The Tenderness of Jesus
(Jesus and the Lambs)
February 9, 1868
C. H. Spurgeon
© Copyright 2002 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be
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otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
A copy of this sermon, Preached by Tony Capoccia, is available on Audio Tape Cassette or CD at www.gospelgems.com
“He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” [Isaiah 40:11]
In the chapter before us, Jesus our Savior is described as Jehovah God. He is spoken of as being clothed with irresistible power: “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him;” but, as if to soften a glory that is far too bright for the weak eyes of the trembling, the prophet introduces the delightful words of the text: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Here is divinity; not Jehovah the Man of War, but Jehovah the Shepherd of Israel. Here is the fire of deity, but its gentle, warming influence is felt, and the consuming force is veiled. Greatness in league with gentleness, and power linked with affection, now pass before us. A loving kindness and tender mercy are drawn in their golden chariot by the noble steeds of omnipotence and wisdom. Heroes who have been most distinguished for fury in the fight, have often had tender hearts like little children; their swords were deadly to their enemy, but their hands were gentle towards the weak. It is the sign of a noble character that it can be majestic as a lion in the midst of the encounter, and roar like a young lion on the scene of conflict, and yet it has a dove’s eye and a maiden’s heart. Such is our Lord Jesus Christ; he is the conquering Captain of salvation, but he is meek and lowly of heart.
This morning, in considering the text, I have a special eye towards those among us who are weak. My desire is, as a pastor, to administer consolation to those who are distressed in their spirits and weak in their hearts, hoping that while I speak, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, may minister to them.
I. Our first consideration, this morning, will be, to answer
the question, WHO ARE THE LAMBS WHICH OUR BLESSED LORD GATHERS AND CARRIES CLOSE
TO HIS HEART?
In a certain sense we may affirm that all his people are lambs. In so far as they exhibit the Christian spirit, they are lamb-like. Jesus sends them out like sheep among the wolves. They are a little flock, a honest people. Just as the lamb was clean and acceptable to God, so is every Christian. As the lamb might be presented in sacrifice, so does every believer present his body as a living sacrifice to God. As the lamb was the symbol of innocence, likewise the believer should be holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners; and as the lamb does not fight, and has no offensive weapons, so the believer is not contentious, quarrelsome, or violent. He hates wars and fights and seeks to have peace with all men. When he is fully conformed to his
Master’s will, he will not resist the evil person, but is patient, turning the other cheek when he is struck. He knows that vengeance is God’s prerogative, and therefore is slow to reply angrily to a harsh adversary, remembering that Michael the Archangel only replied to the adversary, “The Lord rebuke you.”
A lamb is so innocent and unsuspicious that it licks the butcher’s hand, and those who seek to destroy it, find it a very easy task. In the same way the saints have been easily killed for centuries: they are like lambs being led to the slaughter; and the accusation of James, in Chapter 5, verse 6, is true, “You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” Those who have a meek and lamb-like spirit are precisely those who become lovers of the gentle Prophet of Nazareth. Jesus is meek and humble in heart, and therefore those who are like him come to him. The power of his gospel, wherever it is exerted, produces men and women of such character. Those who came to Christ, when he was on earth, may have been boisterous in their natural dispositions, but after they had received the Holy Spirit, they were an inoffensive race. They proclaimed the gospel with boldness, and for their Master they were very valiant, but they did not take up arms against Caesar; they were not rebellious; they were not competitors in the race for power; they never shed anyone’s blood, not even to win their freedom; they were examples of suffering and of patience; they were ready to live or to die for the truth, but that truth was love for God and for man. They sought to mortify self, pride, greed, wrath, as works of the old nature, and it was their daily desire to do good to all men and women as they had opportunity.
Jesus will always gather such lambs. The world hates them and scatters them, the world ridicules and despises them, but Jesus makes them his intimate friends. The old world hounded them to death, made them live in the damp quarters of the catacombs of Rome, or perish among the snows of the Alps, but their glorified Lord gathered them by tens of thousands from the prison, the amphitheater, the stake, the bloody scaffold, and in his blessed arms they rest in friendly company, forever as the Lord’s lambs are they glorified with the Lamb of God.
Still this is not the precise meaning of the text.
The word “lamb” frequently signifies the young; and our Lord Jesus Christ graciously receives many young persons into his arms.
The ancient teachers of the Jewish law never invited children to gather around them. I suppose there was not a Rabbi in all Jerusalem who would have desired a child to listen to him, and if it had been said of any one of the Sanhedrin, “that man teaches so as to be understood by a child,” he would have thought himself insulted by such a description. But not so with our Master; he always had children among his audience; they are often mentioned.
In the account of those whom he miraculously fed, we read, “besides women and children.” His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, gathered among the most conspicuous of the jubilant throng, those children who were heard crying, “Hosanna” in the temple. When Jesus took a little child, and set him in the middle of the gathering, he did not have to go far for the living illustration, for the little children were always near “the holy Jesus,” the great God-man. Our Lord Jesus was so open, so gentle, he wore his heart so clearly on his sleeve, that though a man in all things masculine and dignified, the childlike nature was eminently conspicuous in him, and attracted the little ones to itself. We will never forget the voice of the blessed Savior, the Lord of angels, as he cries, “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these [Mark 10:14].
Some in our day mistrust youthful godliness, but our Savior ignores such suspicions. Some cautiously whisper, “Let the godly youth be tried awhile before we believe in his faith; let him be tempted: let him bear the frosts of the world, perhaps the blossoms will drop away and disappoint us.” Such was not my Master’s way. Cautious, no doubt he was, prudent beyond all human wisdom, but always full of love and generousness, and therefore we find him receiving children, as he has received us, into his kingdom, into the best place in his kingdom, into his loving arms. Oh! dear children, since you are not too young to die, and to be judged for your idle words and disobedient actions, it is a delightful thing for you that you are not too young to believe in Jesus, nor too young to be saved by his grace. Dear children, I would have you completely saved today, for your tender age is no hindrance to you, being forgiven and justified. If you have trusted the great Savior, I tenderly invite you to declare your faith in the Lord Jesus, and to come forward and be joined to the church of Jesus. If indeed you are converted, we dare not refuse you. I hope the church of Jesus will no more think of refusing you than would our Lord himself. Were Jesus here this morning, he would say, “Let the little children come to me,” and I hope you will be led by the Holy Spirit to come at his call. Only let your youthful hearts be given to Jesus, let your confidence be fixed only on what he suffered for sinners on the cross of Calvary, and you need not be afraid. There is the same Christ for you as for the elderly. The promises are as much yours as your fathers’, and the comforts of the Holy Spirit will flow as sweetly into the little cavities of your hearts as into the hearts of those who have known the Savior for fifty years. Hear the words of the Good Shepherd, “I love them that love me, and they that seek me early will find me” [Proverbs 8:17, KJV].
But, again, by lambs we may just as well understand young converts,
Young converts are those who begin to have religious impressions, those who have recently repented of sin and have lost all confidence in their own good works. They are not yet established in the faith; they only know, perhaps, one or two great doctrines; they are very far from being able to teach others; they need to sit at the feet of Jesus rather than to serve him in activities requiring talent and knowledge. Their faith is very apt to waver. Poor things, if they are assailed by misleading or fallacious arguments they are soon perplexed, and though they cling to the truth, yet it is a hard struggle for them; they cannot give a reason for the hope that is in them, though they are not deficient in meekness and fear. Our Lord Jesus Christ never discarded a single follower on account of his being juvenile in the faith. Far from it, He has been pleased, in his infinite tenderness, to look especially after these.
A young man came to Jesus who was not yet converted--probably never was, and yet though the good works in him was so immature, that it may have been compared to the morning cloud and the morning dew which pass away so quickly, yet our Savior, looking upon him, loved him; for he delights to see the sign of hope, however slender; for Jesus “will not break a bruised reed, nor will he snuff out a smoldering wick” [Matthew 12:20]. Jesus did not rebuff the self-righteous youth. The youth was ignorant of the very first principle of the gospel, namely, justification by faith and not by works, yet, since he desired to do right, and was evidently sincere, our Lord Jesus Christ instructed him on what he must do.
I earnestly pray that Christians would imitate my Master in this. Where you see any hint of
Christ, encourage it. You may observe much that you grieve over, but, I pray that you do not kill the child because its face is dirty. Do not cut down the trees because in spring they have no fruit on them. Be thankful that they make a show of buds, which may produce fruit in time. It is inhumane in the Christian church to be severe to those who are in any measure inclined towards Christ; it is worse cruelty than the monsters in the sea who provide food for their young, but some Christians seem determined to crush all the hopes of the babes in grace. Because they don’t grow all at once to the full stature of men, therefore they say, “Away with them; they are not fit to be received into the church of the Lord Christ.”
