THE EAGLE AND THE HEN f24 “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him.” — Deuteronomy 32:11,12. “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” — Matthew 23: 37.
WHAT great condescension it is on God’s part that he should compare himself to anything that he has made, for the Creator must always be infinitely grander than the created. Greater condescension still is it that the Eternal should liken himself to birds — to a bird of prey, and then to the familiar domestic fowl. He whom neither time nor space can compass, nor imagination conceive, yet speaks of fluttering with wings and covering with his feathers. Does not this assure us of the willingness of the Lord to reveal his love to us? Does it not prove his desire that we should understand his providential dealings with us? He does not aim at dazzling us by displaying his inconceivable glory, but his object is to comfort us by manifesting his gracious condescension. He uses these images that he may instruct our ignorance, and that our feeble minds may grasp those majestic truths which otherwise must remain veiled in mystery, sublime but incomprehensible.
Just as a father stoops to talk in the nursery prattle of his little child, because otherwise it would not understand him even so does our heavenly Father employ homely images and common figures that we who are but babes in grace may comprehend him and confide in him. Ought we not to echo to this desire on God’s part to teach, by a more than willingness to learn of him? Where he thus bows the heavens that he may instruct us, should we not arouse all our powers to devout attention, saying with young Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
Having for the sake of bringing out a contrast, chosen two Scriptures for our meditation, we will commence with the metaphor of the eagle, and refresh our memories by reading the text again.
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him.”
We do not intend to give a full exposition of these rich expressions, but merely to glance at thoughts which gleam upon the surface.
In the image of the royal eagle fondly cherishing its young, we see love allied with grandeur unbending itself in tenderness. The eagle, wearing the wings of the morning, and holding the blast in scorn, is the playmate of the lightning, delighting in the uproar of the tempest. Terrible sublimity surrounds “the warrior bird,” whose fiery glance dares fix itself upon the sun. “She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is she.” “The tawny eagle seats his callow brood High on the cliff, and feasts his young with blood; On Snowdon’s rocks, or Orkney’s wide domain, Whose beetling cliffs o’erhang the western main, The royal bird his lonely kingdom forms Amidst the gathering clouds and sullen storms.
Through the wide waste of air he darts his sight, And holds his sounding pinions poised for flight.” The text portrays this monarch among the birds of the air as practising endearments towards its young of the most affectionate kind; you see no allusion to its strength of wing, or to the brightness of its eye, or to the ferocity of its nature; it is sporting with its eaglets, with all the fondness of a dove, and in such an attitude is the right worthy emblem of greatness bowed by force of love unto familiar tenderness. When we speak of God unto what shall we liken him? Where are words by which we can describe him? Since we cannot in any way set him forth, we will not attempt the task, yet will we quote the psalmist’s words, and bid you note the blending of love with loftiness. “He bealeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.” And yet further would we remind you that “He maketh the clouds his chariot: he walketh upon the wings of the wind, yet doth he dwell with the humble and contrite and with those who tremble at his word.” He thundereth marvellously with his voice, and is terrible in majesty, and yet a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoking flax he will not quench. “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world and all that dwell therein;” yet hath he said to his people, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Wonder of wonders, that the Infinite should stoop to commune with the insignificant and impure. It is beyond all things marvellous that God should love man. We can easily comprehend that he should be kind to man, and deal benevolently and even mercifully with him, seeing that he is the creature of his hand; but that the infinite God should bow his heart to love a finite and sinful being, is a miracle surpassing all miracles. Herein in very deed the heavens are rent, and the glory of the Lord is revealed among men. Talk not of the resurrection of the dead, or the opening of the eyes of the blind, or the ears of the deaf, these are small marvels when compared with God’s loving man after man had wilfully broken the most just of laws and hardened himself in rebellion against his Lord. To speak of the eagle stooping to its young is nothing; here is a far more amazing triumph of love, when the Most High and Holy One revealeth himself in tenderest affection to the people of his choice.
