The Church A Mother

“The children you will have, after you have lost the others, will say again in your ears, The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell. Then will you say in your heart, Who has begotten these for me, since I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? Behold, I was left alone; but these, where were they?”

Isaiah 49:20, 21

I NEVER like to look upon the Bible as merely an old Book, a relic of the past. I like to read it and think of it as a new Book and one applicable to the present time. And I am continually compelled to regard it as such, for I find that it relates to the things passing around me–it deals with my present sorrows, my present doubts and my present joys. It is not merely a record of the saints in olden times–it is a Book of Direction for the saints of the present generation. It not merely gave consolation to those who received the promise centuries ago, but the same promise comes home fresh and sweet to us and we look upon it as being a new and present Revelation from Heaven to us. At least there are times when the Spirit takes of the words of Scripture and makes them as fresh and new to us as though an angel had just flown from Heaven and, for the first time, uttered the gracious words by whispering them in our ears! And the passage which I have read bears to me, just now, though it may not to you, all the freshness and sweetness of a passage made for the occasion. If this Book had been written yesterday, I am sure it could not contain truth more applicable to myself–no, if I had to have it, as Mahommed’s followers had the Koran, chapter by chapter, just as they required it, I could not have a Bible more adapted to my daily experience and my daily needs, for so does the Holy Spirit continually take of the things of Christ and not simply apply them unto us, but, apparently, He seems to adapt them to us, or else He brings out to ourmind’s eye that old original adaptation which God had placed in them, foreknowing for what purpose they would be used in later days.

I propose to comment upon this text somewhat pointedly and I hope that the remarks I shall make upon it may be the means of leading others to take the passage as a subject of profitable meditation. I shall begin by observing that theChurch is a mother. the Church has, sometimes, to be bereaved. Then, in the third place, I shall observe that she has another trouble which mothers in England do not have–God grant they never may–she is sometimes, herself, a captive–she wears bonds and fetters, and groans in slavery. And then I have to notice, in the fourth place, the promise of the text, that this mother, despite her bereavement,despite all her captivity, shall see her family multiplied to a most extraordinary degree, so that she shall be overwhelmed with amazement and, lifting up her eyes, shall say, “Who has begotten these for me, since I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? Behold, I was left alone; but these, where were they?”

  1. Well now, first of all, notice that THE CHURCH IS A MOTHER. She has always stood in that relationship to all her members. Take each member of the Church individually, he is a child. Take us altogether, we make up the mother, the Church. The Church of Rome professes to be a mother and what a mother she has proved to be! Let the Inquisition tell how tenderly she has nursed her babes! Let conventual torture chambers tell how her little infants have been cared for! Let the stakes that once stood on Smithfield. Let the gallows and the fires all stand up and tell the story of that tender and pitiful mother! Ah, but the Church of Christ is a true mother. Even when she is not continually using the name, yet is she a tender and affectionate nursing mother to all her offspring. I shall begin here very briefly to speak about this mother.

The Church is a mother because it is her privilege to bring forth into the world the spiritual children of the LordJesus Christ. The Church is still left in the world that she may bring out the rest of God’s elect that are still hidden in the caverns and strongholds of sin. If God had willed it, He might have brought out all His children by the mere effort of His own power, without the use of any instrumentality. He might have sent His Grace into each individual heart in some such miraculous manner as He did into the heart of Saul, when He was going toward Damascus. But He has not chosen to do so. He, who has taken the Church to be His spouse and His bride, has chosen to bring men to Himself by means. And thus it is, through God’s using the Church, her ministers, her children, her works, her sufferings, her prayers–through making these the means of the increase of His spiritual Kingdom–she proves her right to take to herself the title of mother.

But when these little ones are born, the Church’s business is, next, to feed them. It is not enough that she has broughtthem to Christ. It is not sufficient that through her agency they have been quickened–and begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is her work to feed them. She gives to them the unadulterated milk of the Word of God. Through her ministers, through her servants, through the different agencies which she employs, she endeavors to satisfy their longing souls with the Bread of Life. She gives them food convenient for them–she feeds them by her doctrine, by her ordinances–she bids them come and eat and drink at her table and it is her earnest desire and effort to supply all their spiritual needs by feeding their understandings, their affections, their hearts. The Church labors to feed every part and power of the mind and soul.