My dear friends, if there are any of you who are weak and doubtful, just struggling into life, who have only for the last few days known anything at all concerning the love of Christ, if there is in you any good thing towards the Lord God of Israel, a desire, an earnest longing, or a little faith, my Master will not be unkind to you, for “he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.”
Furthermore, I am certain that we will not strain the text if we say that the lambs in the flock are those who are naturally of a weak, timid, trembling disposition.
There are many persons who, if they were kept constantly in the hot-house of Christian encouragement, would still feel themselves frost-bitten, for their minds are naturally heavy and sad. If they make music at all, they always dwell on the bass. When the promise comes with power to their souls, and they enjoy a few bright sunshiny days, they are very happy in their own quiet way, like the man in the valley of humiliation, singing, “He that is down, has no fear of falling;” but they never climb the mountains of joy, or lift up their voice with exultation. They have a humble hope and a gracious reliance, and they are often in practical Christianity among the best in the church; and yet, sadly! for them, their days of joy are few; like the elder brother in the parable, their father has never given them a fattened calf, that they could celebrate with their friends. Now, such persons truly make poor company, and yet every Christian ought to seek their companionship, for there is something to be learned from them; and, moreover, their needs demand our sympathetic attention. Do not think that Jesus seeks out the strong saints to be his companions, to the neglect of the little ones. Oh! no. “He will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them close to his heart.”
In addition, the lambs are those who only know a little of the things of God.
This class of Christians is not so much desponding as ignorant, ignorant after a world of teaching. When we meet with persons who do not understand the doctrines of grace, after we have done our best to instruct them, we must not feel annoyed with them; but reflect that our Master said to Philip, “Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” [John 14:9] Jesus was a much better teacher than we will ever be, and therefore, if he was gentle with his dull scholars, we must not be harsh. Some believers, after years of scriptural teaching, get nothing into their heads except a mass of confusion; they are in a fog, poor souls; they mean well, but they do not know how to put their meaning in order. Oftentimes you will find our friends confusing things that differ, mingling justification with sanctification, or the fruits of the Spirit with the foundation of their confidence; this is the result of an uneducated understanding. Such persons are to be pitied, because they easily become the victims of false teachers, who lead them into error; but these lambs are not to be shunned, they are not to be scolded, they are not to be denounced. Proud men may do so, for they are short tempered, but the sympathetic Son of God declares that to them he will act as a shepherd, and will gather them in his arms. If “Doubting Thomas” will not learn by any other means, Jesus will condescend to his childish weaknesses, and let him put his finger where the nails were, and thrust his hand into the wounded side; for, as a mother is tender with her children, and as a good school teacher will teach the child the same thing twenty times if he has not learned it by the nineteenth lesson, so will Jesus do the same thing; adding “Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there” [Isaiah 28:10], that we may be nurtured and nourished in the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” [Jude 1:3]
To whichever class any of you may belong, let my text be sweet to your taste, and may the Holy Spirit encourage you by it.
II. But we must now move on. How DOES JESUS SHOW THIS SPECIAL CARE FOR THE WEAK ONES? He does this, according to the text, in two ways.
1. First, by gathering them.
During the season of the year when the little lambs are born, it is interesting to observe the shepherd’s careful watch. When he finds the little one in the cold frost, almost ready to die, how tender he is! Why, the shepherd’s brings the little cold lamb into the warmest spot in the shepherd’s house. Even his wife and children have to give up this treasured warm spot for awhile, for the warm place is completely given up to the little lambs. There they lie in the warmth, till they have strength enough to return to their mothers.
Likewise, when a man is spiritually born to God, he is frequently so desponding, his faith is so weak, and he is sometimes so ready to die, that he needs the tender mercy from on high to visit him. There may be one here this morning who has been converted to Christ during the last week, but no other Christian knows of it; nobody has spoken to him, to rejoice over him and with him. If you are that new little lamb of Christ, lonely one, don’t be discouraged, Jesus will come to you: he will be an ever-present help in this your hour of trouble. Now that you are like a newly lit candle, which is easily blown out, he will shield you from the breath of evil.
When the flock of Christ is on the march, it will happen, unless the shepherd is very watchful, that the lambs will lag behind. Those great Syrian flocks which feed in the plains of Palestine, have to be driven many miles, because the land that is suitable for grazing is scarce, and the flocks are numerous, and on these long journeys the lambs drop one by one because of exhaustion, and then the shepherd carries them.
So it is in the progress of the great Christian church; often persecuted, always more or less ill-treated by the outside world, there are some who wilt, they cannot keep up the pace; the spiritual warfare is too severe for them. They love their Lord; they would if they could be among the foremost; but, through the cares of this world, through weakness of mind, through a lack of spiritual strength, they become lame and are ready to perish; such faint hearts are the special care of their tender Lord.
At other times, the lambs do worse than this. They are of a skittish nature, and feeling the natural vigor of new-born life, they are not content to keep within bounds, as the older sheep do, but they decide to wander, so that at the close of the day the lambs cause the shepherd a lot of trouble. “Where are those lambs?” he says. “Where are they? The sheep are all here, but where are the lambs?” What will the good man do? Leave them behind, and say, “They have worn out my patience”? No; not at all, he will gather them.
In the same way there are many immature Christians, whose minds are unpredictable, and are unstable as water. What a trouble some of you are to those who love you! When you seem to attain a little faith one day, then you sink into unbelief before the next day. You shift your opinions as often as the moon changes, and are in agreement with sound doctrine never longer than a week. You follow everybody who chooses to put up his finger to summon you away. You leave the narrow way to find other pastures. Sometimes you are with the Puritans; the next day the Church of England; next, the Evangelicals; and, perhaps, if the Roman Catholics were to try you, you would be ready to go with them in the hope of finding comfort. It is the nature of the lambs that they act this way. But will the Good Shepherd be angry with you, and cast you aside? Not at all, for Jesus gathers the lambs, and when he puts his great loving arm around them, they cannot wander any more; when his love constrains them, and they come to the full enjoyment of his gospel truth, then they are content to remain near their blessed Savior.
When the text says, “he gathers the lambs,” does it mean that Jesus gathers poor fearful lambs to his precious blood, and washes them and gives them peace? Does it mean that he gathers them to his precious truth, and illuminates their minds, and instructs their understanding? It really means that Jesus gathers the lambs to himself and unites them to his glorious person, making them members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones? Oh, this is a delightful gathering! His word cannot do it alone, his ministers cannot do it, but his arm can; the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, which is like the right arm of the Good Shepherd, gathers together these weakest and most wandering ones, and puts them safe into the blessed pavilion of his heart.
But the text says, after he gathers them, he “carries them close to his heart.” That is, first of all, the safest place, for the wolf cannot get them there. Furious and impertinent as hell always is, yet who can hope to take his heart treasure away from Jesus? You weak ones, how secure you are in him, though you are so exposed to danger.
In his arms, close to his heart, why that is the tenderest place, where we should put a poor creature that had a broken bone, and could not bear to be roughly touched. Close to the heart, that is the safest and most comfortable place. It makes one wish to always be a lamb, if one could always ride in that chariot. Delightful is the weakness, which causes us to be gather up in the Savor’s arms. “He carries them close to his heart.”
Why, that is the most honorable place. We would not put into our arms and carry close to our heart that which was despised. We would not think of carrying anything there which was not choice and dear and extremely precious. So, you, my little weak one, though you think of yourself to be less than nothing, and are nothing in yourself, yet you will have all the security which the heart of Deity can give you, all the comfort that the love of Christ can pour on you, all the honor and dignity which nearness, and fellowship, and the pricelessness of love can bestow on a poor soul. Rejoice, you lambs, that you have such a Shepherd who carries you close to his heart!
To expand upon this, let me observe that our Lord shows his care for the lambs in his teachings, which are very simple, mostly in parables, full of captivating illustrations, but always simple.
The gospel is a poor man’s gospel. You don’t need to be a Plato, or a Socrates, to understand it; the peasant is as easily saved as the philosopher. He that has only a small amount of brains can understand that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that whoever believes in him is not condemned. If Christ had not cared for the weak ones, he would not have come with so simple a message, for he understands all mysteries, and knows the deep things of God.
Moreover, he is pleased to reveal his teachings gradually.
