The bee has been a favourite from the earliest days.
In Scripture, a land flowing with milk and honey was the promised rest,
toward which patriarchs looked and hoped. The bee was indigenous to
Canaan. Its produce is regarded by David as the type and measurement of
the sweetness of the Word of God. After His resurrection our blessed
Lord ate of a honeycomb.
Some have supposed that the storing and hoarding
propensities of the bee, render it an exemplar rather of avarice than
Christian unworldliness. Hence it is alleged the ant is regarded by
Solomon as the appropriate type of him who asks only daily bread, and
takes no thought for to-morrow.
But the hoarding disposition of the bee is
instructive and exemplary if viewed aright. It lays up in the present
what it is to enjoy in the future; it makes the present subservient to
the future; its whole present is consecrated to its whole future. The
miser has neither an illustration, nor a precedent, nor an example in
the bee. He devotes his whole present to a fragment of the future; or
rather, he devotes a part of his present being to the service of the
remaining part of the same present being, as if the bee were to work
very hard in May and June, in order to live idly in July and August. He
alone finds a precedent in the bee, who lays up, during his whole life
in this world, riches or stores which neither moth, nor rust, nor
thieves can take away. A bee's time is summer, its eternity is winter.
It works in the one to sustain it in the other. So man should sow now
what he desires to reap. He ought now to gather the manna that falls
freely, as honey does On. every opening flower. Rich toward God is the
attainment he should aim at. As the bee turns what it gathers from every
variety of blossom into one substance, so should man, and so does the
Christian, turn all he comes into communion with into one grand and
absorbing issue. Christians ought to live on earth with their hearts in
glory. The future is their destiny, and all their present life should be
spent in sowing seed which will spring up a harvest in glory. Not that
any works of ours either originate, elaborate, or deserve eternal joy.
We are saved not by "running," yet in "running; " not by good works, but
in working. Not indolence, but activity, energy, and life, are required
in believers. A bee seems absorbed in its work. It has no time for play.
It seems to turn aside to no object, and to tarry nowhere unnecessarily.
It seems to feel the importance and the instancy of its mission, and to
hasten to accomplish it.
Our time for work is shortening every day. The Lord
is at hand; the sound of His chariot wheels is already audible. The
foreshadows of His approaching presence deepen and define themselves
more sharply on the face of society.
Death, too, is still busy. The young heart sometimes
stands still. The aged heart, weary with the march of life, begins to
falter. To both it is said, "Work while it is called to-day: the night
cometh, when no man can work." We have no lease of life, either for a
fixed term of seventy years, or terminable at the option of the holder
But, apart from such considerations, our hearts
should be in our work. Our life should be love, and our highest duties
our richest joys. The cloud in the sky should make us watchful, and
waiting only for its departure, and the sunshine should find us working
while it lasts. Our very business in this world should be religious in
its reference and end, as well as inspiration, and even when the hands
are busiest in the work assigned in the providence of God, our hearts
should emerge from the drudgery, and hold communion with eternal things.
"Seek first the kingdom of God, and his
righteousness, and all other things will be added." "Labour not for the
meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life."
Be "rich toward God."
Bees are very musical when well. They make glad music
when most industrious. They literally sing at their work. Their labour
is love as well as duty—their busiest days are their merriest. Their
most laborious hours are lightened by song. They seem to act as if they
had either heard or somewhere read, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms."
It is no doubt true their song has running through it a chord of
sadness. Yet there is a major strain, to shew how merrily they work, and
how thoroughly their hearts are in their work.
They are all musicians. Every bee makes melody as
fast as it gathers honey ; passing from flower to flower, and singing a
sweet solo all the day long. During the early evening the hive is a
perfect oratorio. Treble, tenor, and bass, are clearly distinguishable,
and a real harmony rises from that straw hive—more subdued, indeed, but
sweeter than ever swelled from Exeter Hall, when a Mendelsohn was
conductor and Queen Victoria an auditor. The apiarian choristers are
ever in tune and time; and they, too, praise by instinct the same
blessed Lord who made them and redeemed us.
It is a singular and interesting fact that every
flower the bee taxes is benefited by its visits. They take what enriches
them, and yet does not impoverish the flower. Their visits are angel
visits—they bless where they land. They satisfy their own wants and
gather sweet food for man, and yet leave to the flower they have tasted
influences more than compensatory. They do not alight on the blossoms
like tax-gatherers, deprecated and dreaded, but rather as ministering
spirits. It is, indeed, doubtful whether the bee or the blossom is most
Such should be the life of man. For all we receive we
ought to give. For boons we should give blessings. Every home we visit,
every place we pass through, should be better for our having been in it.
