As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place. — (Proverbs 27:8.)
WE have here the wisdom of Solomon. This will mainly concern human affairs, for a great many of his proverbs are not intended for the spiritual eye, but to be of literal service to us in the business of life. But I believe a greater than Solomon is here, for he wrote under divine inspiration, and therefore we may take a passage like this to have some other meaning than we shall find in the mere letter of it, and the principle which it involves may be carried into a higher sphere than that of human business. I shall endeavor to blend the two. There is no less Solomon here because we have the Holy Spirit, neither is there any less the Holy Spirit because we have a Solomon. Let us believe that we have something of both, and find the meaning which may be conveyed in the text from both the human and the divine side.
First, I think the principle of the text may be applied to a man in his place in providence. As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that readily, constantly, hastily wandereth from his place. There are times when a man may remove, and remove very far, very much to his own advantage, and also very rightly. It is always difficult with those who love their native land and the associations of home to bring them to emigrate, and yet from the .’clay when God came down to see the tower of Babel, it has been His policy that the whole earth should be replenished with inhabitants, and He intends, by some process or other, that men shall be scattered from dense centers of population, and that the whole earth should be peopled. Had all our ancestors stayed at home, had it been wrong for them to leave their land, where would have been the vast populations that now are teeming in the other world across the Atlantic? And Australia might still have had but a few wild savages and wild beasts roaming over the place. It is not, therefore, wrong for people to move from their places. There are times when it is eminently right that they should do so.
When is it right, then, for a man to move? I answer that he does not contravene the spirit of this text if he wanders from his place, having no nest from which to go away. A bird wanders from its nest, but when a man has no nest, when he is in a land where he cannot earn his daily bread, when he cannot maintain his children, when he finds that the comforts of home are not his, that he cannot obtain them by any legitimate or lawful calling, then he cannot be said to be a bird that wanders from his nest because he hath not any nest to wander from. Let him wander till he can find a nest. You will see the rooks at this season of the year. They try one tree, and if, after they have laid a few sticks, it does not suit, they leave it and go on to another. And very right, too ! It would be foolish to proceed in an impossibility; and sometimes a man is foolish for sticking in one place where it is not possible for him to provide things honest in the sight of all men.
A man, again, does not contravene the spirit of this text if God breaks up his nest for him, for if the nest be broken by a superior hand, the bird must fly. And so, if God in providence evidently makes the present position of any Christian man to be untenable, he may not be afraid to venture, though it should be to the utmost ends of the earth, to rivers unknown to song. If God bids him go, he may go safely enough; he is no wanderer; for when God saith “Go,” then we do not wander from our home. Whenever the cloud moved in the wilderness, Israel moved. They would have been sinful to have moved without the cloud: they would have been equally sinful to have stood still when the cloud had led the way. If you can feel that God’s providence is directing you to change your position, to change your habitation, to change your trade, to change your place; if you can feel that you are doing so with a single eye to God’s glory, do it; and the God who was with Abraham when he went out of Chaldea and came into Canaan will go with you. The God who has bidden His servants wander hither and thither, and been with them in their wanderings will be with you. You need not fear. Go, and the Lord go with you.
But the text comes with full force to those persons who are of a restless disposition. There are some who are always wandering from their home.
They cannot settle to anything. They are everything by turns, and nothing long. They are here, there, and everywhere. Such persons cannot prosper.
A tree that is often transplanted is not likely to bear much fruit. Our English saying is that three removes are as bad as a fire, and you may rest assured that they are so, that constantly moving means constantly losing, and that changing and changing means constantly having a discount taken after all from your comfort. God deliver us from that spirit that cannot be content. Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. Do not let us be always sighing for new scenes — fresh scenes and pastures new.
The text condemns those, again, who change out of mere motives of avarice or ambition. Because they shall get more, though they have enough, they will break up all the comforts of their abode. To desire gain is not sinful. There is a limit up to which it is lawful, beyond which it becomes covetousness, which is idolatry, but to be always looking after this world’s goods and hoping that you shall be rich and able to get into another condition is not to be seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but seeking the world, and they that seek the world shall find that it will deceive them. I have no right to move a step simply out of selfishness. I ought to have a far higher motive than that. With the Christian the first thing in life is to do good — to glorify God by doing good, and when he feels, “I can do good there which I cannot do here, and yonder is a wider sphere, and a sphere more suited to me, where I may hope to bring more honor to my Lord and Master,” then he may go; but to go from restlessness or to go from selfishness is to go like the bird that wandereth from her nest: it shall not be blessed of the Lord.
