THE SHADOW OF GOD'S WI G. REV. G. ECKPORD GULL B.A.
Psalm lxiii. 8. " Because Thou hast been my helper, therefore under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.*' I a world like that in which we live, where we are constantly exposed to many and great dangers, there are only two ways of being safe — by taking care of ourselves, and by being taken care of. The care we can take of ourselves is so very small compiared with the care that is constantly taken of us by our Father in heaven, that it would not deserve to be mentioned if it were not necessary that we should be reminded that we can do some things by God's help, and that it is, therefore, our duty to do what we can. The great secret of godliness is contained in so feeling our dependence upon God that we act as if we could do all things in His strength. Holy Scripture seems to speak sometimes as if we could do almost everything, and at other times as if we could do nothing but trust in God And these
i88 THE SHADOW two extremes are not contradictory when we see that every good thing we can do we can only do by faith. The importance of trying to see the connexion between action and trust, works and faith, cannot be overrated, for if we think of them as opposed to each other, we must choose one without the other, and that is certain to make us ungodly,
for, as we have said, the secret of godliness is to feel their practical connexion. St Paul, in the Epistle for the day, speaks as if everything depended on himself, putting himself on a footing with those who tried for prizes in the Grecian games ; yet we know how he also said, " I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me ;" and how, also, he showed in another place the connexion between faith and works, in the exhortation, " Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you." ow, although trust and action are thus closely combined, there are times when we have to think most of trust, and other times when we must be busy with action. When God has given us light enough to know clearly what our duty is, our trust in Him will make us do our duty ; if it does not do this, depend upon it it is not trust at all, but a selfish excuse for laziness. But our duty is not always clear. There are times when we should be glad to act, when we want to do what is right, but do not know what is right to do. There are times when we feel the great importance of prompt action, when it seems as if delay would take away the opportunity which it may be our duty to embrace. At such times, one of our chief dangers is that we should become so occupied with our own thoughts about what must be done, that we forget God, or, if we do not forget Him, we do not see how much He has to do with the very difficulties
OF GOUS WI G. 189 that are perplexing us. And yet nothing is more certain than that our duty at such times is to look steadfastly to God. o duty can be made clear to us while we shut out God from our practical plans.
Whenever, then, we are perplexed to know what we should do, our first step should be to stretch out the hand of faith towards our Father that He may guide us. This is no new advice, but is probably so well known by every one here that it may seem almost trite and commonplace ; and perhaps the thought may rise, " Yes, that is all very true, but the difficulty lies in closing it at the right time. It is very easy to say, * Put your trust in God, look to Him for guidance," but it is sometimes very hard to follow such advice." o doubt most of us find this one of the hardest things we ever have to do, and therefore we shall do well to consider for a short time what may make it easier. We shall not need to be told that the prayerful reading of God's Word will help our faith at such a time ; but there is one other thing we may forget, which is often a very great assistance. It is to look back at the history of our own lives, and ponder over the way by which we have been led. May we not confidently say that no one who has anything beyond the merest spark of religious life can look back thus without seeing God's hand in what has happened to him 1 Some, perhaps, can hardly take a calm survey of their past lives, so as to see God's hand in what has taken place, without feeling that there is much that has not only been wrong, but is still unrepented of and unforgiven. Oh brother, whoever thou mayest be, who canst not look back without feeling so, by all that is sacred and right, by the value of thine immortal soul, rest
190 THE SHADOW
not until thou hast turned from those sins, and hast found forgiveness at the Cross of Christ o one has any business to have peace or rest of spirit who has not found it in forgiveness. But those of us who know what it is to feel that God has, for Christ's sake, put our sins as far from us as the east is from the west, when we look back on our lives and see how God has led us, do we not wonder at the way in which even our sins have, through His mercy, been made to work for our good ? The review of our past lives shows us sin cancelled, events overruled, innumerable blessings constantly bestowed, and many perplexities made plain. And perhaps we see God's hand most clearly of all when we think what would have become of us if we had been allowed to have our own way. Cannot we all remember how strongly we wanted to have our own way in some matter, and could not have it, how hard we tried to break down opposing circumstances, how earnestly we prayed that our own wills might be done, and now — ^what do we think of it now } Do we not see the merciful, strong hand of our Father holding us back from what would have injured if not destroyed us } Or, in looking back, can we not remember how affliction came upon us and all our life was made dark, and the darkness was a burden, and we were weak, while our duties seemed multiplied, so that more than ever seemed to depend upon our exertions } Times that we can say of now, " Ah, if I had known beforehand what I had to pass through, I could not have held up for a moment." Well, but brethren, we did pass through those times, and now, as we look back, they are full of rich meaning. Do we not praise God more heartily to-day
for those days, months, years of suffering, than for
OF GOiyS WI G. . 191 all the prosperity He has bestowed upon us ? And why do we do so ? Is it not because they make us feel as nothing else could what it is to be strong in God's strength ? Oh, brethren, if we want our faith in God's future guidance made clear and bright, let us look back on the way He has already led us ; for if we cannot see His hand there, we cannot see it anywhere. ow, all we have been saying grows naturally out of our text. King David was in great trouble, and much cast down. There was much necessity for action, for he had been driven from his throne by his son Absalom, and was now in the wilderness. Much of his misfortune was owing to his own faults. In great perplexity he pours out his soul to God. His soul thirsts for God. God's loving-kindness is better to him than life itself. He calls to remembrance his song in the night. And the memory of God's past goodness stirs up the Psalmist's trust for the present and the future. "Because Thou hast been my helper, therefore under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice," Thus far we have seen the general sense of our text, aijd how it applies to our own view ; but we may learn the lesson more minutely by noticing the words the psalmist used. There is something very beautiful and appropriate in comparing God's protecting care to the sheltering wings that a bird spreads over her little brood. It is a figure which is often used in Scripture. It is found several times in the Psalms, and seems to have been a favourite thought with David ; but it has a higher
sanction than even that. It is found, not only as expressing what man feels God's protecting care to be, but also as expressing what God feels His care of man to be. In the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, after the terrible denunciations of
192 THE SHADOW the Scribes and Pharisees, our Lord, you will remember, turns in the tenderest love to the city that was rejecting Him. " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" What image can surpass in beauty and tenderness of feeling that in which the Saviour yearned over those He was about to die for? God's protecting care of us is like that — the sheltering wing. Our Saviour's words help us to feel (with all reverence) that the bird's sheltering wing expressed something of the care, the tender guardianship, which God feels to us ; and the words of our text help us to feel that we should look up to God with corresponding trust. But, though the chief thought which this image suggests to us is that of protection, yet there are some other thoughts that, as it were, underlie that The wing that shelters shuts out the world. Under the protecting wing all is dark while it is perfectly safe. Under this guardianship that which is sheltered cannot act alone, or with freedom.
