The Dove's Return to the Ark
“But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.” — Genesis 8:9.
THE sending forth of the raven and of the dove, have furnished ready materials for numerous allegories with which divines in different ages have sometimes edified, and more frequently amused their hearers. We cannot afford time to mention many of them, but one of the host may serve as a specimen. Certain expositors have fancied that the mission of the raven prefigured the sending forth of the law, which was black and terrible, and which came not back to man bearing any token of comfort, or sign of hope; and that afterwards the Lord sent forth the gospel, foreshadowed by the dove, which by-and-by came back to sinful man, bearing the olive-branch of peace; thus they illustrated the great truth, that there is no peace on the terms of the law, for that raven can only croak hoarsely and fiercely, but there is peace on the ground of the gospel, for the dove bears the olive-branch in her mouth. Such farfetched allegories as these, at the time when they were contrived and carried out may have had their value, and have been instructive to an undiscerning age; it is not, however, to be regretted that the Church of to-day has far less taste for such childish things. We are quite as willing as any men to see allegories where they are really clear, for we remember the words of Paul concerning Hagar and Sarah, “which things are an allegory,” but we are not ready to follow the quaint and queer inventions of spiritualists whether ancient or modern. The clue must be evident, or we had rather not enter the labyrinth.
There is one adaptation of the incident before us which seems so naturally to suggest itself, that I could not help using it this morning. The dove may well picture the believer’s soul. That soul sometimes flies abroad to and fro, and takes a survey of all things, but it finds no rest for the sole of its foot anywhere except in Christ Jesus; and, therefore, however long its flight, it is sure eventually to return to its own proper resting-place. The child of God can never be content out of his God: he who has once had Christ in him, the hope of glory, can never be satisfied to rest or glory except in the Lord Jesus.
Let us this morning carry out that one thought, and look at it in the various lights which this picture of the dove may throw upon it.
I. First, LET US LOOK AT THE DOVE SETTING OUT UPON HER VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY. She has been perfectly safe in the ark. Other fowls have perished; cattle and creeping things have all been destroyed by the flood, bat this dove, with other favoured ones, has been happily secured. She has wanted for nothing; for the God who put her into the ark has taken care of her there, and that righteous man who was made the means of her rescue has constantly provided her with her daily food. She has nestled in the ark and been happy and comfortable there, and yet she is about to stretch her wings and fly away from the bark of safety. Why does she act thus? Well may we ask this question of ourselves: we have been saved in Christ Jesus, many of us, saved when the floods of sin covered the rest of our kinsfolk, saved when our doubts and fears threatened eternal ruin to us. We have been provided for in Christ Jesus, and housed in his salvation. He has been no wilderness to us; we have found enduring rest and seasonable provision in him. How is it then that we can stretch our wings to fly, or even open our eyes to look abroad? My soul, is there not enough in Christ? Why wilt thou seek elsewhere? Why leave the fountain for the broken cisterns? Will a man leave the fertile fields for a barren rock, or forsake the running waters for pestilential pools? Remember the mischief that Dinah gained unto herself when she left her father’s house to go to the tents of Shechem. Bethink thee how the prodigal fared when he left his Father’s house. Why dost thou not tarry at home with thy husband and liege lord? Why dost thou go abroad where all is empty and void and waste? Yet we must all confess that these hearts of ours are apt to bear us away from Christ, and these minds of ours are prone to forget him and to look abroad after some other love. But why did the dove fly away? I answer first — a very simple answer to give, you will say — because she had wings. A creature with wings feels within itself a natural instinct to fly, and, having been in the ark so long where she had little space for flight, I daresay her liberty at first was very sweet to her. What are these pinions for — wherefore are they covered with silver and the feathers thereof with yellow gold, if I may not clip through yonder cloud and cleave these earth-mists and see what there is to be seen? And, therefore, because she has wings she flies; and so it is with us. Our soul has many thoughts and many powers which make the spirit restless. If we were without imagination, we might be content with the few plain truths which we have so well known and proved, but having an imagination, we are often dazzled by it, and we pant to know whether certain things which look like solid verities really are so. If we had no reason, but could abide entirely in a state of pure and simple faith, we might not be exposed to much of the restlessness which now afflicts us, but reason will draw conclusions, ask questions, suggest problems, raise enquiries, and vex us with difficulties. Therefore, because our souls are moved by so vast a variety of thoughts, and possess so many powers which are all restless and active, it is readily to be understood, that while we are here in our imperfect state, our spirits should be tempted to excursions of research and voyages of discovery, as though we sought after some other object of love besides the one who still is dearer to us than all the world besides.
