TO ABOUT A SCORE BRETHREN."He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." -- Psalm xci.1.
UNDER HIS SHADOW.
I MUST confess of my short discourse, as the man did of the axe which fell into the stream, that it is borrowed. The outline of it is taken from one who will never complain of me, for to the great loss of the Church she has left these lower choirs to sing above. Miss Havergal, last and loveliest of our modern poets, when her tones were most mellow, and her language most sublime, has been caught up to swell the music of heaven. Her last poems are published with the title, "Under His Shadow," and the preface gives the reason for the name. She said, "I should like the title to be, Under His Shadow.' I seem to see four pictures suggested by that: under the shadow of a rock, in a weary plain; under the shadow of a tree; closer still, under the shadow of His wing; nearest and closest, in the shadow of His hand. Surely that hand must be the pierced hand, that may oftentimes press us sorely, and yet evermore encircling, upholding, and shadowing."
"Under His Shadow," is our afternoon subject, and we will in a few words enlarge on the Scriptural plan which Miss Havergal has bequeathed to us. Our text is, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." The shadow of God is not the occasional resort, but the constant abiding-place, of the saint. Here we find not only our consolation, but our habitation. We ought never to be out of the shadow of God. It is to dwellers, not to visitors, that the Lord promises His protection. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty:" and that shadow shall preserve him from nightly terror and ghostly ill, from the arrows of war and of pestilence, from death and from destruction. Guarded by Omnipotence, the chosen of the Lord are always safe; for as they dwell in the holy place, hard by the mercy-seat, where the blood was sprinkled of old, the pillar of fire by night, the pillar of cloud by day, which ever hangs over the sanctuary, covers them also. Is it not written, "In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion, in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me"? What better security can we desire? As the people of God, we are always under the protection of the Most High. Wherever we go, whatever we suffer, whatever may be our difficulties, temptations, trials, or perplexities, we are always "under the shadow of the Almighty." Over all who maintain their fellowship with God the most tender guardian care is extended. Their heavenly Father Himself interposes between them and their adversaries. The experience of the saints, albeit they are all under the shadow, yet differs as to the form in which that protection has been enjoyed by them, hence the value of the four figures which will now engage our attention.
I. We will begin with the first picture which Miss Havergal mentions, namely, the rock sheltering the weary traveller: -- "The shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isaiah xxxii.2).
Now, I take it that this is where we begin to know our Lord's shadow. He was at the first to us a refuge in time of trouble. Weary was the way, and great was the heat; our lips were parched, and our souls were fainting; we sought for shelter, and we found none; for we were in the wilderness of sin and condemnation, and who could bring us deliverance, or even hope? Then we cried unto the Lord in our trouble, and He led us to the Rock of ages, which of old was cleft for us. We saw our interposing Mediator coming between us and the fierce heat of justice, and we hailed the blessed screen. The Lord Jesus was unto us a covering for sin, and so a covert from wrath. The sense of divine displeasure, which had beaten upon our conscience, was removed by the removal of the sin itself, which we saw to be laid on Jesus, who in our place and stead endured its penalty.
The shadow of a rock is remarkably cooling, and so was the Lord Jesus eminently comforting to us. The shadow of a rock is more dense, more complete, and more cool than any other shade; and so the peace which Jesus gives passeth all understanding, there is none like it. No chance beam darts through the rock-shade, nor can the heat penetrate as it will do in a measure through the foliage of a forest. Jesus is a complete shelter, and blessed are they who are "under His shadow." Let them take care that they abide there, and never venture forth to answer for themselves, or to brave the accusations of Satan.
As with sin, so with sorrow of every sort: the Lord is the Rock of our refuge. No sun shall smite us, nor, any heat, because we are never out of Christ. The saints know where to fly, and they use their privilege.
"When troubles, like a burning sun,
Beat heavy on their head,
To Christ their mighty Rock they run,
And find a pleasing shade."
There is, however, something of awe about this great shadow. A rock is often so high as to be terrible, and we tremble in presence of its greatness. The idea of littleness hiding behind massive greatness is well set forth; but there is no tender thought of fellowship, or gentleness: even so, at the first, we view the Lord Jesus as our shelter from the consuming heat of well-deserved punishment, and we know little more. It is most pleasant to remember that this is only one panel of the four-fold picture. Inexpressibly dear to my soul is the deep cool rock-shade of my blessed Lord, as I stand in Him a sinner saved; yet is there more.