The gambler spoils his victim, and pains and ruins him ; but the honest
merchant, while he profits himself, should give in exchange what profits
or pleases them with whom he deals. This is the very least we ought to
do. Martyrs make joyous sacrifices, and pour forth like festal wine
their blood for Christ's sake. But the humblest Christian should render
blessing for good received, and make all happy for the intercourse they
have had with him, and the bargains they may have struck. Let the
slanderer take away the good name which
"not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed;"
but let the Christian give for what he takes, and
leave everywhere a thanksgiving and a blessing. This is his mission.
Every one who has been connected with him in society ought to be able to
say after he has gone, "He was a blessing to me and many." The traces
and memorials of his life are beautiful, and lasting, and grateful.
Widows and orphans, and surviving friends and acquaintances, pronounce
blessings on the memory of the just.
Bees are not only musicians—like poets, born such—but
they are chemists, that transmute all they gather into honey, or wax, or
cement, according to the season or the exigencies of the case. No
inspection has explained this mysterious laboratory. They have
instinctive science which our universities do not comprehend; an
inspiration which is from above, and is so far a proof that reason is
not a higher but a lower endowment than that Divine influence which
comes upon immortal man, and makes him a new creature.
Bees, too, are mathematicians and architects. They
seem to have a plan clearly before them, and to have determined the
following very difficult problem:—Given a certain amount of wax, and a
given space to work in, how to construct the most capacious vessels of
the greatest strength and largest number without any loss of room or
interstices of value.
Bees love and revel in the sunshine. The earliest
flash of the summer sun is eagerly watched for, and on its genial beams
entering their little chapels, and hinting that buds are opening into
flowers, out they rush in rapid succession, and transform the bright
nodules into precious stores.
From the earliest dawn to the dewy eve, they are
intensely and willingly busy. Even apiarian philosophers appreciate the
value and estimate the speed of time. They know not how soon a drizzling
rain may succeed the bright sunshine. They are, as I have said, the very
types and models of a working clergy, loving work, and thankful for it.
Bees have prophetic instincts. They foresee in summer
that very soon our earth will draw into her bosom for shelter every
bright flower, and Winter walk over the earth with snow-shoes, softly,
lest she awaken from its sweet slumbers the sleeping Spring below. They
lay up a double portion of manna on the summer Saturday for the winter
Sabbath. An instinct from the same source as the inspiration of prophets
tells them to lay by a sufficiency for time and inevitable exigencies,
not avariciously as misers, but prudently as Christians. We, too, are
acquainted with things to come. Faith is the substance of things hoped
for, and the evidence of things not seen. The Spirit is promised, to
shew us things to come.
They know, too, when a cloud threatens to cover the
bright sky; and, long before it is visible, they are rushing home for
The titter absence of selfishness is a leading
characteristic of the bee. It labours for all the colony, and never for
itself alone. The maintenance of all is the object of each. The claims
of each are thus best secured, while the sustenance of all is
exclusively sought after. It is thus denominations of Christians are
most likely to prosper. The elevation and prosperity of all is the most
efficient means of the maintenance and good of each. Whenever a monopoly
is attempted, the selfish party will suffer itself, and the rest
will get no advantage. Bearing one another's burdens is the most
excellent way. Weeping with those that weep, and rejoicing with those
that rejoice, is as beautiful as it is scriptural.
Why should bees excel Christians in this catholic
spirit and mutual co-operation?
The union that subsists between different hives is
perfectly beautiful. In the county of Kent, I have nine sects, or
denominations, or hives, in a line not exceeding sixteen feet, and
scarcely a foot apart from one another; yet a quarrel is the rarest
thing possible. Each community is so intent on the common good, and each
is so busy from sunrise to sunset in amassing precious stores, that they
have neither time nor opportunity for quarrel. The hives differ from
each other in size, shape, substance, yet the inmates are strangers to
rivalry, jealousy, or dispute. Sinecurists are not the monopoly of
Church Establishments. They are found in bee-hives. "The drone is a
round, fat, and lazy inmate. He is of easy temper, rarely quarrels,
never stings, and seems to be perfectly satisfied to see everybody work
for him, while he works for nobody. He is neither a republican nor a
royalist; neither presbyterian nor prelatist. His sole enjoyment is
living at the expense of the industrious. He is the lazy father of
industrious children. He cares very little what ecclesiastical or
political regime he lives under, if he can have enough to eat.
The drone is a gross, stingless bee, that spendeth his life in gluttony
and idleness. For, howsoever he brave it, with his round velvet cap, his
side-gown, his full paunch, and his loud voice, yet is he but an idle
companion, living by the sweat of others' brows. He worketh not at all,
either at home or abroad, and yet spendeth as much as two labourers. You
shall never find his maw without a good drop of the purest nectar." But
a time comes when his good-natured indolence and non-productive habits
strike the minds of the community as very unfair. Accordingly, in the
month of August, you will see the workers deposing and disposing of
their fat sine-curists in the most summary manner; explaining to them at
the threshold their conduct; and, in case of deafness or resistance,
putting them out vi et pedibus.