Possibly there was another reason. This dove ivas once lodged in a dovecote. When children, we saw men throwing up carrier pigeons into the air, laden with missives, and we foolishly wondered how the dove knew the way to go with the letter, dreaming as we did, that it flew with it wherever the person chose to direct the envelope. We soon learned the secret. The dove bears the letter to her own dove-cote; she will go nowhere else with it, and it is not in the wit of man to make the dove fly in any other direction than towards its own home. The dove is thrown up into the air; she mounts aloft, whirls round and round and round, looking with eager eyes, and at last she sees the place where she has been won’t to rest, and where her little ones have been reared, and she darts straight to the spot. Before the ark was built, no doubt, this bird frequented much a chosen spot where it had built its nest and reared its young ones, and its heart went towards it. Though it had been in the ark so long, it had not forgotten the past; and therefore no sooner has it liberty than it seeks to fly in the direction of its own dovecote, although that cote had been swept away for ever. Ah! and you and I, before we knew the Saviour, we had a rest; before we had experienced the sweetness of his love we found joy in sin. We built our nest, and we thought in our heart that we should never be moved. We were satisfied once after a fashion with the vanities of this present world; we had our loves, our joys, our pleasures, our delights; and that carnal old nature within us is not dead, and when it gets its liberty, it is sure to look out for its old haunts. Have you not even when singing God’s praise, remembered a snatch of an old, perhaps lascivious song. Have not you frequently, when in the service of God, had brought to your recollection a dark scene of sin in which you had a share, and though you have loathed it with the new nature, yet has the old nature tended towards it, and that base heart within which will not die until flesh becomes worms’ meat, has whispered to you to go back to the fleshpots of Egypt, and once more to partake of the garlic, and leeks, and onions, which were so sweet in the house of bondage. Yes, the dovecote still has its attraction. The best of men have still within them the seeds of those sins which make the worst of men so vile. The old serpent still creeps along the heart, which has become a garden of the Lord. Our gold is mixed with dross. Our sky bears many a cloud, and the clearest river of humanity still has mire at the bottom. I marvel not that the dove flew away from the ark when she recollected her dovecote, and I do not wonder that at seasons, the old remembrances get the upper hand with our spirit, and we forget the Lord we love, and have a hankering after sin.
Yet it would not be fair to forget that this dove was sent out by Noah; so that whatever may have been the particular motives which ruled the creature, there was a higher motive which ruled Noah who sent her out. Even so there are times when the Lord permits his people to endure temptation. What means this passage concerning the Saviour, “After he was baptized, he was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil?” What! Led of the Spirit? Where will the Spirit lead him to? Will not the Spirit lead him to his Father’s temple that he may join in its hallowed exercises? Will it not lead him to the mountain where he may proclaim glad tidings to the people? No. The Spirit led him into the wilderness “to be tempted of the devil.” We are taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation;” and very stupid people have tried to alter the petition into “Leave us not in temptation.” the Saviour never said that. It would be a very proper prayer, but it is not what he said. His words are, “Lead us not into temptation.” It appears, then, that sometimes God may allow his people to be led into temptation, or otherwise we need not say, “Lead us not into temptation.” Such temptation produces excellent results, being overruled by divine grace for the lasting benefit of the Lord’s people. The dove would love the ark far better than before, after taking its dreary flight above the watery waste. She would nestle more peacefully than ever in Noah’s hands after having seen and known how impossible it was to find rest for the sole of her foot anywhere else. Thus the Lord permits his people to gad abroad in their thoughts, and to go flying about in their minds that their after repose may be sweeter and more enduring. He takes away from them the light of his countenance and familiar fellowship with himself that the darkness may make them prize the sun. They fly from vanity to vanity learning the emptiness of all, and then they cling to their own real bliss, their God and Father in Christ Jesus; and throughout life they have to bless God for that dark and bitter experience which yielded so good and comfortable a fruit that it compelled them to know that there was none upon earth for them but Christ, and none even in heaven to fill their souls but their Lord Jesus. So when I see the Christian taking wing in his thought away from the ark, I will be grieved to see him in the temptation, but I will pray the Lord to overrule it that he may come back again and say, “Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” Beloved, it is a bitter but a precious lesson to learn, that all is nought out of Christ, and that Jesus alone can give us rest. May you all learn it thoroughly and learn it soon.
