committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

Day Breaking

Octavius Winslow

"Until the day break, and the shadows flee away,
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense" Song Sol. 4:5.

IT is proper that we should now conduct our ‘night thoughts’ to a close. And with what topic more soothing and appropriate can we terminate our present reflections than the one suggested by the portion of the sweet song just quoted—the arrival of that blessed period when the shadows of our present pilgrimage will all have fled, succeeded by a “morning without clouds,” and a day without a night? That we dwell so much in the region of present clouds, and so little in the meridian of the future glory, entails upon us a serious loss. We look too faintly beyond the midnight of time into the daylight of eternity. We are slow of heart to believe all that is revealed of the bliss that awaits us, and do not sufficiently realize that, in a little while,—O how soon!— the day will break,—the shadows will flee away,—and we shall bathe our souls in heaven’s full, unclouded, endless light. ‘Absent from the body,’ we shall be ‘present with the Lord.’ To the consideration of this deeply interesting subject let us for a few moments; in conclusion, bend our thoughts.

We have already considered the night-season of travel as constituting a great portion of the celestial pilgrimage of the saints. Solomon, in the sacred Idyl from which we have selected the sublime stanza at the head of this chapter, again recalls our thoughts to this point, he refers to the “shadows” which gather round the pathway of the believer on his way to the eternal city. Nor is this an exaggerated description of the reality. The portrait of the Christian’s life has its lights, bright and glorious: but it also has its shadows, deep and long; and both the light and the shade are essential to the perfection of the picture.

We have emerged, beloved, in our conversion, from the scene of shadows. Divine and sovereign grace has chosen and called us out of a world over which the funeral pall of the ‘darkness of the shadow of death’ spreads its broad mantle. “Darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people.” The natural sun illumines,—its beams of light and splendor streaming alike through the windows of the palace and the lowly cot; but until Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, is revealed and known, neither ‘those who dwell in kings’ houses,’ nor those who occupy the humblest cottage on the hillside, are guided to eternity by a single ray from heaven. Now, seeing that the path of the “child of the light” lies through this dark world, it is no marvel if shadows, often varied and thick, should brood around his steps. Let us for a moment glance at some of them.

There are the shadows of spiritual ignorance thrown upon our path. With all our attainments, how little have we really attained! With all our knowledge, how little do we actually know! How superficially and imperfectly are we acquainted with truth, with Jesus, who is emphatically “The truth,” with God, whom the truth reveals. “We know but in part.” “We see through a glass darkly”—all is yet but as a riddle, compared with what we shall know when the shadows of ignorance have fled. There are, too, the enshrouding shadows of God’s dark and painful dispensations. Our dealings are with a God of whom it is said, “Clouds and darkness are round about him.” Who often “covers himself as with a cloud,” and to whom the midnight traveller to the world of light has often occasion to address himself in the language of the church, “Thou art a God that hidest thyself.” Ah! beloved, what clouds of dark providences may be gathering and thickening around thy present path! Through what a gloomy, stormy night of affliction faith may be steering thy tempest-tossed bark. That faith eyeing the promise and not the providence—the “bright light that is in the cloud,” and not the lowering cloud itself, will steer that trembling vessel safely through the surge. Remember that in the providences of God, the believer is passive—but with regard to the promises of God, he is active. In the one case, he is to ‘be still’ and know that God reigns, and that the “Judge of all earth must do right.” In the other, his faith, child-like, unquestioning and unwavering, is to take hold of what God says, and of what God is, believing that what he has promised he is also able and willing to perform. This is to be “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

