The Weaned Child by Charles H. Spurgeon
“My soul is even as a weaned child.” — Psalm 131:2
I WAS once conversing with a very excellent aged minister, and while we were talking about our frames and feelings, he made the following confession: he said, “ When I read that passage in the psalm, ‘My soul is even as a weaned child,’ I wish it were true of me, but I think I should have to make an alteration of one syllable, and then it would exactly describe me at times; * My soul is even as a weaning rather than a weaned child ,’ for,” said he, “ with the infirmities of old age, I fear I get fretful and peevish, and anxious, and when the day is over I do not feel that I have been in so calm, resigned, and trustful a frame of mind as I could desire.”
I suppose, dear brethren, that frequently we have to make the same confession. We wish we were like a weaned child, but we find ourselves neglecting to walk by faith, and getting into the way of walking by the sight of our eyes, and then we get like the weaning child which is fretting and worrying, and unrestful, and who causes trouble to those round about it, and most of all, trouble to itself.
If, indeed, Dr. Watts be correct in saying that when we get to heaven we shall “recount the labours of our feet,” then, I am quite sure that we shall only do it, as he says, “with transporting joy.” There, at least, we shall each one be as a weaned child.
It is a very happy condition of heart which is here indicated, and I shall speak about it with a desire to promote the increase of such a state of heart among believers, with the hope that many of us may reach it, and that all of us who have reached it may continue to say still, “My soul is even as a weaned child.”
I. First, let us think WHAT THE PSALMIST INTENDED BY THIS DESCRIPTION;
and we will begin by noticing the context, in order to understand him, and then we will consider the metaphor in order still further to see what he literally meant.
First, look at the context; and you will see that he intended that pride had been subdued in him, and driven out of him, for he commences the psalm with this, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty.” We are all proud by nature, though there is not one among us that has anything to be proud of.
They cannot be trusted with a little money but straightway they hold their heads so high that one might think the stars in danger. They cannot be trusted with a little talent but straightway their genius is omnipotent in their own opinion, and they themselves are to be treated like demi-gods. And if they are God’s servants, they cannot have a little success in the ministry or in the Sunday-school without becoming quite unpleasant to those round about them, through their boastful ways and eagerness to talk of self.
Scarcely can they have enjoyment, even of the presence of God, but what they begin to make an idol of their attainments and graces, and begin to say, “My mountain, my mountain, standeth firm. I, I shall never be moved.” Great I grows without any watering, for the soil of nature is muddy, and the rush of pride takes to it mightily. You need never be troubled about a man’s keeping up his opinion of himself, he will be pretty sure to do that, the force of nature usually runs in the direction of self-conceit.
This pride very often leads to haughtiness, domineering ways towards others, and contempt of them, as if they were not as good as we are; and if we see any errors and mistakes in them we conclude that they are very foolish, and that we should act much better if we were in their position.
If they act nobly and well, this same pride of ours leads us to pick holes in them, and to detract from their excellence; and if we cannot get up as high as they are, we try to pull them down to our own level. This is a base thing to do, but the proud man is always mean, loftiness of looks and meanness of heart run in a leash like a couple of hounds.
David could say, “My heart is not haughty.” His brother, Eliab, said that he was proud when he went down to carry his father’s present to his soldier brothers, but it was not so.
His heart was content to be with the sheep: he was quite willing to follow the “ewes great with young.” When he was in Saul’s court they thought him ambitious, but he was not so, he was quite satisfied to be a servant there, to fight the battles of Israel.
The place of captain over a wandering band was forced upon him, he would sooner have dwelt at home. And when he was king he did not exalt himself. Absalom when he was aspiring to the kingdom was a far greater man to look at than his father David, for David walked in lowliness of spirit before the Lord. Whatever faults he had, he certainly had not the fault of vanity, or of being intoxicated in spirit with what God had done for him.
After all, brethren, we are nobodies, and we have come of a line of nobodies. The proudest peer of the realm may trace his pedigree as far as ever he likes, but he ought to remember that if his blood is blue, it must be very unhealthy to have such blood in one’s veins. The common ruddy blood of the peasant is, after all, far healthier. Big as men may account themselves to be on account of their ancestors, we all trace our line up to a gardener, who lost his place through stealing his Master’s fruit, and that is the farthest we can possibly go.
Adam covers us all with disgrace, and under that disgrace we should all sit humbly down. Look into your own heart, and if you dare to be proud, you have never seen your heart at all. It is a mass of pollution: it is a den of filthiness.
Apart from divine grace, your heart is a seething mass of putrefaction, and if God’s eternal Spirit were not to hold it in check, but to let your nature have its way, envyings, tastings, murders, and every foul thing would come flying forth in your daily life. A sinner and yet proud! It is monstrous.
As for children of God, how can they be proud? I fear we are all too much so; but what have we to be proud of? What have we that we have not received? How then can we boast? Are we dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness? We did not put a thread into it; it was all given us by the charity of Jesus. Are our garments white? We have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. Are we new creatures? We have been created anew by omnipotent power, or we should still be as we were. Are we holding on our way?
Oh, that God would give us to be as David was — not haughty, neither our eyes lofty.
This is the first help towards being as a weaned child.
And next he tells us ‘ that he was not ambitious, — “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters.”
He was a shepherd; he did not want to go and fight Goliath, and when he did do it, it was because his nation needed him. He said, “Is there not a cause?” Else he had kept in the background still. When he went into the hold in the cave of Adullam, he never lifted a hand to become king. He might have smitten his enemy several times, and with one stroke have ended the warfare and seized the throne, but he would not lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed, for, like a weaned child, he was not ambitious. He was willing to go where God would put him, but he was not seeking after great things.
Now, dear brethren, we shall never be as a weaned child if we have got high notions of what we ought to be, and large desires for self. If we are great men in our own esteem, of course we ought to have great things for ourselves; but if we know ourselves, and are brought into a true condition of mind, we shall avoid those “vaulting ambitions which o’erleap themselves.”
For instance, we shall not be hankering after great possessions. “Having food and raiment” we shall be “therewith content.” If God adds to our store of the comforts of life, we shall be grateful. We shall be diligent in business, but we shall not be greedy and miserly. “While others stretch their arms, like seas, to grasp in all the shore,” we shall be content with far less things, for we know that greed after earthly riches brings with it slackness of desire as to true riches.
The more hungry a man is after this world, the less he pines after the treasures of the world to come. We shall not be covetous, if we are like a weaned child neither shall we sigh for position and influence; whoever heard of a weaned child doing that? Let it lie in its parent’s bosom and it is content, and so shall we be in the bosom of our God. Yet some Christian men seem as if they could not pull unless they are the fore horses of the team.
They cannot work with others, but must have the chief place, contrary to the word of the apostle who says, “My brethren, be ye not many masters, lest ye receive the greater condemnation.”
You remember the word of Jeremiah to Baruch. Baruch had been writing the roll for the prophet, and straightway Baruch thought he was somebody. He had been writing the word of the Lord, had he not? But he prophet said to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” And so saith the mind of the Spirit to us all. Do not desire to occupy positions of eminence and prominence, but let your soul be as a weaned child — not exercising itself in great matters.
Very often we seek after great approbation. We want to do great deeds that people will talk about, and especially some famous work which everybody will admire. This is human nature, for the love of approbation is rooted in us. As the old rhyme puts it —
“The proud to gain it, toils on toils endure;
The modest shun it but to make it sure.”
But that man has arrived at the right position who has become “careless, himself a dying man, of dying man’s esteem,” who judges what is right before God, and does it caring neither for public nor private opinion in the matter, to whom it is no more concern what people may say of an action which his conscience commends than what tune the north wind whistles as it blows over the Alps.
Frequently, too, we exercise ourselves in great matters by having a high ambition to do something very wonderful in the church. This is why so very little is done. The great destroyer of good works is the ambition to do great works.
A little thing can be done by a Christian brother well; but if it strikes him, “I will have a society to do it, and a committee, and a secretary, and a president, and a vice-president,” (it being well known that nothing can be done till you get a committee, and a president, and all that kind of thing), the brother soon hampers himself, and his work ends in resolutions and reports, and nothing more.
But the brother who says “Here is a district which nobody visits; I will do what I can in it” — he is probably the man who will get another to help him, and another, and the work will be done The young man who is quite content to begin with preaching in a little room in a village to a dozen is the man who will win souls. The other brother, who does not mean preaching till he can preach to five thousand, never will do anything, he never can.