II. Now MARK THE DOVE AS SHE FINDS NO REST.
She has plumed her wings, she has given a loose to them and she hurries in her search after a home. The mountain tops, I think, according to the preceding verses were just visible, but this was all. She flies over them, and between them, as they rise like islands in the midst of that vast shoreless sea. At last she flags; even the dove cannot fly for ever. She needs to rest. Where shall she stay her flight? The raven yonder is comfortable enough, gorging himself upon the carcass of a huge beast which was floating by. The dove, however, cannot rest there; her nature loathes putridity, and she flies away from the reeking mass. Yonder is a tree; one of the mighty monarchs of the forest has been broken off in the great tempest which drowned the world and is now floating high with branches lifted up like the masts of a vessel. She tries to light upon it but it is covered with thick mire and filth. The wet and slime suit her not, and she takes to her wings again. Further off another object attracts her, and she speeds to it as well as her weary wings can carry her, but there is nothing there for her to rest upon; she turns to east, to north, to south, but her wings grow weary for she can find no place whereon to stay the sole of her foot. As we observe her flapping her wings so languidly, I think we have a picture of a Christian when in pursuit of an earthly object on which he would fain set his heart. Forgetting that here we have no continuing city, the pilgrims of God at times wander in the wilderness, hoping to find a settled habitation there; but their desolate hearts are soon faint within them, for there is no rest for their foot on earth.
The Saviour very beautifully said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What kind of rest did the Saviour mean to give? I take it that he meant rest to all the powers of manhood. The intellect seeks after rest, and by nature seeks it apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. Men of fine education, men of great mental powers, are apt even when converted to look upon the simplicities of the cross of Christ — I may not say with disesteem — but still with an eye too little reverent and loving. They are snared in the old net in which the Grecians were taken, and have a hankering to mix philosophy with revelation. The temptation is with a man of refined thought and high education to go away from the simple truth of Christ crucified, and to invent a more complicated, as the term is, a more intellectual doctrine. This it was which led the early Christian Church into Gnosticism, and bewitched them with all sorts of heresies. This is the root of Neology, and the other fine things which in days gone by were so fashionable in Germany, and are now so ensnaring to certain classes of divines. Brethren, I care not who you are, nor what your education may be, if you be the Lord’s people, you will find no rest in the teachings of philosophy, or philosophising divinity. You may receive this dogma of one great thinker, or that of another profound reasoner, but what the chaff is to the wheat, that will these be to the sure Word of God. All that reason when best guided can find out, is but the A. B. C. of truth, and even that lacks sureness and certainty; while in Christ Jesus there is treasured up all the fulness of wisdom and knowledge. All attempts on the part of Christians to be content with systems such as Unitarian and Broad Church thinkers would approve of, must fail; true heirs of heaven must come back to the grandly simple reality which makes the ploughboy’s eye flash with joy, and glads the pious pauper’s heart — “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Christ satisfies the most elevated intellect when he is believingly received, but apart from him the mind of the regenerate discovers no rest.