II. And so, too, if out removing comes out of cowardice or indolence. There is many a time a man runs away from the battle: he does not like it. Instead of fighting through it bravely like a soldier of the cross, he tries to get where none of the shots can reach him, where he need not strike a blow.
Many a person, without being quite conscious of it, has been guilty of cowardice in this way. He has said, “My temptations in a certain condition are very great; therefore, I will exchange my condition.” Are you sure that that is right? If the temptations are great, grace also is great. May it not be that the fighting with those temptations will be to God’s glory and to your own advantage, and are you right, therefore, in going? Many a man changes his temptations for the worse. I should be very much afraid of shifting any of mine; for those I have I begin to know a little about, but if I had a batch of new ones, I do not know how I might endure them. Our temptations are very much like the mosquitoes of which they tell you when you are traveling, that you had better let the old ones stop on, for if you drive them away there are some new ones hungrier than the others that will come, and you will be worse off than before. The temptations of poverty you do know, my brother, but you do not know the temptations of wealth.
The temptations of the family you know, and you propose to run away from the into solitude. You do not know those temptations, and you might not be able to withstand them. God has fitted the burden to the back, and the back to the burden.
Of all the crosses in the world, your own cross is probably the easiest cross for you to carry. If you had somebody else’s cross you might well bewail yourself that you had made so sad an exchange. Tarry where you are, and be not cowardly, neither seek your own ease. It is not the first thing in life to be easy and to be happy and to be merry and to be rich and to be admired and to be prosperous. There is something nobler than that. It is often a far grander thing to know nothing of what rest means in life, except rest in God, to know nothing of ease, to know nothing of prosperity, except prosperity of soul, and through much tribulation glorifying God in difficulty and finding your way to eternal bliss through at The gist of the whole matter as in the matter of providence. The God who has appointed the bounds of our habitation has been wise in the appointment. It is sometimes wise for us to move: let us take care we do not move till it is wise. Let us not be like those who are as the will-o’-the-wisp, constantly flitting, but remember that as a bird that wandereth from its nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.
Well, now we shall get a stage higher than this. So far it is Solomon, and savors of the world; but, in the second place, the text may very well be applied to the man who wanders from his place in the religious world — his place in the Church. There are times when a man does well to leave the Church with which he has been connected, when he could not do a better thing than sever the connections of his youth. Besides, if I am in a Church, and am persuaded that the doctrines taught are not the doctrines of the Scripture, the sooner I enter my protest against them the better. If I have been brought up in a Church and even have been converted in a Church, and have been edified in a Church in which I see that some other authority is acknowledged than the authority of Christ and some other teaching than the teaching of the Holy Ghost in the Word; if I am convinced of the error of that Church, from that moment I shall be guilty, I shall be an accomplice in the Church’s sin if I remain in it. The voice of God to my conscience ought to be, “Come ye out from among them! Be ye separate. Touch not the unclean thing.” It will be one of the happiest days in your life, though it may involve you in much trouble, if you can come right out and bear a protest for the truth as it is in Jesus.
Sometimes, again, a man may well change his place in a congregation for the sake of being better fed, really better instructed, or instructed in a way in which he shall derive more profit from the instruction. One man will not edify all. If one man did, where would all be able to be put to hear him? It is a great mercy that, while ministries that are truthful agree in what they teach, yet there are different modes of teaching suitable to different dispositions. The Old Testament speaks of the sheep feeding after their manner, and I have no doubt different sorts of sheep have different manners of feeding, and that God appoints different under-shepherds for different orders. The men that can hear one man and be profited may not be able to hear another, and could not bear a third. Yet the first, second and third shall be all equally good and equally useful men. It is wrong for us to say which is better — Paul or Apollos. It is wrong for us to be disputing about this divine, or that, or the other. God has appointed the men who will suit His servants, so that they may all be fed; and if I find upon the whole that I cannot hear a certain good man (without uttering one unkind word about him, or thinking one hard thought) without laying all the blame to myself because I am not edified by him when I see others are, it may, perhaps, be the wisest thing I can do to go where my soul is fed and there to settle down. But I must hesitate and ask myself about it, and not be as some spiritual vagrants that I know of who are sometimes here, then there, and then somewhere else, and nowhere long, and are about as useful to the Church as vagrants are to the nation, that is, they are an encumbrance to it, instead of being any ornament or assistance.
No doubt, too, a man may very well change in the religious world his position from one congregation to another for considerations that have rather a regard to others than to himself. The wife, perhaps, says, “I heard the other day with great delight such and such a minister; but then, my husband would not go there. He would go anywhere sooner than go there.
But he would come to such and such a place, and therefore I desire to join that Church in the hope that my husband will attend there and may get a blessing.” Sometimes you may say also, “Well, now, I should, perhaps, personally be best under such and such a pastor, but then, I can help the school in another place,” or “They are weak and they need strengthening, and I shall cast in my lot there and remove from the stronger to the weaker, not for myself but for the sake of other people — that I may do good.” Now, I believe that this text would not at all apply to such a case as that, and that that dear brother or sister would be right and wise in thus wandering from their place — in fact, it would not be wandering from their place but would simply be finding their right place and going into it.
III. But now, when is it that this text comes home to a man’s heart or ought to do it? It is when a man is constantly going from one Church to another, and from one ministry to another, from love of novelty. There is a new star in the East, and we have come to worship it. Behold, a new voice is lifted up, and our ears are itching, and we must needs go and hearken to that voice and to none other. Oh, it is childish ! It is trifling with the ordinance of preaching. It is, I would almost venture to say, profaning the Word of God to make our hearing it merely an opportunity for the gratifying of our curiosity. Curiosity may be gratified in a measure without sin, but for a man to go, and for the crowd to go simply because such a person is spoken of — oh, let it not be so among us, for as a bird that wandereth from its nest, so is a man that in that way wandereth from his place. Many a minister’s heart has been almost broken by the conduct of some who have acted thus childishly.
Some, too, shift their place religiously from a desire of greater respect.
They are not thought quite enough of in the congregation where they are: they will try and find a place where they shall be more highly esteemed.
Dear friends, you probably would not confess to such a motive; but I would have you sometimes question your heart (which is deceitful above all things) whether that motive may not come in shifting your place from one Church to another. The highest respect that any one of us deserves is very little indeed, for the shoe-latchet of Christ we are not worthy to unloose, and if we get as good a position as we are likely to adorn, if we get a menial service for Christ, it will be quite high enough. There ought to be more scrambling after the lower places in the Church and less desire after the higher ones, and there would be if there were more Christianity among us. Some I have known who would attend a place of worship when they were poorer, when they had a little business — who used to go to a place of worship where they were much at home and much enjoyed the society of Christians and communion with Christians. They got on in the world, and now there is not a sufficient number of persons of their rank and station in life. They have become so elevated and dignified that the Christian people who were good enough to be their companions once are now their inferiors. If I called the wandering from curiosity childish, what shall I call this? I will not insult children by using such a word as that. It is degrading altogether for a man to be caring about such things. How dwelleth the love of God in a soul that is moved by such motives ?
We have known, too, some who have shifted their place in the Church from some little petty discontent, and these are as birds that wander from their nest. Some insignificant trifle, something that might readily enough have been explained, some pure misunderstanding may have led them to feel uneasy, and they have gone elsewhere. I remember hearing of a man who was much displeased with his pastor, and when inquiry was made it was found that his pastor had actually gone by him in the street without acknowledging him. He harbored anger in his heart for some time about that, and he was much surprised when his minister said to him, “Do you know, I am so shortsighted that, if I had not my glasses on, I could hardly see 10 or I2 feet from my nose.” Then he began to see how foolish he had been to set clown to anger, or want of affection, what was purely caused by infirmity. But little things as small as that have often caused the foolish minds of this generation to go shifting from place to place as a bird that wandereth from her nest.