I read of a king who always wanted to take the second step first, but he was not a Solomon; there are many such about, not kings but common people, who do not’ want to do the first thing, the thing they can do, the thing which God calls them to do, the thing they ought to do, but they must do something great.
Oh, dear brother, if your soul ever gets to be as it ought, you will feel, “The least thing that I can do, I shall be glad to do. The very poorest and meanest form of Christian service, as men think it, is better than I deserve.” It is a great honour to be allowed to unloose the latchets of my Lord’s shoes. A young man who had a small charge once, and only about two hundred hearers, complained to an old minister that he wished he could move somewhere else; but the old one said, “Do not be in a hurry, brother. The responsibility of two hundred souls is quite heavy a load enough for most of us to carry.”
Next, David tells us he was not intrusive, — “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” I have seen many men always vexed and troubled because they would exercise themselves in things too high for them. These things too high for them have been many; I will mention only a few. They have expected to comprehend everything, and have never been satisfied because many truths are far above and out of their reach: especially they have expected to know all the deep things of God — the doctrine of election, and how predestination coincides with the free agency of man, and how God orders everything, and yet man is responsible — just as responsible as if there had been no foreknowledge and no foreordination.
It is folly to hope to know these “things too high for us.” Here is a little child that has just come off its mother’s knee and it expects to understand a book on trigonometry, and cries because it cannot; and here is another little child that has been down to the sea, and it is fretting and kicking in its nurse’s arms because it cannot get the Atlantic into the hollow of its hand. Well, it will have to kick, that will be the end of it; but it is fretting itself for nothing, without any real use or need for its crying, because a little child’s palm cannot hold an ocean. Yet a child might sooner hold the Atlantic and Pacific in its two hands, without spilling a drop, than you and I will ever be able to hold all revealed truth within the compass of our narrow minds.
We cannot know everything, and we cannot understand even half what we know. I have given up wanting to understand. As far as I can, I am content with believing all that I see in God’s word. People say, “But he contradicts himself.” I dare say I do, but I never contradict God to my knowledge, nor yet the Bible. If I do, may my Lord forgive me. Do not believe me for a minute if I speak contrary to God’s word, in order to appear consistent. The sin of being inconsistent with my poor fallible self does not trouble me a tithe as much as the dread of being inconsistent with what I find in God’s word. Some want to shape the Scriptures to their creed, and they get a very nice square creed too, and trim the Bible most dexterously: it is wonderful how they do it, but I would rather have a crooked creed and a straight Bible than I would try to twist the Bible round to suit what I believe.
“Neither do I exercise myself,” says the psalmist, “with things too high for me,” and I think we do well to keep very much in that line. “Oh, but really one ought to be acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt.” Yes, and how many hours in a day ought a man to give to that kind of thing? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient, for the phases of modern thought are innumerable, and every fool who sets up for a philosopher sets up a new scheme; and I am to spend my time in going about to knock his card-houses over. Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.
We shall soon defile ourselves if we work day after day in the common sewers of scepticism. Brethren, there is a certain highway of truth in which you and I, like wayfaring men, feel ourselves safe, let us travel thereon. There are some things that we do know, because we have experienced them, — some doctrines which nobody can beat out of us, because we have tasted them and handled them. Well, if we can go further, well and good; but to my mind, we are foolish to go further and fare worse. If a man has reached the Land’s End, and some great genius should tell him to walk on farther than Old England reaches and ridicule him because he will not go a step in advance into the fog which conceals an awful plunge, I think, upon the whole, he may be content to put up with the ridicule. Put your foot down, brother, and see whether there is anything under it— whether there is a good text or two underneath— whether there is a little personal experience underneath, and, if you do not find it, let the advanced thinkers go alone; you had better keep on the rock. “Prove all things” — do not run after their novelties till you have proved them; and what you have proved hold fast. Be conservative in God’s truth, and radical too, by keeping to the root of the matter. Hold fast what you know, and live mainly upon the simplicities of the gospel, for, after all, the food of the soul does not lie in controversial points: it lies in points which we will never have controverted, for “without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” There is the food of the soul where there is no controversy in any devout Christian spirit. Exercise yourself, then, in the plainer matters, and do not imbibe the notion that you must read all the quarterlies, and master “The Contemporary Review,” and the like, or else you will be a nobody; be content to be just such a nobody as a weaned child is, and say, “I exercise not myself in great matters or in things too high for me.”
We exercise ourselves in things too high for us, too, when we begin considering the results of duty and hesitate to do it. A man’s course is quite clear in the word of God, but he says, “If I do that, how am I to provide for my family? If I do that, shall I not be throwing up a sphere of usefulness? I know it would be right to do it; my conscience tells me that I ought; but other people manage somehow to make notches in their conscience, and they are evidently very useful where they are.”
Ah, my dear brother, pray God to lead you in a plain path, and remember, you have nothing to do with results, except to receive them as tests of your faithfulness. Results must always be left with God; for if the result of doing right would be that you lost your life, your Master tells you that you must hate even your own life also, or else you cannot be his disciple.
You will get helped if you can trust, but if for the sake of this or that you do wrong, — I do not mind how you put it, — you are doing evil that good may come, and you are grieving the Spirit of God. Your mind will never get to be like a weaned child. It is not the child-like spirit to try to excuse yourself for maintaining a false position. The child-like spirit is to do what our heavenly Father tells us, because he tells us, and leave the consequences with him.
Thus I have said enough, perhaps too much, about the connection.
Now, from the simile itself we gather that the condition of heart of which David spoke was this— that he was like one who was able to give up his natural food, which seemed to him absolutely necessary, and which he greatly enjoyed. The weaned babe has given up what it loved.
By nature we hang on the breasts of this world, and only sovereign grace can wean us therefrom, but when we give up self-righteousness, self-confidence, the love of the world, the desire of self-aggrandisement, when we give up trusting in man, trusting in ceremonies, trusting in anything but God, then has our soul become like a weaned child. It has given up what nature feeds upon, that it may feed upon the bread of heaven.
Now, a weaned child is dependent upon its mother entirely. It knows nothing about how it is to be fed. It could not feed itself, and it must die if deprived of the care of another; but it rests quietly, free from even a trace of anxiety.
I find that the Hebrew gives the idea of a child lying in its mother’s bosom, perfectly satisfied; and David puts it something like this, O my Lord, “my soul lies in thy bosom like a child that has done crying and fretting, and is weaned altogether.” Oh, happy man who so depends upon God that he leaves all his concerns with the God of love, and sings sweetly in confidence in God.
Thus I have tried to describe the state which the psalmist intended by being “as a weaned child.”
II. And now, secondly, WHAT IS THE EXCELLENCE OF THIS CONDITION?
Why is it desirable to be even as a weaned child? It is excellent every way. You will know it best by attaining to it, for when you are weaned your desires will no longer worry you.
The strife is over; your soul is quieted, and behaves itself becomingly. Now, also, your resentments against those who injured you are gone; you were angry with a certain person, but your pettishness has ended with your weaning: you see that God sent him to do this which has troubled you, and you accept his hard words and cruel actions as from God, and you are angry no more.
You do not kick and struggle now against your condition and position, and you no longer murmur and complain from day to day as if you were hardly dealt with. No, if God chooses to better your circumstances you will be glad; if he does not, you just take it as you find it, for you could not blame his providence. You give your thoughts •to something better than the things of earth, for you now resolve as David did in the One Hundred and Thirty-second Psalm, which is very remarkable as following the psalm which contains our text, because there he goes on to declare that he will build for the Lord of hosts.
When your own business is all right, and you are weaned from all fretting, worrying, and self-seeking, then you are free to undertake the Lord’s business. He has done for you what you want, and now you want to do something for him. You have sought the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things have been added to you, so that you are as happy as the days are long in June. Look at the birds in the winter. When there is not a leaf on the boughs they sit and sing; and in the early spring, when still the winter’s cold is lingering, they pour out their very choicest songs; and yet there is not a lark or thrush among them that has an hour’s provision in store. Not one among them has house or barn, or gathers ought, and yet, according to Martin Luther’s interpretation of their song, they sing,
“Mortal, cease from toil and sorrow,
God provideth for the morrow.”
Happy is the man who comes to that condition! God bring us there.
III. I have very much to say on this point, but my time is gone. I will only close with the last enquiry, which is this: Is THIS STATE ATTAINABLE?
