by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There have been many famous kings' gardens, such as the "hanging gardens" in Nineveh, the celebrated villas and gardens of the Roman emperors, and the voluptuous gardens of the Persian caliphs, but we have nobler work in hand. We can find far fairer flowers and rarer fruits in the gardens of the King of kings, the resorts of his Son, the Prince Immanuel.
There are six of these "King's gardens" to which I shall conduct you:
It was doubtless much more beautiful than we can imagine. It was full of all manner of delights, a fruitful spot wherein the man who was set to keep it would find it a happy and refreshing exercise to train the luxurious plants. No sweat was ever seen upon his brow; no winter's wind scattered the leaves of Eden; no summer's heat burned up its flowers. The day brought no sorrow, and the night no danger. The beasts were there; yet not as beasts of prey, but as the obedient servants of that happy man whom God had made to have dominion over all the works of His hands.
In the midst of the garden grew that mysterious tree of life. Hard by it stood the tree of knowledge of good and evil, placed there as the test of obedience. Adam had no need of this forbidden fruit. There were tens of thousands of trees, all of which bowed down their branches with abundant fruit for his hunger or his luxury. But, in an evil hour, at the serpent's base suggestion, we know not how soon after his creation, he put forth his hand and plucked from the forbidden tree! Adam fell that day, and was driven out of Eden to till the thankless, thorn-bearing soil—and you and I fell in him, and were banished with him. He was "the father of us all," and in us all he has sown the seeds of iniquity.
Let it never be forgotten that men are born with a heavy weight of original sin. The bias of the mind of man is towards that which is evil, and we as naturally go astray as the serpent naturally learns to hiss, or the wolf to tear and to devour.
Beware of thinking too little of the Fall. Slight thoughts upon the Fall are at the root of false theologies. The mischief that has been wrought in us is not a trifling matter. The house of manhood has been shaken to its foundations; each timber is decayed; the leprosy is in the tottering wall. Only the divine hand can reclaim us. Man must be made new by the same creating hand that first made him, or he never can be a dwelling place fit for God.
Alas, then, for that first King's garden! The flowers are gone; the birds have ceased to sing! Perhaps the very site of it, which is now unknown, may be a den of dragons, an habitation for the pelican of the wilderness, and the bittern of desolation!
Put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground! Tis night. Yonder are twelve men walking, and talking sweetly as they walk. Observe one, a mysterious, majestic Person. It is the Son of Man—the Son of God. We will conceal ourselves behind that group of olive trees and see what is to happen here.
Just as God walked in the first garden in Eden, so the Son of God walked in the second garden; and as God in the first garden communed with man, so of the second garden it is written Jesus often went there with His disciples.
See, He has told eight of them to wait yonder and He goes on with only Peter, James, and John. Bidding them to watch, He leaves them, and is alone. We see the Son of God in prayer, and as He prays, His earnestness gathers strength. He is striving with an unseen enemy, wrestling so vigorously that He sweats; but it is a strange sweat! "[It] was, as it were great drops of blood, falling to the ground." He is beginning to drink the cup of Jehovah's wrath, which was due to our sins. Christ is quaffing the wrath-cup, and as He trembles under the fiery influence of the draught, He cries, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." But He recovers Himself, and prays, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Twice he looks to the disciples for comfort, but they are slumbering, and then again He returns to His God and casts Himself upon His face, with strong crying and tears, pouring out His soul in blood before high heaven, such is the anguish of His tortured heart.
Behold in this the beginning of our redemption, as Jesus began to suffer in our stead, atoning for our iniquity. The mischief of Eden fell upon Gethsemane. The mist of sin rose up in the garden of Paradise, and as it rose it gathered and collected into a black, tremendous storm cloud. Finally it burst upon the great Shepherd of the sheep, so that we, who deserved to be overwhelmed, might find fair weather in the rest which remains for the people of God.