Nor is she content with feeding–it is her endeavor to train up her children. There are some professed churches ofChrist that seem to do nothing whatever in the way of training up the young in their midst. These churches, if there are any sinners converted, scarcely ever hear of it. If children are born, there is no rejoicing over them. Their names are not written in the family register–the church book. They are not asked to come forward and be recognized as children of God by being baptized–they are permitted to come up, perhaps, to the church’s house, but if they should offer to join her number by profession of their faith, they would be at once told that they were not yet fit to be numbered with her right royal children! But the true nursing Churches do not act thus. They look out for every babe in Christ that they can find and then they seek to instruct these babes–and when they are instructed, the Church receives them into her arms and she takes them to be hers, to be trained up for future deeds of usefulness. She trains up some of her sons to be captains in the Lord’s host. She puts the Sword of the Spirit into their hands and bids them use it in fighting their Master’s battles. She trains up others of her sons and daughters to teach still younger ones and these she puts into her schools. She trains up all her children, some by one means and some by another. She says to some, “Go abroad, my children, and labor for your Lord in His far-off fields and extend His Kingdom wherever you can.” Thus does the Church well deserve the name of mother, when she brings up and fosters, and nurtures the children of God.

Nor is this all the Church can do. She will be always ready to nurse her children when they become sick, for, alas, inthe Church’s family, there are always some sickly ones, not only sick in body, but sick in spirit. And never does the Church appear so truly a mother as she does to these! Over these she will be, if she is what she should be, peculiarly watchful and jealous. Though the strong shall have her attention, yet the weak shall have double. Though those who are standing up shall be helped, yet those who are cast down shall he helped still more. If there is a weak lamb, if there is a wandering sheep within the Church, she opens wide her eyes and it will be her endeavor to watch most over these. She knows her duty is like her Lord’s–to bind up the broken in heart and comfort those who mourn–so she continually bids her ministers bring forth sweet things out of the storehouse. She says to her servitors, “Set on the great pot, and put in the precious Doctrines of the Gospel, and let all these be set a-simmering, that there may be food for all my children.” “And,” she says, “take care that you bring forth the wines on the lees well refined, the fat things full of marrow, for I have some weaklings in my family who will not be strong to labor unless they have the rich cordials of the Gospel continually given to them.”

Ah, and when the Church is in proper order, how she will nurse the weak! Do you remember what she did in Paul’s days?–for what Paul did, the Church did. He says, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children.” So will the Church do, through her ministers, her officers and, indeed, through all her members if they act up to their duty. She will be watching for the souls of men, especially for those souls that are the saddest and the most cast down, and the most subject to temptation and to trial. She will watch over them and nurse them. And she will never be happy, let me add, until she brings all her children up to her Husband’s house in Heaven! She is expecting Him to come, by-andby, and when He comes, it will be her joy to meet her Husband leading her daughters with her. And she will say, “Come forth, you daughters of Jerusalem, and see Him who is greater than King Solomon crowned with the crown which his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals.” And, at last, when she and her Husband shall be safe in the glory kingdom in Heaven, then will she say, “Here am I, and the children which You have given me, and have nursed for You; but by Your help have they been kept, by Your Grace have they been preserved–and it has been my loving duty, as their tender mother, to nurse, and cherish, and nurture them–and bring them up for You.”

Every time I give the right hand of fellowship to a new member, especially to those just brought in from the world, I think I hear Christ’s voice speaking to me and saying, “Take these children and nurse them for Me, and I will give you your wages.” I say this is said to me, but I mean it is said to the entire Church–I merely speak, of course, as the representative of the body. We have, whenever members are given to us, a great charge, under God, to nurse them for Him and, instrumentally, to advance them in the road to Heaven. But in all this the Church is a poor mother if her God is not with her. She can do nothing in bringing forth, nothing in nurturing, nothing in training, nothing in preserving and nothing, at last, in bringing her children Home, unless the Holy Spirit dwells in her and sends her strength to accomplish all.

When we speak of persons joining the Church, we mean that they are added to the company of God’s people. We believe that the Church does not consist alone of the preachers, deacons and elders, but that the Church is a company of faithful men and women, banded together according to God’s holy rule and ordinance for the propagation of the Truth of God as it is in Jesus. And Betsy, the servant-maid is as much in the Church as any Very Reverend Doctor or Dean is! The Church, then–by which I mean the great company and body of the faithful–that Church is a nursing mother.

