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Stirring the Eagle's Nest

by Theodore Cuyler (1822-1909)
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"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord above did lead him."
                                            óDeut. 32:11

Here is a text for the naturalist and for the Christian, for the student of birds and for the student of Providence. Audubon might introduce it into his Chapter on Eagles ; Spurgeon might make it the theme for a "morning reading'' on God's love for His people. And it is a grand theme, whether for the ornithologist or the child of God. 

The passage before us is a brief and beautiful parable. To get the full benefit of it, we must look first at its literal facts, and then at its moral and spiritual teachings. The parable is of the Eagle, the king of all the feathered tribes. What the majestic sequoia is among the trees, what the gorgeous cactus is among flowering plants, what the lion of Numidia is 
among wild beasts, that is the eagle among the birds of heaven. Naturalists tell us that he has tremendous strength in his wings. He bears up against the tempest--flies in the teeth of a gale--soars up to untold heights--goes out on long voyages toward the sun, and after playing the aeronaut for hours, he wheels downward toward his rocky nest. That nest is, like himself, on a right royal scale. 

It is sometimes fashioned--a yard square--of billets of wood, and inlaid with rushes and mountain heather. Not down among the reeds and grass does the eagle build; not even among the tree-tops--but far up on the crags of mountain-peaks. When the prophet Obadiah would denounce the pride of Edom, he says: "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord." Up in this airy 
home--surrounded by desolate solitudes and far above the noise and smoke of human habitation--the mother eagle rears her young. Stout and fierce though she be, yet she has a true parent's instincts. While they need to be fed, she feeds them. But when they are old enough to fly, she trains them for the perilous process. To this process our text refers. 

She "stirreth up the nest" However cozy and comfortable it may be, however closely the young eaglets may cling to their home, she stirs them out. They are afraid to fly, and sit timidly on the edge of the nest, looking out into the wide air and down into the chasms beneath them. So she spreadeth abroad her ample wings--"taketh them on her wings" as on an aerial car, and soars out for a sail! It is dizzy work up there and dangerous. But to the broad, stalwart wings of the parent bird the little fellows cling, and she transports them safely. This is the first lesson. At length they are thrust out to try their own wings. They may, at first, reel to and fro, flutter about, and catch some rough falls against cliff or tree-top. But they are learning, and without practice they never can fly. They must run some risks, or else be left to starve . in their nests. They improve by each attempt. Their wings grow stronger, and they grow more expert in using them. And ere long the eaglet can fly like the mother bird, and keep her company in all her chase for sport or spoil. 

I. This is a picturesque process that we have been looking at, and we will find it an object-lesson well worth our studying. We may learn many things from these brute teachers, with their sagacity of instinct, parental affection, and noble daring. We may apply this parable--in the first place--to the secular and domestic life with which many of us are 
familiar. 

A wise and thrifty parent rears his brood around the hearthstone and the family altar. The fireside is pleasant, and home is dear. But the nest gets full and cannot hold them all. If the boys and girls nestle all together, as consumers and not producers, the whole household will soon come to want. So the prudent father " stirs up the nest." The eldest-born must fly out, and learn to shift for themselves. The parting from home gives a hard wrench to the heart, and the very thought of pushing out into the strange world has some terrors in it. As the good mother--God bless her! packs the trunk of her darling boy, many a tear falls in upon the lad's wardrobe. She stows in many a useful "knicknacket" and 
precious keepsake that no one but a mother would ever think of. She bids him remember her, as she will remember him in her prayers night and day. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not!" Homespun father has his good counsels also-- never to shirk hard work and never to stain his lips with a lie, or an oath, or an intoxicating cup. And so the young eaglet leaves the old rustic nest--borne out on the wings of prayer and parental affection, and with warm kisses and tears rained on the young, resolute face. He must try his own wings now and learn to fly for himself. With sturdy arm and sharp self-denial and patient toil he soon begins to push upward. First failures and some disappointments, instead of scorching his courage, only fire him to fresh ventures and more disciplined endeavors. That mighty arm of God, that helps those who bravely help themselves, steadies him forward in his persistent push, until he is able at last to build his own nest among the cliffs with a free eagle spirit. He becomes the thrifty man of business, the useful citizen--and when ascending prayers have returned in converting grace he becomes the earnest follower of Christ. For as surely as good plowing and good planting produce good crops, so surely does wise and godly nurture yield an after life of secular and spiritual good-fruitage. This is the rule, which no occasional exception can invalidate. 

Whoever of you would have your sons and daughters make your hearts rejoice must not dream that they can be left at home to shiftless indolence, or enervating self-indulgence. Next to teaching your children Christ, teach them to work." He who brings up a child to no trade, brings up a child for the devil," is an old Jewish proverb worthy of observance in 
our modern American homes. Try to discover just what your children were made for; set before them the highest and the holiest aims, and impress upon them that life is only a trust to be held for God and for the good of others. Then stir the nest, and let the young eaglets fly! So rose the shepherd boy Sanderson to the astronomic chair of Edinburgh University, and the weaver boy Livingstone to be the sublimest missionary hero of our time. So rose our beloved Lincoln from his frontier cabin to that lofty eminence in which his heaven-ordained mission was to bind up the Union and to unbind the slave. The younger Franklin was pushed out of the nest to struggle for himself; and he rose among the clouds to play with the forked lightnings. It was from humble beginnings in a Kelvedon cottage that Spurgeon wheeled up in his majestic flight--the royalest eagle of our modern ministry. 

II. Now, in the second place, let us advance to a more directly spiritual aspect of this subject. God deals with His children as the eagle deals with her young. He sees that His children are too often determined to nestle. They build earthly nests for themselves; surround themselves with various comforts and luxuries, and then settle down to enjoy them. Instead 
of setting their affections on things above, they set them on things beneath; instead of seeking to become u rich toward God" they are selfishly content to be rich from God. As wealth enlarges, worldly ambition enlarges also; and I do not observe that grace always grows in the same ratio with a growing income. The new circumstances and conditions bring new ideas of living, new expenditures, and new luxuries. The old residence (for example) must be supplanted with a mansion whose splendor shall reflect the splendid financial successes of its owner. And in the decoration of it, what brain-racking and consultation and absorption of time and thought and treasure! When the ambitious design has 
been carried out, and pride has added the top-stone to its temple, then the flatteries and congratulations of summer friends begin to ascend like intoxicating incense into the nostrils of the lord of the manor. "This will do now," says Brother Plutus to himself complacently ; "I will take comfort. Business thrives. My wife and daughters are gaining 
the entree of all perfumed precincts of society." So he nestles. They all nestle in a most lnxurious state of spiritual slumber. Their piety has been rocked to sleep in that sumptnous nest. The devotions and the religious duties, which belonged to their humbler and better days, are now as completely tabooed as is a yellow-fever patient at the gates of the Quarantine hospital. 

Well, now, if God strikes in upon that nest with crushing disasters or bereavements, do you wonder? If bankruptcy bring that splendid establishment to the hammer, or if calamity sweep away those idols; if Death mount those sumptuous stairways and writes paleness on some cheek of roses, do you wonder ? God saw that His children were beginning to nestle and to become too worldly for their soul's health. So He stirred up that nest of self-indulgence, and in the very way that they would feel most keenly. Not in revenge does He do it; not in cruelty, but in love to their souls, and in tender jealousy for the honor of their Christian name and character. When any member of Christ's flock surrounds himself--or herself--with worldly idols, and surrenders the heart to them, and worships them, and robs Christ for them, then he or she may expect that neglected Saviour to break up that idol-worship--even if sharp chastisements be employed to accomplish it. Ah! have we not often seen such awakened and smitten souls start up from their spiritual slumbers and try once more a flight heavenward? Have we not seen them--with wings that had been weakened by long disuse--endeavor to soar again? As an eagle taketh her young upon her wings and beareth them, so the patient love of God has borne up His backslidden and penitent children. He has taken them on the strong pinions of His imparted grace. He has kindled by His Holy Spirit fresh desires after Him, and awakened their torpid affections. They have gone back to their Bibles and to their knees. To the cross have they gone--in confession and in tears, and have sought the forgiveness of Him who has been wounded in the house of His friends. They have laid hold again of long neglected duties, and honestly confessed, "it is good for me that I have been afflicted; for before I was chastised I went 
astray." God is dealing with them as with sons; and what wayward and disobedient son is there that He chastiseth not? " He restoreth my soul!" is the joyful cry of the pardoned and reconverted backslider, as he rises once more into the sweet and full communion with his forgiving Lord. His song now is : 

' 'And as on eagle's wings I soar 
I see the face of Christ once more, 
And heaven comes down my soul to meet 
And glory crowns the mercy-seat," 

III. Let us now advance to a third thought suggested by this prolific passage. When God permits any immortal being to nestle down in worldly possessions or sinful pleasures, undisturbed, unaroused, and unawakened, is it not a terrible calamity? Could a greater curse come upon such a person than to be let alone by the Holy Spirit I Would not that "nest " of selfishness and hardened indifference to God become the prelude to righteous divine wrath and red burnings? If the young eaglet would become a sorry weakling in its nest, and finally be left to starve if it were never trained to fly, how true it is, also, that any soul that is left alone in guilty indifference and unbelief will come to eternal ruin. It is divine love that awakens the sinner to his guilt and danger. Love sends the arrow of conviction into the soul. Love drives that arrow in deeper and deeper. God so loves the self-condemned sinner that He not only has sent His only-begotten Son to die for him, but sends His awakening Spirit with the thrilling appeal, "Awake thou that sleepest! turn ye; turn ye; for why will ye die?" God stirs him up. The living gospel comes with strong, fearless hand, and overturns his refuges of lies--rips to 
pieces his self-righteousness--reveals to him his guilt and the divine displeasure with his sins--and bids him repent and prepare to meet his offended God. As the hooked talon of the parent eagle shakes the nest and stirs out the younglings, so God's Spirit with the arm of Truth shakes the sinner from his false security. As with an Ithuriel spear--keen and sharp as the lightning--the Holy Spirit arouses the guilty soul to the enormous sinfulness of sin, and points him to the cross before him, the heaven above him, and the hell beneath him! Into his ears the trumpet voice proclaims "the 
wages of sin is death ; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ!" And so the fire that is kindled in his conscience drives the convicted transgressor to the cross of Calvary. This has been, in innumerable cases, the process of our Heavenly Father in bringing myriads of His children to the new life here, and the endless life hereafter. 

Say you that this is harsh or unkind ? Say you that the threatenings of God's holy Word or the utterances of a faithful pulpit against sin are wanton cruelty? Nay verily. They are the very essence of loving-kindness, A cathartic medicine may be very nauseous, but a wise physician often administers it in mercy to his sick patient. It was a terrible process for our brave  "boys in blue" to be bound to the surgeon' s table and to see the amputating-knife flashed before their eyes ; but better lose a limb than a life. No one likes to be startled out of a comfortable sleep at midnight ; but if you see the black smoke belching out of your neighbor's window you do not hesitate to break into his house with the cry of " Fire! fire! fire!" and to drag him and his household out through the suffocating smoke and flame. It were a diabolical cruelty not to stir up that home-nest on which the flames were kindling. One of our most heroic Arctic explorers tells us that 
several of his men who had left the vessel were lost amid drifting snow and ice for two whole days. When found they were barely alive. Alcohol had frozen in a bottle by their side, and the thermometer marked seventy degrees 
below freezing-point. . Dreamy slumbers---mingled with visions of delightful sleep by warm firesides---were stealing over the poor, freezing creatures that were almost benumbed in death. As they were dragged back through forty hours of terrible march over ice-fields, the stoutest of them begged to "lie down and sleep." "We are not cold," they protested, "we only want to lie down and rest." 

An hour of treacherous slumber would have left each one a stiffened corpse. Their leader was compelled to beat them, beg them, threaten them---anything to keep off the fatal lethargy---until the vessel could be reached. Poor fellows! they were delirious with pain and hunger when they staggered over the icy deck of the brig into the cabin with its reviving warmth. 

But they were saved. The hand that roused them was the hand that saved them. Every soul in this assembly who ever reaches heaven will be forced to make the same acknowledgment ; the arm that aroused us in our guilt will be the theme of our gratitude in the realms of glory. 

Oh, my brethren, is there no resemblance between that Arctic scene and the condition of the Church whose members lie down and freeze together into a spiritual torpor? As their active energies become slowly benumbed, their sense of safety becomes more serene and complacent. 

They are satisfied with their preaching and their privileges---satisfied with themselves---and satisfied to let perishing souls stumble over them into perdition ! All they ask for is peace and the quiet enjoyment of their well spread table. 