A working clergy are alone tolerated in the apiarian
denomination. It is the law that the bee that will not work ought not to
live. A hive is no monastery, and bees are not monks. Were Father
Ignatius to appear amongst them with his proposals for union, they would
make a formidable onslaught. They would not recognise the jurisdiction
of Pio Nono. Whenever I approach them and handle them, they recognise in
me a friend and an ally. I have been stung, either by an accidental
encounter, or by intruding on their home and operations too violently;
but this is rare. But plainly the swarms of Jesuits, and Franciscans,
and Dominicans, and Oratorians are wasps, not bees, and live on plunder,
not lawful gains; never working, if they can
only live on the produce of the toils of the industrious.
Bees, introduced to a new settlement, never raise
their superstructure of hexagon combs from the floor or board on which
the hive rests. They invariably begin at the top of the hive, and build
downwards. They begin from above, and work downwards to the floor. They
rest, in no respect, on the lower bee-board. The whole family might be
lifted away without violence or rupture of any sort. The floor of the
hive is used simply for enabling them to enter, and build, and
replenish. The lower is made wholly subservient to the higher. The whole
weight of their work is supported from above.
Is there no lesson here for us? Should not our hopes,
and treasures, and expectances depend from a heavenly, and not rise on
an earthly rest? Is not our foundation in the skies? not in pope or
priest upon earth. The poor Romanist builds not on the Hock of ages, but
on a substitute—a vice-Christ—"the vicar of Christ;" and his
superstructure rises very stately and attractive to the eye of man. But
it trembles with every vibration of the earth; it shakes as the kingdoms
of this world shake, and it fells when they fall. Prophecy tells us that
this huge earthly exhalation will come down at once, and perish in the
deep of God's judgments. It has no hold of the throne of God.
But the company of the redeemed—the true Church of
Christ—composed of all regenerated and earnest men of all ages and
countries and nations, hang like an apiarian young group from above.
Their rest is on high, their support is from the throne, their head and
rock and resting-place is where there are joys at God's right hand and
pleasures for evermore. They are not injured by the movements and
convulsions of time, Amid the mountains cast into the sea, and the noise
of the sea-waves, they remain. They can sing in the worst of times, "God
is our refuge and our strength; therefore will not we fear." "Thou wilt
keep them in perfect peace, because they trust in thee."
Bees are not without bitter personal enemies. One.
very formidable enemy may be seen on a sunny
afternoon, watching just under the landing-board of the hive for weary
and heavy-laden bees returning to their homes. This foe is the toad.
Should a bee fall to the ground he devours it instantly, and he seems as
if he had a sort of suction power, for the bee is drawn toward his
horrid mouth even from a short distance. A very experienced bee-master
informed me that he had opened up, as was richly deserved, the stomach
of a toad whose depredations he suspected, and found some half-dozen of
What a meet type of the old arch-enemy is this toad !
Satan goes about seeking whom he may devour. There is not a house or
sanctuary in the realm at whose door this toad does not wait and watch.
It is well we know it. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. "Resist the
devil, and he will flee from you." We are soldiers of the great Captain
of the faith, and must gird ourselves like men warring against
principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness. Watchfulness is
safety— resistance is victory.
Very often, too, a little bird, a tom-tit, perches on
the bee-board in wet weather, taps with his beak as if it were a
friendly recognition ; and the instant a watcher-bee comes out
to reconnoitre, the wicked little Puseyite snaps him up. Bees
need to be watchful—Christians should not be less so.
High winds spoil the temper, as they very much
interfere with the day researches and success of the bees. Occasionally
they are beaten down to the earth, driven against trees, and the more
they are irritated, the more blind and headlong is their flight.
Churches and their ministers never do well in
controversial quarrels about discipline, and questions that do not
minister to edification. Tumultuous synods and general councils are
rarely good symptoms. Passion supersedes sound judgment, party feeling
drives to extremes, and very often the excited members, just like bees
in a gale of wind, drive against each other, and, after the manner of
the people of Ephesus, they are noisy and impetuous in the ratio of
their ignorance of why and wherefore. Bees are best in their hives in
stormy weather, even if it be in May and June. There is always a little
inside work to be done when outside labours are impossible, and even if
they lose time, which is bad enough, they do not lose temper too. If no
good can be done inside during such weather, no mischief is made
outside, and good friends are not alienated by the stings of exasperated
and headlong assailants, which it takes years to heal. Controversy for
vital truth is necessary. For anything short of this, it is most
undesirable—it is unchristian.
