As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings:…
We are taken out to the solitudes where some cliff, with ragged, splintered crown uplifts its giant form into the air, and has at base, let us suppose, the wave-washed rock and ever-heaving mass of ocean waters. Far above, perched on a ledge forming its eyrie, sits the monarch of the air, the eagle, representative of all that is graceful and powerful in the bird creation. The nest, built of rudely arranged sticks, is so protected by its inaccessibility that you at once see that nothing but the deep instincts of the bird could have taught it to make so savage a place its home. It is, however, so near the cliff's edge that when their offspring are ready for flight, the parent birds may have the less difficulty in tempting their new-fledged offspring to the skies. Two things are taken for granted here, and we need go no further until we bring them under notice. These are that God is our Father, and the powers by which we serve Him are slumbering within us.
I. GOD IS OUR FATHER. Does a hearer say, "There's nothing in this"? So much, my friend, that the day you realise this, salvation has entered your dwelling. I am perfectly aware that this at times is hard to believe, that when a fellow mortal is laid on a bed of pain and sees wife and helpless children sobbing at his bedside, and death steadily advancing to embrace him, I know it is hard for him to think that behind all this discipline there is a God and Father's affection. But recollect, we only see the beginning of things here. The end lies yonder. Yonder lie the explanations and the true home-bringing. Borrowing an illustration from an art we all know something about, the art of photography, we remind you that if the camera glass be so small that the photographer can only partially cover a coveted view, say some lofty, wide-stretching mountain range, he photographs part by part until he has completed the whole view, and then, piecing his views together, is able to present a faultless and accurate picture of the whole. So must it be with us in our life and in our judgment of God's Fatherhood.
II. The second tiring assumed is, THAT THE POWERS BY WHICH GOD'S CHILDREN SERVE HIM ARE WITHIN US. Think of our illustration. The wings by which the eagle's offspring soar into the skies do not require to be created. They simply wait to be exercised; so is it with men. We have reminded you, then, that God is our Father, and that the powers by which we serve Him are within us.
III. If we are all the children of God, then WE DARE NOT EXPECT TO LIVE WITHOUT BEING EDUCATED BY HIM. Nor can we, and from the illustration supplied us here we learn how the Great Father trains us for His higher service. His method is two-fold, and we are now to have this double method graphically illustrated for us.
1. The first is the educative method. The cliff now rises before us. The rudely constructed nest of sticks is there, the yawning abyss beneath, the eaglets and the parent bird. See! She is now about to begin her course of instruction. Dozing, blinking, shivering, her offspring perch upon the ragged summit of the cliff. Like a thunderbolt the mother plunges into the gulf below. She swoops round and round, backwards and forwards, before her timid children. She desires them to follow her example. She pursues this course; but no t they will not; they are faint-hearted; the experience is new. With one bold sweep sloe has rounded to and perched beside them. Here let her tarry for a brief space while we ask each other what spiritual meaning can we possibly attach to this? It is the leading the way — the showing others how to do anything by first of all doing it yourself. Every master knows its value, when he bids some bungling servant stand aside and see how it ought to be done. The poorest mother in all the land knows the value of this imitative method when, at nightfall, she kneels in prayer by the side of her child and teaches the little one how to lisp "Our Father." The officer knows the value of this rule, who plunges his spurs into his charger's sides and leads the way 'mid clash of steel and crack of musketry. This, then, is the imitative method, and we all know its value more or less; but not sufficiently, unless we have imitated the noblest exponent of this simple art — Jesus the Christ. He knew the full value of this plan, and the world has never known a nobler follower of it. But what if the reverential spirit in a person refuse to be quickened? What if the religious faculty remain still unawakened? If the soul of man will not yield to God's peaceable, gentle method of education, then observe what our text tells us.
2. God has recourse to His second rule for educating us, the prohibitive method. Let the text tell us what this is. Again we wander forth to the wilds, and now we shall see the parent bird calling yet a second device to her aid in order to compel her timorous children to take wing and cleave the air. They have refused to be taught by gentle ways, they shall be instructed now by sterner rules. Impatiently she flits backwards and forwards, then swoops up beside them. There they still sit, dozing and shivering beside the old nest. In an instant (and naturalists tell us this is strictly true), literally in the words of Scripture, "She stirreth up the nest." She scatters the sticks. She prohibits their remaining longer in a state of infancy and weakness. The sticks are scattered and again she plunges into the yawning gulf below. Now, see what our God and Father is doing. Our hearts in their folly will fondly cling to the hope that on earth we have all we require; we try to settle down here. We say to our souls, we shall have a long and a merry time of it. But the unseen hand of God is holding us; behold the working of that hand! He has withdrawn the old familiar landmarks, one after another. School days and school companions, where are they? He has scattered our schoolfellows, they are spread over the face of the globe, its length and breadth, and many this day sleep their last sleep, "by mount and stream and sea." The happy band of laughing school lads all scattered. The company is broken. He has disappointed us. He has plunged some of us into the cold, dark waters of bereavement, and taught some of us that this world is one gigantic vanity and the earth a vale of tears. And what does it all mean? What but that we are destined for another world? This is only the school. Are we to remain children all our days? Are our powers of soul never to be developed by prayer and faith? Is the spiritual side of our nature to remain asleep or dead? Nay! Life is like the eaglets' nest; and if we will not learn by the imitative, God will continue to apply to us His prohibitive method.
3. But observe, if we refuse to be trained either by imitation or prohibition, if the life of Christ be nothing to a man, and the waves of affliction washing over his soul but harden him in impenitence, I ask you, has the infinite mercy of God no means of retaliating? There shall be no retaliation, but our text as we have it again speaks to us; the only course left open to the Almighty love is to leave him alone. There is no compulsion. No will is forcibly bent to submission.
(D. D. F. Macdonald, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: