by Octavius Winslow
There are few lessons taught in God's school more difficult to learn, and yet, when really learned, more blessed and holy — than the lesson of weanedness. The heart resembles the vine, which as it grows, grasps and unites its feeble tendrils to every support within its reach. Or, it is like the ivy, which climbs and wraps itself around some beautiful but decayed and crumbling ruin.
As our social affections develop and expand, they naturally seek a resting-place. Traveling, as it were, beyond themselves, breathing love and yearning for friendship — they go forth seeking some kindred spirit, some "second self," upon which they may repose, and around which they may entwine. To detach from this inordinate, idolatrous clinging to the animate and the inanimate creatures and objects of sense — is one grand end of God's disciplinary dealings with us in the present life.
The discovery which we make, in the process of his dealings, of the insufficiency and insecurity of the things upon which we set our affections — is often acutely painful. Like that vine, we find that we grasped a support at the root of which the cankerworm was secretly feeding — and presently it fell! Or, like that ivy, we discover that we have been spreading our affections around an object which, even while we clung to and adored it, was crumbling and falling into dust — and presently it became a ruin!
And what is the grand lesson which, by this process, God would teach us? The lesson of weanedness from all and everything of an earthly and a created nature.
Thus was David instructed, and this was the result: "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." It may be profitable, tried and suffering reader, briefly to contemplate this holy state, and then the way by which the Lord frequently brings his people into its experience.
Every true believer, whatever may be the degree of his grace — is an adopted child of God. It is not the amount of his faith, nor the closeness of his resemblance to the family, that constitutes his relationship; it is the act of adoption by which his heavenly Father has made him his own. If he can only lisp his Father's name, or bears but a single feature of likeness to the Divine image — he is as much and as really a child of God as those in whose souls the lineaments are deeply and broadly drawn, and who, with an unfaltering faith, can cry, "Abba, Father!" Doubtless there were many of feeble faith, of limited experience and of defective knowledge — mere babes in Christ — in the church to which the apostle inscribed his letter; and yet, addressing them all, he says, "Behold, what manner of love is this — that we should be called the children of God!"
But it is the character of the weaned child we are now to contemplate. All believers are children — but are all believers weaned children? From what is the child of God thus weaned?
The first object from which our heavenly Father weans his child, is the idol self! Of all idols, this he finds the hardest to abandon! When man in paradise aspired to be as God--God was dethroned from his soul, and the creature became as a deity to itself. From that moment, the idolatry of self has been the great and universal crime of our race!
In the soul of the regenerate, divine grace has done much to dethrone this idol--and to reinstate God. The work, however, is but partially accomplished. The dishonored and rejected rival is reluctant to relinquish his throne, and yield to the supreme control and sway of another. There is much yet to be achieved before this still indwelling and unconquered foe lays down his weapons in entire subjection to the will and the authority of that Savior whose throne and rights he has usurped. Thus, much still lingers in the heart which the Spirit has renewed and inhabits, of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-seeking, and self-love.
From all this, our Father seeks to wean us!
From our own wisdom, which is but folly;
from our own strength, which is but weakness;
from our own wills, which are often as an uncurbed steed;
from our own ways, which are crooked;
from our own hearts, which are deceitful;
from our own judgments, which are dark;
from our own ends, which are narrow and selfish
--he would wean and detach us, that our souls may get more and more back to their original center of repose--God himself!
In view of this mournful exhibition of fallen and corrupt self — how necessary is the discipline of our heavenly Father that extorts from us the Psalmist's language: "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Self did seem to be our mother — the fruitful parent of so much in our plans and aims and spirit that was dishonoring to our God. From SELF, God would gently and tenderly, but effectually, wean us — that we may learn . . .
to rely upon his wisdom,
to repose in his strength,
to consult his honor, and
to seek his glory and smile, supremely and alone.
And O how effectually is this blessed state attained when God, by setting us aside in the season of solitude and sorrow, teaches us that he can do without us. We, perhaps, thought that our rank, or our talents, or our influence, or our very presence — were essential to the advancement of his cause, and that some parts of it could not proceed without us! The Lord knew otherwise. And so he laid his hand upon us, and withdrew us from the scene of our labors, and duties, and engagements, and ambition — that he might hide pride from our hearts — the pride of self-importance.
And O, is it no mighty attainment in the Christian life to be thus weaned from ourselves? Beloved, it forms the root of all other blessings! The moment we learn to cease from ourselves — from our own wisdom, and power, and importance — the Lord appears and takes us up. Then . . .
his wisdom is displayed,
and his power is put forth,
and his glory is developed,
and his great name gets to itself all the praise.
It was not until God had placed Moses in the cleft of the rock, that his glory passed by. Moses must be hidden — that God might be all.
Our heavenly Father would also wean us from this poor, perishing WORLD — which is a great snare to the child of God. It is true that Christ has taken him out of, and separated him from, the world; assailed by all its evils, and exposed to all its corrupting influences. The intercessory prayer of our Lord seems to imply this: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil."
And O what an evil does the Christian find this world to be! In consequence of the earthward tendency of his affections, and the deep carnality with which the mind is imbued — things which God designed as blessings to soothe and soften and cheer — become, by their absorbing and idolatrous influence, powerful snares! Rank is a snare, wealth is a snare, talent is a snare, friendship is a snare.
Rank may foster pride and ambition;
wealth may increase the thirst for worldly show;
talent may inspire a love of human applause;
and friendship may wean the heart from Christ, and betray us into a base and unholy compromise of Christian profession.
Now from this endangering world, our heavenly Father would shield, by withdrawing us.
It is not our rest — and he agitates it;
it is not our portion — and he embitters it;
it is not our friend — and he sometimes arms it with a sword!
The world changes, it disappoints, it wounds us! And then, thankful to expand our wings, we take another and a bolder flight above it.
Ah! beloved, how truly may the Lord be now sickening your heart to the world, to which that heart has too long and too closely clung! It has been your peculiar snare; your Father saw it, and wisely and graciously laid his loving, gentle hand upon you, and led you away from it — that from a bed of sickness, or from a chamber of grief, or from some position of painful vicissitude — you might see its sinfulness, learn its hollowness, and return as a wanderer to your Father's bosom, exclaiming with David, "My soul is even as a weaned child!"
This weanedness of which we speak, often involves the surrender of some endeared object of creature affection. The human heart is naturally idolatrous. Its affections, as we have previously remarked, once supremely centered in God. But now, disjoined from him, they go in quest of other objects of attachment — and we love and worship the creature rather than the Creator. The circle which our affections traverse may not indeed be a large one; there are perchance but few to whom we fully surrender our heart. So circumscribed may the circle be, that one object alone may attract, absorb, and concentrate in itself, our entire and undivided love — that one object to us is as our universe — and all others are comparatively indifferent and insipid.
Who cannot see that in a case like this, the danger is imminent of transforming the heart — Christ's own sanctuary — into an idol's temple, where the creature is loved and reverenced and served more than he who gave it! But from all idolatry, our God will cleanse us; and from all our idols, Christ will wean us.
The Lord is jealous, with a holy jealousy, of our love. As poor as our affection is — he asks its supreme surrender. That he requires our love at the expense of all creature attachment, the Bible nowhere intimates. He created our affections, and he it is who provides for their proper and pleasant indulgence. There is not a single precept or command in the Scriptures which forbids their exercise, or which discourages their intensity.
Husbands are exhorted to "love their wives, even as Christ loved his church." Parents are to cherish a like affection towards their children, and children are bound to render back a filial love not less intense to their parents. And we are to "love our neighbors as ourselves." Nor does the Word of God furnish examples of Christian friendship less interested and devoted. One of the choicest and tenderest blessings with which God can enrich us, next to himself, is such a friend as Paul had in Epaphroditus, a "brother and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier;" and such an affectionate friendship as John, the loving disciple, cherished for his well beloved Gaius, whom he loved in the truth, and to whom, in the season of his sickness, he thus touchingly poured out his heart's affectionate sympathy: "Beloved I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers."
Count such a friend, and such friendship among God's sweetest and holiest bestowments. The blessings of which it may be to you the sanctifying channel, are immense. The tender sympathy — the jealous watchfulness — the confidential repose — the faithful admonition — above all, the intercessory prayer, connected with Christian friendship — may be placed in the inventory of our most inestimable and precious blessings.
It is not therefore the use, but the abuse, of our affections — not their legitimate exercise, but their idolatrous tendency — over which we have need to exercise the greatest vigilance. It is not our love to the creature against which God contends — but it is in not allowing our love to Himself to subordinate all other love. We may love the creature, but we may not love the creature more than the Creator. When the Giver is lost sight of and forgotten in the gift — then comes the painful process of weaning!
When the heart burns its incense before some human shrine, and the cloud as it ascends, veils from the eye the beauty and the excellence of Jesus — then comes the painful process of weaning! When the absorbing claims and the engrossing attentions of some loved one are placed in competition and are allowed to clash with the claims of God, and the attentions due from us personally to his cause and truth — then comes the painful process of weaning! When creature devotion . . .
deadens our heart to the Lord,
lessens our interest in his cause,
congeals our zeal and love and liberality,
detaches us from the public means of grace,
withdraws from the closet, and from the Bible, and from the communion of the saints — thus inducing leanness of soul, and robbing God of his glory — then comes the painful process of weaning! Christ will be the first in our affections — God will be supreme in our service — and his kingdom and righteousness must take precedence of all other things.
In this light, beloved, read the present mournful page in your history.
The noble oak that stood so firm and stately at your side, is smitten;
the tender and beautiful vine that wound itself around you, is fallen;
the lowly and delicate flower that lay upon your bosom, is withered;
the olive branches that clustered around your table, are removed;
and the "strong staff is broken and the beautiful rod"
— not because your God did not love you, but because he desired your heart. He saw that heart ensnared and enslaved by a too fond and idolatrous affection — he saw his beauty eclipsed and himself rivaled by a faint and imperfect copy of his own image — and he breathed upon it, and it withered away!
"The day of the Lord Almighty shall be upon all . . . pleasant pictures." When an eminent artist, who had concentrated all the powers of his genius upon a painting of our Lord celebrating the last supper, observed that the holy vessels arranged in the foreground were admired to the exclusion of the chief object of the picture — he seized his brush and dashed them from the canvas, and left the image of Jesus standing in its own solitary and unrivaled beauty.
Thus our God oftentimes deals with us. O solemn words! "The day of the Lord Almighty shall be upon all . . . . Pleasant Pictures" — all pictures that veil and eclipse the beauties of him who is the "brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person" — God will obliterate.
Filial submission to God's will, is, perhaps, one of the most essential features in this holy state of weanedness of which we speak. "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." There are some beautiful examples of this in God's Word.
"And Aaron held his peace." Since God was "sanctified and glorified," as terrible as was the judgment, the holy priest mourned not at the way, nor complained of its severity, patient and resigned to the will of God. He "stilled and quieted his soul; like a weaned child with its mother." Thus, too, was it with Eli, when passing under the heavy hand of God: "It is the Lord — let him do what seems him good unto him." He bowed in deep submission to the will of his God. Job could exclaim, as the last sad tidings brimmed his cup of woe, "The Lord gave — and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And David was "silent and opened not his mouth, because God is the one who had done it."
But how do all these instances of filial and holy submission to the Divine will — beautiful and touching as they are — fade before the illustrious example of our adorable and blessed Lord: "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it — may your will be done." Ah! how did Jesus, in the deepest depth of his unutterable sorrow, "still and quiet his soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Such, beloved, be the posture of your soul at this moment. "Be still." Rest in your Father's hands, calm and tranquil, quiet and submissive, weaned from all but himself. O the blessedness of so reposing!
"Sweet to lie passive in his hands,
And know no will but his."
"God is love!" It is written upon your dark cloud — it breathes from the lips of your bleeding wound — it is reflected in every fragment of your ruined treasure — it is pencilled upon every leaf of your blighted flower — "God is Love."
Adversity may have impoverished you;
bereavement may have saddened you;
calamity may have crushed you;
sickness may have laid you low
— but, "God is Love!"
Gently falls the rod in its heaviest stroke;
tenderly pierces the sword in its deepest thrust;
smilingly bends the cloud in its darkest hues
— for, "God is Love!"
Does the infant, weaned from its accustomed and pleasant fount, cease from its restlessness and sorrow while reposing calmly and meekly upon its mother's arms? Just so, let your soul calmly, submissively rest in God. How sweet the music which then will breathe from your lips in the midnight of grief: "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me."
And who can bring you into this holy position? The Holy Spirit alone can! It is his office . . .
to lead you to Jesus;
to reveal to you Jesus;
to exhibit to your eye the cross of Jesus;
to pour into your heart the grace and love and sympathy of Jesus;
to bend your will and bow your heart to the government of Jesus
— and thus make you as a weaned child. The work infinitely transcends a merely human power. It is the office and the prerogative of the Divine Spirit — the "Spirit of holiness" — who only can sever between flesh and spirit, to bring you into the condition of one whose will in all things is completely merged in God's.
And what is his grand instrument of effecting this? The cross of Christ! Ah! this is it. The Cross of Christ! Not . . .
the cross pictured;
the cross engraved;
the cross carved;
the cross embroidered;
the cross embossed upon the prayer-book, pendant from the maiden's neck;
the cross glittering on the cathedral's spire, and springing from its altar. Not the cross as blended with a religion of Gothic architecture, and painted windows, and flaming candles, and waving incense, and gorgeous pictures, and melting music, and fluttering surplices! O no! but the cross — the naked, rugged cross — which Calvary reared, which Paul preached, and of which he wrote, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
Faith, picturing to its view this cross — the Holy Spirit engraving it on the heart in spiritual regeneration — the whole soul receiving him whom it lifts up, as its "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" — gently and effectually transforms the spirit which was chafened and restless, into the "meekness and gentleness of Christ."
O what calmness steals over his ruffled soul! O what peace flows into his troubled heart! O what sunshine bathes in its bright beams — his dark spirit, who from the scenes of his conflict and his sorrow — flees beneath the shadow and the shelter of the cross. The storm ceases — the deluge of his grief subsides. The Spirit, dove-like — brings the message of hope and love; the soul, tempest-tossed — rests on the green mount, and one unbounded spring clothes and encircles the landscape with its verdure and its beauty.
Child of God, chastened by the Father's love — look to the cross of your crucified Savior — and fix upon it your believing, ardent, adoring gaze!
What is your sorrow as compared with Christ's? What is your grief as gauged by the Lord's? Your Master has passed before you, flinging the curse and the sin from your path, paving it with promises, carpeting it with love, and fencing it around with the hedge of his divine perfections. Press onward, then, resisting your foe resolutely, bearing your cross patiently, drinking your cup submissively, and learning, while sitting at the Savior's feet, or leaning upon his bosom — to be like him, "meek and lowly in heart." Then, indeed, shall "I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
"Quiet, Lord, my froward heart,
Make me teachable and mild,
Upright, simple, free from art;
Make me as a weaned child.
From distrust and envy free,
Pleased with all that pleases Thee.
What You shall today provide,
Let me as a child receive;
What tomorrow may betide,
Calmly to Your wisdom leave.
'Tis enough that You will care,
Why should I the burden bear?
As a little child relies
On a care beyond its own;
Knows he’s neither strong nor wise—
Fears to stir a step alone—
Let me thus with You abide,
As my Father, Guard, and Guide.
Thus preserved from Satan’s wiles,
Safe from dangers, free from fears,
May I live upon your smiles
Until the promised hour appears;
When the sons of God shall prove
All their Father’s boundless love!"
"Glory in Affliction"
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
You, from hence, my all shall be!
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought, or hoped, or known--
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and Heaven are still my own.
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
You are not, like them, untrue.
And while you shall smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate, and friends may scorn me,
Show your face--and all is bright.
Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn, and pain,
In your service pain is pleasure,
With your favor loss is gain!
I have called you, Abba, Father,
I have set my heart on thee,
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather,
All must work for good to me.
Man may trouble and distress me,
'Twill but drive me to your breast,
Life with trials hard may press me,
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest:
Oh! 'tis not in grief to harm me.
While your love is left to me.
Oh! 'twere not in joy to charm me.
Were that joy unmixed with thee.
Soul, then know your full salvation,
Rise o'er sin, and fear, and care,
Joy to find in every station.
Something still to do and bear.
Think what spirit dwells within you;
Think what Father's smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to save you,
Child of Heaven, can you repine?
Haste you on from grace to glory.
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer,
Heaven's eternal days before you;
God's own hand shall guide you there.
Soon shall close your earthly mission,
Soon shall pass your pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise!