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dressed himself particularly to Peter, and said to him, three times, in quick succession, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me ?" Thrice had Peter denied his Lord ; and now Christ gives him an opportunity, in some measure, to repair his fault, by a triple confession.
The scene was interesting, and calculated to make. a deep impression, not only on the mind of Peter, but also on the minds of the other disciples. Each time that the question was asked, the affectionate disciple replied to his master, “ Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." He appealed without hesitation to the infinite knowledge of the son of God, because conscious to himself of the sincerity of his esteem. But by attending to the original, we shall find Pe. ter's answers evince, that he had lost that self-confidence, which made him declare, a short time before, he would die with Christ, rather than deny him. A recollection of his departure from this solemn asseveration, and of the bitter regret which he consequently suffered, made him cautious what language he used.
In two of the three questions, our Lord made use of a word which signifies to love ardently and supremely. Peter, in his replies, substituted a word signifying to regard, to feel friendship for another. As if Jesus had said, “ Peter, dost thou love me ardently and supremely?" To which he answers, “ Lord, I feel
an affection for thee, I do esteem thee, but dare, “ al present, say no more.
To each of the answers of this once self-confident but now humble disciple, his divine master replies by giving him a command. To the first he says, “ Feed my lambs." To the other two, “Feed my sheep." I have made choice of the second of these preçepts, in preference to either of the others, as
* See Adam Clark's Commentary.
the foundation of my present discourse, because, in the original, the word translated feed is different, in this place, from the word used in the other two
There was a propriety in our Lord's varying the expression, that he might convey to Peter a more perfect idea of the duty to which he called him by the command. The language is figurative, and borrowed from the care which shepherds exercise over their flocks. În allusion to this, the great Shepherd enjoins upon Peter, in the first place, to feed his lambs, and secondly, not only to feed his sheep, but to discharge towards them all the duties of a good and faithful shepherd, which is the meaning of the word, used in the verse containing the text.
The injunction under consideration, though addressed primarily to Peter, was not intended for him alone. It conveys a truth applicable at the present time as well as then, and also points out a duty binding on all those who are called to act as spiritual pastors, in subordination to the great shepherd. This is evident from many passages of scripture, particularly from an exhortation contained in the first epistle of Peter. This distinguished apostle in addressing elders, uses language very similar to that contained in the text; and in adopting this language, he doubtless had reference tog he command which his master bad, reiteratedly, given to him. “The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder, Feed the flock of God, which is among you."
The words before us are adapted to the important and interesting occasion, on which we are now met in the sanctuary of the Lord ; and in discoursing upon them, it is proposed,
1. To make some remarks upon this truth, ob
viously suggested by thern, That Christ is the Shepherd of his people.
II. To consider the duty of Christian ministers, so far as it is pointed out by the phrase, “ Feed my sheep."
III. To apply the subject.
1. I am to remark upon this truth, obviously suggested by the text, Christ is the Shepherd of his people.
In the holy volume, the divine Redeemer is frequently represented under the character of a Shepherd ; and under this interesting title, he speaks of himself sundry times, particularly in the tenth chapter of John. But in what respects may this title be applied to our glorious Lord ?
1. He finds his people in their wanderings, and brings them into his föld.
In their natural state, all mankind are disposed to wander in the devious ways of sin. They depart from God, the only source of good, and stray from those paths, which alone can conduct them to happiness. Like sheep without a guide, they wander into the wilderness, and expose themselves continually to danger. Such is the native enmity of the human heart to the ever blessed Jehovah, that men would continue to stray away through life, and finally fall into the pit of destruction, did not Christ, by his Spirit, bring a part of them to see their danger, and gently lead them in the paths of righteous.
His language to his people is, “ Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."
In tender pity and compassion to those who, from eternity, were ordained to be of his flock, this ten. der and gracious Shepherd goes in pursuit of them ;
he finds them, and leads them in safety to a place “ of rest, where every thing necessary is provided “ for them."
2. The tenderness and love of Christ, as the good Shepherd, are manifested, not only in bringing sinners into his fold, in the first instance, but in still watching over and guiding them, to prevent their again wandering from him, and becoming lost.
“ I am the good Shepherd,” said he to his primitive disciples, " and know my sheep, and am known of mine." Again,
“ He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth them forth, he goeth before them, and they follow him, for they know his voice.” The same gracious Shepherd also says, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish ; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."
In this figurative language is conveyed an important truth in the great scheme of salvation, that those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and united to Christ by faith, will not be suffered to perish. To those who have been renewed by his Spirit, the divine Redeemer will communicato persevering grace. He may suffer them to depart from him for a time, to teach them humility ; and to impress on them a becoming sense of their entire dependence on him; but in the end he will bring them back from their wanderings. “Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out : as a Shepherd seeketh out his flock, so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places, where they have been scattered in the dark and cloudy day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, I will bind up that which was broken, and strengthen that which was sick.”
How merciful does the great Shepherd of Israel appear, in these tender expressions of love to his
flock! And what an encouraging consideration is this' to the Christian, in seasons of darkness and gloom! In such seasons, let him look to his gracious Redeemer, and be assured that he will soon experience renewed tokens of divine love and
3. Christ Jesus may be considered as the Shepherd of his people, as he imparts to them that nourishment which they need.
“ The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He prepareth a table before me; he anointeth my head with oil ; my cup runneth over."
" I will feed them," said Jehovah, by his prophet Ezekiel, “ I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be." Under these lively images, is represented the spiritual nourishment, with wbich the kind and compassionate Redeemer sup. plies his people.
He will support and comfort those who were ori. ginally chosen as his, and whom he has once brought into his fold. In a spiritual sense, he gives them his flesh to eat, and his blood to drink. " Far dif. “ ferent is their portion from that of men of the “world. The latter is only vanity and vexation of " spirit. The former is substantial. It comprises " all the blessings of the new covenant ;-the jus“tifications of their persons,--the renovation of “their hearts,--an adoption into the family of
God,-assurance of his love, - peace of conscience,-joy in the Holy Ghost.
Moreover, the same gracious Redeemer feeds his people by his word and ordinances ; by all the institutions of religion ; and especially by imparting to them the influences of his Spirit. He gives them a right to all tre blessings purchased by his atoning sufferings