THE FIFTH SPARROW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
November 19, 1944 7:30 p.m.
(original shorthand transcription courtesy Elizabeth Lewis Packer and Dorothy Lewis Ivey)
SUNDAY EVENING SERVICE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS, TEXAS:
HYMNS: “My Savior’s Love,” “His Way With Thee” (Led by Mr. Robert H. Coleman Organist – Mrs. T. H. Cassidy)
PRAYER: by Dr. A. C. Miller
ANTHEM: “My Soul Be On Thy Guard” — Stultz Evening Chorus
ANNOUNCEMENTS: by Mr. Coleman
EVENING OFFERING AND ANTHEM: “Even Me” — Warren
SOLO QUARTETTE: (Mrs. Madison Adams, Mrs. M. M. Myers, Glenn Lechleitner, Alvin Bean)
SERMON: by Pastor Dr. W. A. Criswell
I suppose out toward the back you cannot see this splendid sight down here in front. Practically all the seats immediately before this pulpit are filled with young people and intermediates. It is the best sight in the world. I hope you sit there every Sunday night — right under the drippings of the sanctuary.
As I sit in the pulpit and look down over the congregation, I wonder who you are and what you do. That fellow with his wife, that girl over there by herself, all up and down these pews; I just wonder who you are. Well, it will take some time to know you personally, I suppose. Right now it is “kinda” like a flood; I get drowned in it all. My head swims, but by and by I hope the day will come to pass when the vast majority of the people who belong to this church, I can call them by name. “How are you, my friend Bill, Jack, John, Henry?” And if I ever get up enough nerve, “How is it with you, Elizabeth, Mary, Sarah?” and all the rest; it is lots of fun knowing people, most fun in the world,. And as time goes on, I will get to associate you with different things: here’s a fine-looking woman married to a sorry-looking man. I’ll remember her. Here is a fine deacon and his family. Here is a fine teacher in the Sunday school. I will get to associate everybody with something. I could have only one wish against that, and that is that we could just win so many people to the Lord you would never know them all. By the time you got this far, there would be that many more new faces to know. May the Lord grant it! Why could it not be so? This vast city, teeming with thousands—of course, you are accustomed to it, but I’m not. I feel it. No wonder the Lord said “Look up.” They are all around, this people to be won to the Lord. That’s what we are for.
Now for the sermon: the name of it wouldn’t mean much to you, it’s called The Fifth Sparrow, or The Christian Philosophy of Life. The words of Christ are quoted usually in several ways. Matthew will present it one way, Mark another, and Luke another. And John sometimes would see a thing one way, and again he would say the same thing just a little differently, and sometimes those differences bring out a wonderful lesson. This is the way it is in Matthew:
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.”
Now in Luke:
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.
Now look at the words over here in Matthew: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing” — a penny, less than a copper cent, “two sparrows for a farthing” [Matthew 10:29]. Now in Luke: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” [Luke 12:6]. Now, you look. If two sparrows cost one farthing, four sparrows could be bought for two farthings, isn’t that right? If they were two a farthing, four of them would cost two farthings, but when Jesus quoted the proverb, He said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” One farthing will buy two sparrows; two farthings will buy four sparrows and one extra, just thrown in to make it a deal. Now Jesus picked out that fifth sparrow—thrown in just extra—and said, “Not one of them,” that one just thrown in for nothing, “not one of them is forgotten of God” [Luke 12:16], that fifth sparrow.
I wonder if I could make it better by taking a scene out of Jerusalem. Martha—aged Jewish mother in Israel—is a poor mother, as most aged people are poor. Every morning of the world she made her way down the narrow, steep side streets to the place where the market man opened his shop for the poor. Dear old Martha goes to the shop as she has been doing for years and years. She inquires the price of every piece of meat in the establishment. She has always done that, and the market keeper, in patience and love, told her the price of everything. And finally, dear old Martha said, “How much are the sparrows?” And the market keeper replied, “They are two a farthing” [Luke 12:6]. And she untied a knot in the sash of her dress and put on the counter a coin, and the market keeper pushed forward two sparrows. The old mother busies herself on the other side of her dress and took out another piece of coin, and the old market keeper pushed across two other sparrows and then, in a question repeated so often it had arisen to the category of a proverb, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” And the market keeper smiled acquiescence and pitched in the fifth one for nothing, just to complete the trade. Martha gathers the meal together and takes it home to eat with the poor. Now Jesus had seen that all His life. Jesus had watched that from boyhood, and that little extra bird thrown in for nothing had appealed to His childish heart. When He becomes God’s messenger on the earth, He said “God knew! God knew when it fell to the ground” [Matthew 10:29].
