I want you to turn in your Bibles with me to the 84th Psalm that we were studying in the last three weeks. When seeking the Lord over what to bring to you today I felt led to come back to this Psalm, because there's a little phrase within it that I sought to deal with in the three studies over the last couple of weeks but have been unable to do it through lack of time and also it didn't really fit in, in a sense, with the theme that I was taking. I want to home in on it today and bring a few other Scriptures, some from the Old and some from the New Testament, to outline for you what I've called 'Making A Nest For Our Young' - making a nest for our young.
There's only one verse that I want to read from Psalm 84, it's verse 3: "Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God". Then, if you would turn with me to 2 Kings, the book of 2 Kings chapter 4. Keep your finger in Psalm 84, 2 Kings chapter 4, and if you've got a number of bookmarkers please do mark all these references because we will be taking time looking at all of them. Second Kings chapter 4, beginning to read at verse 29.
If you don't know the background of the story, let me just say that Elisha the prophet was walking the same road everyday as he went about his ministry. There was a woman that lived along the road, and she took pity on this man, in fact she perceived that he was a godly man even to look on him - oh, that men and women would see God in us, and see that we are godly men and women! She saw that there was something different about this man, and therefore she decided to invite him into her home. She set up in a little room various things: a bed, table, a footstool, and a candlestick; so that he might go into that room on his travels, be before God and pray, and even rest if need be. Because of her goodness to the prophet Elisha, Elisha turned to this woman one day and said to her: 'What can I do for you? Can I make you known before the King?'. She said: 'No, I'm quite happy among my own people'. Gehazi, the helper of the prophet Elisha, said to Elisha: 'This woman has no children, and her husband's very old, and I'm sure that she would love a child'. So Elisha went to God for this woman for a child, and then Elisha went to the woman and told her that about this season next year she would bear a child.
She did bear a child, she loved that child - as you would imagine - as her only child. One day that child was out in the field with its father, and it just cried out as it was helping its father: 'Oh, my head! My head!', and he fell to the ground. His father got his servants to rush the child home, and then the woman, the Shunammite woman, got some of her servants to go on horseback and fetch the man of God, Elisha, and bring him back to help her at the death of her only son.
We enter into the story at verse 29: "Then [Elisha] said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out".
Mark that passage and then turn with me, finally, to 2 Timothy - 2 Timothy chapter 1. Paul is writing to his child in the faith, Timothy, and in verse 3 he says of chapter 1: "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also". One more verse, chapter 3 and verse 15, verse 14: "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus".
Timothy, who we've just been reading about, we know a little bit about him from the Acts of the Apostles and from Paul's various epistles throughout the New Testament. He's called Timothy, and on occasions Timotheus, we know that he came from the city of Lystra, we know that his father was a Greek, and his mother and his grandmother were both Jewesses. We believe - scholars at least suppose - that Timothy was converted, probably on the first missionary journey of Paul the apostle to Lystra. We believe that because the whole of the New Testament teaches that we must be born again, and there had to be a point within Timothy's life when he realised his sin, he realised that Christ was the only sin-bearer and sacrifice for sin, and he came in repentance and simple faith to salvation through the Saviour.
Then we find, on Paul's second missionary journey to Lystra, Timothy was then called to be a companion with Paul. That's why we read so much of him in the Acts of the Apostles, and through the epistles, as being Paul's great companion in his missionary journeys. So obviously there was a conversion experience in Timothy's life, and there needs to be that conversion experience in all of our lives, and it is a momentary experience. It is in a split second, when the scales come from off our eyes, we see ourselves as God sees us; we see God's Son with our sin on Him, and we are filled with remorse and guilt for our sin, we are filled with adoration and love for the Saviour that is bearing our sin. We fall humbly before the cross and receive that salvation that He offers us only there. I hope you believe that today, I hope you've entered into the good of that salvation at some specific time in your life - you don't have to remember the date, you don't have to remember the time, it's good if you do; but there is a time, there is a place, there is the conversion experience, the new birth from above. If you want to get to heaven, if you want to be saved from all your sins and be right with God, you've got to have that experience.
