By J.R. Miller
"How priceless is Your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge under the shadow of Your wings!"
Some of the most expressive illustrations of the divine love and care employed in the Bible, are taken from the ways of birds. For example, this beautiful figure of a bird sheltering her young under her wings, runs through all the Scriptures, as a picture of God's sheltering love.
We find it often. Boaz welcomed Ruth from her heathen home to the land of Israel, "The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust." In one of the Psalms we find the words, "My soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed." In another Psalm is the prayer, "Hide me under the shadow of your wings, from the wicked that oppress me." In still another Psalm is this word of confidence, "He shall cover you with his feathers, and under his wings shall you trust." Then, in the New Testament, our Lord gives the picture yet added beauty and sweeter and more sacred meaning, by His wonderful adaptation of it to Himself. Addressing those who had resisted His love, He said, with a great pain at His heart," O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings!"
Thus the image is a favorite one in the Bible. Here it is expressed in words of great beauty: "How priceless is Your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge under the shadow of Your wings!" While a picture of a bird sheltering her young beneath her wings is before us, let us think of the wings of God and what is beneath them.
They are wings of mercy. "How priceless is Your unfailing love!" This is mercy--kindness to the undeserving. Under God's wings is a place for penitent sinners. If it were a place only for good people, sinless people--it would have little comfort for us. The angels might go in there--but we could not. But it is a place for sinners.
When you look closely, you see that the wings of God are stained with blood. Some birds, when defending their young, put their own bodies between them and the danger, themselves receiving the stroke that was meant to destroy their offspring. Open your Bible and you find that Jesus has been wounded. Up there, amid the bright glory of heaven, He appears as One that has been slain. Look at His hands, those hands that always were so gentle--and there are great wounds upon them! Look at His feet, those sacred feet that bore Him on so many errands of love, that the penitent woman kissed and wetted with her tears, and there are wound-prints in them! Look at His side, over His heart, that heart which throbbed with so much tenderness and love and compassion; and there you see a spear-wound! You ask how Jesus received these five wounds, and you are pointed to the answer, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities . . . with His stripes we are healed." Then you understand it. Jesus interposed His own blessed body to receive the woundings that would have fallen upon us. That is the meaning of the blood upon the wings of God. The wounds were received in saving us. Beneath these wings is mercy, because LOVE has suffered for us!
The wings of God are wide-spreading. You have seen a hen stretch out her wings to cover her brood; yet hers are not broad wings. They can shelter only her own little family. God's wings are infinitely broader. For six thousand years they have been gathering human souls under their blessed shelter--and yet there is room!
In Malachi, there is a wonderful word which speaks of the coming Messiah as a Sun, the Sun of Righteousness, whose spreading beams are likened to wings, under which there is healing. Think how widely the sun's radiant beams reach, when that orb is in the zenith. God's wings spread over every spot on earth, in which is a penitent soul. We know how the invitations ring out to the weary, the sinful, the lost. The God of the Bible--is the God of the sinning and the sorrowing and of those who have failed and fallen. His love is as wide as the human race--and as free as the sunshine. No sinner has fallen so low--but that the wings of God can reach out over him. There is room beneath these wings for all classes--for the happy children, for the strong young people, for the feeble old people.
Sometimes there seems to be no place on earth for the aged. They cannot keep pace any more with the hurrying ranks, and drop behind. Sometimes even the children, whom they sheltered in infancy, for whom they toiled, suffered, and sacrificed; appear to forget to keep a warm nest for their parents in their old age. But there is one place where aged Christians are never in the way. There is one home from whose door they are never turned away. There is room under the wings of God for the aged. God's voice is heard saying: "I will be your God throughout your lifetime--until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you!" How many dear aged people, has God folded to sleep as gently as ever a mother folded her babe to her bosom!
So there is room for all--the wise man and the ignorant, the strong and the weak, the healthy and the trembling invalid, life's victors and the defeated, the pure and gentle and innocent, and the worst sinners. These wings of God are wide-spreading.
God's wings are gentle. The warmest nests in this world, are those which human love prepares for its dear ones. We know how the mothers tuck their babes away in their little cribs, with pillow of down and soft blankets. We know how warm and gentle a place every true and happy home is for children to rest in and grow up in. We know what tenderness a noble, manly husband prepares for the wife he loves and takes into the shelter of his strength. We know what tenderness many a friendship makes for the life that it enfolds, throwing about it life's fondest gentleness, blessing it with all delicate thoughtfulness and attentive ministry, and sheltering it from life's rude storms and harsh contacts.
We all long for tenderness. To live without it--is dreary indeed. It is a blessed thing that it comes to us in so many sweet ways in life. But the love of God is gentler than the fondest human gentleness. Have you ever thought how suggestive of tenderness, warmth, and softness--the wings of a bird are? There is something almost human in the way the mother-bird cares for her young. What is softer than the downy feathers she spreads over them?
Some birds build their nests on a rock. Underneath it is bare, cold, and hard. But what do the young birds care, so long as over them they feel the warm covering of the mother-bird's feathers? Some of God's children find the earthly nest under them bare and cold. They have to endure the experiences of poverty. Their lot has in it many hardships. They have trials. At times afflictions are their portion. Not all have human love's tenderness about them.