I am almost tired of talking of these things, and therefore will only mention one more. There are some who will wander from Church to Church, and from ministry to ministry, simply because others go. It is a strange thing that when people cannot get into a place they are always wanting to come in, and if there is room in any place they won’t fill up the room. If other people will come, they will come, and if other people will not come, they will not come. There is so much of that — because others go. Now, my brethren, let every man judge for himself.. Are you happier? Does your soul rejoice in God? Do you see that the ministry is a ministry of truth? Is the Holy Spirit upon the preacher? Is he anointed of God? Is he made a blessing to the souls of your children? Do you feel you can go there with a hope that by his teaching you can serve God the better? Then go, if nobody else goes. If you are the only hearer, be honest to the man and to your own self. But don’t go merely because others go. We do not do so in our ordinary dealings. We judge of goods for ourselves, and we will not buy simply because others buy. And so it should be with the things of God. We should find out for ourselves where Christ is best preached, where Christ is most honored, where His Spirit is most at work, and there, if that be our place, let us abide. Let others go where they will, as for us, let us say with Dr. Watts: — Here would I find a settled rest While others go and come; No more a stranger or a guest, But like a child at home.
Well, now, we shall get a step higher, and get a little more out of Solomon and a little more of spiritual truth. The text is most applicable, in the third place, to those persons who wander from their spheres of usefulness. There are such. I take it for granted that every Christian has something to do for Christ. ! liked a remark which I met with the other day, that a Christian man ought not so much to try to find arguments why he should be a minister, why he should be a preacher of the Gospel, as to think it needful to find reasons why he is not a preacher of the Gospel. ! believe there is truth in that, that we have all of us, if we have any ability whatever, a call to tell out the Gospel of Christ, and that our only excuse for not doing so must lie in our not having ability to do it, and as we all have some ability of some sort for propagating the Gospel, we are every one of us bound to be doing it. But there are persons who are quite willing to do something for Christ, indeed, they are very hasty in desiring to do it, and they commence at once, and what a rate they run at. No wonder they soon get out of breath, and then they discover that the form of service they have undertaken is not suitable and take up another, and with a mighty dash they go to work at that and pull up just as suddenly and discover that after all there is a third mode of serving God better than the other two, and they go at this. Ah, and with what zeal! But with what suddenness do they again stop there! They are this, they are that, they are the other, but they never succeed in any. And alas, there are some Christians who, if they have been successful for a time in some good work, will all of a sudden give it up.
Either they get discouraged because they have not present success, or else they have a notion that they have done enough, and that it is time to rest.
Dear brethren, if the husbandman should give up his farm because, after he has been ploughing in October and November he has not any harvest in April — if he should give up his lease and resign his farm as soon as May began, where would be his reasonableness? Yet is it so with some; they cannot continue in well doing. They seem to want to reap at once, forgetting that we shall reap if we faint not, but that we shall only reap” in due season.”
Some have given up their work because, as ! have said, they think they have done enough. It is a strange reason for any Christian man to give. If the same reason were to apply to nature what a sad state we should be in !
The sun might say, “! have shone enough “; the moon might say, “! have cheered the night enough “; the sea might say, “! have gone to and fro like the pulse of life in the universe and done enough “; the earth might shut up its stores of bread and say, “! have yielded harvest enough “; and God Himself might say (and oh, how well and justly might He say !), “! have done enough for this ungrateful generation !” My brother, if you have only one more breath to breathe, breathe it out for God. If you have grown grey and become decrepit in the Master’s service, serve on and take no furlough, but persevere until the last atom of life is gone, like John Newton who, when he could hardly get up the pulpit stairs of St. Mary Woolnoth, and had to be helped up and carried up and almost laid on the foot-board and was persuaded not to preach any more because he was too old for it, answered, “What, shall the old African blasphemer cease to praise God and preach Christ as long as there is breath in his body? No, never !” We must still continue to labor for the Lord. For, dear brethren and sisters in Christ, you that are working for the Master, I want you to notice two or three things. Those that change their spheres and modes of usefulness are like a bird that wandereth from her nest because they lose the adaptation which they have been slowly gaining. The bird gets fitted for her nest by sitting on it. It becomes a suitable nest for her. A Christian worker begins to be used to his work, and, if he wanders, he loses that. I cannot get the art of teaching children at once. I must by degrees work into it. Well, if I renounce that work and begin another, I have got to begin at the beginning again. I am like a person who learnt a trade, and after two years gave it up and had to begin an apprenticeship to some other employment, It is a pity to lose aptness for any service. But worse than that, he that changes his labor loses very much: he loses the result of what he has done, and we want every single stone we lay for Christ to keep its place. A man who begins a house and does not finish it loses what he has spent upon the foundations and the walls. He that sows, but will not stop to reap, loses the seed that he has cast into the furrows. Don’t leave that class of boys: stick to them. You have taught them so many Sundays, you have prayed for them so many times — stick to them till you see them converted. Don’t leave that little station in the back streets. You have got a few people together. Work on; don’t lose what you have wrought. Feel “I cannot throw all that away — these months, these years of serve; I will stand to it till God establishes my work and gives me some success in it.” Don’t lose the labor you have already spent.
IV. Besides, such a man shows by his moving from service to service that he is of an unstable spirit. You know it is written, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” No man excels who lacks in perseverance. And, brethren in Christ, I do pray that all the members of this Tabernacle may excel. I would have you to be not ordinary Christians, but Christians of a special sort. If we cannot all attain unto “the first three,’” yet let each one of us be a man of valor for his Lord and Master.
Further, I am persuaded that any man who leaves the service of his Lord, leaves it not for another sphere, but wanders from his place, is pretty sure to get into a world of trouble. I would gently pluck a brother by the sleeve who has been tempted to give up work for his Master, and I would whisper one word in his ear, and that word should be “Jonah!” If he asked me for an explanation I would say to him, Was not Jonah bidden to go to Nineveh, and he would not go? But he went where he never expected to go, as the result of it ! Jonah would never have had to cry out from the bottoms of the mountains with the reeds wrapped about his head if he had gone where God sent him. If we will not do as God bids us do, but try to run away to Tarshish, we shall find that God has a will, and though, perhaps, He may bring us up on dry land, as He did Jonah, we may find that He will leave us in deep troubles because we left His service. Let us not so false or faithless prove as ever to shun the service of God. It will sometimes come across the most earnest Christian in times of faithfulness, “Oh that I could get out of this! I am not doing my Master’s work as I could wish. Not seeing the prosperity I desire I cry out with Elijah, ‘ Let me die ! I am no better than my fathers! ‘“ May God cure us of this sickness! And I know of no better cure than for him to let us see the crucified One with the thorn-crown about His brow, working on and on through shame and suffering and rebuke, and never relinquishing His life-work till, giving up the ghost, He at the same moment said, “It is finished.” May we set to it till it is done, being “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
Now, fourthly and lastly, we mount to our highest point. As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place in matters of soul, spirit, life and grace. For where, dear brethren, is our nest?
Where is our place? I answer, it is at the foot of the cross. We have no safe resting-place but there. Sinners resting in a Savior, guilty, pardoned through the blood, lost, rescued by the hand of the Redeemer, there is our place. The temptation is to get away from that, like the Galatians, who, having begun in the Spirit, thought to be made perfect in the flesh, They hail walked by a simple faith in God at first, but they hoped that their works and circumcision and other ceremonies would make them perfect.
Oh, poor little bird half-fledged, if you have fallen from your nest, what must you do? And you are a picture of my poor half-fledged spirit. It will never grow to perfection, and never be able to take a flight to heaven except it shall abide within the nest of the atonement, covered with the wings of everlasting love. There is no growing place, no place of security, no place of comfort for a poor sinner but in Christ — in Christ alone.
Are any of us to-night tempted to go anywhere beyond that? Are we so looking for sanctification as to forget that He is made of God unto us sanctification? We knew ourselves to be sinners once, and we have begun to think we are great saints. Now, have we got a notion that we are angels, or something very wonderful? Oh, let us get out of that! We are nothing of the kind. When we mistake ourselves for somebody very good, we had better look in the glass. If we only make a little self-examination once more, we shall soon discover that “in us, that is, in our flesh, there dwelleth no good thing.” As an old ploughman often has said to me, “If you or I get one inch above the ground we get that one inch too high, for down, down, down is our place, fiat before the cross.” Having nothing, yet possessing all things; being less than nothing, we find our all in Christ.