The heart, too, wants satisfying. Every one of us needs an object to love. I suppose there can hardly live on earth a man so monstrously selfish, that he can be perfectly wrapped up in himself, and care for no one. Some of the grossest villains who have ever defiled the name of manhood, have had one point in which they could be touched; their hearts have gone out after one dear object, it may be a little child, long dead, and yet the recollection of that little one sleeping beneath the turf has been a link to goodness. Many a hardened man has recollected his mother, and her name has touched his heart. We must love something, or some one. Man was not made to live alone, and therefore no man liveth unto himself. Our heart must flow like a river, or it corrupts like a stagnant pool. Some have great hearts, and they require a great object on which to spend their love. They love fondly and firmly, too fondly and too firmly for earthly love. These are they who suffer ' from broken hearts. They have so much love that when they set it upon an unworthy object they reap a proportionate degree of misery and disappointment. Now let me say solemnly that no heart of a child of God will ever be satisfied with any object or person short of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is room for wife and children, there is room for friend and acquaintance, and all the more room in one’s heart because Christ is there, but neither wife, nor children, nor friends, nor kinsfolk can ever fill the believer’s heart. He must have Christ Jesus, there is no rest for him elsewhere. Do I address any believer who has been making an idol? Have you set up any God in your heart? have you loved any creature so as to forget your Saviour? Be it child, or husband, or friend, take heed of the sin of idolatry. Ah! you cannot, you shall not find rest for the sole of your foot in the creature, however fair that creature may seem. God will break your idol before your eyes, or if he suffer that idol to stand, it shall remain to plague and curse you, for thus saith the Lord, “Cursed is he that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm.” “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of?” Give your hearts to the Lord Jesus and he will never disappoint you. Lean on him with all your weight of affection, for he will never fail you. Come hither all ye fond and doting, ye lovers, and love with all the lavish wealth and fervent heat of your spirits; kindle your hearts until like Nebuchednezzar’s furnace they glow seven times hotter; here is a fuel with which you can maintain the flame for ever. You whose love is like the sea, too deep to fathom, come you to the Saviour and give him all and he shall not waste a drop, for he deserves all you can give, and he will give you back a love which, compared with yours, shall be as the ocean when compared with the dewdrop that twinkles on the bough. So there is rest for the heart in Christ Jesus, but nowhere else.
Man has also judgment, and judgment when exercised upon things right or wrong, is called conscience, and the conscience is a very difficult thing to quiet when once disturbed. Conscience is like a magnetic needle, which if once turned aside from its pole, will never cease trembling; you can never make it still until it is permitted to return to its proper place.
“In vain the trembling conscience seeks, Some solid ground to rest upon;
With strong desire the spirit faints, Till we apply to Christ alone.”
We shall never be able to find lasting peace for conscience till we cast ourselves upon Christ Jesus. The child of God may sometimes so forget himself as to endeavour to base his hopes upon his experiences, his feelings, his joys, or his repentances. He may try to assure himself that all is well between God and his own soul, because of his graces or his good works. Now, Christian, thou knowest, or thou oughtest to know by past experience, that thou wilt never enjoy lasting peace here. Thou must come to Christ as thou didst at first with nothing of thine own, and take him to be thine all in all, and if thou dost not do this thy foot shall know no rest, for thou shalt fly wearily on till thou shalt drop with despair. Christ Jesus in the preciousness of his besprinkled blood; Christ Jesus in the glory of his snow-white righteousness; Christ Jesus in the prevalence of his intercession; Christ Jesus in the power of his arm and the love of his heart, must be the sole and solitary dependence of every heir of heaven, and if you try to mix anything else with Christ, then your conscience shall accuse and Satan shall find an echo in your heart when he rails at you, and what will you do then ? Let me say, dear friends, that for the entire man — we cannot stop this morning to take all the different powers with which man is endowed but taking the whole together, there is nothing that can satisfy the entire man but the Lord’s love and the Lord’s own self. Many saints have tried to anchor in other roadsteads, but all have failed. I believe Solomon was a