Heaven's Nurse Children
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms."Hosea 11:3.
F you note well the opening part of this chapter, you will find that it consists of a wonderful chain of mercies; every one single line is a rare jewel, and the whole passage is a casket unspeakably precious. The chapter begins with love; ancient, sovereign, electing love. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him." When the Israelitish nation was in a very low and poor estate, and was brought into slavery and subjection in Egypt, God had set his love upon it, and called it his own inheritance. Not for their numbers or greatness as a nation were they chosen, but when they were little and despised they were yet beloved of God. Distinguishing grace had written the name of Israel upon Jehovah's heart. Spiritually we who have believed are in the same favored condition, and our hearts rejoice this day at the memory of "His great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins." This is the river-head, from which all the streams of after-mercy flow,"I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." Like the golden-sanded river which had its rise in Eden, electing love branches off into many streams, and waters all the garden of the Lord. This is the root from which the tree of blessing springs. "He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Ephesians 1:3, 4. Let others say what they will, electing love will always be most precious to us; for it is the foundation blessing, the first of all favors, the mother of mercies. We nail to our mast the old flag of free grace, and believe with the apostle (Ephesians 1:11) that we were "predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
And every place is hallowed ground."
Our service of the spiritual God is spiritual; we walk by faith and not by sight; we worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh. The tribes of Israel, as being in their religious childhood, had manifestations of different kinds. They saw not God, for who shall behold the invisible? but the bright light shone between the wings of the cherubim, the glory of the Lord at times burst forth from the tabernacle, and on an ever memorable occasion they heard a voice speaking out of the thick darkness from the top of Sinai, when the Lord came from Paran with ten thousand of his holy ones. We have not heard the voice, neither have we seen the glory, nor need are wish for either, since we have a sure word of testimony, and the abiding of the Holy Ghost: but the Lord treated the tribes in the wilderness as childrentheir faith and spirituality were so feeble that, like the young church of Christ in the upper room, which needed the rushing wind, and cloven tongues, and miraculous power, they were favored with signs and wonders to confirm their faith: "He taught them to go, taking them by their arms."
Another part of this spiritual nursing, which the Lord condescendingly gave to his people, was their instruction by symbols. He did not give to them, as he gives to us, the clear vision of the glorious gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, but as they were not capable of reading the plain sense, and they needed pictures in their books, he gave them many and most instructive symbols. They saw the morning and the evening lamb. How full of instruction must that double offering have been. They ate the passover; they saw the doors besprinkled with blood; here was a sort of kinder-garten infant school teaching for them. The high priest in his white garments, or in his glorious robes of beauty, with the Urim and Thummim glistening on his breast, the altar, the censor, the candlestick, the table of the shewbread, the laverall these were pictures in the first A B C book for children. The gentle Father was teaching them to go. There are some childish lovers of the first covenant who would like to get the child's books back again: like big babies they cry for the horn-books of infancy, and would put aside the glory book which God has given to his children to read in the day of the open manifestation of his Holy Spirit. We need not imitate their example. We desire not go back to the rudiments, when the Lord hath revealed himself in the person of the Only-begotten. Yet to Israel type and symbol was the main instruction, and in that respect the Lord taught them to go. Yea, and it was not only instruction by a few chosen symbols, but everything was a symbol to them. They were always being instructed and helped. The bread they ate was food from heaven, and the water they drank leaped from the living rock; they were covered from the heat by the cloud; they were lighted at night in their encampment by the fiery pillar; everything about them was fitted for a people that needed something tangible, something to be felt, something to be seen and perceived of the senses, a people in childhood who required to have everything represented to the eye as well as spoken to the ear.
The whole of that forty years' journey in the wilderness was a long "teaching them to go." They were not a people able to have formed a well-regulated state. They were no better than a mob of slaves, they were not fit for self-government; and, therefore, they were led about, trained, taught, educated by the space of forty years, before they were able to go, as they did at last, when the Lord settled them in Canaan. And noteand here I will not continue the story longer, because there are ten thousand various ways in which we can illustrate the truthhow he treated them as children even in the conquest of Canaan. Before they came up to the country to conquer it, a pestilence had destroyed many of the people. The spies said, "It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof". The Lord had also sent the hornet before themsome terrible and deadly insect which had distressed and driven out the Canaanites, and, in addition to these two scourges, the fear of them and the dread of them had very much weakened their adversaries, and prepared the whole land to submit to them. That marvellous passage of the Jordan, and that miraculous falling, down of the walls of Jericho without their needing to strike a blowwere not these all the means of teaching them to go?were they not thus gently led on till at last they became men enough to drive out the Canaanites and to settle in the land, and sit every man beneath his own vine and figtree?