Beloved, the same may be said of our place as Christians as to our belief, our creed. Now, there are certain great truths taught in Scripture, as ! think, very plainly — the doctrines of grace they are commonly called. And there are some of us who have known these truths for twenty years, and the more we know them the better we love them. There are others who are ready to believe in new-fangled notions. Something starts up as another discovery. What a many discoveries there have been during the last twenty years, and nearly all have been exploded, and so will the rest that remain in the course of a few more years. They come and go like crops of Jonah’s gourds; they come up in a night, and perish in a night. It will be well for us if we do not prove like birds that wander from their nest. As for me, my flag is nailed to the mast; it neither runs up nor down. Wherein I have learned Christ, ! will abide and so — Let all the forms that men devise Assault my faith with treacherous art, I’ll call them vanities and lies, And bind the Gospel to my heart.
There is something taught in this Book, after all, and it ,s not a Book that we cannot understand if we seek God’s Spirit to enlighten us. There are certain truths which have been burnt into our inmost experience. We do not believe them now merely because they are here, but because they are written on the fleshy tablets of our soul. We could not give them up. They are not matters of choice with us as to whether we will hold these doctrines or not; God has taught them to us, and interwoven them into our very being, so that we must and will hold them. God grant we may not wander from our place in any of these things.
But, once again, let the Christian take heed of turning aside from his place of walk and fellowship with God. The Christian’s place is to live with Jesus. we have each one of us our work to do on earth; but our true calling is a heavenly one. When they asked Jonah in the storm, “Of what occupation art thou?” do you remember his answer? He said, “I am an Israelite, and I fear God.” That was his occupation. And the Christian’s true occupation is the fearing of his God. Oh, that every day we might have the Lord before us and never wander from Him! For if we do, we are just like the bird that has left her nest: we shall flutter hither and thither and not find peace. Noah’s dove is the true picture of the believer. He may fly the whole world over, but there is only one place where there is rest for the sole of his foot, and that is in the ark with Noah — -in salvation with Christ. If you have lost your fellowship, beloved, pray God to bring you back again. If you are beginning to be lax and unspiritual, if you have neglected prayer, if you have lost a sense of pardon, if you have got far off from God, don’t be merely mourning that you are far off and wondering how you have got there, but say, “I will return unto my first husband, for then it was better with me than it is now.” “Return, ye backsliding children, for I am married unto you, saith the Lord.” And oh, beloved, I hope we may never wander from one other place, and that is the place of supreme love to Jesus — -complete consecration to Him. Have we ever got there? Some Christians have not. They love Christ, but not after the model He would set before them. They do not seem to love Him above all things else. But if we do, if he be our life, our soul, our all, if we live for Him, if in whatsoever we do, we do all to His glory, if we have striven to rise to the point of being completely consecrated with the blood mark on the ear and on the foot and on the hand and on the heart — all Christ’s and all for Christ, if we eat and drink and sleep eternal life, oh, let us never come down from that mount. May God grant we may never descend from that place, for if we do, we shall smart for it, and be as a bird that wandereth from her nest. Those that never were there — well, they shall not have so much sin as we shall if we have been once elevated, and then go back again to the beggarly elements. That head that once leaned on Christ’s bosom, if it be content with any other pillow, is not worthy of Him.
Well, all this is concerning those that wander from their nest. But, alas! there are some here to-night that have not any nest to wander from. They have not any Christ; they have not any Savior; they have not any home. A poor child sits down at night upon a doorstep. The policeman comes up and says, “Move on!” “Where shall ! move to?” he says. “Go home, child.” “! have not any home.” “Go to your bed.” “I have not any bed.”
Well, now, that can be got over. We can find the child a house: we can get the child a refuge somewhere, poor little thing! But supposing in eternity, when the day of grace is over, you should have to sit down, as it were, upon the doorstep, and you should have no home, and the angelic messenger should say, “You cannot stay here: you must move on. Go to your home.” “Oh,” you say, “! have no home, and it is too late for me ever to find one, for the Master of the house has risen up and shut to the door, and He will never open it again. I would not enter when ! might, and I cannot enter now.” Ah, then you won’t have to ask where you will have to move to, for the dread certainty is this — if you have no home in Christ, you must make your bed in hell.
God grant that you may never have to do that, for Christ’s sake. Amen.