saint, I know he was a sinner; I believe he was the biggest fool that ever lived, but I believe that he was also the wisest of men; he was in fact a mass of contradictions. Now Solomon was permitted to make experiments for us all, and to do for us what we must not dare to do for ourselves. Here is his testimony in his own words: — “I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” What! the whole of it vanity? Is there nothing in all that wealth, Solomon? What! nothing in that wide dominion of thine, reaching from the river even to the sea? Nothing in Palmyra’s glorious seat? Nothing in the house of the forest of Lebanon? Dost thou see nothing from Dan to Beersheba, when thou hast made brass to be like pebble-stones, and gold and silver to be but as common dust of the land? In those sweet sounds that lull thee to thy rest, in all the music and dancing that delight thee, is there nothing? “Nothing,” he says, “but weariness of spirit.” This is his verdict when he has tried it all. To get hold of Christ, to have his love, and to taste of union with him — this, dear brethren, this is everything. You need not try any other form of life in order to see whether it is better than the Christian’s. Let me assure you, if you roam the world round, and search from Britain to Japan, you will see no sights like a sight of the Saviour’s face; and if you could have all the comforts of life, yet if you lost your Saviour, you would be wretched; but if you get him, then should you rot in a dungeon, you would find it a paradise; should you live in obscurity, or die with famine, you would yet be satisfied with favour, and full of the goodness of the Lord.
III. Let us spend a moment in considering WHY THE DOVE COULD FIND NO REST FOR THE SOLE OF HER FOOT.
Was there a want of will in the dove? Was she one of those discontented birds that will not rest anywhere? Nothing of the kind; she seems to have searched after rest, for otherwise it need not be recorded that she found none. There are certain people in this world who never will rest, and they certainly do not deserve it. They always grumble. No matter what you do, or what you do not do, they grumble evermore. They grumble at the sun, and call him, as Thompson once did, “a rosy drunkard;” they murmur at the moon, her light is too pale, and sickly, and variable; they murmur at death — it is a dreadful thing to lose one’s friends; they murmur at life — everybody seems to die and be happy, they say, except themselves, they are condemned to live on. You never can please them; all things are either too hot or too cold, too young or too old, too rough or too smooth, too high or too low; they have made up their minds that there is nothing on earth that will ever satisfy them; they have set up an ultra standard of what they want, and the world does not yield it. No grass is green enough for them, no milk that is ever given by cows is fit for them to drink; no wine that was ever pressed from grapes is rich enough for their taste. Upon all created things they use the only organ which seems to be of use to them, that is, their nose, and that they turn up! Such people as these will tell you that there is nothing on earth— nothing on earth. They have dyspepsia, their liver is out of order, and consequently there is nothing on the earth; everything here below is mean and despicable. Now when people talk like that, you just measure their talk by the men, and make small account of their utterances. These men are not talking from their judgment, they are merely talking under the influence of an absurd, half-mad feeling; but such is not the case with the Christian. I know a considerable number of Christians who are of a cheerful disposition, and who would even as worldlings have been satisfied with very little; a kind of men (I trust you have some of them for your friends), who are not often put out; they, on the other hand, always look at the bright side of everything, and if there should be a something which is a little amiss, they take it as a variety, and only say, “Well, this is a change,” and so they make pleasure where others would find pain; and yet these very people when they are converted will tell you that they are not satisfied out of Christ. Now their verdict is worth considering. The dove had a will to find rest for the sole of her foot, but she could not.
It is not from want of will that I am compelled to say I cannot find anything beneath these stars, nor within the compass of the skies, that can satisfy my soul’s desires; I must get my God and have him to fill my large expectations, or I shall not be content. I mention these things because people are apt to suppose that Christians are all a set of melancholy dyspeptics, who put up with religion because there is nothing else that helps to make them to be so happily miserable, and therefore they take to it as congenial with their melancholy disposition; but it is not so; we are a cheerful, genial race, and yet for all that we are not resting the sole of our foot anywhere in earthly things.
Again, the reason why the dove could find no rest, was not because she had no eye to see. I know not how far a dove’s eye can discern, but it must be a very vast distance, perfectly incredible I should think. We see the dove sometimes mount aloft: we can see nothing, and yet she perceives her dovecote, and darts towards it. Now the Christian does not say there is no joy on earth for him, except in his Lord, because he has no power to see things pleasing and delightful. If there be melody in music, the Christian knows it, likes it, rejoices in it. If there be sweetness, his palate is as good as another man’s. If there be anything to be found in wealth, or what the world calls pleasure, he can see it all: he is not blind. I know many Christians who are as quick in apprehension, as refined in taste, and as ready to appreciate anything that is pleasurable as other men, and yet these men who are not fanatics, who are not shut up to a narrow range of things, but whose vision can take in the whole circle of sublunary delights, these men who have not only seen but even tasted, yet bear their witness that like the dove they can find no rest for the sole of their foot.
Moreover, the reason why the dove found no rest, was not because she had no wings to reach it. Her wings were strong and swift, she could fly as well as the raven, perhaps she could in the long run outstrip him. So the Christian has power to enter into the enjoyments of the world if he liked. It is not because his youth has departed and he has become old and shrivelled, and therefore the delights of the flesh have ceased to be temptations to him. No. Of course there are some in that condition, who when converted, can almost be taunted by sinners with the remark that they have tried the world’s pleasures, and when they could not enjoy them they then turned away from them; but some of us are young and strong and full of blood, and our bones are full of marrow, and if we willed it we could be ringleaders in all sorts of pleasure, and plunge head first into the stream of sensual delight. We lack not courage, and we lack not force, and yet for all this — we say it solemnly, and the God that searches all hearts knows we only say what we feel forced to say — that we can find no rest for the sole of our foot in earthly pleasures. We have tried, we have wished to rest, we have even wanted to be satisfied with the world, but the void within can never be filled out of the mines of earth. We cannot: God has made it all empty to us.
Now what was the reason then? It was not want of will, it was not want of eye, nor was it want of wing — what was it? The reason lay in this, that she was a dove. If she had been a raven, she would have found plenty of rest for the sole of her foot. It was her nature that made her unresting, and the reason why the Christian cannot find satisfaction in worldly things is because there is a new nature within him that cannot rest. “Up! up! up!” cries the new heart, “what hast thou to do here?” “Come, strike thy tents,” cries the new creature, “thou hast no continuing city here: how is it that thou triest to make one in this barren wilderness? Away with thee! what art thou at?” If I could transform myself to an unregenerate man the world might content me, but if I be regenerate, it matters not into what society I may be thrown, I never can, I never shall, I must not, I dare not hope for contentment, for to the regenerate Christ alone is satisfaction — they cannot find it anywhere else.
You see then that this is a great test: this will try you, dear friends, and divide you. If any of you are saying, “Oh, I am satisfied enough, I do not want this Christ the man talks about: give me this, and give me that, and I shall be quite content.” I say, “Very likely; so was the raven content with carrion. But, and if thou be a child of God, thou mayest seek contentment elsewhere, but thou shaft be compelled. perhaps by sore and bitter trials, to turn away from all earthly things, and fly back again to thine ark.”
IV. Being disappointed, WHAT DID THE DOVE THEN DO? When she found there was no contentment elsewhere, what then? She flew back to the ark. Josephus tells us that the dove came back to Noah with her wings and feet all wet and muddy. I think it is very likely, but I do not think it any the more likely because Josephus says so. Some of you have grown wet and muddy. You have been trying to find rest in the world, Christian, and you have got mired with it. Trying to rest those feet where they could not rest, you have collected filth. What then? Shall I advise you to bathe in the flood? Shall I advise you to cleanse those wings till they are bright as they once were? No, I do not; I cannot give you any such advice; I can only say to you, “Do what the dove did.” She mounted again, she caught sight of the ark, and knew the place of safety. I want you once again to get a sight of Christ. Peter had gone far away, as the dove had done; he had denied his Master with oaths and curses, but what brought him back? Why, it was the Lord getting a sight of Peter, and Peter getting a sight of the Lord. The Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and “he went out and wept bitterly.” Was it not all done as soon as the Lord’s eye and Peter’s eye came into contact? If you are enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to remember that there was a Saviour who loved you so that heaven could not hold him, and he must needs come to earth, and enter into your degradation, and bear your sin, and suffer for your sake, you will be getting right at once, however far off you are, if you look to Jesus, there is life for you in a look at the Crucified One.
Then the dove, after looking, was not content with that; she began to speed with all her might back to the ark. So, when you have a faint view of your Saviour and you are once more consciously saved, then fly back to him. I do not read that the dove made a tour round about, or that she thought she would try something else, but no, she took just the straightest line she could, the nearest way between herself and her loved abode, and went right straight away to Noah. Fear may have made her wings heavy, but it did not stop them, and mire and mud may have made the journey more laborious, but it did not turn her aside. Come thou mired one, come thou fainting one, dove as thou art, though thou thinkest thyself to be black as the raven with the mire of sin, back, back to the Saviour. Every moment thou waitest doth but increase thy misery; thine attempts to plume thyself and make thyself fit for him are all vanity. Come thou to him just as thou art. “Return thou backsliding Israel.” He does not say, “Return thou repenting Israel” (there is such an invitation doubtless), but “thou backsliding one, as a backslider with all thy backslidings about thee. Return, return, return!”
V. I want you now to turn your eye for a moment to THE VERY BEAUTIFUL SCENE, so it seems to me to be, at the end of her return journey.
Noah has been looking out for his dove all daylong. Here she comes! How heavily she flies, she will drop; she will never reach the ark. Here she comes and Noah is ready to receive her. She looks bespotted and bespeaked with mire and dirt, but Noah waits for her. She has just strength to get on to the edge of the ark, she can hardly hold on there and is ready to drop, when Noah puts forth his hand and pulls her in unto him. Mark that: “pulled her in unto him.” It seems to me to imply that she did not fly right in herself, but was too fearful, or too weary to get right in. She got as far as she could, and then he put forth his hand and pulled her in unto him. Did you ever feel that blessed gracious pull, when your heart has been desiring to get near to Christ. Oh, it has been such tugging, such toiling in prayer; you could only say, “I would but cannot pray, my heart is heavy as lead, and my soul as hard as adamant and dead as iron, I cannot stir myself and get near to the Saviour. Oh that I could! Oh that I had the wings of a dove, for then would I flee away and be at rest." All of a sudden it comes, that gracious pull; your heart begins to be on fire; or ever you are aware, your soul seems to be like the chariots of Aminadib. Now it is all well with you, now can you sing sweetly to your beloved, who has done great things for you whereof you are glad. All this was you perceive to the wandering dove, to the miry dove speckled with filth; just as she was she is pulled into the ark. So you, with all that sin of yours, and those wanderings will be received. “Only return” — those are two gracious words in the Bible — “only return” — so it is put. What! nothing else? No, only return. She had no olive branch in her mouth this time, nothing at all but just herself and her wanderings; but it is “only return,” and she does return, and Noah pulls her in. Lord! pull me in. My thirsty spirit faints to reach thee; my soul crieth out for thy presence but cannot reach it; I see thee, Lord; pull me in. When like Esther I faint in thy presence, and cannot tell thee what I would, stretch out thy silver sceptre, read my heart and grant my desire, and show thyself to me, and open mine eyes to see thee and know thee.
Thus much concerning the dove and its likeness to our own hearts; now I close with these three things: —
First, this becomes first of all a test to you. We can divide the house into two parts by asking the question, “Are you satisfied out of Christ?”