II. Our second picture, that of the tree, is to be found in the Song of Solomon ii.3: "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste." Here we have not so much refuge from trouble as special rest in times of joy. The spouse is happily wandering through a wood, glancing at many trees, and rejoicing in the music of the birds. One tree specially charms her: the citron with its golden fruit wins her admiration, and she sits under its shadow with great delight; such was her Beloved to her, the best among the good, the fairest of the fair, the joy of her joy, the light of her delight. Such is Jesus to the believing soul.
The sweet influences of Christ are intended to give us a happy rest, and we ought to avail ourselves of them; "I sat down under His shadow." This was Mary's better part, which Martha well-nigh missed by being cumbered. That is the good old way wherein we are to walk, the way in which we find rest unto our souls. Papists and papistical persons, whose religion is all ceremonies, or all working, or all groaning, or all feeling, have never come to an end. We may say of their religion as of the law, that it made nothing perfect; but under the gospel there is something finished, and that something is the sum and substance of our salvation, and therefore there is rest for us, and we ought to sing, "I sat down."
Dear friends, is Christ to each one of us a place of sitting down? I do not mean a rest of idleness and self-content, -- God deliver us from that; but there is rest in a conscious grasp of Christ, a rest of contentment with Him as our all in all. God give us to know more of this! This shadow is also meant to yield perpetual solace, for the spouse did not merely come under it, but there she sat down as one who meant to stay. Continuance of repose and joy is purchased for us by our Lord's perfected work. Under the shadow she found food; she had no need to leave it to find a single needful thing, for the tree which shaded also yielded fruit; nor did she need even to rise from her rest, but sitting still she feasted on the delicious fruit. You who know the Lord Jesus know also what this meaneth.
The spouse never wished to go beyond her Lord. She knew no higher life than that of sitting under the Well-beloved's shadow. She passed the cedar, and oak, and every other goodly tree, but the apple-tree held her, and there she sat down. "Many there be that say, who will show us any good? But as for us, O Lord, our heart is fixed, our heart is fixed, resting on Thee. We will go no further, for Thou art our dwelling-place, we feel at home with Thee, and sit down beneath Thy shadow." Some Christians cultivate reverence at the expense of childlike love; they kneel down, but they dare not sit down. Our Divine Friend and Lover wills not that it should be so; He would not have us stand on ceremony with Him, but come boldly unto Him.
"Let us be simple with Him, then,
Not backward, stiff or cold,
As though our Bethlehem could be
What Sina was of old."
Let us use His sacred name as a common word, as a household word, and run to Him as to a dear familiar friend. Under His shadow we are to feel that we are at home, and then He will make Himself at home to us by becoming food unto our souls, and giving spiritual refreshment to us while we rest. The spouse does not here say that she reached up to the tree to gather its fruit, but she sat down on the ground in intense delight, and the fruit came to her where she sat. It is wonderful how Christ will come down to souls that sit beneath His shadow; if we can but be at home with Christ, He will sweetly commune with us. Has He not said, "Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart"?
In this second form of the sacred shadow, the sense of awe gives place to that of restful delight in Christ. Have you ever figured in such a scene as the sitter beneath the grateful shade of the fruitful tree? Have you not only possessed security, but experienced delight in Christ? Have you sung, --
"I sat down under His shadow,
Sat down with great delight;
His fruit was sweet unto my taste,
And pleasant to my sight"?
This is as necessary an experience as it is joyful: necessary for many uses. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and it is when we delight ourselves in the Lord that we have assurance of power in prayer. Here faith develops, and hope grows bright, while love sheds abroad all the fragrance of her sweet spices. Oh! get you to the apple-tree, and find out who is the fairest among the fair. Make the Light of heaven the delight of your heart, and then be filled with heart's-ease, and revel in complete content.
III. The third view of the one subject is, -- the shadow of his wings, -- a precious word. I think the best specimen of it, for it occurs several times, is in that blessed Psalm, the sixty-third, verse seven: --
"Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice."