Somebody wrote a poem:
I am only a sparrow,
A bird of low degree.
My life is of little value,
But the dear Lord cares for me.
I know there are many sparrows.
All over the world we are found,
But our Heavenly Father knoweth
If one of us falls to the ground.
[from “A Sparrow’s Song,” quoted in A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life,
Hannah Whitall Smith, 1875]
There are many, many things in this world that argue well as to the worthlessness of man. What is a man to the world? That is one soul among millions, yea, billions that inhabit this universe. When I read the newspapers—oh, how awful! Russia says, “We have slain eight million German soldiers.” And Germany responds, “We have annihilated ten million Russian infantrymen, artillerymen and airmen.” And then the world says, “Besides, Russia has lost a good fifteen million of their population.” And oh! What of the Polish, the Greeks, the Slavs, and the Slovenians, and millions of others who have lost their lives in this war? What is one “fifth sparrow”?
Once in a while I think of the irony of some of our communiqués. We have invaded such-and-such an island and we have taken it with slight cost. And maybe a few days after that victory, I walk up to a door and knock, and the dear mother is bowed in grief. It was her boy who lost his life in a cheap victory—a “fifth sparrow.”
All the world itself, I suppose, is so put together that a man might have reason to think that whether he lives or dies, what is it? Like a pebble on a beach, just like one other star in the sky. If one of you failed to reach home in so great a city, whose soul is sadder? Who are we in the earth, and what is our earth in its universe? When I stare into the skies, the eternal silence of the infinite terrifies me, and when they tell us of the light years and billions of light years that separate the earth from the moon, the stars, and the sun in this universe, in this great cosmic creation; and when they tell us our galaxy is one of the smallest of all, and our earth is one of the smallest planets around the sun—and could put our earth inside itself and the moon could still swing around without touching either side—when you read those astronomical figures, what is a man in the earth? What is your life, or mine?
That is the reason science ends in defeatism and despair. That is the reason infidelity is dead and cold. That is the reason that you and I have embraced the Christian philosophy of life. Jesus says that fifth sparrow, thrown in for nothing—God saw it when it fell to the ground. That lad over there who lost his life in his own blood; and that exiled Jew over there, despised by a fascist government; and those people in China and Russia were all “precious in My sight” [Psalm 116:15]. Not a one of them fell that God didn’t see it; the Christian interpretation of life.
The fifth sparrow: what is it? The fifth sparrow is a little child. Why, he is that little boy that plays in your yard, and lives on your street, and you don’t pay any attention to him. It is that little girl that lives down your way, and you don’t pay any attention to her. Oh, how precious they are in God’s sight!
You know, I wonder if I could tell you this without your thinking I am assuming too much. I was holding a meeting in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where the Conoco Oil Company has an establishment. God was there. On Tuesday night of the second week, God especially visited us in power. Many people were saved. After the service all that group were down in the front. I got in line and was shaking hands with the people, and while I was there, there was a strong, sturdy man with great big heavy hands and arms who came and looked in my face and said, “Your name is W. A.” I said, “Yes.”
“And were you born in Eldorado?” I said, “Yes, sir.”
“And was your father’s name Wallie?” I said, “Yes, sir.” And he put his hands on my shoulders and began to cry like a baby. I was surprised! I was dumbfounded! That big man, looking into my face and just too full for words, in a moment he began to talk, “Oh, the grace of God! Oh, the glory of God!” Did you ever hear anybody shout? People, when they shout, don’t say things connectedly and logically; that was the way he talked. “Oh, the grace of God! The glory of God!” He was the blacksmith in that town of Eldorado, and he was the superintendent of the Sunday school and, “You were in the Card class, and many’s the day when I have beat that iron out on the anvil and that little boy, W. A., has seen the sparks fly. And I never dreamed that the little boy who stood by my anvil in the blacksmith shop—I never dreamed that God would call him to be a preacher, and the favor of God would rest on him. Tonight it is too much for me.” That is not much, I know. But I tell you, the heart of that old blacksmith filled me so I can feel it yet. God has his eye on that little boy or girl; that fifth sparrow.
It is the aged, oh! the loneliest road in life for the most part. There are exceptions to it, I know, but for the most part the loneliest road in life that I know is the life of the aged. They have buried their friends; many have left them alone. They walk in sorrow, senility, age, and death. That is the reason the Book says, “Remember your father and mother.” It is the first commandment with promise, “that it may be well with thee in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee” [Exodus 20:12]. Don’t forget that old, feeble, gray-headed, tottery man. Don’t forget that aged mother whose children have already been buried and whose friends have already gone, and is largely forgotten; God has His eye on them. They are dear in His sight.
