THE SHADOW OF THE
Newman Hall, November 27, 1867
"He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall
abide under the shadow of the Almighty."—Psalm 91:1.
The desert is dreary. The way is long. Heavily burdened, a
weary traveler slowly drags onward his wounded feet. Faint by reason of the
fiery blaze which smites him from the unclouded sky and the scorching sand, he
eagerly looks around for shelter. He pants for even the muddiest pool where he
may quench his raging thirst. In such "a weary land," how welcome "the shadow
of a great rock," and the clear, cool fountain gushing up within its rugged
clefts! But where can such a refuge be found for the soul—weary with
wandering, crushed by care, groaning under guilt? Where can its burden be
taken off, its sorrows soothed, its mighty thirst assuaged?
A trembling fugitive, long the victim of robbery and
violence, has vainly run here and there in quest of a hiding-place from his
cruel enemies, who, with threatening gestures and words of hate, are in full
pursuit. Now he hears their voices clamoring for his blood, as they press more
closely upon his track. Each moment he expects the fatal shot. How joyful, as
it suddenly bursts upon him, is the sight of the friendly fortress whose open
portal bids him enter, and then shuts impregnably! Beneath the shadow of those
strong towers, he may now rest both from his toils and his terrors!
But where for me, pursued by my relentless enemy, the
devil, entangled by doubts, haunted by fears, with many a barbed and poisoned
arrow rankling in my conscience—where for me is the privileged retreat which
no hostile foot may enter, where all my wounds may be healed, and where,
taking up my abode, I may be henceforth both safe and happy?
The problem is solved by the text selected for our
meditation: "He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty."—Psalm 91:1.
The term here denotes protection. A shadow screens
me from the sun, and hides me from my foe. The overshadowing roof of a house
shelters its inmates from the storm. And under the shadow of her wings the hen
protects her brood. So the glorious attributes of the Most High, the unclouded
rays of His perfections, are as a shadow of defense to His people. "How
excellent is your loving-kindness, O God! Therefore, the children of men put
their trust under the shadow of your wings. Be merciful unto me, O God, for my
soul trusts in You: yes, in the shadow of your wings will I make my refuge,
until these calamities be overpast." Believing in Jesus, we exult in the
fulfillment of the ancient prophecy—"A man shall be as an hiding place from
the wind, and a covert from the tempest: as rivers of water in a dry place, as
the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
The privileges of those who abide under the shadow of the
Almighty, are described with inimitable force and beauty in this ninety-first
Psalm. Here the church possesses a storehouse of varied consolation—a treasury
of untold wealth—an unfailing casket of precious jewels—an arsenal, where
Faith may find abundant weapons of attack, as well as a shield to quench every
fiery dart—a Grand Charter, a Bill of Rights, granted to undeserving rebels,
by the Sovereign Grace of the Most High, who bids them honor him by constantly
claiming its ratification. What a catalogue of blessings for all who flee for
refuge to Christ! Omnipotence is their hiding-place, God their home. He
spreads over them His wing. His faithfulness is their buckler. They are secure
from night's vague fears, and from day's plain perils; from the plots of
malice, and the ravages of plague; from man's destructions, and from the
scourge of God. While ten thousand fall around, they are unhurt. Not all the
powers of earth or hell can injure a hair of their heads.—For them evil turns
to good, and sorrows lead to joys. Angel guards unseen attend them. They are
borne up beyond the reach of even slightest injuries. They conquer their worst
foes. They trample on the roaring lion and the subtle snake. They are admitted
to the presence-chamber of the King, and are allowed familiar communion with
Him. All their petitions are granted. Jehovah is with them in trouble, to
comfort and deliver. They are exalted to high stations, and clothed with glory
and honor. Length of days is secured to them, and at last—the Beatific Vision
and the Paradise of God.
The text contains a conditional promise. Let us then
consider, first, the character described; and then, the promise annexed.
I. THE CHARACTER DESCRIBED—"He that dwells in the secret
place of the Most High." The tabernacle-worship suggested eloquent imagery
to the devout mind of the psalmist. "In the secret of His tabernacle shall He
hide me." The Holy of Holies was secret. None entered it but the high Priest,
and he only once a year. Behold him on the great day of atonement. Having
sacrificed at the brazen altar in the open court, he leaves the crowd of
worshipers, and humbly drawing aside the curtain which conceals the entrance,
he stands within the Holy Place. The veil closes behind him, and he is alone.
With reverential step he passes the golden altar of incense, and the table of
show-bread, and the seven-branched candlestick, towards the second veil which
conceals the Holiest of all. With trembling hand he lifts its folds. And now
he is in front of the Mercy Seat, and bows before Him who "dwells between the
Cherubim." Shut out from all else, he feels surrounded, pervaded by the
Divinity. He is in "the secret place of the Most High." Jewish type is
Christian fact. The nearness of approach to God thus symbolized, is the
privilege, not of one believer, but of all; not once a year, but continually;
not with trembling, but in full assurance of faith; we may "come with boldness
to the throne of grace."
As Omnipresent, God "is not far from every one of us." Yet
it is possible to be infinitely distant from Him. Two men may dwell in the
same house, and sit at the same table, and yet be far asunder by uncongenial
tastes and hostile feelings; while other two, divided by half the globe, may
be inseparably close by mental harmony and the bonds of love. Though in God
"we live, and move, and have our being," yet while impenitent, we are
spiritually afar off. Our sins have separated us. We are alienated from Him by
wicked works. We desire not the knowledge of his ways. We practically bid Him
depart from us. But He entreats us—"Return unto me, and I will return unto
you." He has rendered such return possible. The great gulf of separation is
bridged over by the mediation of Christ. As the High Priest entered the Most
Holy Place "not without blood," even so Jesus by his own blood entered within
the veil, and opened the path for all on whom that blood is sprinkled. So let
us approach the Mercy Seat.
We have provoked You, O Lord, to anger. We have wickedly
avoided your presence. We have loved to keep far away. But we are weary with
our self-caused exile. This banishment is darkness, despair, death. O, suffer
us to return! Let our past rebellion be forgiven! Let the enmity of out heart
cease! Our only plea is the name of Jesus. Because He died to bring near those
who were afar off; because You have Yourself commanded us to come—have mercy
upon us sinners, and let us enter your "Secret Place."
While we thus draw near, He whose throne is the Mercy Seat,
watches with love every advancing step. The Prodigal is still a long way off
when the father goes to meet him, saying, "Bring forth the best robe and put
it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet—for this my son
was dead, and is alive again, he was lost, and is found."
Our sins are at once forgiven. Christ's spotless robe is
thrown around us. We see not wrath darkening, but love illumining the
countenance of Him whom we dreaded but now trust, whom we hated but now love.
Rebellion is changed to homage, aversion to delight. Hallowed communion
results. Our soul thirsts for God. We pour out our hearts before Him. There is
not a joy or grief, a hope or fear, which we may not utter in the ear of One,
the vastness of whose concerns hinders not his attention to the minutest needs
of each individual worshiper; who "pities those who fear Him," even "as a
father pities his children," and who is "touched with a feeling of our
Let us never forget that He is "Most High." To Him is
ascribed "Glory in the highest." With what reverence should we approach Him!
And let me adore His condescension. "Though the Lord be high, yet has He
respect unto the lowly." As the Most High," He is able to do "abundantly above
all that we can ask or think." He is on high, and can see all things. He is on
high, and can do all things. Out of the depths of our misery we may look up to
the heights of His Majesty. He is our Friend, but a Friend seated on the
throne of universal empire. He is our Father, but our Father in heaven. The
secret place of the "Most High," must be also the shadow of "the Almighty."
This communion of the soul with God is "secret." True
religion cannot be understood, its joys cannot be known, by those who do not
experience it. The wise virgins could not give of their oil to others; the
foolish must buy for themselves. So the High Priest was concealed from the
multitudes who stood only in the outer court. "The secret of the Lord is with
those who fear Him, and He will show them his covenant." The life of the
Christian is concealed, it is "hidden with Christ in God." The "Secret Place"
cannot be seen but by entering it.
Yet why should it be unknown to any? The true Holy of
Holies is open to all. None need fear to lift the veil for themselves. It is
presumption to stay afar off when God calls us near. Obedience is the best
humility. If we are the very chief of sinners, we may be sure of a kind
reception. Let us then remain no longer ignorant of this glorious mystery, but
enter and examine for ourselves "The Secret Place of the Most High." The
"Secret Place of the Most High "is the soul's true home. We are exiles and
wanderers, until we dwell there. Other places invite, only to betray.
Self-righteousness says, "Dwell in me and be safe." But no structure
composed of our good actions can afford shelter from the storm; let pride rear
them ever so high, they serve but to attract the lightning's stroke. The
world says, "Dwell in me and be happy." But earthly vanities are an
impertinence to the soul that seeks salvation—even the rational enjoyments of
life arc not enough to fill the void. But in the "Secret Place of the Most
High," the believer finds both safety and happiness.