In these respects we may, perhaps, see in the protecting wing an image of affliction. Well is it for us when we see in our affliction the shadow of God's wing. When the darkness comes down upon our path, if we can but recognize in it, not a danger, but God's protecting care of us, we can rejoice in the midst of our sorrow. And, brethren, although it is sometimes hard to see in new trials that which we have felt in old trials, if we look back do we not see quite clearly that our former sorrows have been like the shadow of God's wing ? Did they not bring us nearer to God, even quite close to
OF GOnS WI G. 193 Him, and at the same time shut out the world and its dangers together ? We were in darkness, it is true, but were quite safe. We did not need light, for all we had to do was to rest in the Lord. He shut us into His secret place while the danger lasted, and we were kept by Him. There is also another sense, perhaps, in which we may understand the words, "the shadow of Thy wings." In the sense of affliction only some of us know what that shadow is, and tfwse do not know it always ; but there is another sense in which all of us are always under the shadow of those Almighty wings. It is clear that, so far as protection goes, this is so with us all. If God our Father did not protect us from innumerable dangers, we should instantly be destroyed. But how is God's protection of us all exercised } Is it not in such a way as gives us only a very short view of what is beyond the present, affords us only a little light, and but a scant
field of action t The conditions under which we live our natural life from day to day are such that we may compare the visible world around us to God's protecting wing, under the shadow of which we live and move and have our being. In this life we are cramped and live in partial darkness, as it were, in the shadow of a wing. We know little, we can do little, but although we are ignorant and feeble, we are cared for — we are safe. We are so entirely in the shadow that we have not the knowledge of what will happen even to-morrow. The future is entirely shut out froni us by the world we see. Visible things, the outward world of sense, with all its brightness to our bodily eyes, are but the shadow of God's wing, which hides from us all the real world beyond. O
194 THE SHADOW And we are under this shadow but a little time : it will be raised, and the infinite will burst upon us in all its majesty. But in conclusion let us return to David's sense of the words. He felt that in his affliction he was under the shadow of God's wing ; and in spite of the darkness he could rejoice, because his past experience had taught him that he was safe in God's keeping at such times, and was nearer to God than in prosperity. " Because Thou hast been my helper therefore
under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice." As though he said, " I am not only safe but I am being helped. When I was in affliction before, I was not only delivered from danger, but I was assisted, and it will be so now. The wing that shuts out the foe also fosters and strengthens me. Therefore I will rejoice. Under the shadow I will sing and be glad, for I am not only quite safe, but I shall have strength given me for all I have to do." Well now, brethren, why cannot we all join in such rejoicing with the Psalmist. We have the same kind of evidence in our lives of God's care that he had. Surely we cannot look back without seeing that we have been helped by God, and what has been will be, unless our unbelief hinders. The shadow of God's wing is spread over us to teach us to trust Him. Our daily dependence upon Him for all good things slwuld teach us to trust Him and rejoice in Him. The deeper shadow of affliction is often sent to teach us what we are slow to learn from God's ordinary dealings with us. If we trust under the shadow of His wings we can also rejoice. In this present life the only thing that hides God from us is His own outward world, which is like the shadow of His wing ; so that we are, as it were, too near God to see Him, but the
OF GOD'S WI G. 195 shadow will pass when we are fit for eternal light In the meantime, what a solemn, happy, trustful life we ought to live, and how heartily we should rejoice under His protecting care. May the memory of God's past goodness and mercy teach us all to trust Him in the present, and to serve Him
faithfully all the days of our lives. O Lord^ Who never failest to help and govern tfietn whom Thou dost bring up in Thy steadfast fear and love ; keep us, we beseech Thee^ under tfie protection of Thy good Providence^ and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of Thy Holy ame ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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