Certainly. David said, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” He did not say that he hoped it would be so. We can surely get where David got, for he was a man of like passions with ourselves. No attainment in grace is to be viewed as the monopoly of one man or one age; in fact, we have more advantages than the psalmist, for he lived under a much more poverty-stricken dispensation than we do.
The poor have often attained it. I saw this week a poor woman, entirely dependent upon what was given to her by others, confined to her chamber, needing to be lifted from her bed, racked with rheumatic pain, and yet as happy as an angel. She was joying and rejoicing in the Lord, and one of her greatest pleasures was to sit on the side of the bed for an hour, when her pain was not so bad but what she could sit up, and get through a chapter or two; and then her heart took to itself wings, and soared up to heaven. Her soul was as a weaned child, she had no anxieties and no fretfulness. Those who attended her said that such a thing as a murmur never escaped her.
Hear this, ye poor ones! Well, and you who are better off may get there in the midst of riches, for David was a king, and yet he did not suffer his worldly wealth to canker his spirit. He was as a weaned child, though dwelling in a palace. He could get at the breast of worldly pleasures, and yet he was weaned from it. A man may be in this condition when he is tossed to and fro, and troubled. Business men are apt to say, “It is all very well for you ministers to talk about calm and peace of mind; but if you had to sell flour and bread, or measure out drapery, or look after a lot of clerks, or go into a large factory and see after a pack of work-girls, you would find it very difficult.”
My dear friends, look at David’s life. How tossed about he was! What cares, what trials, what changes, what singular alternations of condition, and yet for all that his soul was even as a weaned child. Do you think the religion of Jesus Christ was meant to be kept under a glass case, and that it would make good people of us if we were locked up in a cloister? No, it is a practical everyday religion, meant for you that have factories, and you that have bakeries, and you that have shops; the religion which cannot stand the wear and tear of everyday life is not worth twopence, and the sooner you are rid of such rubbish the better.
We want a religion which we may take with us wherever we go, that will keep us calm and quiet and self-possessed, because we are possessed of the Spirit of God. May we reach this happy state and never leave it.
What is the way to get it? The psalm tells us, “Let Israel hope in the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.”
Faith blossoming into hope is the way of sanctification, the road to a calm and quiet spirit.
You cannot say to yourself, “I will fret no longer,” and then expect never to fret. No, brother, you must expel one affection by another: one propensity must be vanquished by another. You are too ready to trust in man: trust in God will push out carnal confidence. You are expecting great things of the world, that is foolish: expect great things of God, and you will cease from carnal hopes. You are seeking from day to day for this world’s good, you feel an ambition to rise: seek after the eternal good, and feel an ambition to get nearer to God, and the other ambition will die. You are worried by fears and anxieties: come and rest your soul upon the faithful promise, and, resting there, your anxieties will cease.
I fear that many Christian people think that faith has nothing to do with every-day life; they do not expect to find that it relieves them of anxieties as to bread and cheese for themselves, and shoes and socks for the children, and all those little troubles and worries which concern a housewife and a father. But, oh, beloved, it is not so. The heathen had their household gods, and blessed be God he is our household God, the God of all the families of Israel. The Lord hears the young ravens when they cry, will he not hear his people? The ravens only cry for meat, a dead rabbit or a pigeon is all they want, yet the Lord sees that their wants are supplied, and I find that “not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” These poor hairs? These little things! These trifling things!
The greatest philosopher in the world, or the greatest king, if his little child had a thorn in his finger, would not think himself disgraced if he stooped to take it out with a needle; and the Lord who maketh all things, and calleth the stars by their names, does not dishonour himself when he binds up our broken hearts. Go, then, to your God, and let your soul leave everything with him, by faith being made as a weaned child.
“Easier said than done,” says somebody. Yes, brethren, except by faith, but to faith it is easy enough; and I boldly say here, I have sometimes found it easier to exercise faith than to talk about it. When I trust God — and I hope I do that habitually — I do not find that to give up anxiety and to trust in God is difficult now, though it used to be. Blessed be my Lord, I cannot help believing him, for he loads me down with evidences of his truth and fidelity. Once get really into the swim of faith and you do not need to struggle, the sacred current of grace will carry you along. Give yourself completely up to the Lord Jesus Christ and the mighty energy of the blessed Spirit, and you will find it sweet to lie passive in his hand, and know no will but his. God bring you there!