And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow…
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Old Mr. Sutton of Cottenham! I became acquainted [with him] early in my ministry [circa 1851]. I shall never forget Mr. Sutton’s description of a sermon he had preached; I had the notes of the discourse from his own lips, and I trust they will remain as notes, and never be preached from again in this world. The text was, “The night-hawk, the owl, and the cuckoo.”
That might not strike anyone as being exceedingly rich in matter; it did not so strike me, and therefore I innocently inquired, “And what were the [sermon] heads?” He replied most archly, “Heads? Why, wring the bird’s necks, and there are three directly: the nighthawk, the owl, and the cuckoo!”
He showed that these birds were all unclean under the law, and were plain types of unclean sinners. Night-hawks were persons who pilfered on the sly, also people who adulterated their goods, and cheated their neighbours in an underhand way without being suspected to be rogues. As for the owls, they typified drunkards, who are always liveliest at night, while by day they will almost knock their heads against a post because they are so sleepy. There were owls also among professors. The owl is a very small bird when he is plucked; he only looks big because he wears so many feathers; so, many professors are all feathers, and if you could take away their boastful professions, there would be very little left of them. Then the cuckoos were the church clergy, who always utter the same note whenever they open their mouths in the church, and live on other birds’ eggs with their church-rates and tithes. The cuckoos were also, I think, the free-willers, who were always saying, “Do-do-do-do.”
Was not this rather too much of a good thing? Yet, from the man who delivered it, the discourse would not seem at all remarkable or odd.
WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): We love not the spiritualizers of the Scripture. They give it meanings which it never had, finding facts in figures and figures in facts, just as it serves their vain fancies, till soberminded people are tempted to think that it has no certain and fixed sense in it at all.
THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Origen was a great admirer of allegories. By the strength of his faculties and undisciplined mind, he turned most of the Scriptures into allegories, and by the just judgment of God upon him, foolishly understood and absurdly applied Matthew 19:12 literally, Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven, and so gelded himself. And indeed, he might as well have plucked out one of his eyes upon the same account, because Christ says, It is better to go to heaven with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire, Matthew 18:9.
MRS. BETHAN LLOYD-JONES (1898-1991): I think that the strangest person I ever met in Aberavon [Wales] was the elderly lady with the eye-shade. She was not a member of the church but would sometimes attend on a Sunday evening.
One day, as I was walking to the town, I passed her house (quite unknowingly) and she was standing at the open door. She begged me to come in for a few minutes as she had something to tell me. I did not want to, for to tell the truth there was something strange and vaguely sinister about her, but I felt I could not refuse, and so I went in. We sat in her “parlour”—all very prim and tidy, as indeed, she was herself, with her white hair drawn back severely from her face, and dressed in her usual black with a white collar. She fixed me with her good eye and said, pointing to the eye-shade, “I want to tell you about this.” I murmured something about being very sorry, and was it a recent accident or something that had happened long ago—She broke across my poor attempt, and said, “This was not an accident at all. I did it myself.” I gaped at her. She went on, “Christ says in the Bible that ‘if thy right eye offend thee, pluck out and cast it from thee’—well, it did offend me and led me into sin, so I did that.” “What?” I said feebly. “Yes, I plucked it out and cast it from me. Don’t you think I did the right thing?”
How I wished [my husband] had been there! I did my best and told her, that if she had only come to Christ in repentance, and told Him of her problem, He would have given her forgiveness and freedom, and His own strength to fight temptation, without her contemplating such terrible “bodily exercise.” But she was not listening and did not really want to listen. I left her feeling I had failed her badly, but convinced that she was mentally unsound. When, later, I learnt that she had a bad reputation for loose living, I realized once more how the devil takes advantage of the mentally weak.
C. H. SPURGEON: If you aspire to emulate Origen in wild, daring interpretations, it may be as well to read his life and note attentively the follies into which even his marvellous mind was drawn by allowing a wild fancy to usurp absolute authority over his judgment…However, there is a legitimate range for spiritualizing, or rather for the particular gift which leads men to spiritualize—The same [old Mr. Sutton of Cottenham] preached a sermon equally singular, but far more original and useful; those who heard it will remember it to their dying day. It was from this text: The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting, Proverbs 12:27.
The good old man leaned upon the top of the pulpit, and said, “Then, my brethren, he was a lazy fellow! He went out a-hunting, and after much trouble he caught his hare, and then was too idle to roast it. He was a lazy fellow indeed!” The preacher made us all feel how ridiculous such idleness was, and then he said, “But, then, you are very likely quite as much to blame as this man, for you do just the same. You hear of a popular minister coming down from London, and you put the horse in the cart, and drive ten or twenty miles to hear him, and, then, when you have heard the sermon, you forget to profit by it. You catch the hare, and do not roast it; you hunt after the truth, and then you do not receive it.”
Then he went on to show that, just as meat needs cooking to prepare it for assimilation in the bodily system—I do not think he used that word, though—so the truth needs to go through a certain process before it can be received into the mind, that we may feed upon thereon and grow. He said he should show us how to cook a sermon, and he did so most instructively. He began as cookery books do—“First, catch your hare. So,” he said, “first, get a gospel sermon.” Then he declared that a great many sermons were not worth hunting for, that good sermons were mournfully scarce, and it was worth while to go any distance to hear a solid, old-fashioned, Calvinistic discourse.
Then, after the sermon had been caught, there was much about it which was not profitable [because of the preacher’s infirmity], and must be put away. Here he enlarged upon discerning and judging what we heard, and not believing every word of man. Then followed directions as to roasting a sermon—run the spit of memory through it from end to end, turn it round upon the roasting-jack of meditation, before the fire of a really warm and earnest heart, and in that way the sermon would be cooked, and ready to yield real spiritual nourishment. And though it may look somewhat laughable, it was not so esteemed by the hearers. It was full of allegory, and kept up the attention of the people from the beginning to the end.
Such was Mr. Sutton’s usual talk and such was his ministry…He was a quaint old man, who, after being a shepherd of sheep for between thirty and forty years, became a shepherd of men for a similar period; and he often told me that his second flock was “more sheepish than the first.” The converts, who found the road to heaven under his preaching, were so many that, when we remember them, we are like those who saw the lame man leaping after he heard the word of Peter and John; they were disposed to criticize, but “beholding the man that was healed standing with Peter and John, they could say nothing against it.”