The Divine Discipline
“ As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.”
Deuteronomy 32:11, 12
MOSES in this Chapter is speaking concerning Israel in the wilderness. When the great host came out of Egypt, they were, through the debasing influences of slavery–which are not easily or quickly shaken off–not much better than a mere mob. They were not at all fitted to march at once to take possession of Canaan, nor to take part in the compacts of organized social life. Therefore God, instead of taking them by the short way along which they might have passed in a very few days, ordained it so in His Providence that they should wander about for 40 years in the wilderness–partly, it is true, as a punishment for their unbelief, but also in order that the nation might be trained and educated for its future destiny–made as fit as it could be, to be the custodian of the oracles of the Truths of God and to be the receiver of the Revelation which God intended to give to men.
If you will read carefully over the history of the children of Israel in the wilderness, I think you will see that the practical training which God adopted was–if they had been right-minded men–splendidly adapted to bring them to the very highest state of spiritual life. In some respects it was weak through their flesh, but the method, itself, was superlatively excellent. Here was a people taken away from the multitude of gods which they had been known to see on every hand in Egypt and they were taught to reverence an unseen God for whom they had no symbol whatever for some time. And afterwards, when symbolical worship in some form was ordained, yet there was still so little of symbol that Moses could say, “They saw no similitude.” They were trained to worship a spiritual God–in spirit and in truth. They neversaw Him, but every morning they had the best testimonies of His existence, for round about the camp lay the manna like hoarfrost, or dew, upon the ground! Their feet grew not weary, neither did their garments become old all those years, and thus about their very clothes on their bodies and before them on their tables, they had constant proofs of the great God existing and caring for the sons of men. The whole of their training, while it educated and developed their patience and their faith, had also the high purpose of teaching them gratitude and to bind them by the cords of love and the bands of a man to the service of God. It was not because the training was not wise in the highest degree, but because they were children that were corrupters and, like ourselves, an evil and stiff-necked generation, that they did not learn even when God, Himself, became their Teacher.
Now in drawing a parallel between the children of Israel and ourselves, we shall invite you to notice, first, in the text–the Divine Instructor, they weretrained as an eagle trains the eaglet for their flight. First, then, we have–
- A DIVINE INSTRUCTOR.
The Israelites had for their Guide, Instructor and Tutor, in order to prepare them for Canaan, none other than Jehovah, Himself! He might employ Moses and Aaron and He did also make use of those marvelous picture books, if I may so call them, of sacrifice, type and metaphor, but still, God, Himself, was their Guide and their Instructor. And it is so with us. The Holy Spirit is the teacher of the Christian Church. Although He uses this Book, of which we can never speak too highly. Although He still uses the ministry of the Word, for which we are thankful as for a candlestick which we trust may never be taken out of its place, still, our true Teacher is God the Holy Spirit. He instructs us in the Truths of God and, meanwhile, it is also God, who, in the rulings and guiding of Providence, is our Instructor if we will but learn. He is teaching us, sometimes by sweet mercies and at other times by bitter afflictions, instructing us from our cradles to our graves if we will but open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the lessons which He writes and speaks. We, alas, are often as the horse and as the mule which have no understanding–and will not be taught by the Providential teachings, but still we have God to be our Teacher–and it is none other than our heavenly Father who is daily training us for the skies. If we are, indeed, His children and can say, “Our Father, which are in Heaven,” we may also go to Him as our Teacher, believing He will, notwithstanding all our folly, make us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
The text speaks of “the Lord alone.” Brothers and Sisters, it is well for us that in Providence we are led by “the Lord alone.” There is an over-ruling hand after all, notwithstanding our follies and our willfulness, so that God’s purposes are ultimately fulfilled. But I wish this were more true to our consciousness–that we are led by “the Lord alone.” I mean that we waited upon Him at every step of life. I am persuaded that the holiest of characters take more matters to God than you and I are accustomed to do. I mean they not only consult Him, as we do, upon certain great and critical occasions, but those saints who live nearest to Christ, go to Him about little matters, thinking nothing to be too trifling to speak into the ear of Christ.
Some things about which they will not even consult their kindest and wisest human friends will be matters of consultation between them and their Savior. Oh, what mistakes we would escape, what disasters we would avoid, if “the Lord alone” did guide us! And if we watched the signs of His hands in guiding us, if our eyes were to Him as the eyes of the handmaidens are to their mistress, anxious to know the Lord’s will and always saying to our own self-love, “Down, down, busy will! Down proud spirit! What would You have me do, my Master, for Your will shall be my will and myheart shall always give up its fondest wish when once I understand what Your will is concerning me.” Beloved, I am afraid that some strange god is often with us, even with us who are the people of God! We are united to God and He will gladly teach us–and from Him, alone, should we learn! But oftentimes we harbor idolatrous thoughts in our heart. All selfishness is idolatry! All repining against the Providence of God has in it the element of rebellion against the Most High! If I love my own will and if I desire my own way in preference to God’s way, I have made a god of my own wisdom, or my own affection–and I have not been true in my loyalty to the only living and true God, even Jehovah! Let us search, look and see if there is not some strange god with us. It may be hidden away, perhaps, and we may scarcely know it. It may be hidden, too, in that very part of us where our dearest affections dwell. Some Rachel may be sitting in the tent on the camel furniture under which the false gods are concealed! Let us, therefore, make a thorough search and then invite the Great King, Himself, to aid us. “Search me, O God, try me, and know my ways, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The great Truth of God which I want to bring forward, if I can, is this–that God in His Providence and in Grace, as far as we have been made willing to learn of Him, is educating us for something higher than this world! This world is the nature in which we dwell. Sometimes we who love the Lord mount up from it with wings as eagles, but we do not stay on the wing. We drop again–we cleave to earth. ‘Tis our mother and it seems as though we can never rise permanently above our kinship to it. Very powerful is it in its attraction over us. Down we go again. We have not yet learned to keep up yonder where the atmosphere is clear and where the smoke of the world’s cares will not reach us. But God is educating us for the skies! The meaning of these trials of ours, the interpretation of our sorrows is this–God is preparing us for another state, making us fit to dwell with angels and archangels and the spirits of the just made perfect! If this earth were all, then, your teachers at school, or your tutors when you passed through college, might have sufficed. But this world is but the vestibule to the next and if you know, as well as man can teach you, how to play your part here with a view only to secular advancement, you are not yet educated at all in the highest sense! God Himself must teach and train you, that you may be fit to sit among the princes of the royal blood before His Throne and to have communion with those celestial spirits who–
With songs and choral symphonies
Day without night circle His throne rejoicing."
God is teaching you! God alone can do it and He will do it–but take care that you put away all strange gods and give yourselves up wholly to His guidance, submitting your will and your affections and all parts of your spirit and nature to His teaching so that you may be found fully ready when He shall say, “Come up here to dwell with Me forever.” Now, passing from that, we shall notice very briefly, indeed–
II. THE METHODS OF THE DIVINE INSTRUCTION.
These methods of Divine instruction are given to us under the very poetical picture of the eagle training its young ones for flight. God, to accommodate Himself to our poor understandings, sometimes compares Himself to a father with children. At other times to a mother with her little ones. Sometimes even to an animal. In this case, even to a bird of prey, so that we may but learn no depths of condescension are too great for the Great Teacher! He compares Himself here, then, to the eagle. I suppose that Moses was well acquainted with the eagle’s natural habits. He describes it, first of all, as stirring up its nest, as though the young birds were unwilling to stir from their pleasant home. Having from the time of their birth been quiet and happy there, they had no anxiety whatever to try the blue unfathomable oceans of the air! They had no wish to leave the rocky refuge where they had been reared. They feared, perhaps, lest they might fall over the precipices and be dashed in pieces. Therefore is it said, “The eagle stirs up her nest.” She makes it uncomfortable for the little ones so that they may be willing to leave it. And that which would have been obnoxious and burdensome to them, they may come even to desire, namely, to be out of the nest! Someone has quaintly said that the eagle puts thorns into the nest which prick the fledglings so that they are anxious to get away!