We will now leave the seed of Israel, and think of ourselves a while. How very graciously has the meaning of our text been fulfilled in us. The Lord has treated us as a nurse treats a little child.
To begin with, the first step the child takesits first introduction to the art of locomotionis caused by the nurse's holding it up. Do we not remember the first uplifting that the Lord gave to some of us? We were grovelling in the dust, and should have been content to be there still, but, under a gracious word that he sent to us, through the ministry, or by some other means, he lifted us up, and we began to feel that there was something better for us than to be always creeping about on the earth, or lying still in supine worldliness. The nurse's hand is first put out before the child thinks of walking, and the divine power of the Holy Ghost was first exerted upon us (we being then passive under it for a while) before we felt a desire for better things. We crawled upon the earth like beasts till God taught us to stand erect in uprightness like grace-born men. We owe all to him who has taught us from our youth.
The nurse, when the child begins to walk, soon teaches it to know its own weakness. It has a fall or two, and a few bruises and tears; but the falls are necessary to its learning to walk. We, also, had many slips and falls. Oh, how often did we resolve in the most admirable manner, but our resolutions ended in smoke! How frequently did we make attempts in our own strength, and these were failures, till at last we said, "We must give it up," and we were compelled to lean wholly upon our Lord. We became more active in the right way after we were weaned from our natural self-reliant activities, which had been so dear to us; but we were very long in the weaning. Falls into sin are terrible things, and these are not what I speak of here, but I mean those broken resolutions, and those aspirations to which we did not attain, those many disappointing tumbles which we encountered when we tried to walk. It is a part of the nurse's art to let the child feel its weakness: and it is a part of our heavenly Father's wisdom to let us know how feeble we are. We are never wise, till we discover that we are fools: we are never strong, till we confess that we are weak. True enough are the Apostle's words, "When I am weak, then am I strong."
The nurse regulates the child's exertions, and allows it to take a step or two at first, and only a step or two. Do we remember how tottering were our first steps? We limped very sadly. Our walking was comparable to the seeing of the man to whom men looked like trees. Our state of mind was a mixture of light and darkness. We cried, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." There were only one or two promises in God's word which I could get any hold of when I first came to him. My soul was stayed a little while on that word, "Whosoever calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Only that could I grasp. I have known some who could get consolation from nothing but this sweet word, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." They could believe only a little; it hardly amounted to believing: they reached as far as hoping and trusting, intermittently mixed up with a world of doubting and fearing, but they could stir no further. Very delightful to the Christian pastor is it to see a young convert begin to take the first step or two. We have seen them fall down with doubts and fears, but we have been so pleased that they could walls even a little in the way of faith, and believe even a portion of the word of God. What a mercy it is that the Lord reveals to us his own truth by slow degrees! We ought never to expect our young converts to understand the doctrine of election, and to be able to split hairs in orthodoxy. It is vain to overload them with such a precious truth as union with Christ, or so deep a doctrine as predestination. Do they know Christ as the Saviour, and themselves as sinners? Well, then, do not try to make a child run; it will never walk if you do. Do not try to teach the babe gymnastics; first let it totter on and tremble forward a little way. "I have many things to say unto you," said the Saviour, "but ye cannot hear them now." Now, had certain reputedly wise men been there they would have said, "Lord, let us hear it all; make full proof of it all; bring it all out: we can hear itonly try us." But our Lord knew what was in man, and, therefore, he only little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, brought out the truth, and he does so experimentally with his children still. We do not know our own depraved hearts so well at first as we do afterwards. The disease and the remedy have both of them to be more fully revealed to us by-and-by. Did we know at the first all we shall know hereafter, we should be so overwhelmed with the abundance of the revelation that we should not be able to endure it; the Lord, therefore, lets in the light by degrees. If a person had been long famished, and you were to find him hungry, and faint, and ready to die, your instincts would say, "Put food before him at once, and let him have all he wants." Yet this would be a ready enough way to kill him. If you are wise, you will give him nutriment slowly, as he is able to bear it. If you have been long in the dark, and come into the light at once, your eyes smart, and you cannot bear it, you need to come to it by degrees, and thus is it with the Lord's children. By little and by little he introduces them into the glory of his kingdom, preparing them for its fullness as children are prepared for their manhood. Have you not seen how the nurse will tempt the child to take a little longer walk, by holding out a pleasant thing to allure it? And how often has our blessed Lord tempted us to some bolder deed of service, to something that required more faith than we had before, by giving us choice signs of his presence, and ravishing our hearts with his love. Some of us know what it is to have seen such sweet results from our little faith, that we could not but desire to try what stronger faith would do. God so rewarded the weak faith we had, that we felt we must rely upon him, and venture still further. Kindly hath the Lord conducted us onward in this respect.
