden of sin and has been shut up in the prison of the Law of God, and Jesus comes and brings him out–and he begins to rejoice with unspeakable joy, and full of glory–if any man living would stop him, I would not! No, let him rejoice! Let the lambs feed “in their pasture.” And if somebody tonight should come to me, and say, “Your young converts have been extravagant in expression and injudicious in zeal,” I would reply, “My dear Brother, are you better than these young ones? At any rate, there is one respect in which you are worse, for you show a propensity to find fault with those who are serving God with all their might. Go your way and join them! If you have not a heart to do so, and if they seem to be enthusiastic beyond measure, only thank God that there are yet some few left among us who can appreciate fervor–and wish that there were a little more of it.” For my own part, I would like to see a downright fanatic. It is so long since one has set one’s eyes upon such a curiosity that I should like to see one–just one! I have seen snow enough, pray let me see a fire-flake! I have seen thousands of wet blankets–oh for the touch of a live coal! Enthusiasm in excess might be a blessing in disguise. Let the lambs feed pleasantly in their own wild, natural way.
Once more, when the lambs feed in their pasture, they feed in company. They like to get with others if they can.Sheep thrive best in flocks. I call upon every young Christian here to get into some part of Christ’s flock. I invite you into this portion of Christ’s Church, but if you find another where, all things considered, you think it would be better for you to be, go there! Mind that you join yourself first to Christ–and after that unite with His people. Do not try to go to Heaven as a solitary individual, that is not the Christian way. Jesus gathers His people into a Church–He does not profess to lead His people one by one, as solitary pilgrims, but they are to go in groups and bands. From company to company they proceed towards the New Jerusalem. May you have much love to the visible Church and believe that, notwithstanding all her faults, there is none like her on the earth! That, notwithstanding all her spots, she is excellent for beauty, and fairest among women!
III. I must close with the remark that IN THE WORST OF TIMES, GOD WILL SEE THAT HIS LAMBS AND THE REST OF HIS FLOCK ARE FED.
It is said, in the text, “ Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture.” That is, when the vineyard was destroyed and thehedge broken down. When thorns and briars had come up and the clouds had refused to rain. And God had sent desolation upon Israel and the people were gone into captivity–even then shall the lambs feed in their pasture! This is a blessed Truth of God–come what may, God’s people shall be saved and they shall have spiritual food! There may come persecuting times. Never mind! Never did Christ seem so glorious as when He walked with His Church in the dungeon and up to the stake! Never were there sweeter songs than those which rose from the Lollards' tower and Bonner’s coal-hole. Never did the Church have such marriage feasts as when her members died at the gallows and the fire! Christ Jesus has made Himself preeminently near and dear to a persecuted Church! Therefore fear not if you should have your little trouble to bear in the family, or rebuke and shame from an evil world–for you shall feed in your pasture. Though your mother should be grieved, though your husband should be angry, though your brother should ridicule, though your employer should scoff–you shall be fed with spiritual food and your soul shall surmount all these evils, triumphant in her God!
“But I dread,” says one, “that there will come times of sickness to me. I have premonitions of it.” Yes, but you shall be fed in your pasture. And I, for one, bear witness that sometimes periods of sickness are times of the greatest spiritual nourishment! The Lord can furnish a table in the wilderness! A very wilderness sickness is of itself, but God can find us daily manna. He can make you strongest in heart when you are weakest in body. Therefore fear not, God will feed you!
“I am afraid of poverty,” says one. Are you? That has been the lot of many of His people. For many an age has the Lord chosen the poor to be His disciples. You need not fear that. Your Master was poor–you will never be as poor as He was, for He had nowhere to lay His head. Fear not, He will feed you. Can you not trust Him? “Ah, but I fear death,” says one. “Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture.” Even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death you shall find tender grass! Have you never seen others die? Has it not been a joyous thing to see some saints depart? I recall to your memories, dear Brothers and Sisters, those who have but lately ascended whom we loved. Was there anything terrible about their deaths? Did they not smile upon us in their last hours and make us feel that we would willingly change places with them, and die as they died? Have I not often seen the young girl sickening with consumption and heard from her strange things that made me think her half a Prophetess–a Seer whose eyes had been anointed so that she had looked within the veil and seen the Glory of the Invisible? Oh, how texts of Scripture have been placed in golden settings by dying saints! How sweetly have they set promises to music! Speak of monks and their illuminated missals! Scripture illuminated by dying saints is far more marvelous! What amazing joy they have felt! They told us that joy was killing them–that they did not die of the disease, but of excessive delight! It was as though the great floods of Glory had burst their banks and they were being swept right away by them to eternal bliss! It has visibly been blessed for the saints to die and, therefore, it is foolish–perhaps wicked–for any child of God to be afraid to depart. “Then shall the lambs feed in their pasture,” feeding near the very scythe of death and cropping choice morsels at the grave’s mouth–for the Lamb, Jesus Christ, being with them–no lamb of all the flock shall have cause to fear!
We shall now separate and scatter, as congregations have scattered, I might say, these hundreds of times from this House. And scattering and going each, our own way, to his home–shall we ever meet again? Probably by no means shall we, all of us, meet in the body, so that these eyes shall look to other eyes and say, “I saw those eyes before.” Well, well, truth be the truth remembered that we are a flock and must gather again in one meeting place before the Judgment Seat, on that day of wrath, that dreadful day! Shall we meet, then, as the sheep of Christ, or, meeting, will it be to be divided, to the right and to the left, as the sheep of the Great King, or the goats condemned to be cast away? We shall certainly meet there, but will it be an eternal meeting of unending joy? God grant it may! Oh, infinite mercy of the blessed God, let us all be united at the Throne of Christ!
But I hear you say, O angel, in answer to that prayer–I hear you speak out of the Glory and say, “There can be no union at the Throne of God except there first be union at the Cross.” Listen to that warning and come to Jesus! There stands the Cross, which is the center of the Church! Lo, I see upon it the Son of God, His wounds still fountains of cleansing blood! Will you come to the Cross? Will you trust the Redeemer? Will you bow before Him? Will you be washed in His blood? Will you be saved with His salvation? If so, we shall all meet in Heaven to see the face of the Lamb in His Glory. God grant we may, for Jesus sake! Amen.