The very law which was against him, is now on his side, and
the sword of justice, no less than the olive-branch of Mercy, is the emblem of
his security. Here is a fountain of enjoyment, pure, perennial, possessing
ever its power to refresh. If he is not always happy, it is because he does
not always drink of those waters. But there they flow, gushing forth from the
depths of Divine Love, sparkling in the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, and
inviting the thirsty to drink abundantly. They impart a "peace which passes
all understanding; "a "joy which is unspeakable and full of glory."
Here then the sinner can repose. He has found at length
what can satisfy. Obeying the invitation, "Come unto me," he has verified the
promise, "I will give you rest." He rests from the accusations of a guilty
conscience—for he hears the voice from the Mercy Seat, "Your sins are forgiven
you." He rests from the anxious questionings of doubt—for instead of any
longer asking at every turn "What is truth? "he has proved that Jesus is "The
Way, the Truth, and the Life." He rests from the disquiet of an aimless
life—for he is now happy in the settled service of God; like a ship which was
rolling and drifting rudderless, at the mercy of changing tides, but which
now, with sails well set and steady bows, is making a straight course for the
port where "an abundant entrance" awaits her. He rests from the
ever-disappointed search after happiness—for here, though still surrounded by
sorrows and foes, his mind, "stayed on God," is "kept in perfect peace."
Therefore, he is determined here to dwell.
It is a permanent abode. He does not leave it as an inn;
no, it is his home. Its employments, pleasures, society, do not weary
him. When the first novelty wears off, he seeks no change of scene. He is ever
discovering some fresh object of interest and delight. That holy spot is
increasingly endeared to him. His best affections entwine around it. It
becomes blended with his being. If ever tempted to remove from it, he is
unhappy until he returns—like the dove which Noah first sent forth from the
ark, and which soon fluttered at the window, having found "no rest for the
sole of her foot." He can be happy only at home. "Return unto your rest, O my
soul!" Without the enjoyment of God's favor, nothing can yield him
satisfaction; but with God's favor, nothing can cause him to despair. Come
poverty, sickness, bereavement, desertion, death, anything—only let it find
him in the "Secret Place of the Most High." "There are many who say, Who will
show us any good? Lord, lift You up the light of your countenance upon me.
Whom have I in heaven but You, and there is none upon earth that I desire
What a contrast is presented by the case of those whose
religion is only fitful! If dangers threaten, they seem anxious to take refuge
in Christ; but this anxiety ceases with the immediate occasion. In a tempest
at sea, some will pray who yesterday were scoffing, and tomorrow will scoff
again. On what was feared would prove his death-bed, many a wicked man has
called upon God, but on recovery has become more irreligious than ever. Alas!
multitudes associate piety only with peril, devotion only with death. But the
Christian does not value the "Secret Place" merely because of the shelter it
affords from the raging storm. Invaluable in adversity, it is invaluable in
prosperity too. In fact, prosperity elsewhere, is for him a contradiction.
Severed from God, all conceivable delights are unable to gladden. Exiled from
this home, bodily health and worldly riches only mock the sickness and poverty
of the soul; friendship loses its chief value, and love its sweetest charm.
Where is the luster of the diamond, the beauty of the rose, the glory of the
landscape, when the dark curtain of night is drawn over all? But the light of
God's countenance, like the sun uprising and breaking forth from amid dark
clouds, bathes all objects in beauty. This it is which puts gladness into the
heart, more than in the time when their corn and wine increase. What wonder
that the Christian wishes ever to dwell where this light shines?
Behold yonder stately palace. Its lofty walls and massive
towers assure safety to all who dwell in it. Hostile foot never trod its regal
pavements. Pestilence never crept along its spacious corridors. No earthquake
ever shook its strong foundations. No thunderbolt ever pierced its swelling
domes. Within are all manner of delights—happy work, healthy recreations,
plentiful enjoyments, couches of repose. How cheerful the light that bathes
it, how lovely the flowers that perfume it, how ravishing the prospects that
surround it! How exhilarating its atmosphere, how transporting its music, how
elevating, refining, consoling, gladdening its society! Above all, how
glorious, yet how gracious the Prince, who is ever promoting the happiness of
the guests with whom his hospitality has thronged his royal abode!
Outside the palace, propped up against one of its
buttresses, is a miserable shed composed of mud and straw. A frightened
traveler, looking all around for shelter from the gathering tempest, rushes
into it as the best refuge he can find. It trembles with the thunder's crash.