II. The second remark which I proposed to make upon our text is that THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES BEREAVED. Ah, there must be coffins in every house. There must be shrouds in every family and so is it in the Church.

The Church has to lose some of her children. “After you have lost the others,” I read here. Some of her nominal children she loses by spiritual death, but the reason of this is because they are not really her children at all. They are thosewho crept in and pretended to be hers–and they looked so much like hers that she could hardly tell them apart. For a little while she nursed them but, afterwards, they turned out to be the offspring of Satan–and then they went away from her. But even when they go away, she is such a loving mother that though she feared they were not her children, yet she did not like to lose them. I heard some of her children singing, the other night, after one of these false brethren had been found out–

“When any turn from Zion’s way,
Alas, what numbers do!
I think I hear my Savior say,
‘Will you forsake Me too?”’

The Church does not like to lose even those who are not her children.

Then, next, she loses many of her children–I mean, they go away from her–by temporal death. Many of theChurch’s children are taken up above and, somehow, though she is glad to know they are in their Father’s bosom, yet she does not like to miss them. The Church regrets to see the vacant seat of her dead–and especially if it has been one of her children who has been very dutiful and has strived to serve her much. She will weep plenty for such. When she lost her son Stephen, do you remember that a whole company of her children followed him to the grave? For it is said devout men carried him to his burial and made great lamentation over him. Though the Church does not sorrow as one that has no hope–though she is glad to know that her children are well provided for and taken up to dwell in their Father’s House–yet it is no small suffering to see her ministers taken away, and her church officers and members removed, one by one, even while in their various spheres of usefulness–and while faithfully serving their Lord and Master.

Then, again, the Church loses her children, sometimes, by a trying Providence. Many churches, as well as ourselves,are in that position. We have lost our children. We have lost many simply from the fact of their having to remove to a distance–in this way our congregations are necessarily scattered. Some of those who used to sit under our ministry Sabif you do not, feel this as bereavement. I cannot bear to miss the face of a single one from the members of the church! There is a sort of sacred bond of union that binds us all together and I do not like anyone to go away, except it is, now and then, when some grow dissatisfied–and then I feel it is better for them to go somewhere else–it is certainly not worse for their minister. But those who have been loving, tender children have had to leave the Church–those who have strived for her good. It is a sad thing to see them separated from us and that has happened to this church over and over again. As often as the minister has been removed from her midst, some of her children have been lost. The church book is a very checkered book to look at. As I look back upon the record of the past, I see the membership increase rapidly. A certain minister dies and then the church is diminished and brought low. Again another comes and a fresh company is gathered together, but as soon as he removes, away they go! And thus the church suffers bereavement. Her children are removed–not into the world, let us hope–but, alas, this does happen, even with God’s own children–after losingtheir early love in some one church, they go on wandering here and there, scarcely caring to unite themselves in church fellowship again, living unhappily, bereaved and alone, desolate and without companions!

I think I have said enough upon this point. The Church, like every other mother, has sometimes to lose her children and suffer bereavement.

III. Now I come to the third head, which is this–THE CHURCH HAS SOMETIMES TO BE CARRIED AWAY CAPTIVE.

How often has this happened to the Church of God in the olden times! The Church has been carried into foreign countries, taken from her much-loved house at Jerusalem and compelled to sit down by the waters of Babylon and weep while she remembered her ancient habitation. Her children have hung their harps upon the willows and, when their enemies came and required of them a song, they have said, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” She has been a captive, indeed, in more modern times! Since the days of Christ, the Church has been a captive in another sense, namely, that sometimes she has been cruelly persecuted. Kings have sent forth their bloody edicts against her and then the tender nursing mother, the Church, has been obliged to house her children in the dens and caves of the earth. They have worshipped in catacombs, by the light of candles, or perhaps with no light whatever. Her dearest sons have been compelled to administer the ordinance of Christ in the vaults among the dead. When the living were too unkind, then has death found them a shelter. The earth has helped the woman and in the catacombs have her children been brought forth.

