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Great Christian Works:     Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life   By A. B. Simpson

A. B. Simpson

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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson

The Fowls And The Flowers

"Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, 0, ye of little faith. Therefore, take no thought, saying: What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek). For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."   Matthew 6:26-33

OUR Lord brings us this morning in this beautiful parable, perhaps the most comprehensive of all His teachings from the works of creation. The lessons it teaches are providence, faith, and single-hearted devotion to God. These great truths are taught us from the natural emblems of this parable - the fowls of the air, and the lilies of the field. Let us listen to the voices of the fowls and the flowers warbled out to us from the melodious notes of the one, or greeting us in the beautiful tints of the other. They breathe these messages of eternal truth from the life of Christ, the divine providence of God in the lives of His children, the simplicity of the Christians' trust and faith, and the singleness of heart which He expects in His followers.

Can there be any greater truths, beloved, to which we can listen this morning? It comes as a message from Jesus Christ to the soul for the coming week Perhaps after a summer of such testing as you have seldom had before, God is talking to you. Do not fail to catch the teaching of His care, of your trust, and of the single eye He would have in you to His glory. He teaches us the lesson of providence from the fowls; of faith from the flowers; and of singleness of purpose from the closing applications of the parable.

I.

1. We are taught in symbol in the parable of the fowls that the providence of God in kind and thoughtful care has reference to the least as well as to the greatest of His creatures. It extends to the most uninteresting, and insignificant, and unattractive of all His works. They are not overlooked, although of so little value. We are told that two sparrows are sold for a farthing, which is the smallest Jewish coin. You could not buy one sparrow; there was no piece of money small enough to purchase it. Luke tells us that five sparrows were sold for two farthings. Our Lord knew the price of them well.

I dare say it was all He had for dinner the preceding day, or his disciples may have just reminded Him of what they had paid for them a short time ago. He and His followers, we know, were very poor, and these birds were very cheap. In Germany a string of them are sold for a few pence. There is not much meat upon them. Our Lord begins with these common things, and then rises to a climax. "Ye are much better than they." If God cares so tenderly for them, He will care much more for His redeemed child.

2. These sparrows are not only cheap, but they are very ugly; there is no beauty in them. They have no brilliant coloring in their wings, and no burnished gloss upon their plumage. They are not a tropical bird. They are common brown things, so near the color of the mud that they could easily hide away from the gun of the hunter. They are little, insignificant things, so common that one would not be missed anywhere. They stand for very much in our spiritual lives. God's great world is made up of myriads of these little things, and yet there is not one of them that would not be missed by the Father if it were gone. If one of these sparrows should leave your door tomorrow morning, you would not know about it. Your children would not miss it in their play; but He knew it; He marked it when it fell from its perch; He saw where it fell.

Years ago, when I was a boy, I remember killing a sparrow as it sat upon a little twig of a tree. I gave it one sharp stroke, and its little neck was broken. I took the soft little thing up in my hand, and, as its head fell over, I burst out crying. It seemed to me that all heaven was condemning the child that did this act. I felt that God knew all about it. Not one of them could fall to the ground without our Father. I have never killed one since. I could not bear to make anything suffer that was the object of such care from God. They stand for the common things in life; the small things that can be numbered by millions; so small that they would not be missed if we should lose them. And yet not so small but that He sees them. The small, insignificant troubles, the petty trials that come up at every minute in our lives, that seem like little pivots or pins in the machinery of life, are typified by them.

We would not dare to pull out a pivot. We do not know what might happen if we did. It holds much together. And so with the little, common things of life. We are not able to count them often, and we do not value them because of their smallness, and ugliness and plainness. They are around us in great multitudes. Thousands of them will come into our lives tomorrow. No matter how many there are of them, God's providence is in every one. He is in every nail that is driven, in every step that is taken, in every look that is expressive of character, in every word that is spoken, in every syllable of every word, and in the very tones in which we speak. These are all links in God's chain of providence.

The hairs upon our heads are not as important as the sparrows, and yet they are all numbered. I do not understand it, but I am sure that it is so. In His great book of life, the names of all His children are written, and under each is a record of his life so small that it would need all the lenses in heaven to enable us to see it, and yet God knows each of its items. The telescope reveals to us the mighty worlds that are rolling on in all the immensity of space. The microscope takes each tiny leaf, and reveals to us the most minute part of its mechanism. It discloses the tiniest animalculę which float in a drop of water.

These things are as true in the spirit world as in the world of matter. There is page after page there of the minutest drawing of our lives. If Jesus had not said it, we could not believe it. The records number many millions, and they are kept definitely and inclusively for those who are worthy of the death of His dear Son. His marvelous care extends to all His rational creatures with far more tender regard than it does to the brute or inanimate creation.

3. We not only learn that little and common things are a part of God's plan, but we see that it includes richer and more luxuriant ones. As we turn from the sparrows to the garden beds, and note the coloring that crowns the lilies and developes in the other flowers into tints of beauty, we see this lesson plainly. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The sparrows lead us down to the little, ugly, mean, miserable things, that seem of no consequence in our lives.