A second glance at our text fixes our attention upon love allied with prudence bestirring the loved ones. Note the words, “As the eagle stirreth up her nest;” here love arouses wisdom, wisdom seeks the good of the fledglings, and paternal foresight breaks their repose. The parent birds make the young eaglets uneasy in the nest. Having been so well cared for before their feathers appeared, the young eagles might be well content to abide in the nest, they might be slow to try those callow pinions, and begin to shift for themselves; but the prudent bird will not allow its offspring to remain in indolence; it stirs up the nest and makes it uncomfortable for them that they may desire to leave it, and may test their wings by taking short flights which by-and-by shall lengthen into heavenward searings. Now, observe that God in dealing with his people exercises the same prudent love, and uses trials as a preventative for spiritual sluggishness. Most of the saints have experienced the discipline of grace. They were growing too fond of earth, too wrapped up in creature joys, too carnal-minded, and lo, it came to pass that the desire of their eyes was taken away with a stroke, or their riches made to themselves wings and flew away, or their bodily frame began to quiver with pain, or their honor among men faded like a flower, and in every case the result was to wean from earth and to wed to heaven.
How easily can God fill the downiest nest with thorns, and how good it is for us to find it so! We do not always at once perceive the wisdom which spoils our comforts, but in future days I wet that we shall consider our sharpest trials to have been amongst our richest privileges, and perhaps in heaven next to the note which resounds the dying love of Christ, the highest will be that which sings of the wisdom of God in the tribulations with which he graciously afflicted his people on the way to their rest. Next to the cross of Christ, we may prize the cross we are daily called to carry.
The eagle stirs up its nest, and even thus we may expect that God in infinite love will often spoil our earthly repose. The Israelites were in Egypt in the land of Goshen, and as they found fat and fertile pastures for their flocks they would by insensible degrees have become fully naturalised, the chosen seed would have degenerated into Egyptians, and grovelled in all the idolatries of that land; but the Lord sent a Pharaoh to rule them, who knew not Joseph, and the people were put under cruel taskmasters, and their male children ordered to be destroyed, then it was that they remembered the Lord’s promise to visit them and bring them out of Egypt. Then they bethought themselves of the land that floweth with milk and honey which God had covertanted to give them, and their minds were all the readier for Moses the servant of God and the miracles with which he brought them out. Nor was this the only instance of the stirring up of Israel’s nest, for all the time they were in the wilderness their daily trials prevented their finding rest until they came to Canaan. The desert was not a smooth highway or a luxuriant pasture land. Serpents bit them, thirst parched them, Amalekites assailed them. They found few wells and palm trees; the wilderness was desolate to them, and all in order to keep them from attempting to find a dwelling out of the land of promise. Their only rest must be where God had said it should be: they must build no houses and plant no vineyards out of Canaan. See, then, in Godpeople the image of ourselves and let us admire the prudence of divine love. “It needs our hearts be wean’d from earth, It needs that we be driven, By loss of every earthly stay, To seek our joys in heaven.
For we must follow in the path Our Lord and Savior run; We must not find a resting-place Where he we love had none.” Again turning to the text, we perceive in the next few words love by its example leading the way. The eagle, having stirred up her nest, flutters over her young, as if to show them how to fly. She tries every fond endearment to induce them to trust the buoyant air, her own fluttering being the best practical instruction she can yield. The eagle, according to naturalists, takes much pains to teach its young, and educates them in the best manner — namely, by example. Sir Humphrey Davy had an opportunity of witnessing the instructions given, and thus records the fact: — “I once saw a very interesting sight above one of the crags of Ben Nevis, as I was going in the pursuit of black game. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring — two young birds — the manoeuvres of flight. They began by rising from the top of the mountain, in the eye of the sun. It was about midday, and bright for this climate. They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them. They paused on their wings, waiting till they had made their first flight, and then took a second and larger gyration, always rising towards the sun, and enlarging their circle of flight, so as to make a gradually ascending spiral. The young ones still slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted; and they continued this sublime exercise, always rising, till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to our aching sight.”
After a more glorious sort, the Lord God of our salvation trains his people for high and holy endearours by the leadings of his providence and the examples of his holiness.
When Israel came out of Egypt, the Lord led forth the people, showing them how and where to march. If they had to pass through the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire went before them; if they were afterwards called to traverse the sandy desert, the Lord in majesty marched in the van. They were never commanded to advance until Jehovah’s mysterious footsteps had first trodden the path. In a more spiritual sense we see and admire the abundant grace of God reflected in the sympathy of Christ, for he has borne already what we bear, as it is written, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” The example of Christ fulfils to the utmost the comparison of the fluttering eagle. He who would learn to be holy must study the life of his Redeemer, and copy its every line. Jesus the eagle of God, teaches us how to fly towards heaven. His example is our noblest incentive and encouragement. In subordination to this the saints who have gone before us in their experience of sustaining and sanctifying grace, are so many divine flutterings by which the Lord teaches us to trust him, and to rejoice in him. Thus you have love in prudence stirring up the nest — love, by its example, exciting to effort and showing the way.