Let us leave this King's garden, with feelings of deep repentance that we should have made Jesus suffer so, and yet with holy gladness to think that thus He has redeemed us from the ruin of the Fall.
In Joseph's garden, in the new tomb, the Beloved of our souls slept for awhile, and then arose to His glory-life. He had finished His work and earned His reward, and therefore the imprisoning stone was rolled away. He is not here. The Captive is free. And what comfort is here for us! As Jesus rose, so all His slumbering saints shall likewise leave the tomb. His resurrection is the resurrection of all the saints. The Lord's one offering has perfected forever all the chosen ones, and His glorious uprising is the guarantee of their acceptance. Henceforth the garden where Magdalene found her Lord is to us a King's garden, abounding with pleasant fruits and fragrant flowers.
The heart is a little garden, yet who can tell the limit of the heart of man? Now, this little-great thing is meant to be a garden for God. But alas, I perceive it to be all overgrown with weeds; thistles, briars, and deadly plants. There are no luscious fruits, but instead grapes of Gomorrah and apples of Sodom.
What must be done to this neglected garden? The rough plough of conviction must be dragged through it. The spade of trouble must break up the surface and smash the clods, and fire must burn up the rubbish. Has that ever been done in the garden of your heart? Have you ever had your soul ploughed and harrowed with sorrow? Have you seen your sweet sins killed, so that you could no longer take pleasure in them, but desired to be rid of them? That must be done if the garden is to be reclaimed and made worthy of the divine owner.
The seeds of faith, love, and hope, and also of patience, perseverance, and zeal, must then be carefully cast into prepared soil by the Holy Spirit, and fostered by the same kindly care. These must bud, and blossom, and yield their fruits before the heart can be called a garden fit for the King of kings.
This garden must also be well-drained if good seeds are to grow. Wicked desire and excess of carnal confidence must be always drained out of us, or our heart will be a worthless bog. Affliction drains us. We do not like to have our money or our friends taken from us, and yet the love of these might ruin us for all fruit-bearing if God did not remove them.
There must also be constant hoeing, and raking, and digging. After a garden is made, the flowerbeds are never left long alone, for if left to themselves they would soon breed weeds again and return to the old confusion. We must do this by constant self-examination and repentance, striving in the power of the Holy Spirit to keep ourselves free from the sins which do so easily beset us.
They will be rooted out one day, but till then I must be incessantly watchful. But still it is a garden now, a garden for Jesus to walk in, and there are happy times when He deigns to sit down in the arbor of our souls. Our heart is a King's garden when Christ is within, and we have often enjoyed a little heaven within our heart, the beginning of the heaven to which we hope soon to go.
What does a garden mean?
First, it implies separation. A garden is not an open waste or a wilderness; it is hedged in. Ah! Christian, when you join the church, remember you, too, become hedged in for King Jesus. I earnestly desire to see the wall of separation between the church and the world made broader and stronger. Believe me, nothing gives me more sorrow than to hear of church members saying, "Well, there is no harm in this," and getting as near to the world as possible. Grace is at a low ebb in your soul when you even raise the question of how far you may go in worldly conformity.
You are called to go forth without the camp, bearing His reproach. If you want to be in the camp, you cannot be Christ's disciple, for the love of the world is enmity to Christ. Be not conformed to the world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. The King's garden, is a separated place. Keep it so.
The King's garden is a place of order. All the plants are well arranged, and such should the church be—pastor, deacons, elders, members, all in their proper places. The church is not a mere heap, but it is to be a palace built for God, a temple in which He manifests Himself. May we never become a disorderly, disunited, irregular church.
A garden is a place of beauty. Such should be the church. If there is no holiness, no love, no zeal, no prayerfulness in the world outside, yet we should see these things in the church. The rarest, richest, choicest lilies and roses ought to bloom in the place which Jesus calls His own. Let us not put Him off with withered and dying plants.