Are you satisfied and content with anything short of a conscious knowledge of your union and interest in Christ Jesus? If so, you have no reason to believe that you are a converted man. If this world satisfies you, I have no fault to find, no reason to be angry with you. Who finds fault with horses for being satisfied with hay and oats? It is their natural food. Some persons are very indignant with others, because they will go to theatres and gay assemblies. They only take what their nature craves after. The raven is now feeding on his carrion. I draw a distinction evermore between that which men without grace may do, and that which gracious men may do. The graceless man stands somewhat on the level of the beast that perisheth. Well, let the swine have their husks; let the swine, I say, have their provender. You will never make them any better by denying them their husks; you may excite their angry passions against you, that is all; let them have their husks. But you, on the other hand, who are a Christian, are a different being; you are lifted into another state, you have another nature. Now, could you enjoy those things? If you really could find a satisfaction in them, you are a hypocrite. If your soul really could stretch herself at rest, and find the bed long enough, and the coverlet broad enough to cover you in the chambers of sin, then you are a hypocrite, and one of these days down to the pit your soul must go; but if, on the other hand, you feel sure and certain that if you could indulge in sin without a punishment, yet it would be a punishment of itself; and that if you could have the whole world, and never be parted from it, it would be quite enough misery not to be parted from it; for your God — your God — is what your soul craves after; then be of good courage; thou art a child of God. With all thy sins and imperfections, take this to thy comfort: if thy soul has no rest in sin, thou art not as the sinner is; if thou art still crying after and craving after something better, Christ has not forgotten thee, for thou hast not quite forgotten him. Here is a test, then.
And then, secondly, we must use our text as an encouragement. Here we have an encouragement to backsliders to return like the dove, because she did not find the ark shut against her; we do not even find there was any delay. Noah pulled her in at once. To the sinner here is encouragement too. It thou comest back to the ark, thou shalt not be excluded. If any man shall be shut out of heaven, he himself shuts the door. He who is damned signs his own death warrant. Our verse is true —
“None are excluded hence
But those who do themselves exclude.”
If thou comest sinner, drunkard, swearer, liar, thief, whoever thou mayest be, it is written, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
“But here is one,” methinks I hear him say, “here is one of such a sort as never came before; blacker than night, more full of sin than the egg is full of meat; now, now there is one that will be shut out.” I say make way for him, make way for him, stand back ye common sinners, make a way for him, now will we see whether Christ is true or no. Brethren, what will be the issue? — why, we know that in Christ there is love and truth and faithfulness, and that what he says he means, and that his promise he will perform. When that black sinner cometh, the Lord looks upon him with an eye of unutterable love, and his first word is, “I have blotted out thine iniquity as a cloud, and like a thick cloud thy transgression;” “I have loved" thee with an everlasting love,” and his next act is to plunge that sinner in the fountain filled with blood, and on a sudden he cometh out whiter than snow, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, for he is able to cleanse from all iniquity, and to deliver from all unrighteousness, and to make the foulest and vilest bright as the sun at noonday. This is encouragement: God help you to take it! May the Holy Spirit bring you to Christ to-day.
And then, lastly, we use our text, I think, as a loud cry for gratitude. Does Christ receive us when we have found him, and is there none on earth like him? Is he the best of all the good, the fairest of all the lovely? Oh then let us praise him. Down with your idols, up with the Lord Jesus. Now let the standard of all pomp and pride be trampled under foot, but let the cross of Jesus, which the world frowns and scoffs at, be lifted up. Oh for a high throne for the Saviour! let him be lifted up for ever, and let my soul sit at his feet, and kiss his feet, and wash them with my tears. Oh how precious is Christ! How can it be that I have thought so little of him. How is it I can go abroad for anything else when he is so full, so rich, so satisfying. Christian, make a covenant with thine heart, and ask the Lord to ratify it, that thou wilt never from him depart. Bid him set thee as a signet upon his finger and as a bracelet upon his arm. Ask him to bind thee about him as the bride decketh herself with ornaments, and as the bridegroom putteth on his jewels. I would live in Christ’s heart; in the clefts of that rock my soul would abide. The sparrow hath made a 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, and so too would I make my nest my home in thee, and never from thee may the soul of thy turtle dove go forth again, but may I nestle close to Jesus, who has pulled me back into the ark after my backsliding. May the Holy Spirit so preserve us for his name’s sake. Amen.