LITTLE AND WISE
by J. C. Ryle
"Four things on earth are little, yet they are extremely wise:
Ants are creatures of little strength—yet they store up their food in the summer;
conies are creatures of little power—yet they make their home in the crags;
locusts have no king—yet they advance together in ranks;
a spider can be caught with the hand—yet it is found in kings' palaces."
I would like you all to be very wise. Wisdom is far better than money or fine clothes, or grand houses, or horses and carriages. People who are not wise, seldom get on well. They are seldom happy. My best wish for any dear boys and girls that I love—is that they may grow up very wise.
"But how are we to be wise?" some of you will ask. "What are we to do in order to get this wisdom, which you tell us is such a good thing?"
Dear Children, if you would be wise, you must pray to God to make you so. You must ask Him to put His Holy Spirit in your hearts, and give you wisdom. This is one thing.
Besides this, you must read God's holy book, the Bible. There you will find out what true wisdom is. There you will see what kind of things wise people do. This is another thing.
And now let me talk to you about the four verses in the Bible which I have written out for you. They are verses which tell us about wisdom. I hope they will do you much good.
There you see that God tells you to learn a lesson of four little creatures—the ant, the cony, the locust, and the spider. He seems to say that they are all patterns of wisdom. They are all poor little weak things. An ant is a little creeping insect, that everybody knows. A cony is a little creature very like a rabbit. A locust is like a large grasshopper. A spider is a thing that the least child need not be afraid of. But God tells you that the ant, the cony, the locust, and the spider are very wise. Come then, dear children, and listen to me, while I tell you something about them. Some of you are but little now. But here you see it is possible to be little—and yet wise.
I. First of all, what are you to learn of the ANTS?You must learn of the little ants to take thought to prepare for the times to come.
"The ants," says the Bible, "are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer." God has made the ants so wise and thoughtful, that they go about gathering food in the harvest time. They are not idle in the fine long days, when the sun shines. They get all the grains of corn they can find, and store them up in their nests. And so, when frost and snow come, the ants are not starved. They lay snug in their nests, and have plenty to eat.
The butterflies are much prettier to look at than the ants. They have beautiful wings, and make a much finer show. But the butterflies, poor things, are not so wise as the ants. They fly about among the flowers, and enjoy themselves all the summer. They never think of gathering food for the winter. But what happens when the winter comes? The poor butterflies all die, while the ants keep alive.
And now, dear children, I want you each to learn wisdom of the ants. I want you, like them, to think of time to come.
You have each got within you—a soul that will live forever. Your body will die some time. Your soul never will. And your soul needs thought and care as much as your body. It needs to have its sins pardoned. It needs grace to make it please God. It needs power to be good. It needs to have God for its best friend in order to be happy.
And, dear children, the best time for seeking pardon, grace, and the friendship of God—is the time of youth. Youth and childhood are your summer. Now you are strong and well. Now you have plenty of time. Now you have few cares and troubles to distract you. Now is the best time for laying up food for your souls.
Ah, my beloved children, you must remember that winter is before you! Old age is your winter. Your frost, and snow, and rain, and storms—are all yet to come. Sorrow, pain, sickness, death, and judgment—will all come with old age. Happy are those who get ready for it early. Happy are those who, like the ants, take thought for things to come!
Those are wise boys and girls who read their Bibles, and learn many texts by heart. Those are wise boys and girls who pray to God everyday to give them His Holy Spirit. Those are wise who mind what their parents and teachers tell them, and take pains to be good. Those are wise who dislike all bad ways, and bad words, and always tell the truth. Such boys and girls are like the little ants. They are laying up store against time to come.
Dear children, if you have not done so before I hope you will begin to do so now. If you have done so, I hope you will keep on doing so, and do so more and more. Do not be like the foolish butterflies. Be like the ants. Think of time to come—and be wise.
II. But let us now go on and see what you are to learn of the CONIES.You must learn of the little conies to have a place of safety to flee to in time of danger.
"The conies," says the Bible, " make their houses in the rocks." The conies are afraid of foxes, and dogs, and cruel men who hunt and kill them. They are poor weak things, and are not strong enough to fight and take care of themselves. So what do they do? They make their holes among stones and rocks whenever they can. They go where men cannot dig them out. They go where dogs and foxes cannot follow them. And then, when they see men, or dogs, or foxes coming—they run away into those holes, and are safe.