The text further brings before us love lending its strength to educate and discipline ils beloved. “Taketh them, beareth them on her wings.” The eagle has been said to place her callow eaglets between her wings, and when she has borne them up to a certain height, she casts them off her back to compel them to fly. They must try their wings or fall and be dashed to pieces; thus they are driven to their first attempts, but if the old bird perceives that their little wings cannot bear them up, she darts beneath them in a moment and catches them between her wings again; and carries them aloft in safety to repeat the experiment as they are able to bear it.
Whether this is literally true or not we cannot say, but assuredly the illustration it affords is valuable, for thus does the Lord exercise all his people. Suddenly he takes away all manifest supports from us, and we are compelled to live by faith. At first we fear that we shall surely be destroyed, for our faith is very weak; but underneath us the everlasting wings are again revealed, and though a moment before falling rapidly, we find ourselves rising quite as suddenly, upborne again, beyond all clouds and mists of despondency, into the divine sunshine of joy; perhaps to descend again into trembling and anxiety when faith again is tried. Thus it is that we learn the flight of faith — not so much by comforts as by the lack of them. Thus it is we gather strength not so much by a sense of strength as by discovering our weakness and being compelled to repose upon Christ. The sacred discipline of trial develops all the graces which almighty love had wrought in us, and makes us mature, vigorous, valiant, and confident.
Still, we must not forget that in the text we see love lending its needful aid in time of peril. The eagle upholds and upbeats her eaglets while yet too weak to take care of themselves. She never suffers them to fall so as to be dashed in pieces. Her wings still bear them up beyond all risk of downfall.
Equally safe are they from the hunter’s deadly aim, she flies too high for him to reach her, or if such danger should occur, the shot must first pass through the mother bird before it can possibly wound her young — they are perfectly safe. So God bears his people up; they shall not fall totally or finally; they shall be sustained by his grace. He protects them from every danger, and he will safely bring them into his kingdom and glory.
Taking the illustration of the eagle as a whole, we have before us disciplinary love. This is the most prominent view of God under the Old Testament dispensation. It is love in awful majesty of greatness, thundering from the top of Sinai, “I am the Lord thy God;” love training a wayward people to make them fit for their noble calling; love educating as by a schoolmaster, training as by a captain, chastening as with a rod. The eagle metaphor is a very precious revelation of divine love; we could not afford to miss the blessings which it vividly sets forth; we want just such a God as Israel had in the wilderness — a God with the eagle’s strength, with the eagle’s love to its offspring, with the eagle’s prudence in stirring up its nest, and with the eagle’s care in instructing its young by doing itself what it would have its eaglets do. We want just this, but is there not something more sweet, more tender yet? In the New Testament do we not see love in even fairer colors? Is there not a gentleness, a nearness, a tenderness even more consoling to the troubled breast? We think we see all this in the second text. We are far enough from depreciating the first, yet would we magnify the second. Not for a moment would we allow that the Old Testament revelation is of inferior worth, yet do we discover in the New Testament points of inexpressibly glorious grace, surpassing everything before revealed.
We will now turn to the metaphor of the hen. We have it in two places in Scripture, but one will serve us, it is contained in the twenty-third of Matthew at the thirty-seventh verse: — “How often would I have gathered thy children togther, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”
Here we have love connected with familiarity. The idea suggested by the eagle is sublimity; the thoughts aroused by the brooding hen are of familiar tenderness. Let us so think of God, for so he reveals himself in the gospel.
In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ our God comes very near to us, and he would have us come very near to him. It is the same God, great as he that overthrew the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and answered Job out of the whirlwind; yet when we draw near to his throne by faith in Jesus Christ, his greatness is not our first thought. We feel then the glow of his loving nearness to us, for the Lord has condescended to place us in union with his dear Son, to make us his own children, to give to us all the privileges of sons and the nature of sons, and to promise that we shall be with Jesus where he is. It is a blessed thing that the child of God need no longer lie like a slave beneath the throne. We are brought nigh by the blood of Christ.
It is to be feared that many heirs of heaven have never enjoyed the spirit of adoption as they ought to do. They have suffered themselves still to abide under the spirit of bondage. Their prominent thought of God has been still the eagle and not the hen; they have not yet learned to cower down beneath the divine protection, with the familiarity of the chicken beneath the parental wings. We are not to think less of the infinite greatness of God, nay, we should think more of him; for let our ideas of him be ever so much enlarged, we shall never reach the height of his glory; but still let there be no distance, let not his majesty chill and freeze the genial current of our soul, but let us remember that his love is as great as his power, and his tenderness is as infinite as his existence; he himself comes near to us; be not abashed to come near to him.
The comparison of the hen sets forth love bestowing perfect rest. The eagle stirred up her nest. The hen does the very opposite, she gathereth her chickens under her wings. Her object is not to excite and to arouse, but to shelter and cherish. Have you never observed the little chicks delightedly sheltering beneath their mother’s feathers, a head peeping from under the wing, and another thrust out between the plumage of the breast. How happy they all appear to be! Scarce any little note has more music of delight in it than the happy twittering of chicks when they are in warm Elysium of rest. There is nothing that they want; there is nothing more they could think of wanting. So, under the New Testament dispensation, the Lord reveals himself to his people as giving them rest. “We that have believed do enter into rest.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Note well, that the two ordinances which distinguish the two Testaments differ just as do the two metaphors before us. The passover — how did they eat it? In haste, each man with his loins girt and his staff in his hand, for they expected to hear of judgment upon Egypt, and to go forth themselves by night in great haste from the iron bondage. But how did our Lord and his apostles celebrate the sacred supper? Not superstitiously kneeling, or uncomfortably standing. No, all the disciples reclined at the table, after the Oriental custom, manifesting that they were at perfect ease; and we are accustomed to advise you, when you gather together to break bread, to sit as easily as you can. The best posture at the Lord’s Supper is that in which you may decorously enjoy the greatest rest. There is the great difference; the law bids you gird up your loins, for you must up and away; but the gospel says, “It is finished; you who are troubled, rest with us.
Christ has ascended up on high, he has taken possession of the better Canaan for you.” May we all know our God in Christ as the Lord and giver of peace! Peace, because our sin is washed away by the precious blood of Jesus; peace, because our righteousness is complete through the perfect work of Christ which is imputed to us; rest, because the everlasting covenant cannot be broken; rest, because the Beloved has gone to prepare a place for us, and will soon come again; rest, because we have east all our care on him who careth for us, and henceforth enjoy a peace which passeth all understanding, which keeps our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.
Further, the simile of the hen brings out love communing in the dearest manner.
The hen not only covers the chickens, but she supplies them with warmth from her own body. She, as it were, communicates of her vital force to the little tremblers whose strength is small, and who are cherished greatly by being nestled beneath her wings. Even so the Lord not only comes near us but he comes near us so as to communicate the mysterious warmth of his love and the mystic vitality of his own spirit to us. We have before us not so much love fluttering over its fledglings teaching them what to do, as love brooding over its offspring and communicating of its own self to them. Beloved, this is not a mystery to be talked of, except in friendly fellowship with those who have experienced it, but this is a matter rapturously to be enjoyed by each Christian for himself. When we know by experience that the sap of the brauch is the sap of the stem, that the life of the Christian is Christ Jesus, then know we this secret. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God;” we derive from Christ all that we have, and by coming into contact with him in heartfelt communion we receive love out of his love, peace out of his peace, joy out of his joy, and life out of his life, as the chickens receive their nurture from the hen. May we understand this and enjoy it evermore!
Again, observe that in the figure of the hen we see lore concerning weakness.
In the eagle it is love stirring up activity and developing latent strength, but here it is love bestowing protection upon those who are passive in receiving it, being weak. The little chicks do not try to uplift themselves on their own wings; they have nothing to do but to get fully beneath the mother, and there to rest. We need as in the first simile to be trained to use power when we have received it, and it should be our prayer that we may be strengthened with all might by his Spirit in the inner man. But there are times of sorrow, times of weakness, times of despondency, when that view of God yields us no comfort, and then we find it a peculiarly appropriate consolation that God has compared himself to the hen, so that we who are weak, trembling, powerless, may hide beneath his power and love, and find that nothing is required of us, but everything bestowed upon us. We rejoice to serve God, we delight, as saved souls, to honor out’ Redeemer, but it grates on our cars when we hear exhortations to serve God addressed to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, as if such services would save them, or as if their own strength would suffice them. They are to be exhorted to seek salvation in Christ by fleeing to him that he may gather them beneath his wings, Scripture warrants us in doing that; but we should be very wrong if we exhorted them to perform Christian duties as if they could fly up to heaven on their own wings. All the efforts of human nature will never save a soul. Men are not saved as eagles learn to fly, but they are saved as chickens are housed beneath the hen. They are not saved by activities, they are saved by passively accepting the activity of another and the.sufferings of another — even Jesus Christ.
