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Sermon #2858 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 1


NO. 2858






“Yes, the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times, and the turtledove and crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming, but My people know not the judgment of the Lord.” Jeremiah 8:7.

IN our text the Prophet makes use of the flight of migratory birds to teach a valuable lesson. He mentions the swal- low, which is the most prominent among the summer visitors to our own country, but he also names the stork, the crane and the turtledove, all of them familiar instances of birds that came, at a certain season, to Palestine and, punctual to the hour, at given changes of the weather, winged their way back again to warmer climates. Too many careless observers, like the peasant of whom Wordsworth writes— “A primrose by a river’s brim A yellow primrose was to him And it was nothing more,” would have seen those birds and soon forgotten all about them. But the Prophet, observing the wisdom of these wander- ers of the air, contrasts it with the folly of man who knows not “the judgment of the Lord,” and obeys not so readily the monitions of his God as the birds do the instinct by which He guides them to and fro. We shall mark these migratory birds and set the wisdom of their instinct in contrast with the folly of mankind.

I. The first thing that strikes us is the fact that the stork, the swallow, the crane and the turtledove know WHEN TO COME AND GO.

So far as we know, no audible command is given to them. You and I might forget, in the beginning of summer, that then is the period when the swallow will put in an appearance in our land. And that towards autumn he must take him- self away, across the purple sea, to the African strand, or wherever he can find a suitable climate. But these birds know when to come or go—they tell, by some mysterious means, exactly when to start on their long flight. They were never known to go too soon. They are never known to stay too late. The bulk of them depart at one period and the rest a few days later. If we are living in the suburbs, we hear a twittering congregation gathering around the gables of the houses and, in the evening we miss the swift-winged hawks who had, during the summer, found their evening meal among the dancing insects. Their shrill, joyous twittering is hushed, for they have perceived that the heavy dews of autumn and the long nights of winter are coming to strew the earth with fading flowers and falling leaves and, by-and-by, with frost and snow and, therefore, they have flown off to fairer lands where other summers await them! They will come back again in due time, true as the calendar. Whether we look for them, or not, they will be punctual to Nature’s appointment. As sure as the summer’s sun will be their return! They know, without any special instruction, when to come, and when to go.

It is worthy of observation that the young birds which have been born in this country and have never made the long journey before, yet set forth with the older ones at the appointed time. They are novices in the art of travelling, yet they try their callow wings and away they fly to the far-off land where the sun shines as it does not in this higher latitude. I wish that our young people were all as wise as the young swallows are—that they knew their appointed time, that they understood that there is no period in life which has so much of hopefulness about it as the period of childhood and youth—that it is the best time in which to seek the Savior, for it has a special promise attached to it. “Those that seek Me Volume 49 www.spurgeongems.org 1 2 Migratory Birds Sermon #2858 early shall find Me.” I would that they could hear the Lord Jesus Christ’s peculiarly sweet and tender message concerning them—“Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto Me: for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Yet, alas, young storks, swallows, cranes and turtledoves fly at the appointed season—but many young men and maidens delay and waste the joyous hours of the morning of their lives in the ways of sin and folly! Yes, they waste the hours which, if consecrated to Christ and to His service, would have brought them a rich return in this life and, in the life to come, would have tended to increase and intensify their everlasting happiness.

Further, the parent birds, also, go their way at the right time. They can, and doubtless do, help to guide the young.

They may have made that journey but once before, but they know all about it—they remember how long and how weary a way it was to them, but when the hour has struck, away they go, attended by their little ones! I would that all you who are parents among mankind were as wise as these parent fowls of the air. You have your children around you, but where are you leading them? Your example, if not your precept, is guiding them somewhere—you are influencing them for good or evil. You cannot help doing so. I think you would hardly wish to help it, for a child of yours, over whom you had no influence whatever, would be a strange occupant of your home! Oh, that you would be as wise as these migratory birds! May God’s own wisdom make you so, that your own flight to Heaven may be an impulse to your child to take flight there, also! May your faith help his faith! May your holiness check him from sin! May your consecration to God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, induce him to give his heart to God while he is yet young!

I speak to you who are in middle life and remind you that these birds which have come to the prime of their days, take their flight at the appointed time—and if ever there is a set time for turning unto God, with you who have come so far on life’s journey without seeking the Lord, it surely is now! You who have reached the full strength of your manhood and have your households about you and yet are not saved, be not like the rich man whom God called a fool because he had much of this world’s goods stored up and yet had not thought of making provision for his soul! Do not set your affections upon those well-feathered nests which you are so soon to leave, but seek an enduring portion in that better land where joy maintains eternal Spring! Stretch your wings for the flight Christ-ward and heavenward, and may you have the happiness of seeing your sons and daughters following in the same blessed track!

Some of the migratory birds are growing old. Their wings are somewhat worn and their flight is a very weary one.

Life, to them, has lost its early brilliance, yet, when the time comes, they too, the veterans of the sea passage, are measuring the leagues of ocean waves when the waters are calm, or in times of storm when favoring gales may better serve their purpose. These birds add experience to instinct and rightly follow the guidance of Nature—yet there are old men and old women who are not as wise as the old swallows are! They linger in the plains of sin though the harvest is past and the summer is ended—and the winter is coming fast upon them. I see the first flakes of snow on their frost-crowned heads.