But although conversion is a momentary experience, there is a great deal of preparation that goes before us, before we are converted. We would have to say that the Holy Spirit is tracking our path, He's making a way for us, He brings us through many circumstances that hone us and make us ready for that moment when God speaks with that effectual voice into our hearts. No preparation could be greater in the case of this man Timothy than the upbringing and the childhood that he experienced in his home. We read from chapter 3 of the book of 2 Timothy and verse 15, that from a child he knew the holy scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation through faith which was in Jesus Christ. In Psalm 84 and in verse 3 we would have to say that, in the spirit of the Psalmist, that Timothy's parent's forefathers made a nest for him in the house of God, made a home for him in the things of God, 'even in Thine altars, O Lord of hosts'.
The Psalmist speaks with great envy as he is cut off from the people of God for some unknown reason. We learnt how he is away from the tabernacle of God, the temple where the people of God are worshipping and enjoying the presence of God, and he's homesick for that presence. His heart is yearning out; and he sees the little sparrow, he sees the swallow, and he envies them because in one split second they could fly away and be with the people of God, and the swallow could even make her nest in the eaves of the houses of the priests - but she doesn't just make the nest for herself, she lays her young in it also. I want to speak to you today on making a nest for your young, thinking of Timothy, thinking of the Shunammite's son, thinking of the swallow's little children.
I want you to think of three separate things today. First of all: children need to be brought up in the church. Secondly: children need to be brought into the church. Thirdly: children need to be brought out in the church. Let's look at the first one: children need to be brought up in the church. What I'm simply talking about is bringing your children to church. You know that David in Psalm 84 is talking about the tabernacle, and he thinks of the swallows taking the children and nesting in the very altars of God in the tabernacle, she lays her young there. We know that this great company of families was going up to Jerusalem to worship God, and we know that we've seen within this an allegory of the pilgrimage of the child of God as he goes through this wilderness scene of time and eventually on to heaven.
But we cannot ignore the lesson that is here for us that we need as parents, and we need as church leaders, to bring our children under the sound of God's word. The reason why David envied the sparrows bringing their children there was because David had his heart there himself. You see, I believe that if your heart is with the people of God, and with the presence of God, and where the presence of God is - like he said: 'My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God'. His heart was there, so he wanted his children to be there and their hearts to be in the place of worship also.
If we don't have a heart for our children to be under the sound of God's word, we need to ask ourselves: is it because we don't have a heart for it ourselves? We need to bring our children to church today more than ever, and the excuses of not bringing them are manifold: the services are too long and they've got school the next morning; it's too boring; it's over their heads. I was astounded recently, talking to my next-door neighbour - and I have to be careful because the next-door neighbour's teacher belongs to the Assembly here! - but I was astounded at the standard of the knowledge and learning that children in primary level are taking in today and, it seems, are able to take in. As I looked at it, there were things that I learnt at secondary level in school, but they're learning them now even before Primary 7. I think that we underestimate our children, I really do. I think we underestimate what they can grasp. A Roman Catholic educator said on one occasion: 'Give me a child till he's seven years of age, and I don't care what you do after'. The German national socialist regime also said: 'Give me a child up to 6 years of age to educate, and he will be mine for life'. Psychologists tell me that 85% of your personality as an adult and as a human being will be formed, and moulded, and bonded together before your sixth birthday.
Now we've got to take this into our hearts, we've got to take this seriously, that our children and boys and girls right around this whole district are being moulded and formed specifically in the first six years of their life - it will determine, perhaps, the kind of person that they one day will be. If you like, it is the most crucial period of their lives - but what do we do? We are in danger that in the most crucial period of these children's lives we do not saturate them and mould them with the word of God and the gospel of God. I don't believe too much in statistics, but they often tell a story. Statistics that have been taken among Christians and Christian families tell me that most people trust the Saviour when they're a child. Now, just to prove this, put your hand up if you trusted the Lord Jesus when you were a child, right up. Everybody look around you, I think that must be the majority of the folk here in the Assembly!
Most people do, there are many reasons for that and we don't have the time to go into them, but there are many great men of God that were converted very early in their lives. Polycarp the martyr was converted at 9 years of age; Matthew Henry the commentator was 11; Jonathan Edwards the great revivalist preacher and theologian was 7 years of age; Isaac Watts, that wrote many of our great hymns, he was 9; Henry Drummond the preacher was 9 also; Corrie Ten Boom, that suffered in the concentration camps, from Holland was 5 years of age at her conversion; William Booth, the father of the Salvation Army, was 15 years of age; Harry Ironside the great commentator and prophetic preacher was 13; Count Zinzendorf, the father of Protestant missions, was only 4 years of age when he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are told continually that we live in a more affluent educated age now than the world has ever done, and I want to suggest to you this morning that children are more qualified both mentally and spiritually to grasp the truths that are found in the word of God. I haven't got time to exhaust that statement, but let me just say that it was the Lord Himself that told us that it was childlike faith that was needed to grasp the tenants of the gospel of grace. I can picture our Lord sitting amongst the crowd, His elbows on His knees and His hands outstretched, and a great grin on His face, saying: 'Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, forbid them not'. They could grasp - the great Pharisees and theological doctors couldn't understand the gospel, but they could!
In simple faith they were able to put their hand into the hand of the Messiah, that hand that would later be nail-pierced for them. But even on a pure moral basis the child has not been as much hardened to sin, the child has not come under the greater influences and contradictions and questions and complications that life throws at us. We need to realise that we have been given into our charge in the Assembly, in the district, and in our homes, gifts from God who in the first years of their life can be moulded for God and influenced for God. I suggest that one of the best ways that you can do that is to bring them to church. Church won't save them, your influence won't save them, and even if you pour all the best gospel knowledge into them that you know, that will not save them - it will take God to save them. But what I am pleading with us today to do is: do all that we can, for the devil is certainly doing all that he can!
Yet I fear that we live in a Christian generation today that seems to know more than God. Do you ever get that? I heard a story recently about a Muslim and a Jew and a Christian, and they were all clergymen of their particular religions. The Muslim was asked for wisdom, and he turned to the Koran. The Jew was asked for wisdom, and he turned to the Torah. The Christian was asked for wisdom, and he said: 'Well, I think...'. That is the Christian ethos, I think, that is beginning to saturate society - that's what I think. The word of God is no longer our canon and our rule. Whether it is in physical discipline - even take, for instance, the issue of catechising. Now, I do not believe in hammering things into the children that are hard to learn, that is against their grain. We have to remember that they are little sinners too, but I'll tell you this: we have lost a great deal of wealth within the church of Jesus Christ, even as nonconformists and as evangelicals, by dropping catechising boys and girls with the word of God.
I'm reminded of a story of D. L. Moody when he was taking a mission in Scotland. He had to go into a school to take an assembly, and he decided that that day he would speak on the subject of prayer. He stood up, a great congregation of hundreds of boys and girls, and he said to them: 'Boys and girls, I want to ask you a question: what is prayer?'. Every hand, almost, in the whole congregation went up - he was astounded! He asked one little boy in the first row in that great assembly hall: 'Well, what is prayer, what is your answer son?'. And he said this: 'Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies' - and his mouth dropped! He said: 'Son, thank God you were born in Scotland!'. Can we say that today in Northern Ireland? We have such a heritage of the gospel, and even in children's ministry, this place was formed originally for the children and for this area - but can we say today to our boys and girls: 'Thank God that you were born in Ulster, thank God that you were born into the Iron Hall'?
It is our duty to make this place the comfortable home for our boys and girls, that we can lay our young here, that we can bring them here, that we can saturate them with the word of God. Now I'm not talking about stuffing things down people's throat, I know of many hard fathers who have turned their boys and girls off salvation and all that is godly because they overdid - without a spirit of grace - truth-bashing. I am talking about a loving, tender mother; a gracious, godly father; being able to say as the Psalmist: 'Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations'. 'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty' - what does that mean? Later on in the Psalm he says, verse 9: 'Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation' - making the house of God your home.
Children that are brought up in the church, but secondly: children that are brought into the church. And what I speak of there is bringing children to Christ - you don't bring children to church to catechise them, or to baptise them, or to moralise them, or to educate them. We bring them, and I hope this is why we bring everyone to the place where God's people meet, to bring them to the only Saviour of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not believe in the doctrine of household salvation in the sense that if a father gets saved, then all of the home is blood-bought and goes to heaven and you can baptise them, and they'll all be in glory one day - we don't believe in that. But I think in not believing that we have dropped a great doctrine within the word of God, and it is Acts 16 verse 31: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house'. The gospel that is able to save the individual, is the gospel that is able to save the household! It has got the power to do it, I'm not saying it will do it - but God has got the power to revolutionise our home. But I put to you: we must bring our home into regulation and into the area of God's presence, and there's no better place than with the people of God.
How many testimonies have you heard where a boy or a girl, now a man or a woman, trusted the Saviour in a meeting where the gospel was preached? I'm not saying that's the only way it has to happen, but I'm telling you that's how many were convicted, that's how many were converted - boys and girls, they grasped what the adults couldn't grasp. Even in this last short period of a year and a half or so, there have been two children that have trusted Christ in the gospel meeting - and if they hadn't been here they couldn't have and wouldn't have trusted the Saviour! I know it's hard, I know the pressures - I can even hear your mind ticking over: 'Oh, he'll know in a number of years what he has to face!' - I know all about it, I'll face it too. But I'm asking the question: we give everything to our children, but are we giving the best? Are we making a nest for them in the altars of our God? That's the reason why this work, as I've said, was formed - that's why we have a Sunday School, a children's meeting, that's why we're going to have a Holiday Bible Club in a number of weeks, and I trust that this message will fire you and inspire you and enthuse you for it. I'm going, next week, on Beach Missions - and it's no relation to this subject - some have gone on CEF to win boys and girls for Christ, because they are winning whole lives!
Moody went into a home after one of his great meetings and asked how many that evening were converted. The host said there were two and a half people converted. He said: 'Two and a half?', he says, 'You mean two adults and a child?'. He said: 'No, two children and an adult', because the adult's life was half over. Children's workers, Sunday School teachers, do you realise the work that you are in? Mothers, fathers, do you realise the responsibility that you have? Children, brought up in Christian homes, whose parents have poured into them gospel love and gospel influence - and you have flown away from the nest made in the altars of God! Let me say to you today: you will never be happy until you get back home! You're like the prodigal who has taken all that you can get spiritually from your mother and father that they have given you, and you've gone into the far country of sin and wickedness, and you've spent it all on your riotous living, and you're not happy! Oh, we are praying in the prayer meeting, I am praying at home in my study, that you will realise that there is bread in your father's house and that to spare, and that you will come to your senses, that you will rise and go to your father and say unto him: 'I have sinned and done this great evil in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son'. For I'm telling you the Father, maybe even your father and your mother, your family are waiting to come and to embrace you and to kiss you on your neck - but God is waiting!
We face the same problem today as the prophet Elisah faced. If you turn to it quickly in the last few moments of our meeting. We have the same problem, which is a dead child. Some of you have dead children, dead in their trespasses and in their sins - there are dead children that come into this meeting on a regular basis, that come to Sunday School, that come to the children's meeting. We face this great problem, we're like the apostle Peter at Joppa, and Paul at Troas; we have a young Dorcas or a Eutychus to bring to life, and it seems impossible to us! How can we bring these boys and girls, that have no influence, to the Master? Well Peter, I'm sure, realised that it was not of himself; and Elisha, I'm sure, had the knowledge enough in his heart that it wouldn't be anything in his bones that would bring life to that little child. Blind unbelief is sure to fail, it's not of you to raise any dead man or woman in trespasses and in sins, but what it is is simply as the hymn says:
'Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,
And looks to that alone,
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries, 'It shall be done!''.
Where are you? Are you a parent? Are you a teacher? Are you a grandparent? Are you an uncle, an aunt? Have faith that God is able! He had the same problem that we have, but he believed that God was able. The second thing is this: he also had a tried example. Elijah, his mentor, if you turned - don't do it now - to 1 Kings 17, had exactly the same problem. He had a dead child that he had to try and raise also. He had a complete example from his mentor and his forefather to follow, and if he had just followed it the way that Elijah did it the child would have risen from the dead right away - but he didn't. What did he do? He sent Gehazi with his staff. It was Elisha's staff, that's sure, it was a staff that had done many miracles and great things - but the man that was going with the staff was Gehazi. There may have been something special about the staff, but there was no power in Gehazi. The power was in Elisha, because Elisha was the man that walked with God - and it could be, in our lives, that we are holding out the staff of the gospel, but there's no power of God in our own lives?
