"Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?"—Isaiah 60:8
The whole of this chapter of the great evangelical Prophet is replete with sublime imagery. It forms in itself a unique Poem, a gallery of successive pictures delineating the golden age of the Messiah. His Church, resplendent with the glories of her King, is represented as growing and expanding, age by age, until a whole world is seen hastening to lay tribute offerings at His feet, and to welcome Him to the throne of universal empire!
Several of its verses, taken by themselves, might form befitting themes to sum up the sacred services of a Communion Sunday. We need indeed go no further than the opening exhortation, "Arise, shine," sounding as it does like a clarion-note, a herald trumpet in entering again the battle of life with refurbished armor, and the renewed vow of allegiance on the lip. "Let your light so shine before men, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in Heaven."
But we have been led, in preference, to select a different but equally expressive metaphor—the sight which revealed itself to Isaiah, as he gazed down the vista of ages on the Church of the future. It is that of a flock, or rather flocks of doves, on the wing to their cotes. Jesus may well be regarded as the true House of safety—while Communicants, His covenant people, like these silver and golden plumaged doves, flee to Him for shelter, trust Him for shelter, abide in Him for shelter. May God help us to some appropriate meditations, in harmony with the simplicity of the emblem.
(1.) The first thought which the verse suggests, in connection with our Communion services, is that ofblissful association. Can we fail to think of the Prophet's figure as symbolizing what has occurred among us in this vast city today?—varied churches and varied denominations engaged in celebrating the same sacred rite. We have, in and through its significant symbols, been looking and fleeing to the one only Savior. As the dovecot may have its different openings; so, each church retains its own denominational entrance. But the Glorious meeting-place, the spiritual Shelter, is the same. The windows are diverse, but there is a blessed identity in the hallowed haunt itself. The summoning bells have rung their varied tones—but there is a sweet harmony and concord in the responsive chime of consecrated hearts—"Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood!"
Clothed, we trust, in the one glorious plumage, and with wings bearing in the same direction, may we not imagine angels exclaiming, as they look down on the multitudes in this and in other places throughout our land, hastening to the figurative sacramental Ark—"Who are these that fly as a cloud and as the doves to their windows?"
(2.) In connection with our sacred rite, the emblem of our text suggests apublic profession. The Prophet is arrested; or possibly, in the poetical imagery here employed, a chorus of spectators—in which he veils his own personality—are arrested by the spectacle. The doves are not spoken of as flying under screen of night or darkness; neither were they beheld winging a solitary or circuitous flight, as if dreading and evading observation. But the mid-day sun looked down on a whole cloud of them, their golden iridescent plumage flashing in his beams.
Dear brethren, it is no unimportant or insignificant feature in your divinely-appointed Ordinance, this open dove-like flight to the Covenant Ark. In these times, when there is so much unworthy shame in espousing Christ's cause, ranging ourselves under His banner, and unfurling it before the world—it is a noble thing, or rather a joyful privilege, to come boldly forward and avouch the Lord to be our God—making the public unhesitating avowal, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ," like the man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, who, before all the multitude, went forth "walking and leaping and praising God" (Acts 3:8). "Those who honor Me, I will honor" (1 Sam. 2:30). Doubtless Jesus will regard with a special delight, those who have, with willing, loving obedience, responded to His own dying command, and in the words of another verse of this chapter, "glorified Him in the House of His glory."
Yes, as He looked down and saw this day, those who are the fruit of the travail of His soul—as He beheld His people winging their flight to His Sacramental Table; may we not, with reverence, suppose Him joining in the angelic interrogation, and saying in the gladness of His own infinite heart—"Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?"