The biting blast penetrates its many chinks. The rain soaks through its
fragile roof. Though the traveler is glad of its imperfect shelter, yet but
for the storm he would have passed without noticing it. Far less would he have
entered it. He was too intent on other objects, too eager to get forward on
his way. Its whole appearance would have been repulsive in fair weather. And
this, he says, to himself, "this is the grand palace I have sometimes heard
of! Surely I was right in regarding as enthusiasts those who could so clothe
with imaginary splendors this vile shed!" Foolish traveler! The palace of
which he speaks be does not even see! Crouching and shivering, he is impatient
to be gone, though he dares not sally forth until the clouds disperse. Then he
gladly leaves the hut far behind, saying, "Aha! it is well enough in a storm,
but I should be very sorry. to dwell there!"
How different the guest in the palace! He is there when the
tempest is lowering, and he remains there when the tempest is past. Forsake it
because the danger is over? It would be to forsake all his wealth, all his
comforts, all his joys! Forsake it? It is his habitation, his home, his heaven
on earth. Forsake it? Rather does he say, "If I forsake you, let my right hand
forget her cunning; let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer
not you above my chief joy. Here is my rest forever, here will I dwell! "He
dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High," and therefore "he abides under
the Shadow of the Almighty."
II. THE PROMISE ANNEXED—"He shall abide under the shadow
of the Almighty." The promise is conditional. But the condition may seem
at first sight identical with the promise. Is not the "Secret Place of the
Most High," equivalent to "the Shadow of the Almighty?" and is not dwelling in
the former, the same thing as abiding under the latter? Yet even in this
apparent tautology the great truth is involved, that whatever spiritual
blessings we earnestly desire, we assuredly obtain. "Ask and you shall
receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you."
Desire to have, and you shall have; try to find, and you shall find; put forth
your hand to open the door, and it shall be opened. To ask is in fact to
receive, for God has already offered the gifts. He who rightly seeks
forgiveness, is forgiven. He who longs for communion With God, already in some
measure enjoys it. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."
As a ragged, mud-stained traveler, toiling along the road,
I see before me the palace of the Great King. Dare I venture near the gateway
and seek an audience? Will not the guards laugh at my request, or punish my
presumption? Such fears are groundless. The doors stand wide open by day and
by night. I have only to enter. No sentry challenges me. No passport is
demanded. Not a solitary guard is to be found. I may penetrate to the presence
chamber, and, all tattered and filthy as I am, may advance straight up to the
Prince, who gives audience to multitudes in the same condition with myself.
Instead of being rebuked, I am even commended. At once I am recognized as an
invited guest. The only censure hinted is that I did not come before. My
presence, instead of causing indignation among the courtiers, gives them
evident pleasure. They rejoice that another has come to share in their
distinctions and delights; while the King whom they worship hails me as his
friend, embraces me as his child, and feasts me at his own royal table. O, the
fullness and freeness of the Gospel invitation! "If we have not, it is because
we ask not." "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. Eat, O friends; drink
abundantly, O beloved!" The door is always open, and he who enters, with the
desire to dwell in that Secret Place, shall abide beneath that Shadow.
Though at first sight the condition seems identical with
the promise, and though all who comply with the former, by that very act
possess the latter, yet the words express a separate idea, a most glorious
privilege; namely, that whoever draws near to God is at once placed beneath
the protection of Omnipotence. If I come through Jesus unto the Mercy
Seat, I not only obtain pardon, but the infinite resources of Deity will
henceforth be employed to "help "me in every "time of need." The High Priest
prayed under the shadow of the wings of the golden cherubim, which were
extended over the Ark of the Covenant. The sinner, when he draws near to the
true Mercy Seat, finds himself beneath "the shadow of the Almighty." Infinite
Power spreads itself out over infinite Love. "And there shall be a tabernacle
for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for
a covert from storm and from rain. And upon all the glory shall be a defense."
That defense is Omnipotence. The overshadowing Presence above the Mercy Seat,
guarantees the fulfillment of all the promises that are stored up within the
ark, "written with the finger of God." "Trust in the Lord forever, for in the
Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."
Consider then, O my soul, how safe you are, how fearless
you should be! Evil may threaten you through the body, but He who made it is
surely able to preserve it; you are beneath His shadow, and he is Almighty!
Injury may threaten from outward circumstances; but he who is in every place,
controlling every event, can guard you from all harm, and make seeming evil
conduce to your real good. You are beneath His shadow, and he is Almighty!
