Name or Nature
Name or Nature
(story for boys & girls, by Harry Foster)
JACK*, Jill* and the twins* came in just as their mother was filling some bowls with hyacinth bulbs. Jack, as usual, was full of questions as to how things were done and why. Jill, being the oldest, had seen bulbs planted before and thought that she knew all about it. The twins were still quite small and didn't say much, but they were glad to know that the flowers would be blue, and would have a nice scent—that is, if the bulbs came up.
When the children were alone Jill had a bright idea. Let them all plant hyacinths too, and give mother a surprise. They all agreed and went off to the potting shed to see what they could find, and sure enough, there on the bench were two lovely shiny bulbs, just waiting to be put in. Jill took up one of them, and Jack took the other; then they began to look around to see where the bulbs could be planted. Up in her room Jill had a pretty little bowl which had held bulbs the year before; she ran up to fetch it, and began to fill it with the rest of the bulb fibre which her mother had not used. By this time Jack had thought of another question. "Are you sure that these are real hyacinths?" he asked. "Suppose they are something else?" Jill said that she was quite sure—they must be. As she buried her bulb in the fibre and looked again at the pretty pot, she could not bear to think that the flower would not be as fine as last year's. Looking around again, she saw on the ground one of those labels with a bright picture of the flower and the words "Blue Hyacinth". She picked up the label and fixed it on the bowl. Fancy Jack asking such a silly question! It must be all right in such a pot and with the right label on.
Yet Jack still did not feel quite sure. He so wanted to get a good flower—a better one than Jill's if he could. He had no bowl in his room, and in any case Jill had used up all the rest of the fibre. He thought and thought, and then at last he had an idea—a really good one. He pulled out one of his mother's bowls which she had left in a dark corner, a big bowl which had several bulbs planted in a circle, and then he buried his bulb right in the centre, in between the others. Now he felt happy. Planted in among the other bulbs and growing up with them, his would surely have a fine flower. And as he pushed the bowl back into its corner, he gave a chuckle, for he had gone one better than Jill. She would have to keep watering hers, but he needn't bother, for mother would water his without knowing that it was there. What a surprise when she saw the hyacinth growing in among hers!
What had the twins been doing all this time? Well, they always tried to imitate Jill and Jack, so they had wanted to plant a bulb also. Just to keep them quiet Jack gave them an old dried-up looking thing which was lying on a shelf. Neither he nor Jill wanted it; in fact it was so dry and knobbly that not for a moment did he think that it would ever grow. He gave them an old broken flower pot as well, and then left them to get on as best they could. By the time that Jack and Jill had finished, the twins had put some earth in the cracked flower pot and were trying to get their ugly old bulb down into the earth. Jill gave them a hand in pushing it well down, and showed them how to water it. She was glad to keep them happy, but felt sure that they would never have a flower. She and Jack would, of course, for their bulbs were smooth and fresh looking.
The weeks went past, and green shoots began to show in all the bowls. Jack saw the leaves of his bulb growing up among the others. Jill's pretty bowl had nice green leaves showing in it too, so that she longed for the day when she would be able to get rid of the label, and instead to have a real flower, as blue as the one in the picture, and, what is more, sweetly scented. Even the twins' old bulb began to sprout. Sometimes they forgot to water it, and sometimes they watered it too much, but still it kept alive and grew. It was all very exciting!
Then one day mother saw the extra plant in her bowl, and what is more she knew that it was not only extra but different. She began to ask questions this time, and soon the whole secret was out. Poor Jack and Jill!! Their surprise turned out to be greater than they had expected; but instead of being a happy one it was just the opposite. Mother laughed so much that she could hardly get breath to tell them what was the matter. Instead of bulbs they had planted onions! Fancy expecting to get hyacinths from onions!
It was clear to Jill that you can't change an onion by planting it in a hyacinth bowl, not even with the proper label. It was no use just calling it a hyacinth or hoping that the pot would help it to be one. If the bulb has not got a hyacinth nature it will never give the scented bell-flowers of a hyacinth.Yet there are boys and girls, yes, and grown-ups too, who think that they can be Christians just by taking the name, by living in a Christian home, going to Sunday services or belonging to a church. Neither the bowl nor the label could change Jill's onion into a hyacinth. An onion is an onion, wherever it grows. And a sinner is still a sinner, even if he tries his best to act like a Christian.
Jack's onion was no better than Jill's, even if it did grow up in the midst of hyacinths. It did not take on any of their scent, and it could not copy their blue colour. Even if the onion had been planted among hyacinths year after year, there would have been no gradual change. It would never have become less and less of an onion, and more and more of a hyacinth, for it had its own nature which would never alter. Nor can we ever be changed by just mixing with Christians or trying to copy their ways.
Now we come to the strangest part of the story. That ugly old bulb which Jack gave to the twins was really a great success. It had looked dead and they hadn't cared for it very well, but it had life in it, and from this life came a lovely flower. There in its old cracked pot, it stood up strong and beautiful, filling the air around with its sweet scent. It was a hyacinth bulb after all, with a hyacinth heart. The twins, of course, were very proud of what they had done, but it wasn't so much due to them as to the nature of the bulb having a chance to show itself. The two onions were called hyacinths by name, but the twins' bulb was a hyacinth by nature. And it is the nature which matters rather than the name.
That is why the Lord Jesus said that we must be born again. He meant that a Christian is one who has Christ's nature in his heart, which is more than a name, and more than trying to be good and follow Jesus. It means that " It is no longer I, but Christ that lives in me" (Galatians 2. 20). An onion can never become a hyacinth, but a sinner may be made into a child of God, if he will let Christ come into his heart. It is then that the beauty of Jesus will be seen in him, for he has not only Christ's Name but also His nature.
By Harry Foster
(In the magazine ‘A Witness and A Testimony’, 1954)
[*Note: There are four children. The older ones are Jack and Jill; the younger ones are the twins. Jack and Jill were unsuccessful in their attempt to plant hyacinths; but the 'ugly old bulb' which Jack gave the little twins proved to be a great success.]