The following article was first given as a speech at the Singspiration held at Hudsonville church on November 23, 1969.
Twilight softly shadows the city, silently aloof on its hills. Towers stand gently gilded in the setting sun, for this is Jerusalem the golden. In the ravines and valleys, even to the plain beyond, stand the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Mammoth war machines surround the embattled city. Jerusalem is under siege.
Inside the saffron city a people is dying. The last bastion of Judaism will soon fall. Yet, worse than the degradation of defeat is the erosion of the people from within. Morally, the people are nearly destroyed; their leaders have betrayed them, abdicating their authority. Starvation has driven even the strongest into deeds of sinful desperation.
A people is dying, a promise is fading. Yet, among the emaciated remnants of a great nation remain a few with a vision, the vision of Jeremiah. It is a dim vision, blurred by years of silence and confusion, but to those who cherish it, particularly in desperation, it is a vision of hope. For these few are the children of God, the covenant seed, and their vision is the cross. Dimly, through the curtained mists of time, the indistinct outline of the salvation of the cross is seen. Their vision of hope in the time of death is the shadow of the cross.
Thick-soled sandals encrusted with dirt, mighty legions marching across the worn hills: The armies of the great Caesar rule the land.
Flame-lit marble echoes to the subtle sound of an oriental flute. Salome dances before the lustful eyes of Herod the tetrarch. In a nearby prison, a man waits, filthy, hungry, totally drained. In a matter of moments his head will ride upon a glistening platter.
Alone, forsaken, but not desolate; frightened, yet emboldened; he is John the Baptist, and he has seen the Christ! John has seen the Christ and in Him he saw salvation. He has been touched by the shadow of the cross.
A chill wind sweeps across the barren Judean hills. On the summit of a rocky hill just outside of the city gates a man shivers, binding his cloak more tightly around him. Above his head hangs the Christ, dead. Christ is dead, and in him this cold, empty man has been filled with life. Raising his head, he is shadowed by the agony of victory which is the cross.
On a care-worn hovel, affixed to an unnoticed side of a door is the crude drawing of a fish. Inside a cluttered work room, a man labors diligently at a potter’s wheel. A thousand men in as many cities? No, for this man has been touched by the shadow of the cross.
It is a time of persecution. Christians daily are being burned at the stake or thrown to the lions, for dissolute Nero rules Rome. It is a time of persecution, yet, for those embraced by the covenant line, the sign of the fish is a symbol of security, of unity. It is a reminder of the binding hope fulfilled for them at Golgotha; it is a symbol of the purpose of their being even in a time of death; it is an assurance of the glorious eternity that awaits them at journey’s end. Still, more than all this, the sign of the fish is a brilliant light from Christian to Christian, reminding each one that he is under the shadow of the cross.
Hair streaming like wet twine down jaundiced faces, “love” beads embossed upon dirty shirts, bare feet slapping against damp pavement: The “now” generation rules the headlines.
Flickering blue television light emanating from row upon row of similar houses; ideas, ideals, idiosyncrasies, pressed and impressed upon the Church.
It is a time of persecution, but there is no sign of the fish.
Social justice, social love, socially-oriented church…Live for your fellow man…God is dead (or at least dying)!
It is a time of persecution. Oh, we seldom realize we are being persecuted. We speak of the day when persecution will scatter and decimate our churches, barely aware that the subtle persecution of the world around us has already begun. It is a persecution in the minds and hearts of the Church; it is a pollution and a distortion of morals not only, but of truths and ideals.
The persecution is an altering of judgment, so that we find ourselves judging ourselves by the world’s standards, not by our God’s. The persecution is a muting of awareness, so that we unconsciously slip into the habits and desires of the evil world.
It is a time of persecution, a persecution more severe and more subtle than any the Church has experienced before. Yet, the hope and promise, both given and fulfilled, which has sustained the Church through countless generations, is still ours today, for we are under the shadow of the cross.
The body of Christ which is the Church; what glories it receives, what agonies it endures! For untold millions, the shadow of the cross has been the staff of life. The cross: a vision dimly seen through curtained mists of time, a vision touched but not realized. The cross, a reality witnessed, a shadowy, but really functioning promise fulfilled. The cross: The agony of victory which has preserved the Church in time and given it eternity. The cross: coloring and hueing our lives with its glorious promise; our reason for thanksgiving.