Already their leaf begins to wither. The light of their day is darkening, the flower of their beauty fading and the shadows of their weakness lengthening. What? Not away yet, old graybeard? Not away yet, when the killing frost is already upon you? Stretch your soul’s wings at once! ‘Tis late, ‘tis very late! The sere leaf of autumn warns you. The white rime of the early frost chides you! Oh, that you would know the seasons and the judgments of God, even as the birds of the air do, and that you would seek Him, now, before it be too late! It is the eleventh hour with you, Man! You have reached your three-score years and ten, yet you are unsaved! May Divine Grace visit you and make you wise—and if it does, you will not sleep till you have found the Savior, lest your couch should become your tomb! You will not dare to go into another week of work-days until you have made this first day of the week the appointed Sabbath, a day of rest unto your soul in the bosom of your Savior!

Observe well that these birds—the young, the parents and the older birds, all go at the right time. Perhaps the bright days linger a while—our autumns sometimes are protracted and tempting. When the winter months have come, we may have some almost summer days in this changeful climate of ours, but no bright second-summer tempts the swallow to linger! That interesting bird may have an eye for fair scenes and lovely views and, I think wherever he may fly, he will see no fairer land than this, and no greener dells and fresher woodlands than those that adorn our happy isle. Yet he lingers not for them. Though it is Africa’s brown unattractive sand that calls him, on he goes, for he must go or die! His food will fail him here, the damp will be deadly to him—so away he must go. He has built his nest and birds love their nests as we love our homes. He has formed associations and acquaintances, it may be, for birds have friendships. But the 2 www.spurgeongems.org Volume 49 Sermon #2858 Migratory Birds 3 time has come when, with his companions, or without them, he must without fail proceed on his long voyage to the sunny shore! He performs his predestined journey at the ordained time.

And let nothing tempt anyone to linger in love of sin and love of this world when he ought to be seeking those things which are above! Let not the world’s pleasures, nor its gains, nor its most tender associations beguile you. You, O Man, like the swallow, must go or die! It is with you as it was with Lot in Sodom—the city of your habitation is soon to be destroyed—this world, in a little while, must meet destruction. Up, and away! The fiery hail is ready to descend! The angel of God comes to warn you, saying, “Escape for your life; look not behind you, neither stay you in all the plain;

escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.” So, let nothing hinder you, but speed on till you reach God, your Father, and Christ, your Brother, and are washed in His precious blood and made meet to dwell with Him in Heaven forever!

But alas, alas, it is still true that men “know not the judgment of the Lord.” They know not, as the birds do, their “appointed times.” There have been, with some of you, times of very gracious visitation—when your heart has been made soft and impressible. I beseech you, “know” that time and avail yourself of it! You know that the preacher’s word is not always with equal power. Even the Inspired Word of God has not always the same effect when it is read. Therefore, cherish every tender emotion that you feel. You know what was said to David, “And let it be, when you hear the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then you shall bestir yourself: for then shall the Lord go out before you.” So, when there is a movement within the spirit. When there is a revival in the Church. When there are manifest tokens of earnestness in the assembly, then, I pray you, know your appointed time and “bestir yourself.” There are other times, also, which should not be forgotten. For instance, times of sickness. Have you been laid aside lately and are you able again to come out of doors? This is a loud call to you, an admonition, a very kind and tender one, yet one that ought to say to you, “Prepare to meet your God.” If sicknesses do not soften, they harden. If we get no good from our chastisements, we are sure to get harm from them. So, my afflicted but restored Friend, know your time, recognize that you have been smitten by your God and turn not away from the hand that smites you! Sometimes the visitation comes in the form of death. Possibly death has come into your home and carried off your child. O mother, follow your dear babe to the skies! Or, is it your husband who has been called away? Then, O widow, take your Maker for your Husband! Is it your Christian father who has been taken from you and yet you, his child, are still unsaved? Your father beckons to you from the skies and bids you seek his Savior! Is it your brother who is gone? It might have been yourself, so let the tolling of the knell for him have a message for you—let it say to you, “Consider your ways, for your soul shall soon be required of you.” Make this period, when God is summoning others to Himself, to be the time when you, also, take flight to the better land—I mean not Heaven, but I mean the heart of Christ—that is the true Heaven of this life, and makes this life to be the foretaste of the unending life that is yet to come!

It is very sad that seasons like these, of which I have been speaking, are often the very times when people become more hardened than before. Death itself may grow so familiar that it loses all its impressiveness. The grave digger is often the last man to be affected by the thought of dying. It must have been a grim spectacle when, during the French Revolution, a certain cemetery was leveled and turned into a saloon—and there, with the tombstones still in sight, they danced and sang a song in which part of the refrain was, “We dance among the tombs.” Their hair was made up in the same way as those had their hair combed who were prepared for execution by the guillotine—and no one was admitted to the dance unless he or she had lost a father, or brother, or some other relative by the guillotine! And knowing that they, themselves, would, in all probability, die in the same terrible fashion, they gathered in the place of the graves and whirled in the merry dance among the tombs! It was a strange sight. Surely, none would have dared to act like that had they not been carried away by the madness of that awful period. Literally, of course, we do not act as they did, but, spiritually, this is just what many are doing—they are dancing and singing among the tombs! In utter carelessness and wantonness of spirit they dance within the very jaws of death and, unless God shall cure their madness and teach them wisdom, even as He has taught the birds of Heaven—they will dance themselves into Hell!

II. But, next, it is very remarkable—indeed, it is one of the wonders of Nature that THEY KNOW WHERE TO GO.

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