The King's garden is a place of growth, too. It would be a dead loss to Him if the buds never turned to flowers. We are not introduced into fellowship in the church to be always little children and babes in grace. We should grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Growth should be rapid where Jesus is the Husbandman, and the Holy Spirit is dew from above.
Again, a garden is a place of retirement. Oh! I wish that Christians kept their hearts more shut up for Christ! I am afraid we often worry and trouble ourselves, like Martha, with much serving, so that we have not the room for Christ that Mary had, and do not sit at His feet as we ought to do. The Lord grant us grace to keep our hearts as closed gardens for Him to walk in.
The church is not mine nor yours, but the King's. What a nobility this gives to Christ's church! Whenever the church meets, there is a solemn dignity cast about that assembly which is not to be found in a parliament of kings and princes. If Napoleon could assemble all the potentates in this world, all of them together would not be worth the snap of a finger, compared with half-a-dozen godly old women who meet together in the name of Christ as a church, in obedience to the Lord's command.
If the church is a garden, it needs laborers. You cannot keep a garden in proper order without work. We want more laborers in this church, particularly planters. I had a letter last week from a young woman, who says that she has been here for two years; that she has been very anxious about her soul, and she has often wished that somebody would speak to her, but nobody has done so. How you can let a person come to this Tabernacle for two years and not speak to her? This young woman has been here two hundred times—two hundred times that you have let that poor soul go away burdened without speaking to her!
I want real hard-working soul-winners. I want planters who can get the young slips and put them where they will grow. I want helpers who will gather up the young lambs just as they are born, and carry them in their bosom a little while; spiritual nurses who will give comfort to the broken-hearted, and pour oil of consolation into the wounds of poor trembling sinners.
One person cannot do all this. Even the elders and deacons are hardly numerous enough for so great a work. It should be the aim and duty of all the experienced Christians in the church to fondly tend the younger ones. I believe that many of you do this already. But if everybody were duly anxious about keeping this garden in order, how beautifully trimmed all the borders would be, and how few weeds should we find springing up in the beds!
There should be a little band in every church to collect the straggling. We must be on the alert where we see backsliding begin. How much can be done by old Christians in trying to stop backsliding amongst the young!
In the best church there will always be some falling leaves. Somebody gets out at the elbow with another brother. None of us is perfect. We get on far more than reasonably well with one another, but there are always a few leaves that need to be burned. Whenever you find that such-and-such a brother is going a little amiss, talk to him about it quietly; do not spread it all over the church. If every one would seek to make peace, there never could be any great accumulation of discord in the King's garden to annoy Him.
The church needs new plants. Our King takes wild olive branches and grafts them into the good olive tree. He transplants weeds from the dunghill, and makes them grow as lilies in the midst of His fair garden. May the Master's love constrain you to desire to be such a one, and, if you desire it, you shall have it. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Rest alone upon Him, and you are a plant of His right hand planting.
But all of this would be in vain without rain and sunshine. This church could never prosper without the dew of the Holy Spirit, and the sunshine of divine favor. We have had these blessings, but we must pray that we may have more. Oh, for more prayer, more to pray, and for those who do pray, to pray with more fervor and more constancy in supplication! If you cannot come to the prayer meetings, pray in the family, pray in the closet for us. We must have your prayers. It is the King's garden. Will you not pray for it?
And what does this garden produce? Sometimes in our garden, we have a tree which is so loaded with fruit that we have to put props under it to keep the branches from breaking. There are one or two in this church who bear much fruit for God. But I am afraid that this is not the picture of most of us. You say to the gardener sometimes, "Will there be any fruit on that tree this season?" He looks and looks, and at last he says, "I think I can see one little one up at the top, but I do not know whether it will come to much" That, I am afraid, is the photograph of many professors. There is fruit, or else they would not be saved ones, but it is "a little one." "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples."
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads."
In that garden of the paradise above may we all be found at the last. Amen.