(3.) The cloud of doves, as here represented,betokens the character of Christians and of Christian communicants. They are, or ought to be, dove-like. The Dove has these among other characteristics—
First. It is the complex symbol, in sacred poetry and are, ofpeace and love, of meekness and gentleness, purity and harmlessness (Cant. 1:15, 6:9, Matt. 10:16). I may add, in the crude early Christian symbolism of the Roman catacombs, the Dove, as the bird of hope, is generally represented in connection, variously treated, with the olive branch. What a lesson for us all as believers in Jesus, and specially in rising from His Holy Supper, to carry away the resolution of imitating more than we have yet done, "the meekness and gentleness of Christ," His kind, loving, unselfish, peaceful spirit! If, in the retrospect of past months, it may be of past years, we have to mourn the cherishing or the exhibition of unholy tempers and resentful feelings—unworthy passions that have held guilty sway over us—let us form the determination, in God's strength, that henceforth we are to be more Dove-like—more like Him who was "meek and lowly in heart,"—"who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously."
Moreover, recalling the Dove as the bird of hope; either perched on the branch of peace or bearing it in its mouth, what more befitting benediction to carry with you as you leave this sacred ground—"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13)?
A Second characteristic of the Dove is, that it isswift of wing. The Prophet saw them, not sailing like a cloud, or drifting like a cloud, but flying; borne along with whirlwind speed. The carrier dove is well known for the swiftness—the length and steadiness, of its arrowy course, surpassing the proverbial flight of the eagle. An Oriental writer mentions regarding it, that it never pauses; that when its wings are weary, it poises itself on one, while the other droops for a little by its side, and when rested, the unremitting flight is resumed. This, coupled with Isaiah's figure, surely suggests the activities of the Christian life. The believer is swift of wing to do God's service. The religion you profess, and to which many have set their seal today, is not only a being good, but a doing good. Be always, like the dove, soaring. In a spiritual sense it is a safeguard and preservation against sin, not to remain with wings folded, but to mount on ministries of active service. It matters not what these services may be; for there are also, in this respect, many windows in the Ark—many outlets of usefulness—diversities of gifts and consecration. Only "whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."
To be on the wing is to be safe. To have the wings folded, sunning in the glaring light, is often to be in peril. It is a striking and beautiful verse in Proverbs, "Surely in vain the net (of temptation) is spread in the sight of any bird," or, as it is rendered in the margin of your Bibles—"in the sight of that which moves on the wing." Moving; resting not; making no perch of the world; but in the pure cloudless ethereal regions of faith and love and holiness, soaring ever higher to the home in the hills of God. "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?"
(4.) The figure of the Dove fleeing to its window reminds and suggests, that it isa bird which requires a safe shelter. It does not, like some others, hide in hedgerows or furrows. The wild pigeon may build its nest on the forest tree; but the tame one seeks its secure dovecot. The eastern dove, which had no artificial home, had its equally secure dwelling in the rock-clefts—"O my dove, which is in the clefts of the rock" (Sol. Song 2:14.) A little way from the northwest shores of the Lake of Gennesaret there is a recess in the hills called the "Wady Hyman," or "Valley of Doves," the sides of which are perforated with their retreats.
You who are Communicants have been fleeing anew today for refuge to the "Rock of Ages." You have come for a little season into this Ark of Ordinances, from work and duty, from roaming the needful fields of every-day occupation—shall we say to bathe afresh your ruffled, soiled plumage, in the Fountain of Salvation? Rather, you have desired, in one of His own appointed Sacraments, to hold nearer, dearer, and more confidential fellowship with Christ—realizing more devoutly that in Him you have your best, securest, and happiest Home. Away from earth's troubles and anxieties, its sins and sorrows—in this glorious Rock-cleft you have been folding your weary wings. An earthly communion is the foretaste and foreshadow of a safer and more enduring shelter; the pledge of a happier and more blissful Sabbath, when you will sink into the crevices of the true Rock forever!
It is a special characteristic of the Dove, that, however far it goes—though at a distance of hundreds of miles—it will fly back with unerring aim, sureness, and safety to its abode. So with "the dove of Christ." Every true believer, born of God—born from above, and for above, through every cloud and tempest, will reach at last the true Home on high. "The spirit shall return unto the God who gave it."
