Dedicated To The Men of God Who Preach the Word of God As It Is To Men As They Are

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"Preach The Word"

Crags of Cages?

Dr. Vance Havner

SPURGEON ONCE SAID; "I'd rather be a lean bird in the woods
than a fat bird in a cage." A caged eagle beating its wings against
the bars is a sad sight. Sadder still is a fat old eagle that has given
up dreaming of mountain crags and is resigned to captivity.
Eagles were never meant for an imprisoned life. They belong to
the heights, the wild freedom of lonely peaks and solitary outlooks.
There is no better symbol of liberty than a lone eagle.
It is fitting that this lordly bird should be the emblem of
America, "the land of the free and the home of the brave." But
if the moral corruption of this country continues, we shall have
to change the emblem and swap the eagle for a vulture. America
is no longer a solitary eagle on a lonely peak; she is a fat old bird
in a gilded cage. She is not even beating her wings against the
bars in protest, longing for the heights where once she soared.
She is dying in smug and sinful ease, no longer a lean bird in the
woods but a fat bird in a cage.

Little more than a century ago, we were a band of pioneers
who braved countless dangers, crossed 3,000 miles of ocean, and
blazed a trail across another 3000 miles of wilderness and desert
to make America a young giant among the nations, admired by
all the world. Rugged spirits flocked here from every land. But
we are fast losing the freedom so dearly bought. No outside
power could put us in fetters, but we are forging the bonds of our
imprisonment in moral bondage and spiritual enslavement, gov-
ernment control, and incarceration by the welfare state. The
Fathers of 1776 risked security to win liberty, but we are selling
liberty to win security. We would rather be fat birds in a cage
than lean birds in the woods. We are trading our birthright for
a mess of pottage, piling up possessions without and becoming
paupers within. Our forefathers did not look to Washington for
a handout. They had inner resources. There are worse things
than poverty. If we could abolish it, which we cannot, and put
two cars in every garage, color television in every living room,
and a boat in every back yard, we could still be nation of beggars.
What shall it profit us to gain the world and lose our souls?

We have conquered the wilderness and now we invade space,
but the greatest of all frontiers is the world of spirit. That is virgin
territory and we are not over-supplied with pioneers in that
realm! God help the American eagle to get out of the cage and
back to the crags, out of prison and up to the peaks!
Modern Christianity needs to get out of its cages and back to
the crags. Our Lord came to set us free, and we need to stand
fast in that liberty. The average church member is a prisoner
behind bars of habit, fear, doubt, and sin. We need to mount up
with the wings of eagles. We were meant to be strangers and
pilgrims, a different breed, birds of another feather. We are on
migration and we have no home down here.

I have read of a wild duck on migration that left his fellows
and came down into a barnyard. He liked it so well that he stayed
a week, stayed a month, stayed a whole season. One day while
feeding he heard a familiar sound high in the air and recognized
the honking of his erstwhile companions on their way back south
again. For a moment his heart quickened its beat, and his eyes
sparkled. He attempted to join them but, alas, he had fed too well
and could get no higher than the roof of the barn. I have known
Christians who once mounted on eagle's wings. Then they set-
tied in the barnyard of this world. For awhile they were still
sensitive to the voice of God. In a good old meeting when the
preacher preached and the saints sang about "higher ground,"
their eyes filled with tears, their hearts felt a momentary urge to
rise to better things. But the longer they lived in the barnyard
the less was the response to heaven, until finally they were
content to stay "where doubts arise and fears dismay."

If we feather the nest too well the eaglets will never fly. There
is a vivid picture of this truth in Deuteronomy: "As an eagle
stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad
her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord
alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him"
(32:11 - 12). The baby eagles might complain, "Don't disturb us,
we are so comfortable here," but eaglets do not learn to fly that
way. Sometimes God has to destroy our nest, break the family
circle, and allow sickness, defeat, and disaster to throw us out on
the wings of faith. If He did not the nest might become a cage,
and we are meant for crags.