The divine withdrawment is another shadow, often imparting an aspect of dreariness to the path we are treading to the Zion of God. “Wherefore hidest thou thyself?” says Job. “For a small moment,” says God to the church, “have I forsaken thee. … In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment.” Ah! there are many who have the quenchless light of life in their souls, who yet, like Job, are constrained to take up the lamentation, “I went mourning without the sun.” There are no shadows darker to some of God’s saints than this. Many professing Christians dwell so perpetually in the region of shadows, they so seldom feel the sunshine of God’s presence in their souls, that they scarcely can discern when the light is withdrawn. But there are others, wont to walk so near with God in the rich, personal enjoyment of their pardon, acceptance and adoption, that if but a vapor floats between their soul and the sun, in an instant they are sensible of it. O blessed are they whose walk is so close, so filial with God, whose home is so hard by the cross, who, like the Apocalyptic angel, dwell so entirely in the sun, as to feel the barometer of their soul affected by the slightest change in their spiritual atmosphere. In other words—who walk so much beneath the light of God’s reconciled countenance as to be sensible of his hidings even “for a small moment.” And then there comes the last of our shadows, “the valley of the shadow of death.” There they terminate. This may be the focus where they all shall meet; but it is to meet only to be entirely and forever scattered. The sentiment is as true as the figure is poetic,—“the shadow of death.” It is but a ‘shadow’ to the believer; the body of that shadow, Jesus, the “Captain of our salvation,” met on the cross, fought, and overcame. By dying he so completely destroyed death, and him that had the power of death, that the substance of death in the experience of the dying Christian dwindles into a mere shadow, and that shadow melts into eternal glory. O death! how great was thy triumph, and how overwhelming was thy defeat when Jesus died. Never was thy gloomy domain so dark as when Essential Life bowed his head and gave up the ghost. Yet never was it illumined with an effulgence so great, as when the Divine Conqueror passed through its gloomy chambers, and with a power and a victory mightier and more glorious far than Samson’s, tore away its iron gates, and demolished its strongholds; throwing a brightness and a fragrance around the bed of death, in which, “until the day dawn and the shadows flee away,” those who sleep in Jesus lie down and rest. “If a man keep my sayings he shall never see death.” “Whose believeth in me shall never die.”

“Death’s terror is the mountain faith removes;
’Tis faith disarms destruction,—
Believe, and look with triumph on the tomb.”

“O ye timorous souls! that are terrified at the sound of the passing bell; that tremble at the sight of an opened grave; and can scarce behold a coffin without a shuddering horror; ye that are in bondage to the grisly tyrant, and tremble at the shaking of his iron rod, cry mightily to the Father of your spirits for faith in his dear son! Faith will free you from your slavery. Faith will embolden you to tread on this the fiercest of serpents. Old Simeon, clasping the child Jesus in the arms of his flesh, and the glorious Mediator in the arms of his faith, departs with tranquillity and peace. That bitter persecutor Saul, having won Christ, being found in Christ, longs to be dismissed from cumbrous clay, and kindles with rapture at the prospect of dissolution. Methinks I see another of Emmanuel’s followers trusting in his Saviour, leaning on his beloved, go down to the silent shade with composure and alacrity. ‘Knowing,’ says Peter, ‘that shortly I must put off this tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me.’ In this powerful name, an innumerable company of sinful creatures have set up their banners and overcome through the blood of the Lamb. Authorized by the Captain of thy salvation, thou also mayest set thy feet upon the neck of this ‘king of terrors.’ Enriched with this antidote thou mayest play around the hole of the asp, and put thy undaunted hand on the cockatrice den. Thou mayest feel the viper fastening to thy mortal part, and fear no evil; thou shalt one day shake it off by a joyful resurrection, and suffer no harm.”