(5.) The cloud of Doves on wing to their windows, reminds one ofyoung communicants. In the Septuagint, the words of this verse are remarkable, "Who are these that fly like doves with their young?" The doves fly to their dovecot, but not alone, they have their offspring with them.
Not the least beautiful thing about a Communion-Sunday is the spectacle of young doves; those who have just risen from their early perches, the perches of the morning of life, and are winging their way, bright and unsoiled, to the Rock! If old communicants may be likened to the doves, whose wings the Psalmist speaks of as covered with "yellow gold" (golden with age); may we not compare young communicants to those wings, described in the same verse, as covered with silver; silvered over with the white shining of early piety and youthful consecration.
"Who are these that fly like doves with their young?" If a father or mother ever in their lives experience a sacred and hallowed joy, it surely is at the hour when their young ones are found by their side at the sacramental table. Fleeing together; wing touching wing; nearing together the same Ark—together in the clefts of the same Eternal Rock. Yes, for parents to feel, when in the course of nature they are constrained, with aged and disabled pinion, to drop out of the flight; or rather, when they come to enter finally the windows of that Dovecot from which there is no return—that they will leave behind them those who will pursue their way, year after year, to "the Ark of the testimony."
Oh! my dear young friends, you who are the young doves today, in this glorious flight, be true and faithful to your God. Keep your plumage untainted. Let no feather be soiled with sin. Many wings among us would have been swifter, more buoyant, more soaring, if they had not been broken or blemished by some former falls.
The cloud of doves spoken of in this verse, were ever
getting nearer their windows. May this be so with you in a nobler spiritual
sense; and may the familiar words be alike your prayer and your experience—
(6.) One other thought is suggested, by the remembrance of a large class of those who are always to be found at the Sacrament of communion—I mean theafflicted.
This image of doves flying to their windows reminds of storm. They were seen flying; drifting along like a tempestuous cloud. The dove flies to its dovecot, or to the rock-clefts, when the storm is brewing; perhaps were it not for the tempest it might linger in the open field, and get entangled in the snare or trap of which we found the Wise man speaking. But the black cloud is in the heavens! the thunder is heard—the tempest moans—the rain torrents descend. On the wings of the tempest the timid creature directs its flight to the sheltering covert.
Sorrowing, afflicted ones! and especially any who, as
communicants, partook of the sacred emblems in heaviness of spirit,
bewailing the loss and absence of "those who are not," may not this be your
sanctified experience of the Divine dealings? Has not that desolating storm,
which tore down your cherished earthly dovecots and shelters, only led you
to speed more swiftly, steadily, persistently, to the only Refuge that never
can be assailed by the hurricanes of dire misfortune, or the darker,
gloomier tempests of bereavement and death? Yes, mourning dove! this day too
faithfully noting blanks amid the flock of living wings around you—whether
the silver-plumaged dove of youth missing the golden one of age, or the
golden plumaged ones of age missing their young—rejoice if that "windy storm
and tempest" has brought you closer to Jesus, driven you from the perishable
to the Imperishable, and attuned lip and heart more for the song of a
It is by affliction God has always prepared His doves for flight and for heaven. Without affliction, they might be grovelers forever. It is by the thorn in the nest He drives them to the wing. They might otherwise have been content with a poorer portion. It is one of the finest of the old Assyrian myths or legends, that when their great Queen Semiramis, the founder of their empire, died, she was changed into a dove. How often does death—the death of beloved friends—work a similar transformation on bereaved souls! imparting to them the dove-like spirit, and the upward soaring!
God grant that many among us, young and old, may have had the longing prayer answered today—"Oh that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest!" (Ps. 55:6). From our present theme of meditation, with its pictures and suggestions of shelter and repose; from the emblems and tokens of redeeming love at the Sacramental Table; from all that our eyes have there seen of the Word of Life; from Him who has tuned our hearts, inspired our thoughts, and given significance to our vows; from His dying lips on the Cross, from His glorified lips on the throne—we hear His own blessed, dove-like balm-word, stealing on the breath of eventide as a chime from the upper Sanctuary—"Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST!"