When my wife and I first moved into the house in which we now live, sparrows had taken over the eaves. They were everywhere. The Psalmist records that sparrows found refuge in the house of God; swallows built their nests and raised their young in the temple altars. They were welcome in the house of the Lord. If they were so welcome and blessed by God’s provision, then how much more are we bidden? “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee” (Psalm 84:4). What do sparrows do in the house of the Lord? Why, they sing, of course! When the tongues of men are still, when the crown of God’s creation praises Him not, when men forget their Maker, why the birds lift up their voice, the whole of creation breaks forth in praise to Him and thus condemns the silence of men. For a time, our sparrows disappeared, but quite recently I spotted one in one of our apple trees and was glad to see them back again. Alarmist environmentalist, who do not reckon with God’s providential care, have warned that house sparrows had been declining to the point of extinction and, as usual, we are all to blame. This is, of course, drivel. Sparrows are not kept by self-governing natural laws, nor can they be exterminated by the actions of men, but are kept directly by the power of God that sustains the world He created. Sparrows are insignificant creatures that go about their business largely unobserved by us all. We overlook them because they are so common. They have no gaudy colours to draw attention to themselves, but their feathers are subtle shades of brown. Yet, whilst we ignore them, God’s eye is on the sparrow; not one falls to the ground without Him. Again, if God so cares for the sparrow, how much more precious are we to Him? “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). Look at the sparrow and remember who feeds him, who looks after us too. As Civilla D. Martin’s hymn reminds us:
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
The Lord’s mercy is manifest when He withholds from us that which is our due. In grace He gives us that which we cannot earn and do not deserve. God’s mercy and God’s grace come to us only in Christ. His dealings with all men are through Christ and through Christ alone. God is merciful to anyone only in Christ. That He keeps us day-by-day, that He is gracious to all men giving life to all, preserving them, it is that peradventure they would repent and believe in Christ who died to save us. All this He does for one reason and one reason only, out of pure compassion. What moved our Saviour to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to make the lame walk? It was His compassion. What moved Him to teach them the Gospel for hours on end until hunger and tiredness crept up on them all unawares? It was out of pure compassion, because He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. What was it kept Him nailed to the wretched Roman gibbet? It was His unfailing compassion and never-ending love. Without this we would be consumed in the flames of God’s just wrath against sin.
Wrong done in the past sometimes has a nasty habit of returning to our doorstep. We are reminded of things we had long forgotten and had forgiven. Grief and pain sets in. Yet we cannot leave it and the snake becomes a rod that we use to beat ourselves. We become consumed with regret and false sorrow. We have forgotten that what matters is how God sees us in Christ and not how we see ourselves. We cannot unpick the past; it is fixed, yet it must not be allowed to consume us and bring us low although its effects may still be with us. Either our burden of sin was lifted from us at Calvary or it remains.
Thus far I did come laden with my sin,
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: what a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!
(from Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan)
Imagine that load of sin we have had bound to our backs, the strings that bound it to us crack, it rolls away and yet we run after it to retrieve that cursed burden!
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)
Sins cast into the depths of the sea by God cannot be fished out again! This sea is far too deep!
“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12)
Once forgiven our sins are gone. They are not coming back.
Those who know not God’s forgiveness retain that heavy burden. The past is not gone but is ever with them. Day by day they cannot break free of it themselves and the load will eventually crush them. Not so those in Christ. We do not carry yesterday’s burden. It is gone. We are no longer bowed down with its worry and care. We can skip and run and praise our Saviour. We greet each day with renewed joy, for every day is a new beginning, a new day of sins forgiven, a new day of the sure hope of heaven. Every day we can begin with a clear slate. Praise Him for that! Those who know not Christ pile up their growing burden as each day passes. The sins of today stack up upon those of yesterday. Those carrying the burden of their own sin must struggle on with no hope of relief, the burden becomes heavier each day and the going that much slower. When they are visited with grief and sorrow because of sin they find no solace. The burden becomes increasingly intolerable to the point of despair. But when the accuser of the brethren would discourage those who are Christ’s and tries to bring us down, pointing to our falls, pointing to our past, we smile, we look up, not taking our eyes off Christ for we know it is by no merit of our own that we are free of our burden of sin otherwise it would still be with us too. We point to God’s Word and say:
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:33-35)
The mercies of God are new every morning. We do not carry yesterday’s sins with us, but neither are the mercies of yesterday sufficient for today. Many try to live from what God did in their lives many years ago and wonder why they come no further forward, why it is God does nothing new in their lives. As the children of Israel gathered manna each morning, so we gather daily God’s provision. As we pray that God would give us each day our daily bread, so we prevail upon Him for new mercies every day. We may look back over many years of knowing the Lord, but each new day makes new demands upon us for which the Lord has promised His provision. The manna left for tomorrow will quickly grow mouldy. The pools of water once a living steam become blocked with green algae; stagnate and smell; all life has departed.
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
It is common at many funerals these days to turn the occasion into a 'celebration of the life' of the person deceased. This is a backward look and indicative of those who have no future. The resurrection of the body holds no hope for them. This is all that those without Christ have, one earthly life to look back on. Once that has gone there is nothing for them. The future must be viewed with some foreboding as to what awaits them beyond the grave. Not so the believer, he does not celebrate a life that is past but anticipates one that is to come, to be with Christ which is far better.
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!
God's faithfulness is infinite. It is for this reason we have hope, not the hope of probability or unsure expectation but the hope of certainty. Our perseverance in the faith depends not upon our faithfulness but upon His. Even when our faith wavers, He remains faithful. "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). God is true to all His promises in Christ Jesus; they cannot fail.
Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?
Great Comforter! descend and bring
Some tokens of Thy grace.
Dost Thou not dwell in all the saints,
And seal the heirs of Heav’n?
When wilt Thou banish my complaints,
And show my sins forgiv’n?
Assure my conscience of her part
In the Redeemer’s blood;
And bear Thy witness with my heart
That I am born of God.
Thou art the earnest of His love,
The pledge of joys to come;
And Thy soft wings, celestial Dove,
Will safe convey me home.