Certain it is that God does thus with those He would train for the skies. He stirs up their nest. Cannot some of you recollect times when your nests were stirred by Providential dealings while you were in sin? All things went well with youfor a season, but you forgot God. And His Son, Jesus, had no attractions for you. But suddenly the child sickened or the wife was smitten with death, or trade separated from you, or you, yourselves, were ill, or there was a famine in the land. Then it was, when you were in need, your nest being thoroughly stirred up, that you said, “I will arise and go unto my Father.” The land of Goshen was like a nest to the Israelites. They had no desire to come out of it, but God stirred them up by means of Pharaoh, who kept them in heavy bondage, put them to making bricks and then to making bricks without straw. And then he slew their male children. In all sorts of ways they were made to cry out under the bitter yoke. We know that they loved that nest, for they often longed to be back in it. They talked of the leeks, the garlic, the onions and the cucumbers which they did eat when they were in Egypt, so that the nest seems to have been a tolerably downy one to them at one time! But God so stirred it up that they longed to be away–and even the howling wilderness seemed a paradise compared with the house of bondage. So was it with you! You found that the world was not what it seemed to be. Troubles increased, Providential afflictions trod on each other’s heels and then you turned to your God and remembered your sins. And so He stirred up your nest by inward trouble under conviction of sin. I know my soul’s nest was once verysoft. I thought I had done no great evil, that I had kept God’s Commandments from my youth up. But when conviction of sin came, then I discovered my heart to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! Then my sins, like so many daggers, were at my heart, My soul was torn in two–I could say with gracious George Herbert–
My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart."
There was no rest, no peace, no joy, no comfort to be found. Well, that was God stirring up the nest! If there are any of you in that condition now–uneasy and troubled about sin, I am glad of it! Your nest is being stirred and God grant that you may fly from it and never come back to that nest again!
If all had gone smoothly with you. If sin had always been a sweet morsel to your tongue, we might despair of your ever being saved. But now you feel the smart of it, I trust it is, in order that you may be delivered from the guilt of it and led to find a Savior! Well, since that, dear Friends, how many times we have had our nests stirred up! I do not know your history, but you do, and I ask you now to look it over. Oh, you planned, and planned, and planned, and said, “Now I shall live in this house for the next 20 or 30 years, I shall live here, certainly, as long as I live anywhere.” And now you find yourselves, perhaps, 50 or a 100 miles from it. You were in the service of a certain kind man and you felt very happy in it, but the firm has broken up and where are you now? There is that dear child you have set your heart upon. You have said, “What a mercy it will be to see him growing up! What a comfort he will be to me!” He is not a comfort to you, but just the very reverse, for he is your greatest sorrow! It is God stirring up your nest. Whereas a fear years ago you were in good, sound health, now the eyes begin to fail, or the ears are giving way, or there is some internal complaint, or some constant pain. Whereas years ago you were a master, you are now a servant–whereas years ago everybody looked up to you, now everybody looks down upon you! It is all the stirring up of the nest because you have no abiding city here–because you were too prone to say, “My mountain stands firm. I shall never be moved!” Therefore God has stirred up your nest and He will do it yet again and again! Between now and Heaven how many times will the nest of ours be stirred? Oh, blessed be God for it! “Moab is settled upon his lees: he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel”–and then comes a curse upon him! Sometimes these long periods of prosperity, rest and ease are very unhealthy for us poor unworthy and sinful beings. If we were more like Jesus. If we were more pure and heavenly, we could bear prosperity, but because we are so sinful, I question if any of us can bear it long. If the Master shall give some of us outward prosperity, He will have to whip us behind the door in private to keep us right! We must have some thorn in the flesh, some secret grief–there must be some skeleton in the cupboard, some specter in some chamber of the house, or else we shall say, “Soul, take your ease, you have much goods laid up for many years”–and when we do this, we shall be modern fools like the great fool of old! But the gracious Lord will not let His people get into that state. Again and again, and yet again, against their wishes, and contrary to their expectations, He will stir their nest and they shall cry out against it. But if they did but only know the meaning of it, or could read the whole of it in the light of eternity, they would bless the hand which tears away their comforts, seeing Divine Wisdom and Infinite Affection in it all! That, then, is the first thing–God instructs His people to mount aloft by stirring up their nests.