The nurse does not let the child put too much weight upon its little legs at first, for it might be to its lasting injury. It shall have a little trial of walking: but she will put her hands under its arms, and hold it up that it shall not be tried too long, lest it be strained and injured; so does our heavenly Father try our faith by little and by little. When we shall have become men in Christ Jesus, we shall be tested by stronger trials, for the Lord loveth to put stress upon faith; he sends forth his knights of the cross upon desperate battles, knowing that he intends to glorify himself in their natural weakness, by granting them strength: but to the little babe, he sets no such stern tasks. He tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb, and deals tenderly with those that are but tender. "He carrieth the lambs in his bosom, and doth gently lead those that are with young." Can you not look back, beloved brethren and sisters, to your own experience, and confirm all I have said, only feeling that you could say very much more about it if you could speak out your own heart?
The Lord has dealt with us, in other respects as children, as, for instance, in not chiding us for our many mistakes. If the nurse were to scold the child for not walking as she does; if she were to be angry with it because it is not as strong as she is; the poor thing might be long before it came to walk at all. God sometimes does with his people as Apelles did with Alexander when he painted himhe did not draw the scar on Alexander's face, but placed his finger over it. Note how the Holy Spirit describes Sarah. There was not much good in what Sarah said on that day when she lied; but she called her husband "lord," and the Holy Spirit lights on that, and mentions it to her honor. He has often accepted our poor service, and given us sweetly to feel that it was so, though now we look back upon it, we wonder how it could have been accepted at all.
Many of us who preach the gospel, had God's blessing on our early preachings. Our knowledge was dreadfully scant, and our ability slender. We wonder how God could have blessed us, but he did. If he were to let us know how badly we do his work even now, we should despair, and do no more; but in his great mercy, he lets the light thine on the brighter spots, and lets us see what his Spirit is doing; and so we take courage and go on, and learn to walk after all. With all our tremblings, and tumblings, and failings down, we do at length learn to stand upright, and even to run in his ways.
Dear brethren and sisters, do you not feel that God has had great patience with you? Do you not wonder that he has endured you? Could you have had so much patience with another as God has had with you? Impossible. You can hardly run alone yet, can scarcely take a step without slipping or sliding, you need still to be carried in the everlasting arms like babes, and yet you are persuaded that his patience will hold out till there shall be no more need of it. He will bear us as on eagle's wings, that is, with unwearied perseverance and strength of love he will uphold us even to the end.
We must remind you, however, before we leave this, that there are some respects in which the figure before us does not come up to the full point. God has been very gracious to us, beyond what a nurse is to a child. Let us unfold this fact for a moment or two. The nurse, with the child, has not the disadvantages that God has with us, for we are full of the notion that we can walk, and thus there are two battles in our casethe first, is to get us out of our bad walking, and the next is, to teach us to walk rightly. It is sometimes more difficult to instruct a man who has been educated wrongly, than it would have been if he knew nothing. He has both to learn and to unlearn. So with us: we have a notion that we can do so much, until the Lord shows us thee without him we can do nothing. We are very strong in our own opinion: we are blown out with pride and self-sufficiency, and that has to be taken from us; so that there is a double task for infinite mercy to performnot merely to plant a tree, but to cut down the old tree and root it upto get rid of our former way of walking, and then to teach us to walk in the Spirit, and not in the fancied energy of the flesh.
Moreover, you never found a babe anxious to use stilts; but every one of us, when God's Spirit has begun to teach us to walk, have been seeking to use crutches. "Cursed is he that trusteth in man. And how many of us must have deserved that curse; for trusting in man is very very common. Resting on an arm of flesh seems to be the hereditary disease of God's people. They fly first to this and then to that, but forget their true and only resting-place. The simple walk of faith, trusting and leaning alone upon the Invisible, how difficult it into bring ourselves to it! We would have some favourite child to lean upon, or husband, or wife, or friend. Our abilities, or something or other that we can see and handle, shall be the golden calf which we set up and say, "These be thy gods, O Israel!" Here is a great difficulty, then, to wean us from crutches, which are promoters of spiritual lameness.
I have never met with a child that had any fear about the nurse's power to hold it up. She puts her arms about it, and it trusts itself with her, leaning wholly upon her. But we appear to be afraid of leaning hard upon God: we cannot leave ourselves with him: we don't throw ourselves right back on the divine bosom. Yet is there no true rest to ourselves till we do. As long as we are trying to support ourselves in some measure or degree, we have not yet come to the rest of faith. I have known people who went in the sea to learn to swim, but they never dare take their feet off the bottom, and I do not see how they can swim while they also endeavor to stand on their feet. Standing and swimming cannot be managed at the same time. So there am souls that would fain trust themselves to the goodness of God, but they cannot be content without an earthly prop. They cannot quite cast themselves upon God and trust in the stream of his abundant faithfulness. This, then, is another difficulty which is not with the nurse, but which is with our God in reference to us.
One more remark let us make, and that is, that we are, many of us, most unwilling to try to walk. Though we are believers, after a fashion, it may be said of us at this day as of those in the Saviour's time: "If the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Why, entire portions of the Christian church are afraid to trust God with the maintenance of their ministers and the support of their worship; they enter into an adulterous alliance with the State sooner than trust in God and rely upon the faithfulness of his people. And as it is with large masses of the people, so is it with separate Christians.; they cannot walk by faith; they must have some way or other of clinging to the flesh. Oh, for grace to be willing to believe in God! Oh, for power to cut the moorings, and have done with the signs, and the evidences, and the marks, and come to look upon Christ and his finished work; upon the covenant, and upon the faithful God, who breaketh not his promise and cannot turn away from his decree. May he who teacheth us to profit make us to walk in his ways. Our prayer is like that of quaint old Quarles:
My way is tedious, and my steps are slow:
Reach forth thy helping hand: or bid me come;
I am thy child, O teach thy child to go:
Conjoin thy sweet commands to my desire,
And I will venture, though I fall or tire."
Now, why is it that mothers take so much pains in teaching their children to walk? I suppose the reason is, because they are their own offspring. And the reason why the Lord has been so patient with us, and will be so still, is because we are his children, still his children, still, his children! Ah there is wondrous power in thatstill his children! I was sitting at table once, and I heard a mother expatiating upon her son. She said a very great deal about him; and some one sitting near me said, "I wish that good woman would be quiet." I said, "What's the matter? May she not speak of her son?" "Why," he said, "he's been transported. He was as bad a fellow as ever fired, and yet she always sees something wonderful in him." So I ventured, some little time after, when I had gained her acquaintance, to say something about this son; and I remember her remark: "If there is nobody else to speak up for him his mother always will." Just so; she loved him so that if she could not be altogether blind to his faults, yet she would also see all that was hopeful in him, Our blessed God does not bring into the foreground what we are, so much as what he means to make us. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more for ever." He puts our blackness away; and he sees us as we shall be when we shall bear the image of the heavenly, and shall be like our Lord. For Christ's sake, beholding our shield and looking upon the face of his anointed, he loves us and goes on to instruct us still. It seems at times as if there were a conflict in the divine bosom, and he felt he must surely give us up, but then his love rushes to the rescue, and it comes to this: "How shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." He returns to us with such a word as this: "I have betrothed thee unto me in righteousness, and in mercy, and in judgment." He declares that he hates putting away: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you." We are his own children. Oh! I have found it such a blessed thing, in my own experience, to plead before God that I am his child. When I was racked some months ado with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, "Thou art my Father and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I 'could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?" I held the Lord to that. I talked to him as Luther would have done, and pleaded his Fatherhood in right down earnest. "Like as a father pitieth his children, even so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." If he be a Father, let him show himself a Fatherso I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: "I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer." I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned. Faith mastered the pain by laying hold upon God in his own revealed character, that character in which in our darkest hour we are best able to appreciate him. I think that is why that prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven," is given to us, because, when we are lowest, we can still say, "Our Father," and when it is very dark, and we are very weak, our childlike appeal can go up, "Father, help me! Father rescue me!" He teacheth us still to go, taking us by the arms, because he is our parent still. If any one fears God may leave him, let him enquire whether a mother can forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb, for even if it be so, God will not forget his people. He has graven you upon the palms of his hands. There is a relationship between you and him so familiar that it never can be forgotten, so firm that it can never be dissolved. Be of good confidence; he will teach you to go, till you shall run without weariness, and walk without fainting. I would that all here had committed themselves to this good Father's hand; I pray that they may do so. The Holy Spirit grant it, for whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMONHosea 11.
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