Does not this set forth our Lord as our trust in hours of depression? In the Psalm now open before us, David was banished from the means of grace to a dry and thirsty land, where no water was. What is much worse, he was in a measure away from all conscious enjoyment of God. He says, "Early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee." He sings rather of memories than of present communion with God. We also have come into this condition, and have been unable to find any present comfort. "Thou hast been my help," has been the highest note we could strike, and we have been glad to reach to that. At such times, the light of God's face has been withdrawn, but our faith has taught us to rejoice under the shadow of His wings. Light there was none; we were altogether in the shade, but it was a warm shade. We felt that God who had been near must be near us still, and therefore we were quieted. Our God cannot change, and therefore as He was our help He must still be our help, our help even though He casts a shadow over us, for it must be the shadow of His own eternal wings. The metaphor is, of course, derived from the nestling of little birds under the shadow of their mother's wings, and the picture is singularly touching and comforting. The little bird is not yet able to take care of itself, so it cowers down under the mother, and is there happy and safe. Disturb a hen for a moment, and you will see all the little chickens huddling together, and by their chirps making a kind of song. Then they push their heads into her feathers, and seem happy beyond measure in their warm abode. When we are very sick and sore depressed, when we are worried with the care of pining children, and the troubles of a needy household, and the temptations of Satan, how comforting it is to run to our God, -- like the little chicks run to the hen, -- and hide away near His heart, beneath His Wings. Oh, tried ones, press closely to the loving heart of your Lord, hide yourselves entirely beneath His wings! Here awe has disappeared, and rest itself is enhanced by the idea of loving trust. The little birds are safe in their mother's love, and we, too, are beyond measure secure and happy in the loving favour of the Lord.
IV. The last form of the shadow is that of the hand, and this, it seems to me, points to power and position in service. Turn to Isaiah xlix.2: -- "And He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He kid me, and made me a polished shaft; in His quiver hath He hid me." This undoubtedly refers to the Saviour, for the passage proceeds: -- "And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob again to Him, though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth." Our Lord Jesus Christ was hidden away in the hand of Jehovah, to be used by Him as a polished shaft for the overthrow of His enemies, and the victory of His people. Yet, inasmuch as it is Christ, it is also all Christ's servants, since as He is so are we also in this world; and to make quite sure of it, we have the same expression in the sixteenth verse of the fifty-first chapter, where, speaking of His people, He says, "I have covered thee in the shadow of Mine hand." Is not this an excellent minister's text? Every one of you who will speak a word for Jesus shall have a share in it. This is where those who are workers for Christ should long to be, -- "in the shadow of His hand," to achieve His eternal purpose. What are any of God's servants without their Lord but weapons out of the warrior's hand, having no power to do anything? We ought to be as the arrows of the Lord which He shoots at His enemies; and so great is His hand of power, and so little are we as His instruments, that He hides us away in the hollow of His hand, unseen until He darts us forth. As workers, we are to be hidden away in the hand of God, or to quote the other figure, "in His quiver hath He hid me:" we are to be unseen till He uses us. It is impossible for us not to be known somewhat if the Lord uses us, but we may not aim at being noticed, but, on the contrary, if we be as much used as the very chief of the apostles, we must truthfully add, "though I be nothing." Our desire should be that Christ should be glorified, and that self should be concealed. Alas! there is a way of always showing self in what we do, and we are all too ready to fall into it. You can visit the poor in such a way that they will feel that his lordship or her ladyship has condescended to call upon poor Betsy; but there is another way of doing the same thing so that the tried child of God shall know that a brother beloved or a dear sister in Christ has shown a fellow-feeling for her, and has talked to her heart. There is a way of preaching, in which a great divine has evidently displayed his vast learning and talent; and there is another way of preaching, in which a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, depending upon his Lord, has spoken in his Master's name, and left a rich unction behind. Within the hand of God is the place of acceptance, and safety; and for service it is the place of power, as well as of concealment. God only works with those who are in His hand; and the more we lie hidden there, the more surely will He use us ere long. May the Lord do unto us according to His word, "I have put My words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of My hand." In this case we shall feel all the former emotions combined: awe that the Lord should condescend to take us into His hand, rest and delight that He should deign to use us, trust that out of weakness we shall now be made strong, and to this will be added an absolute assurance that the end of our being must be answered, for that which is urged onward by the Almighty hand cannot miss its mark.
These are mere surface thoughts. The subject deserves a series of discourses. Your best course, my beloved friends, will be to enlarge upon these hints by a long personal experience of abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. May God the Holy Ghost lead you into it, and keep you there, for Jesus' sake!