Hence we should carefully observe that this second metaphor was addressed to sinners, not to saints; not to Israel receiving God’s mercy, so much as to Israel rejecting it; for Christ says, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” This last, then, is peculiarly a metaphor of encouragement and rebuke to sinners: the first is very instructive to the advanced saint, but this is suitable for saints and sinners too; and we delight to speak of it in the hope that some poor seeking heart, without strength, with no wings of its own, may come and hide beneath the wings of God, and find a refuge where Jesus Christ has provided it, under the shelter of eternal love, as it manifests itself in the atonement of the Lamb of God.
There is a difference, then, between these two figures, though they are both marvellously instructive. The first was an Old Testament type, revealing sternness, majesty, sublimity, power, prudence, discipline; the second is a New Testament emblem, manifesting sweetness, tenderness, familiarity, rest, security, content. The first is a symbol which only a saint can take to himself, and that not in the matter of his salvation, but only of his education. The second is a figure which is for the sinner as well as for the saint, for the doubter, for the trembler. May each of us live to know the second first, and then the first afterwards, as we grow in grace.
The lesson which the two comparisons may teach is not far to find.
First, to the child of God, the lesson is one of encouragement. Are you in trouble? Rejoice in your trouble: it is the eagle stirring up the nest. The eagle has not forgotten her young, when she stirs them up, love moves her to that deed: God has evidently not forsaken you if he is exciting you to look above this world of care. I could bless God when I was lately in acute pain, when the thought occurred to me, “My Master has not quite forgotten his servant. I am not cast away like a wilted, withered flower, flung out of the hand because it yields no fragrance. My Lord is bruising me, as men do spices, to bring out of me whatever of fragrance he perceives. He has some esteem for me, else would he not bruise me.”
Perhaps you are called by God to a certain very difficult labor. Accept that labor, and if the service be beyond your strength, be not startled at it; the eagle taketh her young upon her wings, and bears them aloft. Get upon the wings of God in all your labor. You can mount well enough (who could not?) on another’s wing? You shall swim well enough with the life-belt of omnipotence about you. You shall be strong enough to perform even miracles when God is at your right hand. Fear not, for as your days are so shall your strength be. Go to your service not only with utter distrust of yourself, even with the sentence of death written on your own strength; but go also with an unwavering trust in God, and with the confidence that he cannot forsake you.
Perhaps you are the conscious subject of great weakness. The longer the Christian lives the weaker he grows in his own esteem. He thouht himself weak at first, but he knows himself weak now. Then let this text encourage you. If you are weak, come like the chickens, who being weak, hide under the hen. Sing with Wesley- “Cover my defenceless head With the shadow of thy wing.” There can be no better plea for you in going to God than this. If he should say, “Why come you here?” be content to reply, “Lord, I am weak, I come to thee for strength. I am defenceless, I come to thee for protection!”
Necessity is the best argument with God’s mercy. Your sense of weakness, therefore, should encourage you to hide beneath the wings of your God. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”
The lesson to the unbeliever is equally plain. Unbeliever, there is nothing consoling in these metaphors for you if you remain as you are. They can give you no encouragement. Suppose the eagle should find in its nest a bird which, when the parent fluttered, never responded to its flutterings, which when taken on the father’s wings would never learn to fly! The royal bird would soon understand that an intruder was there; and what would be the result? An eagle is a dreadful bird when incensed. So remember when the Lord groweth angry and his longsuffering endeth, and his mercy is clean gone for ever, you will be in an awful condition. Did you never read those words, “Beware, ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver”? Behold in those words the divine wrath revealed as the eagle. That same eagle which thus taught its young to fly, tears in pieces that which it hates. O yield yourselves to God; yield yourselves by repentance and faith to him against whose wrath you cannot stand. May God grant you grace never to try passages at arms with the Almighty! Let not a worm contend with the devouring flame, nor the chaff wrestle with the whirlwind, nor a sinner fight with his God.
Look at the other metaphor — that of the hen gathering her chicks.