He did not tell his disciples all the truth at once, because they were not able to bear it, but he led them from one truth to another. He gives them milk before he offers strong meat. Some of you weak ones are very stupid; you want to begin with the hard truths first; you long to comprehend election before you understand that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; but you shouldn’t do that, for our Lord would have you begin with these lessons, “I am a sinner: Christ stood in the sinner’s place: I trust him, I am saved.” After you have learned this first alphabet of the gospel, you will learn the rest. It is a token of the Lord’s love to the weak, that he doesn’t hang our salvation on our understanding of mysteries; he does not rest our ground of confidence on our orthodoxy, or our knowledge of the supreme truths, but if we know the power of his precious blood, whether we understand his electing love or not, we are saved. It is good to learn all that we can, but here is a clear display of Christ’s love, that if we do only trust in him, although we may not know very much, we are still secure.
The Lord’s gentleness to the lambs is also shown in this, that his new teachings are all by degrees too.
He does not teach the young beginner all the depravity of his heart which he will come to experience in later years; he does not allow the young convert to be battered by Satanic insinuations, as he may be when he becomes stronger; nor does he usually allow worldly troubles to fall so heavily on those who are but fledglings in the nest. He always matches the trial to the strength, and the burden to the back. I am quite certain if my Master had allotted me some of my present trials fifteen years ago, I would have been ready to despair, and yet at the present time I am supplied with enough strength to bear them, though I have none to spare. Blessed be the Lord Jesus for his kind consideration of our many weaknesses. He never demands too much of his lambs. Though a certain type of experience may be very useful, yet Jesus does not send it to us, while the weakness of our understanding of the Word causes us to be unable to bear it.
The divine gentleness of our Master has been shown in the solemn curses which he declared to effectually guard the little ones.
Observe how severe they are! “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” [Matthew 18:6]. To cause one of the little lambs to sin is to put a stumbling block in their way. How solemn is that warning, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones!” [Matthew 18:10]. He must have loved them, or he would not have set such a wall of fire as protection around them. There are many promises in the Word that are there for the purpose of protecting the weak. In our times of distress and weakness we find the Holy Spirit, bringing home to our hearts promises which had never before appeared to be so full of grace.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus Christ’s tenderness to his people is further shown in this, that what he requires of them is easy.
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” [Matthew 11:29-30]. He does not command the new lambs in Christ. He does not send the weak believers to the forefront of the battle, as David did Uriah, that they may be killed: he gives them no other burden than this that they will trust him and give him all their heart. A very easy yoke!
Moreover, he shows his gentleness in that he accepts the least service that these little ones may offer.
A faint prayer, a sigh, a tear--he will receive all these as much as the most eloquent pleadings of an Elijah. The broken alabaster jar, and the perfume poured out, will be received, though they come from one who has no former character with which to back the gift; and the two pennies given in love will not be disowned. The best work sincerely done out of love to Jesus, in dependence upon him, he accepts most cheerfully, and thus shows to us his real tenderness for the lambs.
He has commanded his ministers to be careful of the little ones.
Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs,” because he wanted all his ministers do this. Those who despise the weaklings will find themselves causing their Master to frown at them, but those who with tender care nurture the little lambs will receive a smile from his face. Jesus, my Lord, speaks to the desponding and timid ones this morning, saying--
“‘Trust me, and do not fear; your life is secure;
My wisdom is perfect, supreme is my power;
In love I correct you, your soul to refine,
To make you, in time, in my likeness to shine.
The foolish, the fearful, the weak are my care,
The helpless, the homeless, I hear their sad prayer:
From all their afflictions my glory will spring,
And the deeper their sorrows, the louder they’ll sing.’”
I have thus shown to you, as well as I am able the tender heart of my Lord towards the lambs.
III. In the third place, let us answer this question, WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THIS CARE OF CHRIST TOWARDS THE LAMBS OF THE FLOCK?
Why is he so particularly anxious to help them? Surely if he lost a lamb or two, it would be no real loss among so many, and if one of the feeble minds should perish, it would be no great consequence when a multitude that no man can number will he saved. The answer is simple:
The weak are as much redeemed by the blood of Christ as the strong.
