CHRISTÂ’S TENDERNESS TO THE WEAK (2)
It is commonly assumed that the lambs of Christ’s flock are new Christians, babes in Christ. It is likely that the term in Scripture refers rather to weak believers, the weaker brother. There is no necessary reference to age, natural or spiritual. Some who have been converted many years since are weak in faith, or in understanding, or in obedience. Our Lord Himself speaks of the disciples as babes: ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes’.
The smoking flax may refer to the same condition; there is not much light from it, if any; but the smoke indicates that there is some smouldering fire. The weak believers have a little faith, a little life, but not much discernment and perception. They are not aware how hard their own corruptions will fight against the Spirit; and sometimes when they experience such buildings up of the old nature, they imagine that they have no faith, and that they therefore do not belong to Christ. They forget that the conflict and their depression about it, are proofs of spiritual life. Satan generally allows people to sleep on, until a change from death to life begins,
then he opposes that life to the utmost of his power. These troubled people live far too much upon themselves and their feelings. They rest on an occasional happy frame of mind, but think too little of Christ’s finished work. Their minds are a good deal occupied with their own trials; and if they perform any kindness, especially if it involves some little sacrifice, self-satisfaction is felt, and the Spirit of God is grieved. Peter was in just such a condition when he said to Jesus, ‘Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee, what shall we have therefore?’ (Mt. 19.27). It seems not to occur to such ‘weaker brothers’ that Christ had left all the glory of heaven for them, and at what a sacrifice! They are weak in perception, in understanding, in experience; though they have been Christ’s disciples many a day. Yet the weaker brother is part of Christ’s Clock, and is not to be despised. The place for the lamb is in the fold, not outside; the place for the smoking flax is alongside other that is well alight, not in solitary isolation, whether by choice or by thoughtless ostracism.
It may be asked why the Lord Jesus did not give stronger spiritual graces to the disciples, and why He does not do the same to the weak ones now? How little we think of the Almighty wisdom in these matters! How much less of Christ’s tenderness would have been known if there had been no lambs to carry in His bosom! How many a distressed soul – even in the case of children – has been led by the waters of comfort by that priceless passage: ‘He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom’ (Is. 40.11). The Lord leads them as they are able to bear it. He said to His disciples, Â•I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’. What compassion for their infirmities! Their perplexities about Him must have been very great but he understood all, and sympathized with all. Well might He have been represented as carrying the lambs on His shoulder for strength; but they are said to be in His bosom as a mark of the tenderest affection. Such is His tender care of the weakest believer!
That the graces of all Christians are weaker than they would be but for so much remaining corruption, is a sorrowful fact. Some Christians are weaker than others, but the weakest member of Christ’s church has his name written in heaven. How mixed with human infirmities was the faith of the seventy whom the Lord sent out! When they returned they rejoiced that they had power to cast out devils through Him. But Jesus said, ‘Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven’. The names will never be erased from that register, because their possessors were given to the Son by the Father in eternal covenant. Our life is hid with Christ in God, and is so safe there that none can pluck it away. It is by the
power of God that Christians are ‘kept through faith unto salvation’, and their faith, which is God’s gift, is kept by the same power.
There was quite as much reason for the disciples to be forsaken as any child of God since that time. They all forsook Him and fled; but, after His resurrection, He did not turn His back on those faithless ones. His tender affection for them was such that He sent word to them, as to the place where He would see them, especially mentioning the one who had denied Him. How kindly the Lord looked at Peter when He was near being condemned to death, and gave him repentance! In the Lord’s prayer to His Father before His death, He uttered no complaint of His apostles; He simply said, They have kept thy word’. That was proof enough of spiritual life within, however much corruption might still be left there. As gold cannot be altered in its nature by the dross with which it may be mixed, so neither can seeds of grace in a believer’s life be changed in their nature by the entail of original sin that accompanies it. And all because the love of Christ to His people, which was strong enough to enable Him to endure the pain of the cross, is not a feeble flickering flame, but ‘love, strong as death’ and able to overcome death.
At one level, all Christ’s people may be considered to be lambs. They are in their minority while they are on earth, and their souls will attain a full-grown maturity only in heaven. Here, however, there are still waters even in an alien land, by which to rest and be gathered as lambs in their Saviour’s arms. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul . . . who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies’. (Ps. 103).
K. W. H. Howard