“Feed my sheep.”—John 21:16.
The conversation which passed between our Lord and Peter, of which the text forms a part, was designed to administer reproof, and to communicate forgiveness. The cutting question was calculated to wound him to the quick; the kind direction amounted to a full forgiveness. He might expect he had lost his office—but no—he shall be restored—“Feed my sheep.”
There are a few things suggested by these words which have of late made some impression on my mind; particularly, the love of Christ to his people—my own duty as a pastor—and the character necessary for you to sustain, if you would thrive under the word. Let me notice,
I. The love of Christ to his people, discovered in this charge to Peter.—You are to view him as a shepherd—the good Shepherd of the sheep—the chief Shepherd. The time also is worthy of notice; he had just laid down his life for the sheep; nay more, he had taken it again, (Heb. 13:20); and being now about to leave his flock in the world, as sheep among wolves, he commits them to his under-shepherd. There is a close connexion between his having died for them and his desire to have them fed; which is afterward recognized by the apostle Paul, in his farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Observe three things in particular:—
1. The interest he claims in them:—“My sheep”—“my lambs.” They are his as given him by the Father, John 10:29. They are his as having purchased them with his blood, Acts 20:28. And they are his as being the travail of his soul, the reward of his death, which “satisfied” him.
2. The qualification he requires in their shepherd—Love! He would not trust them with one who did not love him. One who did not love him, a hireling, would starve them, or poison them, and flee in a time of danger John 10:12. Give him the fleece, the flock may care for themselves. But if we love Christ, we shall love his people for his sake. We shall feel a subordinate interest in them. It is by this a good shepherd is distinguished from a hireling, John 10:11. Love will inspire vigilance and boldness in feeding the flock, and defending them from danger. David was a genuine shepherd, when he risked his life to save a lamb.
3. The provision he has made for their being fed.—Under-shepherds cannot furnish the pasture; the utmost we can do is to lead you into it. But Christ does more. He not only provides shepherds, but pasture—the gospel, of which he is the subject.
II. The duty of a minister to his people.—It is to “feed” them. The word here rendered “feed” signifies the whole duty of a shepherd, and not merely to supply them with food—to govern them, protect them, to care for them; or (as Peter himself expresses it) “to take the oversight of them.” To discharge this duty as it demands is a great matter.
1. It requires that we be divested of a selfish spirit.—The description of an idol shepherd, by Zechariah, (11:16, 17,) has of late been much on my mind. Two evils hang over him who is his own idol, or who wishes to be idolized by his people—a blast on his labours, and a mind void of judgment.
2. It requires that we be conversant with the gospel.—How else can we lead others into it? If we be worldly-minded, we shall feed your evil principles and propensities, but not your graces; at best, only your mental faculties. Many are thus fed by ingenious, speculative preachers. But we must feed your best principles—your faith, hope, and love. Lord! who is sufficient for these things?
III. The character necessary for you to sustain in order to thrive under the word.—You must be Christ’s sheep, or you will not know his voice, the gospel will not be the food you will relish. If you are his sheep, you will enter in at the door. Christ is the door. You will know his voice, and follow him. You will enter his fold, uniting yourself to his people; and you will go in and out, and find pasture. You will enter into the spirit of the church, as described by Solomon: “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest; where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon,” &c.
Sustaining this character, you will not famish for want of food. The gospel is rich pasture. Having led you into it on earth, may I be able at last to give an account, both of you and myself, with joy, and not with grief!
Excerpt from: “Pastors Required to Feed the Flock of Christ.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 477–478). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.