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Good Words 1860
Doctor Sparrow


I DO not mean a doctor whose name was Sparrow, but a sparrow who was called doctor, yea, doctor of divinity, and that by a very competent judge and authority, even by Martinus Luther, to whom the Germans almost invariably give the title of Teacher, and who, doubtless, may stand for a whole faculty. When the great Wittenberg Reformer saw once a sparrow, (history does not record whether it was in summer or on a snowy winter's day,) he exclaimed: "Thou art my dear doctor of divinity, for thou teachest me God's power, and goodness, and wisdom, and His wonderful providence." No doubt, he thought of Christ's words: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." And again: "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them."

I have read a very plain and forcible exposition of these words, illustrating Luther's thought, that the sparrow is a dear doctor of divinity. I read it in a devotional work, written by a Roman Catholic priest in the south of Germany. Thou wilt not detect any Popery in it, but perhaps the homelieness and quaint humour may appear strange to thee; it is their way, and I am not sure but that, if kept within certain bounds, it is permissible, and sometimes useful. The preacher says:—

Just look at the sparrow; you would think he was a very insignificant creature, with his plain coat, and short leather pantaloons, He cannot sing beautifully, has a small brain, and little sense or skill. Other birds go on travel, and see strange countries, but he remains summer and winter in the village. Other birds build beautiful nests, artful in their way, as the greenfinch and the swallow, but he, instead of building for himself, intrudes into other honest people's houses. And because he does not understand anything, and is not able to sing, people think nothing of him whatever, and don't feel their conscience burdened when they have killed him. And yet I never heard that a sparrow died of melancholy, or committed suicide, or was troubled with care and anxiety for the future. And he is right, for though he is but a clown as compared to the swallow, and men sell him for half a farthing, yet there is One who cares for him, and gives him, day by day, what he needs. You think this a trifle, but let us just calculate the expenses of a sparrow.

1. His aliment. He requires his breakfast and dinner every day, though it be but a few grains of wheat, or an incautious beetle, or a sausage of a caterpillar. And in winter, when the snow has been falling for days, and everything is white, the little sparrow is hungry as usual, and. begins to lift up his voice, unmusical as it is, and wants his daily bread. Where is he to get it ? He cannot dig, and to beg he is ashamed, and for the little that is to be gathered here and there, there is such lively competition; the finch and goldhammer, and the greedy raven, are all stronger than he. Yet, notwithstanding all these difficulties, the sparrow is not allowed to starve a single day of the year; nay, he is so free from care, that he is quite giddy and gay.

2. Clothing. The sparrow is just like other folk, he likes to be dressed according to the newest fashion. And there is no child dressed better by his mother than our friend. Warm in winter, and not too hot in summer. Has he not a tail-coat with brown stripes? Does he not parade in short silken trousers, like a courtier or one of the superior clergy? Has he not beautiful half-boots of red morocco, and are they not brushed and shining, though he has no valet? And did you never look at the velvet-cap on his head? His dress does not lose its colour, though he does not trouble himself with a parasol or umbrella. In spring and autumn he gets new clothes; in spring he loses the thick winter feathers, and in autumn the light summer's dress. He throws his old clothes away; he does not sell them to the Jew, scorns such an idea, for he is as gay as a young comedian. Why, a coachman or servant gets a livery but once in two years, but the sparrow twice in one year, and has neither to drive nor serve. And how everything fits him! He looks very differently from the shopkeeper, whose new coat has been spoilt by the Parisian tailor in our village, or the soldier, who must wear a uniform not made for him; his clothes fit as if he had been born in them; and yet he is only a sparrow, and among friends and brothers worth only half a farthing.

3. His education. Such a sparrow has, by nature, a weak and unsteady head, and, as is the case with some students, no patience and perseverance. For this reason, he is extremely ignorant. But he requires wisdom; for the cat, the owl, the marten, the hens, the boys, are all after him, as if he was a gipsy and vagabond.

Now, who teaches him to defend himself against these enemies, so superior to him in talent? God himself is his teacher, and has given him his instructions: when a man or boy approaches, even within ten feet, then fly away; a cat you may allow to come a little nearer, but don't take your eye from her; but a hen, who interferes with you when they strew corn, you need not mind at all, only leap a little to one side.

And now, think not that I have been merely trying to amuse you, but my intention is very serious. God, who has created heaven, and earth, and the sea, has made all things full of beauty, in order that men and angels should consider and admire it. For the whole visible world is a large Bible, full of parables, allegories, and doctrines, and everything in it has its deep significance.

The stars of heaven, the beautiful white cloud in the dark-blue sky, the evening red, the storm, and the gentle breath of blossom-fragrance in the morning, the summer sun like a sea of fire, and the still stars in clear winter's night, the roll of the thunder, and the chirp of the cricket—in all this' there is more than the eye sees and the ear hears. And the dark mountain forest, and the sturdy oak, and the poplar near the mill-stream, the hedge of thorns, the vine and the cornfield, the flowers of the field, the modest violet and fragrant rose— these are not merely for man's use and pleasure, but letters of a mysterious, wonderful work, written by God, and they express Divine thoughts. And the roe with its gentle eyes, the nightingale in the wood, the lizard and the hornbeetle, the blind-worm and the tiny midges; all living things are not merely to eat, and drink, and. grow, and die—they are living, walking, and flying writings of the Creator. They were written before there were men to read them, in order that after man's creation, he might immediately begin to learn and spell, as you have seen a schoolmaster write on the black board before the children assembled, so as not to lose any time, but to be able to begin his instructions at once.

But men have lost by sin their understanding of this language, and think that what exists is merely for food, and fuel, and clothing. Therefore God sent His own Son into the world, even Him by whom all things were made; and Jesus is our teacher, shewing us the way to spell, and read, and understand God's writing.

Do not wonder that the Saviour uses such common illustrations. What the Father thought worthy of creation, the Son thought worthy of exposition. So be not too proud to learn from the sparrow, and believe that God is both able and willing to care for the least of His creatures, and to help them in all their troubles, and to provide for all their wants!

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