If we saw only these we should think that God has no taste for what might be called the higher things of life. But as we turn to the lilies, we see an exquisite taste displayed in their coloring, and in their creation into forms of glory and beauty, which all the looms of earth, and all the brushes of art could never imitate. I saw some French flowers in a store not long ago, and I thought they were real at first, but, as I saw my error, I thought how sad a thing it would be to have to live in such a garden as this always. Man cannot imitate God, even in his ill commonest works, with all his ingenuity and skill. How exquisite is His taste. If we have any taste at all, let us remember that it came from Him. We would rather look upon a person who was dressed neatly, than upon one in slovenly attire; we would rather look upon a pretty face than upon a deformed one; upon a garden than upon a neglected wilderness.

The time will come when we shall dress as no milliner robe us. We love to look upon the cloud banks in the evenings, and watch how the colors change upon them, as the light strikes them from the molten, glowing, burning bosom of the sun; turning them into strange forms of glory and beauty. God is able to create such robes for every one of us, changing us in a moment from our garments of sin, and causing us to shine like the sun. We shall not need any loom to weave our garments, nor any dye to color them. God will speak, and we shall be robed like the sunset; robed for the feast or for the royal throne. We shall not need to bother then about our clothes. But that time has not yet come. It is the time for waiting now, not for the bridal.

We are waiting for the bridegroom. When He appears we shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needle work; our clothing shall be of wrought gold. God does not always want His children to be poor, commonplace creatures; He would not have them always living in tenement houses, but He would bring us where there are beautiful trees and exquisite fields, and fair gardens. These are typified now by the lilies of the field, which express more than the sparrows do. They teach us that we are to rejoice in the abundance of His grace, and in the splendid provision that He has made for us. We see, too, a type and a picture in this, of His power in higher places, and His glorious provision for us there also. God's providences extend to this also.

If He wants you to be rich and cultured; if He has been giving you a sweet, fair face; let His glory shine through them all. If you have talents and intellect, He can use them, and make them, perhaps, like the gifts which He has given to the seraphs in glory. He might have given them to some one else instead to you. Take the things that He has given, but do not think that you have got to manage them. Trust God in the common things in life, but trust Him in the higher ones also. Do not think that you can be a Christian in home-spun, but that you cannot be one now in fine clothes, or riding in a carriage. You must be His, whether you are walking or riding. He is to be all in all, or you will fall into idolatry, and bring yourself under a curse.

4. Notice that our Lord says: "Your Heavenly Father feedeth them." He is not their Heavenly Father; He never redeemed them; never gave them a spark of His life. You are His child; you are a part of His very nature. He is your Heavenly Father, not theirs. Then, how much more will He do for you than for them? Do you believe it, beloved? I wonder if you do. Has He done greater things for you than for the lilies of the field? Do you expect Him to supply all the needs in your life, as the clouds expect to get their tints from the sun? You expect Him to take care of them somehow, but you do not expect the same in your own life. Take the lesson that this brings. Stop long enough to learn it.

Is God as wondrously providing for your life as He is for the birds? It is stupendous how He is caring for them. We almost never find that a bird has fallen from its perch through starvation. There are plains that man has never reached which are full of God's beautiful flowers. Often in the tropical jungle they are far more beautiful than under man's care. If God so wondrously cares for them, how much greater is the care that He gives to us, and how it should lead us to great humility as we think of it. Most of us are in a place of great dependence, and there is room for nothing else, but confidence and trust in Him.

II.

God is teaching us in these beautiful symbols the lesson also of trust. If He cares for the minute things of His Kingdom, but cares much more for His children, shall we not trust Him, and take in all the length and breadth of the thought? He has told us to "take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? for after all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." And again: "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." To take thought for the life then, is to serve Mammon, and to be free from the love of the world is to serve God.

Fear is the other side of love. What is it to trust? Christ gives us an infallible test. If we are fretting, and careworn, and anxious, we are not trusting. Care and confidence cannot go together. The apostle tells us, "Be careful of nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." That is trusting. "Casting all your care" upon God is trusting Him. The things you are fretting about this morning are not committed to God. The things you have committed are out of your hands, like the letter which you deposit in yonder box, and which you commit so wholly to the care of the postman. Have you done this about the things you have committed to God? Before you can be confident that He will keep that which you have committed, you must be sure that you have placed it in His hands.

Christ makes no less of our trust for temporal things than He does for spiritual things. He places a good deal of emphasis upon it. Why? Simply because it is harder to trust God for them. In spiritual matters we can fool ourselves, and think that we are trusting when we are not; but we cannot do so about rent, and food, and the needs of our body. They must come, or our faith fails. It is easy to say we trust Him in things that are a long way off, but there can be no trifling about it in things where the faith must bring practical answers. It is easy to have faith for our needs, and to trust Him when the sun is shining. But let some things arise which irritate, and rasp, and fret us, and we soon find whether we have real trust or not. And so the things of everyday life are tests of our real faith in God, and He often puts us where we have to trust for tangible matters; for money, and rent, and food and clothes.