Suppose you unbelievingly remain apart from Christ, and are not gathered, so that the Savior may weep over you, and say, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not;” O then remember how Jerusalem perished, and see in her fate a picture of your own. The chick which is unguarded by the mother’s wings is always in danger. There is a speck in the sky; it is a hawk; see you not how it descends like a flash of lightning, and takes away the little one to be destroyed? The falcon of justice is searching for its victim, beware lest it bear you away to the place of doom. When the trumpet shall peal, and the dead shall awake, and the pillars of the earth shall shake, and the earth shall rock and reel, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, then swift- winged vengeance shall soar aloft, and if you have no God to cover you, it will bear you away, into everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. My hearer, my reader, may you never know what it is to be left out when God shall read the muster-roll of his people. Without God! Without Christ! It will one day be everlasting misery to be without Christ! Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. The little chick does not need to prepare itself to come under the hen: it is not called upon to bring anything, or do anything. It merely runs, stoops its little head, and finds a shelter. Even thus, must we come to Christ, with desire in our hearts, prayer on our lips, and faith in our souls.
SPIKED GUNS TO render a cannon useless there is no need to blow it to pieces, or melt it down, or fracture it, let but a small piece of iron be driven into the touchhole, and the gun is disabled for service. In like manner, to render a man useless in the gospel war, there is no need for the devil to ruin his character, render him a heretic, or pervert him into a blasphemer, let but the entrance by which the divine fire reaches his soul be stopped up, and the mischief is effectually done. Alas! too many professors are like spiked guns, the heavenly spark has no admittance into their souls: in all other respects they are in right trim, but worldliness has blocked up the communication with the heavenly fire, and the divine enthusiasm being shut out, they are useless in the church, the mock of Satan, and the grief of those who are zealous for the Lord God of Israel. — From My Note Book, now preparing for publication.
MINISTERS SAILINGUNDER FALSE COLOURS BY C. H. SPURGEON.
OUR forefathers were far less tolerant than we are, and it is to be feared that they were also more honest. It will be a sad discount upon our gain in the matter of charity if it turn out that we have been losers in the department of truthfulness. There is no necessary connection between the two facts of growth in tolerance and decline in sincerity, but we are suspicious that they have occurred and are occurring at the same moment.
We freely accord to theological teachers a freedom of thought and utterance which in other a?:es could only be obtained by the more daring at serious risks, but we also allow an amount of untruth-fullness in ministers, which former aries would have utterly abhorred. It is upon the grounds for this last assertion that we mean to utter our mind in a brief paragraph or two; our love to the most unlimited religious liberty inciting us to all the sterner abhorrence of the license which like a parasite feeds thereon.
Upon the plea of spiritual liberty, of late years certain teachers who have abjured the faith of the churches which employ them, have nevertheless endeavored, with mare or less success, to retain their offices and their emoluments. A band of men who maliciously blaspheme the atonement and deny the deity of our Lord, continue at this hour to officiate as pastors of more than one Reformed Church upon the Continent. A powerful body of sceptics, whose doubts upon the inspiration of Holy Scripture are not concealed, yet remain in churches whose professed basis is the inspiration of the Bible. Ministers are to be found who deny baptismal regeneration, and yet put into the mouths of children such words as these, “In my baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” In the same establishment may be found believers in nearly every dogma of the Popish creed, who nevertheless have declared their faith in articles which are distinctly Calvinistic; and now last, and, to our minds, most sorrowful of all, it comes out that there are men to be found among Caledonia’s once sternly truthful sons who can occupy the pulpits and the manses of an orthodox Presbyterian church, and yet oppose her ancient confession of faith. Our complaint is in each case, not that the men changed their views, and threw up their former creeds, but that having done so they did not at once quit the office of minister to the community whose faith they could no longer uphold; their fault is not that they differed, but that, differing, they sought an office of which the prime necessity is agreement. All the elements of the lowest kind of knavery meet in the evil which we now denounce.