When the redemption money was paid by the Jews, it was said, “The rich will give no more, and the poor will give no less because every man’s soul is of equal value before the eternal God. The lowliest and weakest child of God has been as truly bought with the blood of Christ, and cost the Lord as much to purchase him as the most noteworthy of the apostles, or the boldest of disciples. A man will not lose a thing, which cost him his blood. The soul of a beggar, if it were put on the scale, would outweigh ten thousand planets, and when that beggar’s soul has been redeemed by the wounds of Jesus, depend on it, Jesus Christ will not lose it.
In the newborn child of God there are distinctive beauties which are not so apparent in others. It is a matter of taste, I suppose, which is the more beautiful, the lamb or the sheep; but I think the most of us would select the lamb. There is a charm in all young creatures, and so there are traits of character in weak and young believers, which are extremely delightful. You miss in later years the first love displayed when the beginner in Christ began his heavenly pilgrimage. True, there are other and more substantial beauties, but the first blushes and smiles are gone. Haven’t you, when you have grown older, wished that you possessed the same tenderness of conscience which you had at first, and the same simplicity of faith? Haven’t you desired to enjoy that same intense delight in the service of God’s church, which you enjoyed during the first few months after your new birth? You have other graces now; you have virtues more useful in the battle of life, but yet there were beauties then which Jesus Christ admired, and which he would not allow to be soiled.
Jesus has such care for the weak ones, because they will become strong one day.
All great graces were once little graces; all great faith must have once been little faith. It is always first the little sprout, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. Mountain-moving faith: was once a trembling thing. Kill the lambs! Then where will the sheep be? Slaughter the innocents then where will Bethlehem find her men? Destroy the children! Then where will the warriors come from who march in ranks to the battle. Jesus sees the weak ones not as they are, but as they are to become. He discerns the complete person in the babe of grace.
Moreover, my brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, because Jesus has made a formal promise to guarantee our security, then he must preserve the weakest as well as the strongest.
God will require at Christ’s hand every one of the elect. Jesus said to the Father, “They were yours; you gave them to me” [John 17:6]. He is to present them before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” [Jude 1:24]. Just as Laban required every sheep from Jacob’s hand, or else Jacob must bear the loss forever, so will God require at our Shepherd’s hand every sheep, or he must forever dishonor his promise to keep the lambs eternally secure. But it never will be. He will be true to his word, and say, “I have not lost one of those you gave me” [John 18:9].
When an accountant turns over his accounts, he is very pleased if it can be said by the auditors, “We have found them correct to the last penny;” but, suppose he had said, “Well, there are slight errors, for I never worried about the pennies, I considered them insignificant and only worried about the large bills.” What would be thought of him? Who would trust him? It is the character of an honest man that he is correct to the last penny. If Jesus should bring to eternal glory all who are great in grace, and neglect the weakest, it would dishonor his great name. His honor is pledged to preserve the very weakest of the flock.
“Shepherd of the chosen number,
They are safe whom you keep;
Other shepherds faint and slumber,
And forget to watch the sheep;
You stay wake while others sleep.”
Jesus has declared that whoever believes in him will never perish, but have eternal life. That promise is not only to the strong, but also to the weak. He has said, “No one can snatch them out of my hand” [John 10:28]. Now, he does not say, “No one can snatch the great ones, but may snatch the little ones.” No, “No one can snatch them,” that is, any one of them. They are all saved, and all equally saved, because their safety does not depend on their growth or their strength, but it depends on the strength of his arm and the infallibility of his purpose. The sick and sorrowful inhabitants of Jerusalem are secured by the munitions of divine strength, and the fortress of everlasting love provides as much shelter to the little child in the streets as the strong soldiers within her walls.
We can be quite sure the tender Savior will take care of the lambs because compassion argues that if any should be watched it should be these.
Cast away his people because they are timid, and trembling, and fearful? God forbid! Over here is a mother who has numerous children. My dear mother, may I argue with you? If you must neglect one of your children, will I tell you which it should be? It should be that one which is crippled, and has always been so sickly. Why, I think I see the mother looking at me with anger, “Stop,” she says, “such shameful talk! It is that very crippled one who suffers much sickness that I look after with the most care and concern. If I did neglect one, it would be the big boy, grown up, and able to take care of himself, but that poor little dear! I could not forsake him, I carry him in my heart from morning to evening. If there is one that I am most tender over, it is that very one.” The instincts of our nature tell us that. The beatings of Jesus’ heart are towards the trembling one. When would a man forget or forsake his spouse? Never under any conceivable circumstances, but certainly not when she is sick or sorrowful. Will he sue in the Divorce Court against her because she is afflicted, and full of pains and griefs? Is she to be cast out of doors, because her spirits are broken? Only a villain could dictate such an argument, and rest assured, beloved, such an argument should have no tolerance with our Beloved Jesus.