Often, too, has the Church been compelled to seek a refuge in foreign countries. You know how she went far into Africa and how, again, she sought a lodging place in the fastnesses of the Alps–there, amidst the snow-clad mountains, she found some little shelter from the blood-thirsty hounds of Hell. And in still more modern times, the Church in this land has had to flee across the waters and there, in America, the Pilgrim Fathers have become the founders of mightier churches than those they had left behind! Those were the times of the Church’s captivity. We cannot tell in this age what griefs they were that wrung the hearts of the first passengers in “The Mayflower.” When they left England and went to America, they went forth not knowing where they went. They could not meet together for worship–it was death if they ventured to preach the Gospel–but they went where they could among the red men, to be free to worship their God. Ah, those were days of wandering to and fro! Then the Church wept and said, “I am desolate, I am a captive, I am driven far away from my former habitation.”

The same thing has sometimes happened to the Church, also, not in days of persecution, but in days when deadly sickness has seized upon her limbs, when, all of a sudden, her energies have been dampened, her power lessened and she has no more brought forth children, or even nursed them tenderly. Days of slumber and heaviness have come over the Church, yes, and days of heresy, too, when her ministers were no more shining lights, but, like the flax when the light is gone out, they were an offensive stench. When her fountains have no more gushed forth with living waters but a black, turbid, and putrefying stream. When, instead of the Bread of Heaven, her children have had to eat husks. When, instead of the pure Word of God, it was anything but the Truth of God–the lies of Satan and the inventions of Hell.

IV. I will say no more of the Church’s captivity, but will just observe, in the last place, that when the Church has lost her children, and when she herself has been made captive and removed to and fro, she has said, “Ah, me! Ah, me! My God has forgotten me, the Lord has forsaken me! I have become a widow. I will sit in the dust, I will sorrow even to the end, I will groan even in the bitterness of my spirit. Like Rachel, I will weep for my children and I will not be satisfied or comforted, because they are not.” And here comes this last point–even then THE CHURCH HAS HAD A MARVELOUS INCREASE AFTER ALL HER CAPTIVITIES–and all her bereavements have always worked for her good!

Never has the Church lost her children without obtaining many more. You remember when the Jewish nation seemed to be once and for all cut off from the Church? When the Apostle said, “Seeing you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles”? The Church might have sorrowed and said, “I have lost the Jews.” But she found the Gentiles! Where she lost one, she found thousands! The day of her sorrow was the day of her increase! And, do you know, whenever the Church has lost a martyr, she has always, soon afterwards, found her numbers increased? Gathering round the stake, idle bystanders have marked the patience of the man of God–they have seen him when his beard was being singed by the flames. They have watched him as his very bones cracked in the fire. They have seen him lift to Heaven his burning hands and clapping them, cry, “God is with me in the fire!” Struck with amazement, they have asked, “What is this that makes the man rejoice in a death so terrible?” And they have gone home and they have retired to pray. And the next day has found them knocking at the door of the Church, entreating to be admitted into the sacred number of her children!

The days of her bereavement have been the days of the increase of her family and when the Church has been scattered and driven to and fro, it has always been for her good–it has been like the scattering of seed. There was once a time when there was a granary full of heavenly seed. Satan knew this was destined to cover the whole earth with a glorious harvest. He was exceedingly angry concerning it and he said, “What shall I do to destroy this seed?” So he went down into the dark Pit and brought up a legion of fiends. “Now,” he said, “we will burst the granary door open. We will take out that grain and we will cast it on the waters, we will throw it to the winds of Heaven–we will throw it all away–it shall not be kept here to make a harvest on the earth.” So they broke open the door and scattered the seed. Fool that he was–God was making use of him to sow the fields and, lo, the harvest sprang up and Satan was still more full of wrath to find that he had outwitted himself! Instead of scattering the Church, he had increased it! The little handful of corn on the mountaintop, when it was planted, grew and shook like Lebanon, and made the fruit of the seed rejoice and flourish like the grass of the earth! Yes, my Brothers and Sisters, you will find, in every instance in the Church’s history, whenever she has been made captive, or has been bereaved, it has been for her good!