Who is the fifth sparrow? It is the poor. It is the poor. Listen, my brother, the church who lives tomorrow is the church that ministers to the poor today. There is no such thing as a church propagating itself in luxury. It is the poor people, the rank-and-file of the people, who tomorrow will hold the reins of this world in their hands. That is the reason God has blessed our Baptist churches. One hundred years ago, practically every Baptist church was built alongside a railroad track. It was almost a stigma to belong to a Baptist church, and it was only the poor and riffraff that belonged to the Baptist church. But those Baptist people—poor as they were, hard-working as they were—those Baptist people, please God, they were true to the Book. They held meetings. They felled the woods. They built arbors, constructed tents. They went out visiting. They won the lost. Consequently, wherever they work, they have taken the earth. So don’t forget the poor. Some are poor because of mismanagement. I know from my own life, a lot of people are poor because of things over which they had no control. We were poor because the wind blew everything that we had away; when in the northwestern part of our state, the wind blew our farm away. Don’t forget the poor.
“Give me that little slave boy, nobody wants him. Give him to Me,” says God; and God made Booker T. Washington out of him, one of the greatest Baptists ever born. “And give Me that criminal, that outcast, and I will make Terry McAuley out of him. That poor boy living in Scotland — give him to Me, and I will make him David Livingstone, to take the light to a dark continent.” The poor! The poor! And from this moment on, as God will open your hearts, I have a program to offer to this church concerning some of the people that live in Dallas; the poor—that fifth sparrow.
Who is that fifth sparrow? Could I suggest just another? That fifth sparrow is the lost. You know it is easy to spend time with you and it is pleasant. I love to come to see you and I love for you to come to see me. It is one of the happiest things of life for us to spend our time together, and oh my! What a good thing it is to have a great fellowship, and we want it that way. But listen, my brother: I will tell you what God wants us to do. He wants me to go up and down the streets of Dallas and knock on the doors of people who never think about going to church. He wants you to do the same. We could spend our lives down here loving one another and it would be easy, for you have been saved like I and have been baptized. It is easy to do it that way. He wants us to go out to see that fellow that abhors His name, and to see that family that gives their lives to iniquity. He has His eyes on them. He died for them; they are precious in His sight [Psalm 116:15]; that fifth sparrow, the lost! The lost!
You know, one time when I was a youngster, seventeen years old, I had just come to Baylor. I was walking along the Brazos River. I saw a little hut made out of kindling wood. It stood down there on the river where the owner didn’t have to buy any property, didn’t have to pay any taxes, and there was a young colored boy sitting on the steps. I walked over and looked at him. I said, “Hello, fellow.” He said, “Howdy!” I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “Inside is an old Negro man dying, and I hated for him to die without anybody around.” He was sitting here waiting for him to die, and he would go call somebody. I don’t know why that thing stayed in my heart except for this; I have recalled it time and time again. And every time, with this spirit: I would give most anything if I could go back to that day when I was 17, when I was walking along the Brazos, and do you know what I would do? I would say to him, “Young fellow, if you don’t mind, could I go in?” I would go in to that old fellow’s house. I would look into his face, and if he were still conscious, I would say, “My friend and my brother for whom Christ died, is it all right?” If he said it was all right, I would say I wanted to pray. If he said it wasn’t all right, do you know what I would do? I would do my dead level best to show him how to die, for I think he is a fifth sparrow.
I know there are many sparrows.
All over the world we are found,
But our Heavenly Father knoweth
If one of us falls to the ground.
Oh, what a comfort it is to me to know that my Father watches over me, and what a comfort it is to me to know that there is not one of us but for whom Christ died [1 John 2:2], whose name is in the eye of God, and He knows and He cares. Blessed be the name of our God! Blessed be His Holy name! My friend, I offer Him to you tonight; your Savior, your Friend, your Comforter, your Lover, your Redeemer, your sympathizing Savior! I offer Him to you tonight; yours for the asking, yours for the taking, the receiving. And to those who believe in the faith and in this gospel, who respond to the appeal to place their lives in this church, and who come to and for any reason, God bids you here.
INVITATION HYMN: “Jesus Is Calling”
(Added to the church — five upon profession of faith in Christ Jesus for baptism, eight by letter from sister churches.)