Treachery is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood. The office of minister would never unwittingly be entrusted by any community to a person who would use it for the overthrow of the principles upon which the community was founded. Such conduct would be suicidal. A sincere belief of the church’s creed was avowedly or by implication a part of the qualification which helped the preacher to his stipend, and when that qualification ceases the most vital point of the compact between him and his church is infringed, and he is bound in honor to relinquish an office which he can no longer honestly fulfill. Scrupulous conscientiousness would not wait for any enquiries of church courts, but with noble delicacy, jealous of her own honor, would come forward and boldly say, “Gentlemen, the doctrines which you believe me to hold are no longer dear to me: I know that your church is not likely to alter her belief, and as I cannot square mine with hers, I leave her. I could not profess to be what I am not, or eat the bread of a church whose articles of faith I cannot accept.” Having said this, the preacher has restored things to their natural position, and has a right, as far as his fellow men are concerned, to prophesy whatsoever seemeth good unto him. Whether he becomes orthodox or heterodox, more enlightened or less sound, is mainly his own business, and that of those who may accord with him; certainly, it is no concern of ours at this present, nor indeed is it so the concern of any soul breathing, that the man should be in any degree denied unbounded liberty of utterance; he has a right to speak what he believes, and in God’s name let him speak. To put him to the loss of civil rights, or social status (so far as this last is a matter of voluntary act), is a suggestion to be scorned. To touch a hair of his head, or label him with an opprobrious epithet, would be disgraceful. He has cast off the bond which he found irksome; he scorned to be in fetters; he in common with all his fellows may now tell out his message in the world’s great audience chamber, and our prayer for him is, the Lord send him divine light and love, and may his labor never be frustrated. But if the man make no such declaration to the religious body from whom in heart he differs, and offers no such resignation, but remains with it in name and in pay while secretly or openly opposing its covenanted faith, we have no wordswhich can sufficiently describe the meanness of his conduct. If a priest engaged in sacrifice in the temple of Juggernaut should be converted to Mohammedanism, he would be a great rogue should he continue his ministrations in honor of the Hindoo deity; and every rupee that he received from the worshippers of the idol would be the fruit of fraud. Or to change the instance, should the pastor of a Christian church become a conscientious believer in the divinity of the goddess Kalee, he would be nothing short of a villain if he held his position and pocketed the contributions of believers in Jesus. The cases may be said to be extreme, but they are scarcely more so than some existing among us, and the principle is the same as in less glaring instances. By what tortuous processes of reasoning could it be made to appear consistent with uprightness for an Arminian to accept emoluments upon the condition of teaching Calvinistic doctrines, or how could a Calvinist be justified should he enter into covenant to teach the opposite tenets? Would it be any decrease of the inconsistency of either official if he should, after gaining his position and securing its salary, become a stickler for ministerial liberty and insist upon delivering himself of his own real opinions which he dared not have avowed at his instalment, and which, ex officio, he ought to denounce?
A church, having a written creed, virtually asks the candidate for her pulpit, “Do you hold fast our form of sound words, and, will you endeavor to maintain it?” On the response to that enquiry, other things being settled, the appointment depends. The candidate’s “yea,” is accepted in confidence as being sincere, and he is inducted; but if it be a lie, or if at any time it cease to be altogether true, it is only by a sophistry unworthy of an ingenuous mind, that a man can justify’ himself in retaining his place; he is bound in honor to relinquish it forthwith.
It may be said that churches should leave their ministers free to preach whatever they please. Our answer is, that it may or may not be the proper course, to us it seems to be a plan worthy only of a race of triflers, but that is not the point in hand. When churches agree to. leave their preachers perfectly unbound as to doctrine, our remarks will have no relevancy, for where there is no compact there can be no breach of it; but the fact is that the churches as a rule do not give such boundless license, but lay down more or less distinct creeds and rules of practice, to which assent is given by all their ministers; and while these are still in use, no man can promise to maintain them, and yet war against them, profess to esteem them, and yet despise them, without his conduct being a great moral mystery to those who fain would think him an honest man.
It is frequently bewailed as a mournful circumstance that creeds were ever written; it is said, “Let the Bible alone be the creed of every church, and let preachers explain the Scriptures as they conscientiously think best.” Here again we enter into no debate, but simply beg the objector to remember that there are creeds, that the churches have not given them up, that persons are not forced to be ministers of these churches, and therefore if they object to creeds they should not offer to become teachers of them; above all, they should not agree to teach what they do not believe. If a man thinks the banner of a political party to be a wrong one, he should not enlist under it, and if he does so, with his heart in another camp, he may expect ejectmerit with remarks unflattering. Protest by all means against creeds and catechisms, but if you sign them, or gain or preserve a position by appearing to uphold them, wonder not if your morality be regarded as questionable.
It has been insinuated, if not openly averred, that to deprive a man of his office in any church because he denies its doctrines is persecution. But if the members of a religious community are forced to support a man who undermines their faith, are they not most clearly persecuted? If they are compelled to endure as their spiritual leader a person who impugns the doctrines which he was chosen to defend, is not this persecution of the heaviest sort? The liberty of preachers is important, but the liberty of hearers is important too. It would he wrong to oppress the individual, but it is not less so to oppress the many. Let the preacher use his tongue as he wills, but by what show of right should a congregation support him while he is opposing their views of truth? There is the whole world for every earnest speaker to talk in, but for what reason is he to have possession of a pulpit dedicated to the propagation of dogmas which he glories in refuting?