The next picture is the eagle fluttering over her young. What is that for? She wants them to mount, my Brothers andSisters! Well, then, in order to teach them to mount, she first mounts, herself–“she flutters over her young.” She moves her wings to teach them that thus they must move their wings, that thus they must mount! There is no teaching like teaching by example. We always learn a great deal more through our eyes and ears than we do merely through our ears. Those of us who cannot preach with our mouths would do well to preach with our lives–which is the very best kind of preaching. So God preaches to us. If He would have us holy, how holy He is Himself! “Be you holy for I am holy.” Would He have us generous? How generous is He! “He spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all.” Would He have us forgive our enemies? How He delights in mercy, Himself! If we need a picture of perfection, where can we get it but in God? “Be you perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” God shows us His law in His holy actions, He being, Himself, the very mirror and paragon of everything that is absolutely pure and right. Above all, the Lord has been pleased to set us an example of mounting above the world in the Person and life of His own dear Son! Oh, how the eagle flutters when I look upon the Savior!–
Such was Your truth and such Your zeal,
Such deference to Your Fathers will,
Such love and meekness so Divine
I would transcribe and make them mine!
Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witnessed the fervor of Your prayer–
The desert Your temptations knew,
Your conflict and Your victory, too.
Be You my Pattern–make me bear
More of Your gracious Image here!
Then God the Judge shall own my name
Among the followers of the Lamb."
Beloved, see how our Lord Jesus this day mounts to Heaven! There He is–He has gone there that our hearts may follow Him! He fluttered to the skies that we might also follow and might rise above the world, setting our affections no longer upon the things of earth, but upon things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God! What way could there be of teaching us tenderness like the tenderness of the Savior? What method of teaching us love like the display of the love of God in Christ Jesus? Brothers and Sisters, I commend you to the picture of the eagle fluttering and thus setting an example to its little ones. You may also see before your eyes the great Incarnate God teaching you how to mount above the trials and temptations of this mortal life and living, even on earth, a celestial life!
This, however, is not all the eagle does. We read in our text that she then spreads abroad her wings, takes them,bears them on her wings. I suppose this means just this, that spreading her wings she entices her young ones to get between her wings upon her back and then she mounts and flies towards the sun. It may be fable or not, I do not know, that she flies towards the sun to teach her eaglets to bear its blaze. Then, when she has mounted to a good height, she suddenly shifts her wings and throws the young eaglets off–and there they are on their own wings! They begin to descend to earth, not able to keep themselves up, but compelled to fly–but before they fall on the rocks, she makes a swoop and comes under them and catches them on her wings again, gives them a little rest, bears them up once more, and then throws them off again, so that they must fly. But she takes care that these early trials, for which they are scarcely able, shall not end in their destruction, for again she makes another swoop and catches them between her wings once again.
This is the picture of what God does to us again. We must speak of Him after the metaphor which He, Himself, uses–He takes us up between those mighty wings and bears us as high as we dare go–and only pauses because He knows we cannot now bear more. Then, when we have had full fellowship and looked the sun in the face, and have had bright enjoyment of Heaven, as far as we could bear, He suddenly throws us off and makes us try our own wings, and alas, they are very feeble and weak, indeed. We then discover our own impotence and we think we shall fall like stars and be dashed in pieces! But lo, He comes and underneath us are the everlasting wings–and just when we thought we should surely come to destruction, we find ourselves safely sheltered between the mighty pinions of the Eternal God! Up, again, we mount, and before long we are thrown off again–cast away, as it were, for a time. His face is hidden from us, or else by some outward trial of Providence we are made to try our wings again to see whether our faith will keep us up! And by degrees it comes to pass that we learn to fly till we love flying and are not satisfied to come back to earth anymore! We are loving to fly and often sighing and longing for the day when we shall be permitted to–
Stretch our wings and fly
Straight to yonder worlds of joy!"
Do you not sometimes feel as if your wing feathers were come, my Brothers and Sisters? Surely you must sometimes feel as though your faith were growing stronger and your communion with Christ getting clearer–as though you anticipated and felt that the time must be drawing near when you could mount to dwell where Jesus is! I am thankful if such is your experience, but I should not wonder if you find that all the wing feathers which you have got will be all too few for you, for you may yet be made to have another descent from between the almighty wings and be made once again to see how great your weakness is. One other thought, however, occurs to us. There is no doubt that the idea of security as well as ofteaching is here because when the eagle bears her young ones on her wings, if the archer, or in these modern days the hunter with his rifle should seek to destroy the eaglets, it is plain there is no reaching them without first killing the mother bird. So there is no destroying possible to the true people of God. “Greater is He that is for us, than all that can be against us.” God puts Himself between His people and the danger which threatens them–and unless the foe should be mightier than God, Himself–which is inconceivable, there is no soul that trusts in Him which shall know eternal hurt!