The early church in Jerusalem had settled in comfortable
Judaistic exclusiveness. Then God sent persecution. "Therefore
they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the
word" (Acts 8:4). I have seen some fancy church nests. They
cost millions of dollars.The congregation meets on Sunday but
does not scatter out all week witnessing. They have feathered
their nest too well! A soft and sheltered Christianity, afraid to
be lean and lone, unwilling to face the storms and brave the
heights will end up fat and foul in the cages of conformity. God
grant us a stirring that will tear up the nests of our complacency,
open the doors of our cages, and send us back to the crags of holy
living! That was the way the church began. May her youth be
renewed as the eagles!

But the church will not rise higher than her leaders. Ministers
must choose whether to be prophets on crags or priests in cages.
Gipsy Smith said: "I was born in a field, don't put me in a
flowerpot!" The trend in the ministry today is from crags to
cages. The prophets of old were lean birds in the woods. They
were thrown into cages but their spirits were unbound.
Our fathers chained in prisons dark
Were still in heart and conscience free.

John the Baptist and Paul and John Bunyan were caged eagles
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Paul was in Nero's prison but he wasn't Nero's prisoner!

Amos at Bethel was a free bird in the woods; Amaziah was a fat
bird in a cage. Micaiah was a lean bird—more lean after his diet
of bread and water! The four hundred false prophets were fat
birds in a cage. Martin Luther was a free bird in the woods;
Erasmus was a fat bird in a cage. An eagle is safer in a zoo, but
eagles are not made for zoos. Ships are safer in harbors, but ships
are made for the stormy sea. The young seminary graduate will
find it safer to be a priest than to be a prophet. "Priests retire but
prophets never." The preachers who have moved the world
never sold their liberty for a comfortable cage in some ecclesiastical
menagerie. Better a free preacher who can walk into any
pulpit responsible only to God, immune to praise or blame, than
a ventriloquist's dummy! Paul wrote, "But as we were allowed
of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not
as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts" (I Thessalonians
2:4). Paul was a lone eagle at large. He had tried his wings
in the desert of Arabia and was not a captive in anybody's zoo.

All who follow in his train will be despised by all religious zoo
keepers who hate free eagles on the wing.
When Bernard of Cluny wrote his scathing denunciation of
the evils of his time, when Savonarola blasted the sins of Florence,
when Wesley preached outdoors, when Spurgeon rebuked
false doctrine in the Downgarde Controversy, they were all lone
eagles. The mountain air of their eyries was too breezy for their
caged contemporaries, and it is the same today.
Wrong theological training can put the eagle into a cage. F. W.
Boreham wrote of a young preacher who started out like a firebrand.
Boreham heard him after a year at a seminary. One could
not exactly pinpoint what was wrong, but Boreham detected the
beginnings of a subtle change. A year later he heard him again
and wrote, "The only thing I could think of was a lion in curlpapers!"
Well, a lion in curlpapers is very much like an eagle with
his wings clipped!

I am convinced that the sad state of churches today is due in
great measure to the many pulpits without freedom. Personal
sins, fear of man, timidity, lack of conviction and authority,
these can bind a preacher as securely as ever Delilah bound
Samson. Samson's last chapter was a sad story of binding, blinding,
and grinding, and many a preacher spends his later years in
bondage, blinded until he becomes, if not a blind leader of the
blind, at least a bland leader of the bland, a slave on the treadmill
of religious routine. One reason for his shackles is, he does not
spend enough time alone with God. Elijah, Amos, John the
Baptist and our Lord are identified with the desert, the wilderness,
the mountainside. Elijah could stand before Ahab because
he was accustomed to standing before God. He was a man given
to like passions as we are, but he prayed and therein lies the
difference. Our Lord rose up a great while before day, departed
into a solitary place, and there prayed.

The best way to avoid a cage is to find a crag! I do not mean
a mere vacation, or study, or recreation, or even just prayer, but
solitary meditation "far from the madding crowd's ignoble

I had planned a trip to Europe and the Holy Land but instead
I rented a cottage in the North Carolina mountains. I found a
lookout with a matchless view of the countryside below.Every
morning I made my way up there. In my heart a voice seemed
to say, "You don't need to be stumbling over dusty relics in the
Middle East." This was what I needed. One evening during
those weeks I had supper in Billy Graham's mountain home.
What a crag! And how wise a prophet to build a home on such
a spot! A pulpit eagle needs an eyrie, and God meant that His
preachers should be eagles and not parrots.

We are too much with people these days. Right now the major
emphasis is on social involvement, and preachers are also being
told that their main business is to "equip" the laymen for their
ministry. This leaves out John the Baptist and gives no place to
the watchman on the wall, the Voice in the wilderness. "How
shall they hear without a preacher?" If all of us get lost in the
crowd and there is no prophet with a word from the Lord, we
shall discover that "where there is no vision the people perish."
Visions do not come in committee meetings or discussion
groups. They come to men like Habakkuk who say, "I will stand
upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to
see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I
am reproved" (Habakkuk 2:1). No wonder we read next, "And
the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it
plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." The vision
comes to the man who is in the right place to see it.

We read in Acts, "And after he had seen the vision, immediately
we endeavoured to go . . ." (16:10). God gives the vision
to one man, the implementation of it to many. The apostles
called for the appointment of others to look after secondary
matters, that they might give themselves to the ministry of the
Word and to prayer. Some accuse the prophet of living in an
ivory tower removed from the conflict, but he can see the whole
battle better from a distance. Some of us get so closely involved
that we cannot see the forest for the trees. The prophet sees the
whole picture like an eagle from a mountain crag. Woe to the
preacher who mixes with his people until they call him by his
first name and say, "He is just one of us." They will like that at
first but will soon grow weary of it, for he is not meant to be just
one of them; he should be ahead of them! Daniel was not "just
one of them" when he turned down the rich food of Nebuchadnezzar's
table. He was not "just one of them" when he continued
his devotions as usual although it meant a lion's den. He was not
"just one of them" when he stood at Belshazzar's feast and read
the handwriting on the wall. He did not belong to the soothsayers;
he was a lean bird in the woods, not a fat bird in a cage.
If you are a caged eagle, find a crag somewhere and stay until
you can return to your pulpit like old John McNeill when he
announced, "God and John McNeill have come to an understanding—
keep your hands off John McNeill!"

What is your cage? Is it a bad habit? Are you a slave of your
congregation? You should get your church on your heart but not
on your neck! Is it timidity, fear of man? Is it uncertainty, lack
of authority? Have minors become majors and majors minors?
Has your hobby become a hobble? Get back to the crags! Do not
fear to be lonely.Eagles do not fly in flocks. God grant you to
mount up with wings into the glorious liberty wherewith Christ
hath made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke
of bondage! You are meant for crags, not cages!

Over half a century ago I started out to preach. I have never
known the day when I did not feel called to the ministry I made
up my mind from the beginning not to wear Saul's armor but to
use my own sling and stones. Any preacher who shows signs of
being original in this assembly-line age will be frowned upon and
viewed with suspicion by all operators of ecclesiastical armories.
"Ready-made clothes are for those of average size." In 1940 I
started out without salary or sponsorship. I have never lifted a
finger to find a place to preach. I resolved to report to no office
down here, nor give account of my stewardship to any committee
or board. I am reminded of what Mordecai Ham said: "Paul
thought out his strategy on the field of war, not in some Jerusalem
war office where parchment and sealing wax were more
plentiful than experience and foresight."

Do not fear to be a Rebel in the Rat Race. Better a lean bird
in the woods than a fat bird in a cage. Preaching is not a business
nor a profession; it is a calling. Do not be afraid to trust God to
provide where He guides. I am drawing uncomfortably near to
the Bible mark of threescore years and ten and am convinced
that the grace that brought me safe thus far will lead me home.



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