We have scarcely patience to expose so self-evident an absurdity. The whine concerning persecution is effeminate cant. Not thus did the heroes of the Disruption set up a caterwaullug when, because they could not agree with regulations forced on the Scottish Establishment, they surrendered all that they possessed of church house room and provender. Did Luther and Calvin claim to remain priests of the church of Rome, and hang on to benefices under the Pope’s control? Did the Nonconformists of two hundred years ago claim to eat bread episcopally buttered after they had refused compliance with the Act of Uniformity?
Every free association has at least a civil right to make its own laws; no man is bound to join it, but, having joined it, if be disobey the rules it is no persecution, but the purest justice, to east out the offending member. To put such a perfectly justifiable and even necessary expulsion on a level with thumb-screwing, burning, or imprisonment, is sheer idiotic maundering; and one wonders at the littleness of the souls who allow such pleadings to be offered on their behalf. Half a grain of heroism would make a man say, “No, I have no right to a stipend which I am disqualified from earning. I shall be a loser, but the world is wide, truth is precious, and while I am true to my sacred calling, and the spirit of truth, I doubt not that God will bear me through, and that there are true hearts beating in unison with mine who will rally round me: at any rate, I dare not act dishonestly.” However great a man’s error, one feels a sympathy with his person when he is moved by honor-able sentiments to make personal sacrifices; but, even if we were certain that truth was on his side, if he violated the rights of others by forcing his opinions upon them, indignation should be excited in every just man’s bosom.
But suppose a church to be founded upon compromise, and intended to embrace parties of many shades of opinion? Then, of course the latitude specified may be enjoyed without infraction of the code of honor, although it is possible that difficulties of another sort may arise; but even in such a case there must of necessity be some points settled, something not to be considered as moot, and our remarks are applicable to deviations from those settled standards to the fullest degree. Concerning these there must be no shuffling, or honor is gone. Ecclesiastics may not think so, but the common sense of observers outside never hesitates in its verdict when the clergy play with words. The proverb concerning the falseness of priests owes its’ origin to the aptness of ecclesiatics to twist, language. No conceivable mode of expression could fix a doctrine if certain divines had the exposition of them. Black is white, and red no color, and green a peculiar shade of scarlet with theological word-splitters. Alas! that it should be so, for the crime is great, and thousands have died at Tyburn for faults not a tithe so injurious to the commonwealth.
What is to be done with persons who will not leave a church when their views are opposed to its standards? The reply is easy. They should have a patient hearing that they may have opportunity to explain, and if it be possible to their consciences, may sincerely conform; but if the divergence be proven, they must with all the courtesy consistent with decision be made to know that their resignation is expected, or their expulsion must follow.
The church which does not do this has only one course before it consistent with righteousness; if it be convinced that the standards are in error and the preacher right, it ought at all hazards to amend its standards, and if necessary to erase every letter of its creed, so as to form itself on a model consistent with the public teaching which it elects, or with the latitude which it prefers. However much of evil might come of it, such a course would be un-impeachably consistent, so consistent indeed that we fear few ordinary mortals will be able to pursue it; but the alternative of maintaining a hollow ecru?act, based on a lie, is as degrading to manliness as to Christianity. Much and often have we marvelled at the inertia of Christian manhood. An Imaum who traduced the prophet from the pulpit of the Mosque, would have small tolerance from the disciples of Mahomet beyond \;he leave to go his way, and never pollute the place a second time.
Not even the most debased of idolatries would so stultify itself, or become so heartlessly hypocritical, as to enrich with the gold and silver of its votaries priests who avowedly an laboriously oposed the gods, and the teachings of the Shastras. It, is reserved for certain Christian churches to degrade themselves by tolerating as their teachers the acknowledged and professed propounders of another gospel, an d allowing the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and the verifies of the faith, to be scoffed at to their faces on the Sabbath-day by their own paid ministers. How long ere this reproach shall be rolled away!
COVETOUS COVETOUS men must be the sport of Satan, for their grasping avarice neither lets them enjoy life nor escape from the second death. They are held by their own greed as surely as beasts with cords, or fish with nets, or men with chains. They may be likened to those foolish apes which in some countries are caught by narrow necked vessels; into these corn is placed, the creatures thrust in their hands, and when they have filled them they cannot draw out their fists unless they let go the grain, sooner than do this they submit to be captured. Are covetous men, then, so like the beast? Let them ponder and be ashamed.—From “My Note Book.”