I'll leave it with you - my daughter objects - but I'll leave it with you anyway. I ask you the question: Elisha didn't put the staff in the best hands, and if we want boys and girls to be raised from dead sins and trespasses in this place, we have got to put the Gospel in the best hands too. Do you know what Titus 2 says? Oh, we're a great New Testament church and all that, but do you know what the New Testament church was told? 'The older women instruct the younger women; the older men instruct the younger men', and we can't get Sunday School teachers in this place over the age of 30! Do we put the staff in the best hands? I tell you, if we don't, do you know what happens? We run back to Elisha like Gehazi, and we say: 'The child is not awaked'. We can blatter away with the staff as long as we like, but I believe Gehazi first of all didn't believe it was going to work, and secondly he didn't even believe the child was dead - I think that's insinuated within the statement.
I hope that we realise that these little boys and girls that will grow up to be men and women that are rioting in our district as we preach the gospel week after week here, they are sinners from their birth! They're dead, they're depraved, and oh that we could see - yes, there is a moral innocence in one sense, but that is not a spiritual innocence. Yes, God would lavish them in grace if they were taken, if their life was taken from them - we're not going into all those doctrines - but if they grow in those six years of their life into adulthood, they will be sinners and they will die without Christ and go to hell! We need to believe that they are really fallen; we need to get the power of the gospel restored into our hearts, into our minds; we need to start believing in the Gospel again, believing in its influence on lives, on homes, on society.
Thirdly: there were some necessary changes that he had to make. He didn't give up. He didn't say: 'Well, that didn't work, forget about that', but he changed his method. He didn't change it to some modern invention of men, he went back to the master's method. He remembered Elijah, and he went up like Elijah, and the child was set on Elisha's bed - and I would put to you that that was the place where his heart rested, that's where he was day and night. We need to put our children where our hearts rest. He shut the door behind him, and he got down on his knees and he prayed - and, oh, that we would pray: 'O, that my son Ishmael may live before Thee'. He prayed, and after he prayed he adopted the means that was necessary. He took the staff, and he went down the stairs, and he stretched himself over that child. What he was doing - we have got time to go into it - but he was putting himself, I believe, in the situation of that dead body. He was feeling its coldness, his eyes were seeing its ashen greyness, and he was there and he was prepared to blow all his breath - if it meant that he died - that that child would live! He was pouring his whole soul and self into that child's awakening!
He was like Bunyan preaching in chains to men in chains; he was like Ezekiel sitting where they sat; and then he felt the warmth coming back into the body. You know, I can see the warmth coming into some of you, some of you young people are beginning to be touched with the gospel - and I see and hear things that I like, but I'll tell you this: he wasn't satisfied with just warmth. He went down the stairs and he went to and fro, and then he went up again and he did the same thing again. He didn't give up! And we're not going to give up until you get saved! And then the life came back!
You know, when children are brought to the church, and brought into the church, brought to Christ, they then need to be brought out in the church. We don't have time to look at this, but I'll tell you this, someone said: 'The church is only one generation away from extinction'. I don't believe that, because Christ said: 'I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' - but I'll tell you this much, the Psalmist said: 'The godly man ceaseth'. On a human level, I wonder who will replace the prayer stalwarts in the prayer meeting? Who will be around the Lord's Table in the Iron Hall in 20 years time? Who will be preaching the gospel? Who will be the elders? Who will be the deacons?
Timothy was told to stir up the gift that was in him, and he didn't stir it up on the football pitch, he stirred it up with the people of God, around the word of God, before the throne of God. Will we make a nest for our young? I trust we will.
Let us bow our heads. I am deeply burdened for those children in this gathering, who are maybe still children or are growing up, and are long flown from the nest. You will never - now get this - never be happy until you fly back to Christ. Fathers, mothers, children's workers, adults, older brethren, older sisters: are we doing what we can to make a nest for our young? Father, we thank Thee that the Saviour at Calvary made the nest for us all. The altar of God was there, the blood was there, and there the haven of rest is for every soul by sin oppressed to go and find mercy. Our Father, we pray for our children, we pray for the children of this district, we pray for our Sunday School teachers and children's leaders, our young people's leaders. We pray for us all who know and love children, and our families, and around our neighbourhoods where we live - we pray, Lord, that a next generation would be risen up of God to take forth the name of Christ. But Lord, humanly speaking, the responsibility is with us as Thy divine, sovereignly chosen instruments to make a nest for them. We pray that Iron Hall will be a nest for the children gathered here today, for Christ's sake we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth tape in his 'Psalm 84' series, titled "Make A Nest For Your Young" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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