The wolf can run much faster than the cony, for it has much longer legs. The deer is much bigger than the cony, and has got fine antlers. But the wolf and the deer have got no holes to run into. They lie out on the open fields. And so when men come to hunt them with dogs and guns, they are soon caught and killed. But the little cony has a hiding-place to run to, and in this way he often escapes.
Now, dear children, I want you to learn wisdom from the little conies. I want you to have a place of safety for your souls.
Your souls have many enemies. You are in danger from many things which may do them harm. You have each of you a wicked heart within you. Have you not often found how hard it is to be good? You have each a terrible enemy, seeking to ruin you forever, and take you to Hell. That enemy is the devil. You cannot see him. But he is never far off. You are each living in a world where there are many bad people, and few good. Dear children, all these things are against you.
You need the help of One who can keep you safe! You need a hiding-place for your precious souls. You need a dear Friend, who is able to save you from your evil hearts, from the devil, and from the bad example of wicked people. Listen to me, and I will tell you about Him.
There is One who is able to keep your souls quite safe. His name is Jesus Christ. He is strong enough to save you, for He is God's own Son. He is willing to save you, for He came down from Heaven and died upon the cross for sinners. When He was upon earth, He took children up in His arms and blessed them.
Dear children, those boys and girls are wise—who put their trust in Jesus Christ, and ask Him to take care of their souls. Such boys and girls will be kept safe. Jesus Christ loves them. Jesus Christ will not let them come to harm. He will not allow the devil, or wicked people, to ruin their souls. Jesus is the true rock for children to flee to. Boys and girls who trust Him will be cared for while they live—and go to Heaven when they die. Jesus is the only true hiding-place. Boys and girls who love Him will be safe and happy.
Dear children, I hope you will all try to have your souls kept safe. Do not put off asking the Lord Jesus Christ to take care of them. Do not say to yourselves, "Oh, we shall have plenty of time by and by!" Who knows what may happen to you before long. Perhaps you may be sick and ill. Perhaps you may lose all your kind friends, and be left alone. Oh, go and pray to Jesus now! Be like the wise little conies. Get a safe hiding-place for your soul.
III. Let us now see what you are to learn of the LOCUSTS.You must learn of the locusts to love one another, to keep together, and help one another.
"The locusts," says the Bible, "have no king, yet they advance together in ranks." They have nobody over them to tell them what to do. They are poor little weak insects by themselves. One locust alone can do very little. The least boy or girl would kill a locust, if he were to tread on it. It would be dead at once.
But the little locusts are so wise that they always keep together. They fly about in such numbers that you could not count them. You would think they were a black cloud. They do not quarrel with one another. They help each other. And in this way the locusts are able to do a very great deal. They make the farmers and gardeners quite afraid when they are seen coming. They eat up the grass and grain. They strip all the leaves off the trees. And this is because they help one another.
Dear children, I want you to learn of the little locusts always to love one another, and never to quarrel. You should try to be kind and helpful to other boys and girls. You should make it a rule never to be selfish, never to be spiteful, never to get angry, never to fight with one another. Boys and girls who do such things are not wise. They are more foolish than the locusts!
Dear children, quarreling is very wicked. It pleases the devil, for he is always trying to make people wicked like himself. It does not please God—for God is love. Selfishness and quarreling are most improper in Christian children. They should try to be like Christ. Christ was never selfish. He pleased not Himself.
Think what a great deal of good, boys and girls might do, if they would be like the little locusts, and love one another. Think how useful they might be to their fathers and mothers: they might save them much trouble and help in many little ways. Think what a great deal of money they might collect to help the missionaries go to the poor heathen. If every child in England was to collect ten dollars a year to help the missionaries, it would be a very great sum. Think, above all, what good boys and girls might do if they agree to pray for one another. How happy they would soon be! Such prayers would be heard.
Dear children, as long as you live—love one another. Try to be of one mind. Have nothing to do with quarreling and fighting. Hate it, and think it a great sin. You ought to agree together far better than the little locusts. They have no king to teach them. You have a King who has promised His Spirit to teach you—and that King is Christ! Oh, be wise like the locusts, and love one another!
IV. And now, last of all, let us see what you are to learn of the SPIDER.You must learn of the spider—not to give up trying to be good because of a little trouble.
