“Feed My sheep.” (John 21:16)
“Another prominent truth, in these words, is, that love to Christ – supreme love to Christ – is the most important qualification of a pastor of Christ’s flock.
The question is thrice put, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ (John 21:16) And in each case, after receiving an affirmative answer, the Lord Jesus commands him to feed His sheep, or to feed His lambs.
Is not this as much as to say, ‘None are qualified to feed My sheep, who have no love to Me?’
And the thing is sufficiently evident to reason; for he who has no love to the owner, will have no real regard for the safety and health of the flock.
Among men of the world, it sometimes happens, that one passion becomes so strong, that it nearly swallows up all others.
Thus, avarice in the miser, is found potent enough to counteract the strongest propensities of nature.
Ambition, also, in others, carries all before it. Everything subserves the one pursuit, or yields to it.
Now, such should be the case with the minister of the gospel. The love of Christ ought so to predominate, so to possess his mind, and to bear him along, that every interfering, or opposing principle, should be neutralized or extinguished.
This should suggest all his plans, guide all his operations, give energy to all his efforts, and afford him comfort under all his trials.
Constrained by the love of Christ, he should cheerfully forego all the comforts of ease, affluence, and worldly honour to serve his Master in places far remote; or far removed from public observation.
This holy affection should impel him to undertake the most arduous duties, and encounter the most formidable dangers; this should enkindle the ardour of his eloquence, and supply the pathos of his most tender addresses.
This is the hallowed fire which should be kept bright and burning continually. All other warmth is no better than ‘strange fire.’
Nothing but the love of Christ can make a truly faithful pastor, or evangelist, assiduous in all his services, and indefatigable in the most private and self-denying duties of his office.
Other motives may lead a man to great diligence in preparing for his labours in the pulpit, where splendid eloquence wins as much applause as anywhere else.
Other motives also may stimulate a minister to great public exertion, and give him all the appearance of fervent zeal and devotedness to God, in the eyes of men.
But if supreme love to Christ be wanting, he is, after all, nothing; or, at best, a mere ‘sounding brass or tinkling cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)?
Genius, learning, eloquence, zeal, public exertion, and, great sacrifices, even if it should be of all our goods, and of our lives themselves, will be accounted of no value, in the eyes of the Lord, if love to Christ be wanting.
The church is now using laudable exertions to increase the number of ministers.
But, we may multiply preachers, and we may educate them well, and they may be acceptable to the people.
But, alas! If they love not the Lord Jesus Christ, Zion will not be built up.
The great harvest will not be gathered.”
–Archibald Alexander, “The Pastoral Office” as quoted in The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by Faculty and Friends of Old Princeton (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2020), 93-94. Alexander preached this sermon at Philadelphia before the Association of the Alumni of the Theological Seminary at Princeton on Wednesday Morning, May 21, 1834.