This is not to ignore the rich abundance of this earth’s goods with which the Lord has graciously blessed us. We have been given blessings far beyond that which we need and want. In the cutting cold of winter, we will be warm and comfortable. Again with the miracle of the harvest, the Lord has promised us security.
Still, were the Lord in His wisdom to remove all of our human securities, we would still have the most vital reason for our thanksgiving.
For all our lifetimes, brief though they may be in the scope of eternity, we have lived under the shadow of the cross. This cross is not a dead shadow, it is not an idolatrous crucifix on a wall; it is a vital, functioning reality.
The shadow of the cross is a symbol of the being of the cross on Golgotha. It is a living reminder of Christ’s conquering hell for His own. The shadow of the cross is the memory of this agony of victory borne in every child of God.
Yet, the shadow is more than that; it is also the living reminder of the promise of Golgotha. Christ, the God-man died. He conquered hell for His elect and by conquering hell, by being raised on the third day, by ascending into heaven, He gave us not life only, but Glory!
The shadow of the cross, often dimly seen and yet more vaguely realized by the people of God, is the heart of our thanksgiving. We do not stand blind and ignorant before the cutting cold of the world’s persecution; we do not bow to the onslaughts of the devil, subtle though they may be, for we are God’s children, shadowed and sheltered by the cross and the promise it bears.
Jerusalem has long since fallen, its gilded walls darkened by the passing of years. John the Baptist is dead; his work finished. The cross stands no more on Golgotha outside the city gates. The sign of the fish is all but erased from the memory of the Church. We are engaged in a new kind of defense against persecution, a more vital kind.
Soon it will be Thanksgiving again, and we will sincerely give our thanks in our thoughts and hopefully in our lives. Yet this is only the bare shell of what we ought to be doing in thanksgiving. We ought to be standing in an awareness of the shadow of the cross which marks our beings. We ought to wear this cross emblazoned on our hearts and minds. We ought to live in obvious appreciation of the victorious life this act of the cross gives us. To give thanks for the cross and all God in Christ has given us in it is to live every day in a yearning toward God.
A cross once stood on a barren hill. Christ hung there, windswept, desolate, forsaken. He went through the agonies of hell on that cross; He died there so we might live. For that cross and for the shadow of promise it has given us and our Church for century upon century, we give our thanks.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 29 No. 8 December 1969
THE ECSTASY OF LIFE: The following was originally given as a speech during a singspiration in memorial to Ronald Yonkers. Because of the emotions which all of us felt upon that occasion, the speech is printed just as it was given.
Note: This reading was written before Ron’s sudden passing to glory this week. I at first wished to discard the speech and write another, but upon reflection, I decided to use it as written, for who knows more about the ecstasy of life right now than Ron?
A baby’s hand: More beautiful than the roses’ bud opening to the dawn. A baby’s hand: The Church of God.
A child is born, a covenant child and through his hands moves the Church.
A mystery is this child, with his flawless body, with his matchless heart, a mystery. In his mind may be the brilliance of a Hoeksema, the wisdom of a Calvin, the insight of a Luther. In his hands may be the artistry of a Rembrandt, the vision of a Greco, the skill of a Rubenstein.
In his hands may be the skills of a carpenter, the comprehension of a farmer, the talent of a salesman. In his mind may be the artistry of a gardener, the perseverance of a janitor, the ability of a plumber.
A mystery, this child. But one thing he is: He is the Church.
For some crisis yet unthought, he may have been created. For unknown terrors, for unimagined glories, he is the Church.
Be he brilliant leader, be he common pillar, he is the Church of tomorrow.
Yet, what is the force that moves him? What sustains him in life and makes him scoff at death? What is his ecstasy of life?
There was a time in the early mists of history that man was a perfection. He knew no sin. Then woman was tempted by a serpent. Woman, tempted, fell. Man, tempted, Humanity fell.
For this, the mothers of the Church (and of the world, too) travail in their birthing. For this—and let no man deceive you!—a soul is in sin at conception. For this the Son of God went through the agonies of deepest Hell on the accursed tree of the cross.