"The spider," says the Bible, "can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces." The spider is a poor little feeble thing, you all know. But the spider takes great pains in making her web. The spider creeps into grand houses, and climbs to the top of the finest rooms. And there she spins her web. There seems no keeping her out. Your mother comes and brushes the web away. The spider sets to work at once, and makes it again new. No insect is so persevering as the spider. She does her work over and over again. She will not give up!
I remember a story of a great king who got back his kingdom, by taking example from a spider. Poor man! he had been driven away from his kingdom, like David, by wicked rebels. He had tried often to get his kingdom back. He had fought many battles, but had always been beaten. At last he begun to think it was no use—he would give up and fight no more. It happened at that time that he was lying awake in bed very early one summer's morning, when he saw a spider at work. The spider was trying to make a thread from one side of the room to the other. Twelve times she tried in vain—twelve times the thread broke, and she fell to the ground. Twelve times she got up, and tried again. But she did not give up: she persevered, and the thirteenth time she succeeded!
Now when the king saw that, he said to himself, "Why should not I persevere too, in trying to get back my kingdom? Why should not I succeed at last, though I have so often failed?" He did try again—and he succeeded. He conquered his cruel enemies and got back his kingdom. Dear children, this king's name was Robert Bruce. He got back his kingdom in Scotland by copying the spider!
Now I want you to make the spider your pattern about your souls. I want you, like the spider, to persevere in sticking to what is good. I would like you to determine that you will never give up. I want you to keep on trying not to do what is evil—and trying always to do what is good, and pleasing to God.
Ah! dear children, it is a wicked world, I am sorry to say; and there are many will try hard to make you wicked as you grow up. The devil will try hard to make you forget God. Bad men and women will tell you there is no need for you to be so good.
I beg you not to give way. I beseech you to persevere. Keep on praying every day; keep on reading your Bibles regularly; keep on regularly going to church on Sunday. Alas! there are many boys and girls who give up everything that is good, as soon as they leave school. While they are at school they use their Bibles, and prayer-books. When they leave off going to school, they leave off using all their books too. They often get into bad company; they often take up bad ways; they often go idling about all Sunday. They seem to forget all that has been taught them. Alas! this is not persevering. This is being more foolish than the little spider! It is wicked and unwise!
Dear children, there is a glorious house in Heaven, where I hope I shall see some of you. There is a palace there, belonging to Jesus Christ, which is far finer than any palace on earth, in which all Jesus Christ's people shall live and be happy forever and ever. Dear children, I hope I shall see many of you there.
But, remember, if you and I are to meet in this glorious palace, you must persevere, and take pains about your souls. You must pray heartily. You must read your Bibles regularly. You must fight against sin daily. You must say when bad people entice you to do wrong, "I will not give up my religion! I will try to please Christ." Oh, let the little spider be your pattern all your lives! Persevere and be wise.
And now, dear children, I will finish by asking you to think of what I have been telling you. I have told you of four little creatures, which are very wise—the ants, the conies, the locusts, and the spiders. I have shown you that the ants are a pattern of wisdom, because they think of time to come. The conies are a pattern of wisdom, because they make their houses in safe places. The locusts are a pattern of wisdom, because they help one another. The spiders are a pattern of wisdom, because they persevere. Dear children, I want you to be like them. Some of you may possibly never live to be men and women. But one thing you may be, even now—you may be wise.
Be wise like the ants. Consider these two verses of the Bible and learn them by heart. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." (Ecclesiastes 12:1) "Prepare to meet your God!" (Amos 4:12)
Be wise like the conies. Consider these two verses of the Bible and learn them by heart. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ—and you shall be saved." (Acts 16:31) "You are my hiding-place. You shall preserve me from trouble!" (Psalm 32:7)
Be wise like the locusts. Consider these two verses of the Bible and learn them by heart. "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples—if you love one another." (John 13:35) "He who loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20)
Be wise like the spiders. Consider these words of the Bible and learn them by heart. "Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and you shall find." (Matthew 7:7) "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1, 2.)
Dear children, think on these things. This is the way to be both happy and wise. Never forget what God says in the Bible, "Better is a poor and wise child—than an old and foolish king." (Ecclesiastes 4:13) "The wise shall inherit glory." (Proverbs 3:35)