Not every heart's nest in this world--is lined with down. There are homes that are not gentle. There are lives with fine feelings and sensibilities, which move as amid briars and thorns and are hurt every day! There are many whose relations with others are not of the kind to give comfort. There are children who do not know what the refinements of gentle home-love are. There are hearts that are hurt by ingratitude, by coldness, by rudeness, by incessant unkindness, by unfaithfulness, by betrayal, by wrong and injustice. But the gentleness of God is over all who will nestle beneath it--and it never fails, never lacks in tenderness.
What a warm place this is--to which to flee in time of sorrow! Some of us do not yet understand this. We cannot see the stars--until the sun goes down and night comes. We cannot know the marvelous tenderness of God, while yet we are surrounded and overshadowed and blessed by rich and unbroken human tenderness. There are many things about the love of God--which we cannot learn until we lose earth's good things.
Again and again people say in their times of bereavement and sore trial: "I cannot understand the experience I am having. I felt as the sorrow approached, that I could not possibly endure it, that my heart would break. But when it came, there seemed to be something enfolding me, so that I was not crushed--but could even sing in my grief and loss." A friend wrote once, when he was watching beside his brother's deathbed, that he was learning not so much the meaning of sorrow--as he was learning the meaning of God's comfort. Some of us understand this from our own experience. As we entered the valley of grief, and the darkness deepened about us--we felt a Presence we could not see; the darkness seemed to be struck through with a soft, heavenly light. There was something we could not describe, which strangely comforted us, keeping us calm and quiet.
We call sorrow a shadow, and we talk about it falling upon us, and deepening, until sometimes all the light of earth is obscured. But it is the shadow of God's wings. What seems darkness--is only the darkening of earth's dim lights, that heaven's light may shine about us. Sorrow, for a Christian, is not God's withdrawal; it is His nearer coming. We shall never know how warm and soft a place there is beneath the wings of love--until we creep there out of earth's nights and blasts of storm.
In this world we nestle only, as it were, under the outer edge of this broad shadow. We do not, therefore, experience the fullness, the best, the blessedness which lies up nearer the divine heart. Then, what we call dying is, for a Christian--only going in deeper beneath these wings. God's grace is very sweet, even on the earth--but heaven is far better.
There is a great comfort for us in this lesson, when we stand by the bedside of our believing friends and watch them pass into the shadow which we call death. It is painful for us to have them go out of our arms--into the strange mystery. Yet they only nestled up closer up under God's wings! That is the true meaning of dying.
Notice what this Psalm tells us is under these wings of God. There are four things.
Satisfaction is the first. "They shall be abundantly satisfied!"
Joy is the second. "You give them drink from your river of delights."
Life, larger, fuller life, is the third. "With you is the fountain of life."
Light is the fourth. "In your light--we shall see light."
These four great blessings are found beneath the wings of God--satisfaction, joy, life, light.
When we are dwelling beneath the wings of God, and under these wings have such marvelous blessings--why should we ever be afraid? Why should we dread to see our Christian friends pass out of this life! To depart and be with Christ--is very far better!
God's wings are also wings of refuge. "How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings!" When the storm comes, the mother-bird gathers her young beneath her wings and shelters them, bearing herself the pelting of the hail--but keeping them safe and warm. So Christ gathers His people beneath the wings of His love--when the tempest breaks upon them.
"What tempest? From what do we need a refuge?" Does anyone ask the question! Have you never felt the need of a refuge for your own life? Have you never felt yourself driven by fears, by dangers, by alarms, by the wild tempests of sorrow or of doubt--needing some refuge, some secure place to hide, where you would be safe from the angry strifes?
In all such times and experiences, there is a refuge beneath the wings of God! There is a refuge there, because it is mercy's place. Under the wings of the cherubim, was the mercy seat. We have sinned. We need atonement. Those who flee beneath God's wings, beneath the outstretched arms of the cross--have nothing to fear from their sins. They are forgiven. "There is now no condemnation."
But this is not the only sense in which the wings of God give a refuge to men. You know the restful feeling that steals over one when after a day out in the world, amid its strifes, cares, and competitions, its babble of tongues, its insincerities, its disappointments; he enters his own sweet and happy home and shuts his door. Home is a refuge to his heart. He finds love there, sincerity, no enmity, no competition, no sharp dealing. God is home to the human soul that trusts in Him, "Lord, you have been our dwelling-place from all generations!"
There is a sense in which a noble, true, and faithful human life--is a refuge to many others. But the best human refuges are only frail and temporary. You turn some day for shelter--and find your friend dead. Then when the shock comes, the temptation, the sorrow, the fear, the danger---and you want to fly to him, he is not there, and you are left to fall. Human refuges are well in their place, as gifts of God, as shelters for an hour; but you need to have the Rock of Ages for your refuge! Then you will never find your hiding place removed, when you need to flee into it. In any hour you can creep into that shelter, and sing:
Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Your bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last!
Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on You is stayed,
All my help from You I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Your wing.