The Singing of the Birds

by Glenn Conjurske

The birds hold a unique place in all of God’s creation. The Bible calls them “the birds of the heavens.” (Jer. 4:25).* This is their own sphere, and they are at home there. They are creatures of grace and beauty. Much of this lower creation is a picture of higher things—-perhaps all of it, if we had eyes to see it—-and there can be no doubt that “the birds of the heavens” are God’s picture of a heavenly race. These are the saints and angels of God.

Now among the various things which distinguish the birds from the rest of the creation, one of the most prominent is this, that they sing. Many of the animals are virtually mute. Of those which speak, most of them never do so except to complain or threaten. “Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?” (Job. 6:5). When these are fed and contented, they have nothing to say. They only speak when they are dissatisfied or discontented, when they are in fear or pain. They speak to threaten, or to complain.

Not so the birds. They sing because they are happy. They sing to express their happiness. How do I know this? The same way everyone else knows it. The expression “happy as a lark” is proverbial. The fact is, study the matter how we will, we cannot escape the conviction that the birds sing because they are happy. There is no other explanation of it. Even as I write this there sits a kingbird near my open door, singing to his heart’s content. And why? Is he hungry? Discontented? It is impossible to think so. We cannot but think that he is contented and happy, and delights to express it. The Bible says, “Is any merry? let him sing.” (James 5:13). The birds just sing and sing, and it is impossible to watch or listen to them, and conclude any other thing than that they are happy. The nature of the voice of the birds is exactly suited to express happiness. They do not bark or howl, or grunt or growl, or low or neigh, or oink or bray. They sing. In this they are the divinely-drawn picture of the saints and angels of God.

We know little enough about heaven, but this we know, that it is full of singing. The heavenly scenes in the Bible are full of singing. But then so are the earthly scenes. The fact is, the Bible is full of singing, for it is the book of the saints of God. It is not the book of the discontented and the dissatisfied, but the book of the contented and the joyful. It is therefore full of singing. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:19). “I will sing, … I will sing, … I will sing,” we read again and again in the book of Psalms, for “he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” (Ps. 40:3).

There is much to be learned from observing the birds. It is their nature to sing. The song flows from within, as from an artesian well. This is God’s picture of his saints and angels, and this is their normal state. Observe, the birds do not go to a meeting and sing what is prescribed in the bulletin. They do not wait for a choir to lead them. Every one sings for himself, when he is alone with his creator. The happiness of his heart flows out the livelong day in strains of the happiest melody. This is the normal state of the saints. “I will sing, … I will sing.”

But observe, all the birds are not alike. The songs of some are as plain as can be. They merely chirp, though they do it with a good will and a happy heart. The songs of the robin and the song sparrow are beautiful, and that of the rose-breasted grosbeak is surpassingly so. But there is another difference which is more telling. Their singing differs as much as their songs. Most birds sing when the sun shines pleasantly in the cool of the day, as Christians sing also when their circumstances are pleasant. But some have gotten beyond this. Their happiness flows from within, whatever may betide without. Some birds sing in the dark. The robins sing in the rain. The buntings sing in the heat of the day, when the other birds are silent. Some saints—-usually old ones, who have long walked with God—-are like these rare birds, who sing in the rain and the dark. And what a contrast these present to the old in general. How many of the old are peevish and fretful, suspicious and sour, complaining and cantankerous. Who would not rather be one of these heavenly creatures which sings when it rains and sings in the dark? Some birds will even sing in a cage, like our own Paul and Silas, singing in the dark, in the prison, with their backs bleeding and their feet fast in the stocks.

And here, by the way, is a precious opportunity for the saints of God to glorify their maker—-and an opportunity which no angel has ever had, or ever will have. The angels live in the light of paradise, where all is joy and music, where pain and trouble never come, and of course they sing. The saints of God must live in darkness and pain and trouble, and pass through the valley of the shadow of death. To sing there is a much higher thing than the song of any angel, and surely brings the greater glory to God. We have the opportunity to sing in the dark, which angels never can have. Do we use that opportunity, or do we growl and mutter? The precious opportunity will soon pass away, and it will be a great pity if we do not see it as a precious opportunity till it is gone. We may find great inspiration in listening to the birds sing in the dark and in the rain, and we ought to go and do likewise. The Lord has promised that “the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life,” and “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” These springs flow day and night, dark or light, rain or shine, and so the rare bird sings. And who can doubt that we shall sing better in the light and the calm of paradise, for having sung in the darkness and the storms of this earth? And not only so, but our songs will make the dark a little lighter even here and now.

Ah, but my pleasant thoughts are just now interrupted by the screaming of some crows outside my window, and this serves to remind me that all birds do not sing. There are many of them which only scream and screech and squawk. The fact is, these birds are no picture of the saints of God. The Bible speaks of unclean and hateful birds (Rev. 18:2), and there are plenty of these. These are the fallen spirits, the fowls which devour up the seed which is sown by the way side (Matt. 13:4). Many of these unclean and hateful birds are black. So the worthless grackles, blackbirds, and starlings. So the crows, which eat rotting carrion, and fight with every other bird, including their cousin the raven. They love to gather in large numbers around a solitary owl or a treed porcupine, and scream and harass it by the hour. The cowbird is black also, except the female, which is a dull brownish gray. She sits in the top of the highest tree, and shamelessly calls for her lovers by her shrill screeching, and then lays her egg in another bird’s nest—-a fit enough emblem of a good many females of the human kind. All these are unclean and hateful birds, and these only click and cluck and scream and screech and squawk, but do not sing.

But my meditations on this theme suggest yet another matter. The birds in general are distinguished from the other animals in the facts that they can sing and fly. But this is true only in general, for we have fish and squirrels which fly, and birds which cannot, as well as birds which cannot sing. Then again, we have animals which can sing. All of this teaches me that the works of God are too manifold to be systematized by man. Whatever we may say in general, there are always exceptions. Man makes every marble round, but God always throws in a few ovals, and maybe a cube. As a general rule, it is “the birds of the heavens” which sing, while the beasts of the earth only threaten and complain, if they speak at all. Yet we have the tree frog, who actually sings. This is a pleasant little creature, which has almost nothing of the fear of man. I have often known one to sit content on the leaf of a blackberry bush, while I picked the berries all around it. Not long ago one sat unafraid on my wood pile for an hour, while I piled wood all around him. The singing of these little creatures is not musical like that of the birds, but still they sing, and sweetly and pleasantly too.

From the tree frogs we turn to the frogs in the pond. These cannot sing so sweetly as the tree frog, but where he sings only here and there, these will sing by the hour, both day and night. Now frankly, the singing of a single frog is neither sweet nor musical, but a chorus of them might well vie with any chorus on earth, and methinks that he who has never been sung to sleep at night by the frogs has scarcely lived. They seem to know that they can only make music together, and the chirp of a single frog will set the whole pond to peeping, and this is pleasant music indeed. How often have I gone to sleep to the singing of the frogs, and gotten up at three or four in the morning to find them singing still. To whom do they sing all night, if not to their creator? They seem to have an artesian well of happiness within, and never tire of filling the atmosphere with it.

Yet again, we have the chipmunk, who seems genuinely to sing. He can do no more than chirp—-and it is a rather shrill and unpleasant chirp—-yet he seems “as happy as a lark” in doing so. He is neither complaining nor threatening, but to all appearances—-singing.

And last of all, even the cricket sings after a fashion, so that the expression “happy as a cricket” is as much a part of the English language as “happy as a lark.”

Now observe, in spite of these pleasant exceptions, we may yet say in general that singing belongs to the birds, as much as flying does. What do these exceptions prove? To my mind they prove that the works of God are not so easy to classify and systematize as men like to suppose, and this is as true of his word as it is of his creation. A good deal of the doctrinal error in the church consists of taking that which is generally true, and trying to make it technically or absolutely true. It is true that the birds sing. It is also true that singing is the peculiar property of the birds. This is so far true that we may make a general rule of it, but it is not absolutely true. Some birds do not sing, and some animals do.

The same is true with a great many general statements and general principles in the Bible. But theologians—-especially the shallow, the proud, and the bigoted—-must have everything black and white, and cut and dried. This is theology made easy. It requires no depth of thought, and is in fact the reverse of wisdom. Everything must be absolute. Everything must be always or never, and such theologians will have nothing which is sometimes true, or generally true. If they were naturalists, they would insist that frogs are birds, or that penguins are not. They will have everything hard and fast, everything rigid, with no exceptions. Holiness must be absolute holiness. The Latin Vulgate must be either the immaculate word of God or “the devil’s Bible.” The depravity of man must mean his “total inability” ever to think one right thought. The natural man not receiving the things of God must mean that he can never receive one ray of light. “Dead in sins” must mean dead as a door-nail, and “dead while she liveth” must mean nothing at all. Grace, to be grace, must be absolutely unconditional. If a text is not perfectly preserved, it is not the word of God at all. I refrain from naming further examples, but I tell such theologians that they are as far from the truth as they are from common sense. Even nature teaches us that this is not the way of the Lord.

Glenn Conjurske