But let us turn from the shadows of night to the day-dawn, by which those shades will presently be succeeded. “Until the day break and the shadow flee away.” It will not always be night with the expectants of glory. As the “children of the day and of the light,” their present time-state would seem to be but an accident of their being, a temporary obscuration only, through which they are passing to the world of which it is said, “ there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign forever and ever.” And yet we would be far from penning a sentence tending to foster in the Christian mind a spirit of discontent with his present night-season of humiliation and sorrow. We have already remarked, in a former part of this work, that there are glories revealed by the natural night, which the sun in all its splendor, so far from revealing, only hides from our view by its very brightness. We are as much indebted to the darkness of night for its magnificent unveilings of God’s wonderful works, as to the noon-tide splendor which lights up the wonders and glories of earth. How limited had been our knowledge of the universe, and how partial our view of the divine affluence and greatness, had there been no natural night. A world of perpetual sunshine, would have been a world of gross mental darkness! The earth beneath and the sun above us would have been the limits of our knowledge. The beauties spread out upon the dissolving landscapes around us, we might have surveyed with admiration and delight, but the mighty expanse above us, the overspreading firmament, the remote depths stretching far into space, all studded and crowded with suns and systems and constellations, would never have burst in grandeur and wonder upon our view. Of astronomy, that most delightful and fascinating of all sciences, we should have known nothing. But when the last lingering ray of the sun retires, and evening, glittering with heaven’s rich jewellery, approaches; and night, wearing her diadem of star and planet, takes her allotted place in the earth’s revolution,—then it is we go forth on our wondrous travel, and as we “consider the heavens, the moon, and the stars, which he has ordained,” we exclaim with that devout astronomer, the Psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” Thus is it with the dark dispensation of God with his people. Would you pass through a spiritual course of perpetual sunshine? Would you be exempt from the night-season of sorrow and of trial? O how little would you then know of God, and of Christ, and of truth! We hesitate not to affirm, that as in the natural world we are more deeply indebted to the instructions of the night than to those of the day, so in the spiritual world we experimentally learn infinitely more in the night-season of deep and sanctified affliction than in the bright, sunny day of gladness and prosperity. It may be a dark and tedious night of weeping and of trial, yet is it often a night in which Christ visits us, as he visits us at no other season. But from this digression let us turn our thoughts to the day-dawn, when the shadows shall all flee away.

We have alluded to the moral darkness of man,—the spiritual unregeneracy in which he is found by nature. The first light, then, that dawns upon the soul is the day-break of grace. When that blessed period arrives, when the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon the long-benighted mind, how do the shadows of ignorance and of guilt instantly disappear! What a breaking away of, perhaps, a long night of alienation from God, of direct hostility to God, and of ignorance of the Lord Jesus, then takes place. Not, however, strongly marked is this state always at the first. The beginning of grace in the soul is frequently analogous to the beginning of day in the natural world. The dawn of grace is at first so faint, the day-break so gentle, that a skilful eye only can descry its earliest tints. The individual himself is, perhaps, ignorant of the extraordinary transition through which his soul is passing. The discovery of darkness which that day-dawn has made, the revelation it has brought to view of the desperate depravity of his heart, the utter corruption of his fallen nature, the number and the turpitude of his sins, it may be, well nigh overwhelms the individual with despair! But what has led to this discovery? What has revealed all this darkness and sin? O! it is the day-break of grace in the soul! One faint ray, what a change has it produced!

And is it real? Ah! just as real as that the first beam, faintly painted on the eastern sky, is a real and an essential part of light. The day-break—faint and glimmering though it be—is as really day as the meridian is day. And so is it with the day-dawn of grace in the soul. The first serious thought—the first real misgiving—the first conviction of sin—the first downfall of the eye—the first bending of the knee—the first tear—the first prayer—the first touch of faith, is as really and as essentially the day-break of God’s converting grace in the soul as is the utmost perfection to which that grace can arrive. O glorious dawn is this, my reader, if now for the first time in your life, the day-break of grace has come, and the shadows of ignorance and guilt are fleeing away before the advancing light of Jesus in your soul. If now you are seeing how depraved your nature is; if now you are learning the utter worthlessness of your own righteousness; if now you are fleeing as a poor, lost sinner to Christ, relinquishing your hold of everything else, and clinging only to him; and though this be but in weakness and tremulousness, and hesitancy, yet sing for joy, for the day is breaking,—the prelude to the day of eternal glory,—and the shadows of unregenency are forever fleeing away. And as this day of grace has begun, so it will advance. Nothing shall impede its course, nothing shall arrest its progress. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Sun now risen upon you with healing in his beams shall never stand still—shall never go back. “He hath set a tabernacle for the sun” in the renewed soul of man, and onward that sun will roll in its glorious orbit, penetrating with its beams every dark recess, until all mental shadows are merged and lost in its unclouded and eternal splendor. “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

But there awaits the believer a day brighter far than this; such a day as earth never saw, but as earth will surely see,—the day-break of glory. “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” O what a day is this! It will be “as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds.” Grace, which was the day-dawn of glory, now yields its long-held empire; and glory, which is the perfect day of grace, begins its brilliant and endless reign. The way-worn “child of the day” has emerged from the shadows of his pilgrimage, and has entered that world of which it is said, “there shall be no night there.” Contemplate for a moment, some of the attributes of this day of glory.

