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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Baptist Magazine, Volume 67, 1875
"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matt. 10: 29-34.
"Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12:6, 7
We have here the Great Teacher employing a very humble illustration of his doctrine, for surely, if it was in Palestine as it is here with us, almost no bird is of less consideration than the sparrow. Observe, however, for it is worthy of your observation, that it is a creature of God; that fact gives it importance. God made it. Think of the conformation of its body: the little chirper has a heart which sends blood into every part of its body. It has organs of digestion as we have, a nervous system of its own - a quick discernment of danger, and wings to bear it instantly off to safety.
A principle, even the mysterious principle of life that lives within us, lives in the bird. But although its natural instinct leads it to build about our habitations, it is of no value or estimation. Neither was it in much esteem in Palestine, where five sparrows went at market for two farthings. But you wonder what use the Lord of Glory could make of this little creature in His spiritual teaching, or how He could find occasion to interweave somewhat of its history with religious instruction. The use he makes of it will appear as we proceed in the exposition of His words, when it will be obvious to us all, I hope, that there is no trifling in or about the text, but substantial instruction.
In these words, "not forgotten before God," there is much meaning. It did not come into being of itself or by chance; no, God made it just as He made us, and the wisdom and the power that were requisite to make the body of a man were requisite to form the body of a bird. Nor when brought into being was it left to shift for itself—no, God provided its food, and gave it the instinct to gather it, and superintended the mystery of its concoction and growth, the same as with us. The coming forth of the bird and the number of days it was to live, where it should build, where and when it should perish, were all in God's remembrance, just as it is with us. The bird cannot be sold without God, nor can it be put to death without Him, nor can any one creature of the countless myriads of creatures He has made ever be out of His recollection.
We may and we must wonder at this, but it is quite true; it cannot be otherwise with an infinite mind which embraces all possible existences that ever have been, or ever shall be, at one view; for infinitude does not creep along by reasoning, or by record, to assist memory, as we do. "Known to God," saith the Scripture, "are all His works from the very beginning to the end of time." There is no creature so minute, even such as can only be detected by the microscope, but its tiny history is in the Divine mind. Think, then, of a mind that can grasp all possible existence in all worlds at a glance, as easily as the human eye can see all that falls within its sphere of observation, in an instant.
And then He passes in the same breath from one of the least of its class in animated nature to the most insignificant of the inanimate; for what so inconsiderable, or, what so much below one's observation as the numbering of the hairs of the head. The most minute objects without life, and the least valuable possessed of life, are both taken by our Lord in illustration of the doctrine He inculcates.
Doctrine.—But what doctrine is that? It is this: If a Heavenly Father's care extends so universally and minutely over all the creatures He has made, then it must be a sinful and unbelieving heart which is alarmed at aught that threatens or befalls the lives and fortunes of His own children.
It is not so put by the Divine Teacher, but it is impossible to gather anything less or more from His words. Now the application of this to the fears of want and the fear of death must be brought out. For instance, here is a disciple painfully addicted to a habit of looking forward, and whose contemplations in the future are always of a gloomy and desponding character. If he is an agriculturist, the prospect of temporary unpropitious weather brings certain omen of a defective harvest, and severe suffering, and heavy loss; or, if he is a commercial man, then the fluctuations of prices, the depression of markets, and the dullness of trade, keep up a morose and murmuring spirit; fear, the fear of bad times and corresponding inability to meet obligations, notwithstanding all past experience of divine goodness and providential care, eats out the life of the man's happiness.
A misery his, which overleaps present comforts and borrows all its gloom from a futurity in time which may not be his, or, being his, may be bright with unanticipated success. Or, let the party belong to neither of these classes, let her be a widow woman, or one who has never wanted for temporal good, but she is dreadfully afraid that she .shall yet become the child of misfortune, and be thrown upon the benevolence of the charitable and humane. And who has not met with such cases hundreds of times?
Is it so, then, that the universal Provider cares not for you? Is it so, that He without whose permission a sparrow falls not, and He whose minute attention to events extends to one hair falling from the head, and who actually numbers the millions of such on the head of every one of us; is it so that you, Christian, and your affairs fall beyond the circle which He fills every instant with the exuberance of His benefits? Or, are you too insignificant for His notice, or too bad to be mended and cured of your miserable doubting and unkind suspicions?
"Fear not," therefore, is the word with which the gracious Master would drive away the apprehensions that would rob Him of His glory and His children of their happiness. It is very remarkable how much of His precious teaching is directed to this very matter. See his allusions to the ravens whom God feeds, and to the lilies that He clothes with beauty without our care or toil. And evermore the comparison is struck, "How much better are ye?" consequently, the impossibility of being overlooked by the Omniscient eye.
Creatures fearfully and wonderfully made, in their make the glory of creation, and endowed with immortality too,—yea more, the adopted into the family of the redeemed, inspired with the blessed hope and waiting, waiting for the coming of the Lord and the manifestation of the sons of God,—shall they indeed indulge in complaints and suspicions, or allow a fearfully dejected spirit to mar " the peace that passeth all understanding?" "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," and, in course, all necessary good below, that may minister to the spiritual well-being or real good of the individual and family. Another view may be taken of the subject, touching our removal from this world.
It is well known how many Christian people there are whose lives are in bondage to the fear, not so much of death, as of dying. Their minds are fortified by the faith of the Gospel against the fear of being lost. "They know in whom they have believed, and that He is able to keep that which they have committed to Him against that day." Still they are haunted with anxiously painful thoughts about the dark and dismal passage replete with the terror of sick beds and incurable and torturing maladies.
It might be enough to say that if they are secure against the greater evil, the lesser might well be dismissed. But this does not satisfy. Well, I fall back on the text. "Five sparrows are sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God." The five birds are sold to die: they were not forgotten when alive and sold, neither are they forgotten in their death, for it has been shown that the Creator takes note of everything that lives, for it lives by Him; nor can its life perish without Him, i.e., it cannot cease to be one of His charge, out of His knowledge and sanction, little as the death of a whole covey of birds would be thought of by us. Now, is not the application of this obvious?
You are afraid of dying. What, of dying alone? That cannot be. If a worthless bird cannot die without its Creator, can you? If the shot cannot be fired which is the death of a bird without God, can Death's shaft strike you without Him? Not one of the five sparrows can fall but by the will of God, and can you die by chance, unguarded, uncared for, and, like a worthless thing, sink out of being, unattended or unregarded? What do I say? Angels are there, who are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation; God Himself is there, saith the inspired Shepherd of Israel. "Thou art with me in the valley of the shadow of death." If not one of the birds is forgotten before Him in its lifetime, and in its deathtime, no more shall you be?
O child of God! Yet timid and fearful of Jordan's dark wave, dismiss from this day forward all uneasiness about life's close; be deeply and devoutly concerned about living well and to the glory of God, but leave the disposition of affairs regarding the removal from the earthly house of this tabernacle in the hands of Him who built it, and who promises to rebuild it afresh, and to set it up in immortal beauty.
You shall scarce recognise yourself when dressed out in your Resurrection suit you will be ready to exclaim: "Surely this is not me!" For He shall change this vile body, and fashion it like to His own glorious body, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Neither poverty, nor pain, nor loathsomeness, that drive fellow-mortals from us, can at all affect the glorious One; it is the undying spirit that HE is taken up with ; the other must pass through the process of disorganisation, dismemberment, and pulverisation, to prepare it for being built up an habitation for God in the Spirit.
Now, then, when you put all these things together, you will be prepared the better to appreciate the words of Jesus that even not one of the five sparrows is forgotten before God, and whether the tribulations of life, or the anxieties about departing out of the body, engage your attention, your calling to remembrance how the Almighty concerns himself about one hair of your head, or the falling of a worthless sparrow to the ground, you will be driven to the conclusion: Die when I may, or how I may, or by what unforeseen and unknowable means I may, this is clear—I am not only one of the highest rank of His creatures on earth, being human, but I am a child of the Adoption, purchased by Christ's blood, and destined to everlasting life; it follows from the sentiments breathed in the text, I may, and must, henceforth "FEAR NOT."
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, ye believe also in me. I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am ye may be also." (John 14: 1, 3) Thus saith the Lord: "Ye are of more value than many sparrows." Yea; for in our nature the Lord Himself appears in the Heavenly world; He took it on in Time, but He wears it forever in Eternity.
"Nearest the throne, and first in song,
Man shall his Hallelujahs raise,
While wondering angels round Him throng,
And swell the triumph of His praise."
Valuable lessons may be drawn out by us from these truths:
One of the first is the sin of cruelty to animals who can neither resist nor fly from the cruel hands of their tormentors. It is true that to man is given dominion over all the irrational tribes, for man's own benefit; but when beasts of burden are taxed beyond their strength, or urged forward by whip and spur into unnatural speed, we sin against the natural laws. And what shall be said of bull-baiting, and the fighting of lower animals? Can the Creator remain unmoved by such shameful infraction of natural law? Impossible.
What shall be said of stealing, and selling, and murdering fellow-creatures in the cursed lands of slavery, as a trade? This being the disgraceful violation of the rights of man given to all who are born of woman, the crime will to a certainty be punished by the Supreme Judge, at His appearing and kingdom. And how dreadful the execrations of slaves who have perished in ignorance and guilt, when meeting with the heartless and impenitent slave-owners, in the place of darkness, fire, and chains! All putting of dumb creatures to unnecessary pain wantonly is not only a crime to be punished by the Judges. Such exercises brutalise rational beings, and sink them beneath the creatures whom they abuse. "Not one of these is forgotten before God," and He will be the avenger of all such, beyond all doubt.
Secondly—our text was spoken to brace the hearts of disciples exposed to persecution. "Be not afraid of them," says the Lord, "who kill the body." Why not? Because their wrath can but strike against the poor body—a dying frame, at any rate; their rage cannot touch the immortal part. "Fear Him who, when He hath killed, has power to cast into hell." As if He had said, "He who, afraid of man's wrath, challenges God's anger, by suppressing his convictions and turning back from the Christian profession—he who does this is self-condemned, and will be dumb in the Judgment which commits apostates and hypocrites to everlasting perdition."
On the other hand, the faithful, who, in the face of all opposition, hold on their way until the end, having conquered by endurance, obtain the Crown of Righteousness that fadeth not away. If sparrows are not forgotten of God, can saints and martyrs be overlooked? Such is the substance of the instruction conveyed to us in these verses. Such as have "forsaken father and mother, houses or lands, for Christ's sake, are assured of an hundredfold in this present time,"—spiritual blessings outweighing all earthly good—"and in the world to come, eternal life."
Thirdly—this language was held by our Lord in the beginning of the Gospel, when persecution for Christ's sake was carried the length of taking away life, and that in many torturing forms.
But what shall be said of would-be Christians who, but for the sneer, or the laugh, or the curse of the ungodly (for further enmity in our day cannot go), dare not go without the camp? Surely the profession which is hindered and held back by shame, or the fear of it, the religion of such, must be a very superficial affair. It cannot be genuine heart work; it cannot be genuine love; it cannot be true faith: if it were, this would be its language, "I count all things loss for Christ; for Him I would suffer the loss of all, even life itself."
Do any half-hearted souls hear these words? Try yourselves, my friends; prove your own selves ; step not out by one inch to confess Christ, if your heart is not with Him, and if you have not counted the cost, otherwise you will by-and-by turn back and walk no more with Jesus. "And better never to have known the way of righteousness than to have turned from the holy commandment. "But feel your need of Him, believe in Him truly, trust in Him thoroughly, obey him implicitly, and you shall walk at liberty, for you keep His commandments, and that is a liberty at once rational and Divine.
Fourthly—from the handling of this subject, any ordinary capacity may conclude how utterly absurd and abominable the doctrine that "the fixed laws of the universe negative the idea of prayer affecting the purposes, plans, and measures of the Almighty." The universality and minuteness of God's observation, and His living in the midst of all His creatures and all His works, filling all in all, and having all power in heaven and earth, prayer offered to Him must be one of the most rational exercises of minds acknowledging His Being and perfections.
The philosophic turn of modern freethinkers is no better than a modification of the old heathenism which held the Deity to be far above taking notice of mortals below. O, it is a first principle of true religion that God is the "hearer of prayer, to whom all flesh shall come." Fear not, children of God that your small affairs are below Him. When tempted to bottle up your anxieties and fears instead of spreading them before Him, remember the Royal Petitioner once said, "Put thou my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?" And another to whom the prophet was commissioned to speak thus, "I have heard thy prayers, I have seen thy tears." And another who affirms, "Five sparrows are sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God, yea, the very hairs of your head are all numbered."