If you are in Jesus Christ, rest assured that his love will not desert you. It would be a very deplorable thing for every believer in the whole world if it were announced that the weakest believer would perish. If it should be proclaimed by sound of trumpet by some angelic messenger, that the Good Shepherd intended to cast off one of the least of his flock, though it were but one, I don’t know what conclusion you would draw from it, my dear friend, but mine would be this, “Then he will cast me out.” I would immediately feel that all the grounds of my security were gone; that I might be the castaway. Even if it was only one, why shouldn’t it be me? Would not you feel the same, and where would any of us have any room for comfort? After the one announcement, so contrary to the promise, we might expect another, because if weakness, or if ignorance—if anything in the lamb-like nature is to destroy one of us, then of course, the next, and the next, and the next, and the next may perish. If a man has many creditors, and he says, “I will not pay this one,” we all think perhaps he will not pay the next, and the next, and the next; and if God does not keep his promise to the very least, then we could expect him not to keep it to the one next above the least, and so on till none are saved. In fact, the whole blood-bought church of the Living God may go into hell if only one single weak Christian goes there, and if the most wandering and backsliding will be cast into hell, then in time everyone would go there. If the ship goes down enough to drown one man on board, she could drown the whole company. There is no safety for the ship’s company unless there is safety for all on board. So, heir of heaven, looking at the consequences that would come from the ruin of the least, believe firmly that the Keeper of Israel will gather you in his arms and carry you close to his heart.
IV. We will conclude with two ways to make PRACTICAL APPLICATION of our lesson this morning.
1. First of all, let us gather the lambs for Christ.
I am persuaded their are many lambs who are not in church fellowship who ought to be, but who, perhaps, will never come unless they receive an encouraging word from some of their Christian friends. The first priority is that they should be gathered to Christ: that he has done for them. The next priority is that they should be gathered into his church. May I therefore ask all of you who owe anything to my Lord, to make some kind of acknowledgment of your debt, by looking after those who need a helping hand. The Lord, speaking of his people says, “I taught Israel to go, taking him by the arms.” You know what that means; you have done that with your children when you taught them to walk, holding them up by the arms. Do the same for your Master’s little ones; teach some of these beginners to go, upholding them by encouragements. Didn’t some one do the same for you once? Don’t you remember a kind friend who cheered and instructed you? Return your obligation to the Christian church by doing the same. I earnestly pray to see, during the next few months, a very large ingathering into our church of saved little lambs. We do not want those who are unconverted to be added to the church: there is a step they must take first—they must first give themselves to Christ. But we do want as many as really belong to our Lord and Master to come into the fellowship of the faithful, and to share in the privileges of the church of the Living God.
2. Next, let us learn from the text to carry close to our hearts those who are gathered.
We have gathered many together into the church, but that is not all we need to do; that is only the beginning of what older Christians should count it to be their office to do towards the young. Every young Christian is presented to the Christian church just as Moses was presented to his mother by Pharaoh’s daughter, with this commission, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay you.” It is not possible that two pastors, or twenty pastors, could be able to visit and instruct all the members of such a church as this, but the lack must be supplied by you, my brothers and sisters, who have known the Lord for years, and by you, my sisters, who have become mothers in our Jerusalem. May I entreat you, by the love of him who gave himself for you, by all the tenderness of the heart of Christ, if there is any consolations of the Spirit, seek out your fellow members who may be weak in faith and downcast in spirit, and speak comfort to them; tell them that their warfare is over, that their sin is pardoned; point them to the Lord Jesus, unveil his beauties to them, make them, as far as you can, to understand what are the heights and depths, that they may grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I trust that this sermon may minister comfort to mourners; but as for those who do not believe in Christ at all, I can administer to them no comfort, except by reminding them of this one fact, that it is not too late for them to trust in Jesus, and that if they do so, however long they may have delayed, the door is not closed. May they enter before the Master of the house rises up and shuts the door. Amen.
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