Bees ought never to be visited with that most inhuman
scourge—the sulphur match. The Bed Socialists of 1793 are the only
adequate types of those persons who smoke hives in order to get the
honey. These apiarian ouvriers have toiled for us the whole
summer—they are ready to grant us every ounce of honey over and beyond
what is needed for their own winter maintenance. Surely we owe it to
justice and generosity to spare the labourer who asks at our hands a
mere maintenance out of what so enriches and benefits us. Pulling down
churches, and setting fire to pews and pulpits, and sulphur-smoking of
bee-hives, are crimes to be placed in the same category. Both are
barbarous. The one is cruel—the other is profane. Were this apiarian
desolation necessary for human good, one could admit it as a painful
necessity. But as it is most unjustifiable and inexpedient, nay, most
unprofitable and unnecessary, the sooner it is abjured the better it
Bees have stings, it is true; men have swords and
muskets. The offence does not consist in wearing such weapons, but in
making a bad use of them. In this matter I suspect hives may be
advantageously compared with states. Who ever heard of an apiarian
Napoleon, stretching his ambitious wings, and sweeping across common,
and garden, and heath, and striking his sting into every one who dared
to stand in his way? Bid any one ever read of a Macedonian bee directing
his flight on neighbouring colonies, and after spreading desolation far
and wide, returning to his hive and humming deep distress that he had no
more hives to depopulate?
The fact is, the bee is rarely or never the
assailant, and the bee draws the sting in defensive war only. He
retaliates—never is he the aggressor. He assails only in defence of his
temple, his heaven, his country, and his home. He follows peace, and
lives as much as lieth in him peaceably with all men, and will fly from
the flower you refuse him as soon as he gets the hint.
But if you attack his house, which is his castle, he
will fight till he fall or conquer. In fact, his sting is used for
extreme cases only, and generally its use costs the unhappy owner his
life. Aggressive war on the part of a nation is never without severe
retribution. Defensive war may be a duty and a necessity. Bees are not
made without stings in order to prevent war, but they are armed with
stings in order to keep foes far off, and they have at the same time
such an instinctive sense of the danger to themselves in using their
formidable weapon, that they unsheathe it only when their very life is
threatened and their defence demands it.
Emigration is an instinct in the bee, an estimated
and accepted necessity in man, a painful but overruled necessity in
churches. When the hive is crowded with inhabitants, owing to the young
having grown up, there are many signs of discomfort, which the
experienced bee-master very plainly perceives. In such a case there are
but two ways of acting. He must either add another chamber, or allow the
surplus population to take their exodus. In the former case he has more
immediate, but in the latter more ultimate results. Circumstances can
best determine which plan is preferable. Only, in the case of swarming,
we must take care to secure the young seceders in a hive as near the
mother one as possible.
The beehouse should be made of simple materials, just
sufficient to keep out the colds of winter and the heats of summer.
Ornament is useless, sometimes injurious, never at least essential. The
bees regard the interior alone as the scene of all that is pure, and
neat, and beautiful. Should our churches be less so? The King's daughter
is all glorious within the house. A Christian temple is simply a place
of worship and Christian instruction, and the less intricate it is
within, and the simpler, provided it be tasteful and in keeping with its
grand significance, it is without, the better in all respects.
Beehouses should always look towards the southeast.
The inmates thus catch the first warm rays of the sun, and also escape
his intensest heat, which is from twelve to four o'clock in the summer
season. It matters very little whether churches stand east, west, north,
or south. Superstition has its rubric in this matter, but our Protestant
rule of faith lays down none. It is, however, very important that the
hearts of the worshippers should have an inclination eastward, looking
for "that blessed hope, the glorious appearing
of Jesus Christ;" for to them that look for Him, "the Sun of
righteousness will arise with healing under His wings." Toward Him our
hearts should ever look. Him our affections should constantly follow. He
is light and life, and under His warmth shall we make greatest progress
in laying up treasures which no wasp can invade or break through and
steal. Such is His position, that everywhere He may be seen by the
believing eye of Christian love. Eastward or westward, high or low, we
see Him. It is not the building, or the shape and substance of the
building, that constitute its title to the name of church. The Church is
made up of living stones. It is the company of the people of God—the
assembly of the heirs of glory. It is the Queen's presence amid her
councillors that constitutes the court. It is the Redeemer's presence
among His people that forms a Church.
Let the inner be real, and the outer will be easily
and beautifully adjusted. Without bees a beehive is useless. Without
truly converted men, worshipping within and adorning the truth without,
the most beautiful cathedral is but a gigantic house, or rather a