It will be a day of perfect knowledge. When it is said that there will be no night in heaven, it is equivalent to the assertion, that there will be no intellectual darkness in heaven; consequently there will be perfect intellectual light. It is said that we shall then ‘know even as also we are known.’ The entire history of God’s government will then be spread out before the glorified saint, luminous in its own unveiled and yet undazzling brightness. The mysteries of providence, and the yet profounder mysteries of grace, which obscured much of the glory of that government, will then be unfolded to the wonder and admiration of the adoring mind. The misconceptions we had formed, the mistakes we had made, the discrepancies we had imagined, the difficulties that impeded us, the prophecies that bewildered us, the parables that baffled us, the controversies that agitated us, all, all will now be cleared up; the day has broken, and the shadows have fled forever. O blessed day of perfected knowledge, which will then give me reason to see, that the way along which my God is now leading me through a world of shadows, is a right way; and that where I most trembled, there I had most reason to stand firm; and that where I most yielded to fear, there I had the greatest ground for confidence; and that where my heart was the most collapsed with grief, there it had the greatest reason to awaken its strings to the most joyous melody.

It will be a day of perfect freedom from all sorrow. It must be so, since it is written that “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” What a cluster of sweet hopes is here! What a collection of bright beams throwing, in focal power, their splendor over that cloudless day. Child of solitude and sorrow! sick ones dear to Christ! bereaved mourners! hear ye these precious words, and let music break from your lips! God will dry your tears! We have told you how the mother comforts her sorrowing one. See how God will comfort his. “Will God himself wipe my tears away?” Yes, child of grief, there will be no more weeping then, for—O ecstatic thought!—“God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” O kind and condescending Father! And “there shall be no more death.” No more rending asunder of affection’s close and tender ties; no more separations from the hearts we love; no more blinded windows, nor coffins, nor shrouds, nor plumed hearse, nor funeral procession, nor opened graves, nor sealed sepulchres, nor “dust to dust, and ashes to ashes;” the mourners no more go about the streets, for death is now swallowed up in victory! “Neither sorrow nor crying.” Grief cannot find existence or place in an atmosphere of such bliss. Not a cloud floats athwart that verdant landscape, nor casts a shadow over the deep tranquillity of that sun-light scene. No frustrated plans, no bitter disappointments, no withered hopes, no corroding cares, there mingle with the deep sea of bliss, now pouring its tide of joyousness over the soul. “Neither shall there be any more pain.” Children of suffering! hear ye this. There will be no more pain racking the frame, torturing the limbs, and sending its influence through the system, until every nerve and fibre quivers with an indescribable agony. “The former things are passed away.”

It will be a day of perfect freedom from sin. Ah! this, methinks, will be the brightest and the sweetest of all the joys of heaven. It does not yet fully appear what we shall be; “but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” The Canaanite will no more dwell in the land. Inbred corruption will be done away; the conflict within us will have ceased; no evil heart will betray into inconsistencies and sorrows, not a cloud of guilt will tarnish the unsullied purity of the soul. O assure me that there will be no more night of sin in heaven, and you have presented to my eye such a picture of its bliss, as tints the clouds of my dreary pilgrimage with the first dawn of its golden beams, and inspires my heart with yearnings to be there. Ye holy ones of God! weeping, mourning over indwelling and outbreaking sin, the last sigh you heave will be a glad adieu to pollution,—to be tormented with it no more, to be freed from it forever. “I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.” This is heaven indeed.