Oh, how glorious a thing it is to feel, when the light air is all around me and I know that if I fall I would perish, that yet I cannot fall, for God’s wings bear me up! And to feel that though there are hosts of enemies able to destroy me if they can get at me, yet they cannot, for they must first get through God, Himself, before they can get to the weak soul who hangs upon Jesus and rests alone in Him! Well did David say, “In the time of trouble He will hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me: He shall set me up upon a rock.” You know the threefold figure. The “pavilion” stood in the middle of the camp and all the armed men kept watch around the royal tent. There was no slaying the man who was hidden in the royal pavilion unless the king, himself, were destroyed! And unless Divine Sovereignty is overthrown, not one of the elect can perish! Then, again, there was “the secret of the tabernacle.” That was the Most Holy Place into which no one entered but the high priest once a year! And there God said He would put His child, so that they must first break through and dare the very Shekinah and come before the brightness, the destroying brightness, of Jehovah’s face, before they can reach the soul that trusts in the Mercy Seat on which the blood was sprinkled! Then there is the third figure–“He shall set me up upon a rock”–so that the rock, itself, must shake–the Immutability of God, itself, must cease to be and God’s everlastingness must die before it shall be possible for a soul to perish that rests in Him! The eagle takes up the eaglets on her wings and bears them–and so in this way does God lead, train and guide us for the skies!
Dear Brothers and Sisters, I shall not detain you longer, except to say that if God is training you for the skies–oh, let your hearts go up. Grovel not below–
Go up, go up, my Heart,
Dwell with your God above!
For here you cannot rest,
Nor here give out your love
Go up, go up, my Heart,
Be not a trifler here–
Ascend above these clouds,
Dwell in a higher sphere!
Let not your love flow out
To things so soiled and dim–
Go up to Heaven and God,
Take up your love to Him!
Waste not your precious stores
On creature love below–
To God that wealth belongs,
On Him that wealth bestow."
You are a stranger here. If you are God’s child, then you are a citizen of another country! Are there any bands to bind you here? I thought He had broken them. Have you never said–
The bands that bind my soul to earth
Are broken by His hand–
Before His Cross I find myself
A stranger in the land."
Are there loved ones to bind you here?–
Your Best-Beloved keeps His Throne
On hills of light in worlds unknown."
All the love you dare to give to all below, if you are true to Christ, can be as nothing compared with the love which you give to Him! Do you not feel your soul now drawn towards Him? At least if you cannot fly on the wings of confidence, fly on the wings of desire! A sigh will mount to Him, or He will come down to it! Only be not fond of this world. Do not let this thick clay cleave to you. You are not earth-born now–you are born from above! This corruptible world must not claim you, for you are born-again of incorruptible seed! You are not this world’s property. You are bought with a price by Him who prays for you that you may be with Him where He is and behold His Glory. I am ashamed of myself that I who talk thus with you should so often grovel here. But this one thing I must say–I am never happy except when my soul is up with my Lord. I know enough of this to acknowledge that it is my misery to feed upon the ashes of this world, to lie among the pots, to serve the brick-kilns of this Egypt! There can be no peace between my soul and this world. Oh, I know this, for this painted Jezebel has mocked me too often and she has become so ugly in my esteem that I cannot endure her! But yet–what shall we say of our nature?–We go back again to the Marah, which was bitter for us to drink and try to drink from it again! And the broken cisterns which held no water before, we fly to again and again! Oh, for more wisdom! The Master has taught us and He has been so long a time with us, but we have not known Him. Yet may He have patience with us until He has taught us to mount above the world and dwell where He is!
Ah, dear Friends, there are some of you to whom I cannot talk in this fashion because you cannot mount. You have nowhere to mount to! Oh, may the Master stir up your nests! I pray that He may put the thorns of conscience into your pillows tonight. May you recollect those sins which God hates and which God will punish–and if you do remember them and feel bowed down under their weight–then remember that there is one who can help you and who will helpyou, even the Lord Jesus Christ! Look to Him in the hour of trouble and He will be your Deliverer! May the Lord bless these thoughts to all our souls for Jesus' sake.