Now into such an orthodox refrigerator---where the only unity consists in their being "frozen solid" --- God has often sent His Holy Spirit to stir them up, and bring them to repentance. Sometimes He has done this by the voice of a fearless ambassador, and sometimes by the voice of a startling Providence. At first the stiffened limbs were slow to move, and the rigid lips were slow to articulate. But the baptism of fire descended----and the love of Jesus, shed abroad in some hearts, enkindled others until the blessed flame of a genuine Revival set the whole Church aglow ! Oh, blessed Jesus! source of all light and life," pour thyself into all our souls as a flame of fire, quickening us to a new life, warming our affections to a sacred glow, consuming our unholy passions and lusts, filling us with the power from on high, and making us all burning and shining lights for Thine own honor and glory! 

IV. Before I close let me interject into this discussion a very practical truth suggested by an incident of eagle life. It is said that a shepherd once observed an eagle soar away from the brow of a lofty cliff into the air. The movements of the bird soon became eccentric; it descended in its course; soon one wing dropped and then the other, and in a few moments the noble bird fell rapidly to the ground. 

The shepherd picked up the dead bird to examine the cause of its eccentric movements and its fall. He discovered that a small serpent had fastened itself under the bird's wing and pierced its way into the flesh ; and when the deadly fangs reached the heart, the poor eagle fell! This, too, is a parable---with quite too many melancholy fulfillments on every side of us. We have sometimes seen a person rise into a prominent position of influence in the Church and in the community. But presently his conduct began to excite suspicion and then alarm, and ere long he was prostrate in the dust--- a pitiable spectacle for scoffers to jeer at and for charity to weep over. The eye of God saw what we had not suspected--- how some secret sin---some departure from strict integrity, or some indulgence of fleshly lusts, or some concealed crime against conscience, or some other deadly sin against the Holy Spirit, had struck its way into the heart, and brought the eagle down ! Whosoever thinketh that he standeth, let him take heed lest he fall. All sin is deceitful, but never more so than when it fastens itself upon a Christian; and may God in His tender mercy help you and me to beware of the serpent at the heart!

The parable that we have chosen for our topic to-day is prolific in more suggestion and instruction than we have time now to consider. There is one, however, that must not be omitted. When the eagle has stirred up her nest and brought out her younglings, she teacheth them to soar. Prom the lower atmosphere of earth she beareth them upward toward the empyrean. It is her congenial atmosphere---for which she was created. Sparrows may twitter on the house-tops ; wrens may flit among the shrubbery, and owls may hoot in the midnight forest. But eagles are children of the skies, 
and playmates of the storm. With stalwart wings they rise above the clouds and fly in company with the sun. 

"They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength ; they shall mount up with wings as eagles." God desires that every soul that waits on Him shall not creep, or grovel in the muck of worldliness, or crouch in wretched bondage to men or devils. When a soul is joined to Jesus by faith, that soul finds wings. Such an one has his " citizenship in the heavens." He catches inspiration from the in-dwelling Spirit. He rises above the chilling fogs of doubt, gains wide and ennobling outlook, and actually realizes his heirship to a celestial inheritance. He outflies the petty vexations that worry the worldling, and the lusts which drag the sensual soul down into the mire. His inner life is hid with Christ in God. What to 
him, in his best hours and holiest fellowship with Jesus---what to him is the fear of man or the greed of gold, or the sting of poverty, or the grief of bereavement, or the apprehension of coming death? What cares the eagle, as he bathes his wing in the translucent sunbeam---for the turmoil, the smoke, the clouds, or even the lightning that plays beneath him? His companionship is with the King of day. So, a heaven-bound soul, filled with the joys of the Holy Spirit, flies in company with God! 

The nearer you and I get to God, the purer will be our spiritual atmosphere, and the more thoroughly, humbly, and earnestly will we discharge every duty to our fellow-men. Nor will we expect to reach heaven before our time. We shall not be "flighty" in our aims or "air-ish" with vain-glory even when we rise into the fullest fellowship with the Unseen and the Eternal. Blessed be the trials, however sharp, that keep us from nestling down into selfishness and sloth! 

Blessed be the discipline, however painful or severe, that stirs up our nests and teaches us to live as sons and daughters of the Almighty and heirs of our unfading crown ! 
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