Now, just at this time, we are somewhat desolate. We have lost many of our children. Our hearers are compelled to wander here and there, instead of listening to the Church’s voice, while we ourselves are like a captive wandering to and fro from one place to another where we can meet. And we have been apt to say, “This is a very sad thing and very much to our hurt.” But let us say that no longer–for mark, I take this to be a personal promise, and I think it is a promise to the Church–“The children you will have, after you have lost the others, will say again in your ears, The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell. Then will you say in your heart, Who has begotten these for me, since I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? Behold, I was left alone; but these, where were they?” This shall be the cry of the Church!

The first thing which astonishes the Church when she opens her eyes after her captivity, is to notice the number of herchildren. She formerly counted her children by the number of their graves. She said they were all dead, but, all of a sudden, she found others coming round her and calling her mother! Again she saw her house filled–they were thronging about her and she was astonished to see so great a number. Had there been but one or two, she would have thought they were the residue spared from the hands of the enemy, but she saw the great number, and was astonished! Now, sometimes, when we think of this Church which God has so greatly enlarged that we number 1,500 souls, we are apt to think, “What a number!” It astonishes us. “You shall see greater things than these,” and you shall find that our removal to another place, and our apparent captivity shall increase the number of converts, and we shall be astonished as, month by month, they come before the Church and bear witness of what Grace has done for them! We shall say, “Who has begotten these for me? Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as doves to their windows?”

It was not merely their number, it was also their character that astonished her, for she said, “Who has begotten thesefor me? I do not know them. I have lost my children. These, where had they been? Who has brought these up?” It is their character, as well as their number, that amazes her. Often the Church finds her converts run in a certain vein–a certain class of persons is brought to know the Truth of God. But when the Church removes to and fro, there is another set brought in. Do you remember what happened, once, in Exeter Hall? A young man going, one Sunday morning, with his skates in his hand, to the Serpentine, and passing Exeter Hall, saw a crowd blocking up the path. He said, “What is this? There is something special going on here.” He joins the crowd and the mass behind pushes him in–the minister preaches and the Words of God go home to that young man’s heart. They are quick and powerful–he is brought to know the Savior and is converted! Many who are not accustomed to go to one place, will go to another. Many who would not enter a place consecrated to Divine Worship, may, nevertheless, step in to another building out of idle curiosity or amusement. This has happened at the Surrey Gardens and now, when we go to another place, another class, who perhaps have never been to hear the Gospel, will be induced to come in and we shall say, “Who has begotten these for me? These, where have they been?”

I am not a Prophet, nor the son of a Prophet, but, before long, this will come to pass–we shall see numbers converted to God that will astonish us! And, besides that, there will be among them some remarkable sinners and some remarkable saints–and when they are added to the Church, they will compel us to say, “These, where have they been? Who has begotten us these?” Then will you thank God that you ever had to suffer. Then shall the Church rejoice that she was bereaved and that she was removed to and fro. How do I know this? Well, I know it simply because I know, if I know anything, that this passage has been applied to my heart by the Holy Spirit! It has stuck so to me and entered so thoroughly into my heart that I have not been able to get rid of it, but have lived upon it, and have felt the sweetness of it! And if this does not come true, then I am certainly deceived. But let us take care that it does come true, for, while we believe the promise, it is ours to be the means, in the hand of God, of fulfilling it!

Dear Brothers and Sisters, pray more than you have ever done! Wrestle with God in prayer. Plead with Him that this may come true. For though He gives the promise, He says, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” I ask you this night–I cannot get you each to say, “Yes”–but I ask you, as a personal favor to your minister, and as an act of kindness to our loving mother, the Church, as a proof of your affection to your Lord and Master–I ask you, at the family altar, and in private tonight, and on till next Christmas, that we meet together to plead with God for this particular blessing!

Turn to this promise in your Bibles. Read the passage at your family altars, and then plead it–“Lord, You have made us to be, for a time, desolate. We have lost some of our children. Now grant that the children which we shall have, after we have lost these others, may cry, Make room for us; the place is too small for us to dwell in.” One of our Brothers lately said to me, “You surely do not expect to see the Tabernacle crowded down the aisles, do you?” I do, indeed! I expect to see it as crowded as ever this chapel has been. I think we shall often be moved to say, “Who has begotten these forme?” God’s arm is not shortened that He cannot save, neither are His ears heavy that He cannot hear us. We shall go on and conquer and never cease! The God who has been with us in the past, will be with us in the future and, as it has been, so shall it still be! God shall still be glorified in the salvation of men.