Wicked men may devise mischief against you, but God who holds all hearts in
His hand, can frustrate or overrule their malice. Are you not beneath the
shadow of Him who is Almighty? Satan is ever plotting your destruction, but he
who is with us is mightier than all who arc against us. He can "destroy the
works of the devil;" he is Almighty!
But the greatest perils arise from within. And is
not His holiness stronger than our corruptions? Can He not curb the appetites
of the flesh, control the lusts of the spirit, and fulfill His promise to
"subdue our iniquities?" "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" As He said to
Abraham, He says to us, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be
perfect." If we would live "as ever in our great Task-master's eye," and
strive to be "perfect even as our Father who is in heaven is perfect," this is
our encouragement, that He is "the Almighty God," ever at hand to strengthen
and defend us. We are beneath "the Shadow of the Almighty."
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and
earth." What strong consolation! Other helpers are finite; they may be
sincere, yet there is a limit to their support. But my Father is Almighty! He
who is from everlasting; who spoke and it was done, who commanded and it stood
fast; who does His pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants
of the earth—He overshadows me! The hand that spread forth the heavens, and
flung the stars abroad; that piles the mountains, and curbs the sea, and pours
the sunbeams, and darts the lightning, is stretched out for my defense! Once,
when a rebel, I dreaded this power as executing the sentence threatened; now,
being reconciled, I, rejoice in it, as accomplishing the salvation promised.
Helpless, frightened, condemned, ruined, I flee to Jesus; and then, wrapped
round with Omnipotence, I rejoice and exult, for this Power is my friend, and
assures me that whatever God has spoken, He is able abundantly to perform.
They whose home is the Most High must be safe, for they abide beneath the
shadow of THE ALMIGHTY!
True religion is personal. It is not enough to
acknowledge the Lord of the universe, the Savior of mankind, unless we bow to
Him as Lord over us, unless we cry unto Him, "Save us!" Knowledge of a
hiding-place beneath the shadow of the Almighty will leave us unsheltered in
the storm, unless we "say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my
God, in Him will I trust." Have you done this? Some people imagine that
religion consists in admiring the strong fortress which guards God's people.
They examine the foundations of the towers, test the solidity of the walls,
measure the height of the battlements, and discourse on the beauty of the
gates. They emphatically repudiate the pretensions of any rival refuge, and
yet are themselves outside! The doorway is too low, pride will not stoop; too
narrow, worldliness will not unload; too strait, indolence will not "labor to
enter in." Alas! multitudes perish within sight of salvation, and go down into
hell, having been "not far from the kingdom of heaven."
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous
runs into it and is safe." Yes, we must run into it, if we would be
protected by it. Let us, then, most solemnly inquire whether we have fled to
Jesus as our only Refuge. Let us never be satisfied with theological knowledge
and the form of godliness. In vain we hear, unless we taste that the Lord is
gracious; in vain we see Him around us, unless we feel Him within us; in vain
we admire the works of His hand, unless we lean on that hand; in vain we know
there is a fountain of life, unless we drink of it; in vain we name Christ's
name, unless we bear Christ's cross. Help us, O Giver of all grace! However
the world may deride or hate us—however contrary may be the choice of those
around us—in spite of all the suggestions of unbelief within us—whatever may
be the cost in the surrender of evil indulgences, in the breaking of
long-confirmed habits of sin—help each one of us to "say of the Lord, He is my
refuge, and my Fortress, my God, in Him will I trust." Whatever refuges others
may seek, I choose this. I look unto You to help me! I hide in your Mercy, for
it is offered to all sinners, and such am I. I hide in your Justice, for Jesus
has satisfied its claims. I hide in your Power, for this is but the instrument
of your Love, and Love is but another name for Yourself. Other lords beside
You have had dominion over me, but now I desire to be yours, yours only, yours
forever. With the disciple of old, though like him long doubting, I would say,
"My Lord, and my God!" Henceforth let me "live by faith in the Son of God, who
loved me, and gave himself for me."
A voice from heaven replies, "Be it unto you even as you
I may therefore, without presumption, say of the Lord, "He
is my Refuge and my Fortress." Within Him I dwell as in a stronghold. I am
"kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;" kept, as in a
garrisoned castle, where angels watch, and the royal standard of heaven
floats, and which all the attributes of God preserve inviolate. "We have a
strong city; Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks." Thus secure,
I may rise to the full assurance of faith. Not only has God become all this to
me, but I may say so. On suitable occasions by words, at all times by
spirit and conduct, let us to our brethren and companions, yes to the whole
world, "say of the Lord, he is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God, in Him will