If you are not trusting here wholly, when you are placed in such tests you will break down. Are you trusting God for everything through the six ordinary days of the week? Are you believing God's hand is on everything, that there is not one of these commonplace things, these multitudes of little cares which come like flocks of sparrows, but that God has it all arranged for, and can overrule it for you this morning, so that you shall be free from all care about it? It is a practical lesson. There are multitudes of people who have claimed that they have received full salvation, but who yet are not saved from care, and fret, and worry, which will appear in their speech and trouble every one with whom they come in contact.

But God teaches us also trust for spiritual growth. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these." I love to think that the Lord was speaking here of spiritual growth. "He shall grow as the lily, his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon." This is the planting and developing of spiritual life in the beauty of Christ Jesus. It is not dressing up a corpse; it is not putting beauty and grace on the outside, while the soul is festering within. No, the Lord wants the life to be dwelling in the heart, and then He will make a glorious dress for the outside.

He would have this life grow up like the lily which is planted in the soil, and then swells, and enlarges and develops, rising into the fullness of beauty in stems and leaves, and flower-cups, and sweeps fragrance as well as color. It is not growth He is speaking of here so much as trust for spiritual growth. How people wear out head and heart, and break down in trying to become good. The work is as hard as that which any seamstress does in making dresses for her customers. So, some Christians are working with all their might to get their spiritual garments ready.

Jesus has all that is needed for spiritual robing; all the peace, and the holiness, and the love, and the faith; and all we need is to trust Him for these things as much as for temporal need. We are not only to take Him for salvation, but to trust Him for all His riches. "We are to put on Christ Jesus. We are to enter into rest. We are to work out what He works in. We are not to go to work ourselves to obtain it. God says: "It is He that worketh in you." Then, give Him a chance to develop His life there. Walk in the good works that He has prepared for you. Trust Him to keep you sweet. Commit this to Him, and you will find that He is able to keep you, and He will, as you trust Him for it.

One of the loveliest Christian friends I know became victorious over an irritable temper in this way. I well remember when she was entirely delivered in a short time after many years of weary struggling against it herself. Beloved, if today you reach down the spiritual roots deep into the soil of life, and stretch out the branches on either side, and cover them with leaves, and blossoms, and fruit, the growth must be through no effort of yours. The lily is not making efforts to grow, it is growing restfully and spontaneously. So, if we would grow up into Him in all things, we must keep our hands off ourselves, and trust our growth wholly to God; then we shall be arrayed as Solomon was in all his glory.

So, many of God's children want to take hold of what is wrong in themselves and straighten it out. We must learn to let these things alone, and to leave them wholly to God. This must be so, if we are made sweet and gentle. Dear friends, will you have your own way in this, or will you take His way, and let Him perfect His life in you? When we go to work ourselves we make lots of trouble, and do not get right in the end. God says to us: "My child, let these things alone, and get full of Me; then you will not mind them." If you cannot keep this restful spirit, I am afraid you have got more theory than trust in your spiritual life.

III.

God teaches us here, also, something that is more important even than trust, and that is the secret of trust; single-hearted devotion to Him. "No man can serve two masters;" "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." There is the secret of failure, and unrest, and distrust in Christian life. The heart is too much fixed on the things of this world. There is not a single-hearted purpose to do His will. We want two things: To be a Christian, and to please God, is one desire. But there is another want with us also; the desire for earthly things. If we were really yielded to the will of God, there is a strong intense life within us, without entire loyalty to God. We have not yet the single heart intent on pleasing Him.

There is not an earnest seeking after the Kingdom of God more than after earthly things. God would teach us not to seek these things at all; we are to let Him add them unto us. We are to be entirely separated from all earthly care; first, by His care for us, so that we shall not be thinking whether we are making or losing more by living thus in union with Him. Then we are to be separated by the thought held out to us here of His second coming; a though of transcendent importance. The whole lesson ends in a picture of His coming. The glories of this world are all to pass away, and the Christian is not to be occupied with what He shall eat, or drink or wear; He is not to be feasting, but looking out upon things which shall leave lasting impressions on His heart and life.

He is to show to the world that He is living, not here where the hearts of men are, but yonder where His beloved Lord is, and everything is to point to that place, like the needle to the pole. Paul gives two pictures of worldly people; those who live only for the world, sand those that live partly for the word. He says: "They that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition." But He says in the next verse that "the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

These who have coveted after riches are not drowned in destruction and perdition with the world, but they are pierced through with chastenings which God sends to them to take earthly desire out of us. James, in encouraging Christians to pray for their needs, advises them to ask in faith, nothing wavering, and then he adds this verse: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways," which indicates that a man may have two minds. It should be his purpose to choose God for his whole life; to have God in all of it; to glorify God through it all, and then leave Him to provide for all the things of this life.

This singlesness of purpose is in its turn also dependent upon our confidence in God. If we really believed that God is doing what is best for us, we should be able to put ourselves eternally in His hands; then we should live as though we were sent from heaven to represent Him here on earth. He has gone there to represent us. He is looking after our interests there, and He expects us to do the same here. He has said to us: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," but He adds also: "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me." We are not only to rest in Him, but we are to serve Him also, and when we are free from our own care, He will trust us with His cares.

Chapter 14  

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