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Good Words 1860
Bees and Beehives


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 only.

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 benefited.

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 shelter.

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 bees.

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 will be.

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 mausoleum.

The bee is eminently a day labourer. It is at work early in the morning—as early as sunrise; never late at night. Its working-day is not modelled after the long-hour system. It needs little light for storing, but it demands bright sunshine for labour. We, too, axe or should be children of light. We should work while it is called to-day. Daylight our working hours, and our long evenings for reading, and storing mind and memory and heart, and even imagination, with the precious things of heaven and earth. C.


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