And when does this day begin to break, and the shadows to flee? Go, and stand by the side of that expiring believer in Jesus—the day-break of glory is dawning upon his soul! He is nearing heaven; he will soon be there. Ere long he will be nestling in the bosom of Jesus. In a few hours, perhaps moments, and O! what wonders, what glories, what bliss will burst upon his emancipated spirit. See, how he struggles to be free. Hark, how he exclaims to the loved ones who cling to him, and who fain would detain him a little longer here,—“Let me go, for the day breaketh!” O blessed day now opening upon his view, as shadow after shadow is dispersed, revealing the wall of sapphire, and the gate of pearl, and the jasper throne, and him who sits upon it, of the New Jerusalem, all inviting and beckoning him away.

But the noon-tide splendor of this day of glory will be at the second coming of our Lord in majesty and great power, to gather together his elect, and consummate the bliss of his church. “He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” Precious in the sight of the Lord as is the death of his saints, and blissful to the saints themselves, as will be the time of their departure, yet not our death, but the Redeemer’s glorious appearing, is the hope set before us in the Scriptures. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Death, in its mildest form, is terrible to look at. Gild it, paint it with vermilion as you may, it is a ghastly object. We shrink from dying. Faith in Jesus can indeed bear the heart upon its towering pinion above the fear and humiliation of death, yet the awful accompaniments of the final hour will at times crowd upon the view, and cause the Christian soldier to quake, and tremble, and misgive. But not so is the contemplation of the coming of the Lord. O how animating the thought! O how glorious the prospect! O how sanctifying the hope! We have been speaking to you much of night, and there is a sense in which this creation, since the sun of its holiness set amidst clouds and darkness, has seen no day. But the day is breaking, the morning is coming—“the day of the Lord is at hand.” The ‘signs of the times’ all indicate the approach of great events. The forces are gathering, the field is clearing for the last and great battle. But what is the grand event, of which all others are but the heralds and precursors? It is the personal appearing of the Son of Man. He is coming to receive the kingdom,—to gather his elect from the four winds of heaven,—to quicken the sanctified dead, and to translate the holy living,—to reign forever with his church upon a new earth and beneath a new heaven, wherein will dwell righteousness. Suffering Christian! look rather to this blessed hope of the perfect day, than to the gloomy passage of the dark valley. “I will come again,” says your gracious Lord, “and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” Let our hearts respond, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

And where shall we resort until then? We will follow the footsteps of the church. Listen to her words: “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.” The Lord has fragrant places of safety and repose for his people until he comes to fetch them to glory. What a “mountain of myrrh” is Jesus,—in whom we may abide, to whom in all lowering clouds we may repair, “until the day break and the shadows flee away.” “God has anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows. All his garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia.” Closer and closer let us cling to Christ—this precious “mountain of myrrh,” whose “name is as ointment poured forth” to the Lord’s faint and weary ones—until we see him face to face. Let us long for his appearing, let us invite him now to our hearts, in the language of the church: “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.” And O! how fragrant are those “hills of frankincense,” which the Lord has provided for his people, in the means of grace, to which he invites, and where he meets and communes with them “until the day break and the shadows flee away.” Such is the place of secret prayer—the place of social prayer—the place of public prayer, where the incense of devotion and love ascends, so precious, so cheering and strengthening to the weary. And what is the ministration of the truth, and what is the word of God, but the “hills of frankincense” to which we are privileged to betake ourselves until our Lord comes to us, or until we go to him. To these fragrant hills of safety and repose let us constantly repair; “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

“The night is wearing fast away,
A streak of light is dawning,—
Sweet harbinger of that bright day,
The fair Millennial morning.

“Gloomy and dark the night has been,
And long the way, and dreary;
And sad the weeping saints are seen,
And faint, and worn, and weary.

“Ye mourning pilgrims! cease your tears,
And hush each sigh of sorrow;
The light of that bright morn appears,
The long Sabbatic morrow.

“Lift up your heads—behold from far
A flood of splendor coming!
It is the bright and Morning Star
In living lustre beaming.

“He comes—the Bridegroom promised long—
Go forth with joy to meet him;
And raise the new and nuptial song,
In cheerful strains to greet him.

“Adorn thyself, the feast prepare,
While bridal strains are swelling;
He comes, with thee all joys to share,
The new earth his blessed dwelling.”

“Until the day break and the shadows flee away; I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.”

 
 
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