For this, this Church of God, this new life is sin. Each day of his life will be blotted with the stain of sin. There can never be perfection in anything he does. Where is his ecstasy of life?
This beautiful body, this flawless creation, will become scarred. It will sicken. The smooth skin will become spotted and wrinkled. The lovely eyes will dim; the tender hands will err and tremble. And he will die. His body will moulder and corrupt in the grave until it is dust. Where is his ecstasy of life?
But, wait, the Church was born in this child—a soul was created! A soul was created and as the child uttered his first cry, he was shadowed, not by sin alone, but by the cross! For every sin committed there was already atonement; for the sin of his being—his soul-sin, there was atonement.
Through his hands moves the Church. He is the Church and he is marching to glory!
Though his body will weaken and crumble, though he is very really mortal, still he is eternal. At this conception, the temporal was touched by the heavenly, the temporary by the eternal and never can he walk except toward glory. He is the Church of God, the diadem of Christ. He is marching to heaven.
For this is the ecstasy of life: That in death more than birth, that in faith more than hope, that in reality more than dream, he is eternal. And, yes, that it is not mere eternity only, but glory.
This is the ecstasy of life: That though we walk in darkness, we have light: though we are imperfect, yet we have perfection: though we are temporal, yet we have eternity.
A child is born, a covenant child, and in his hands he holds the Church.
His is the ecstasy of life—yours is the ecstasy of life. You are the Church of God, and sinful you are. But you are marching—marching to glory. In death more than in life, this is your ecstasy of life.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 29 No. 5 August 1969
The sun suddenly dove behind lofty mountain peaks, and as its light faded from the heavens, the glory of the night began to appear. First came one lone star in the east, then another, until, myriad upon myriad in splendor the heavens were splashed with light as with an iridescent paint upon a black cloth. Thus night fell, or rather arose, in all its glory, for after the twilight comes the night, the time of clearness when the heavens are revealed.
The night is so often considered a time of loneliness and fear, for such it can be, but it can also be a time of peace. It is at night that we have time to pause and think. And thinking we can hear the rustle of God as He passes in the wind, we can see His presence in the glow of the moonlight. At night there is naught of this world to distract us, we are with God.
For, you see, we are living in the twilight of time. Slowly, inescapably, the glaring sunlight of time is fading into twilight; soon there will be the night. And what will the night mean for you? Will it mean a time of fear and terror? Or will the night be a time of joy? Can you hear God in the night?
Yes, young people, the end of the ages is upon us. In our lifetimes we can expect increasing apostasy. The lines of difference between Church and world are going to become increasingly blurred. Bill through all this blurring and confusion, which is really no more than modern day persecution, God is calling His Church. While the whole world runs frantically about in a whirlwind of “Living” to hide from Him, God is speaking to us in a still, small voice. He is telling us to fear not, for in the apparent terrors of the night, the whisper of His presence will be there for His own, bringing them peace.
God is speaking, are you listening? Are you listening, or has the clatter of your daily life drowned out His voice? Are you so very independent that you can go a whole day or more without this prayer in your heart: “Father, I am so very weak, make me strong in Thee”? Have you placed yourself in God’s hands today?
It is so hard for those of us who are young to learn the complete trust in God that characterizes those who wear the crown of years. We cannot help but make plans for a long and glorious future. It is almost impossible for us to ask merely for daily bread, for we always find ourselves looking toward tomorrow’s sustenance. And yet daily bread is all we may ask for. We must live only day by day. placing each second in the hands of the Lord, counting all tomorrows only as steps in the stairway toward heaven.
But how are we to gain such trust in God?
Trust in God requires in the first place that we stop. Completely. Before you move to take your next breath think: I could not do even this without God. To trust in God, we must take note of our dependence upon Him in all things.
Trust in God requires, in the second place, that we heed the Master’s advice to the rich young ruler: “Go, sell all that thou hast and give to the poor; and come, follow me.” What a hard thing this is for us to learn! We become so enmeshed in our daily lives that we forget to serve God and rather serve ourselves. For us, “selling all that thou hast” means counting all things (goods and self) as nothing save God. It means that we become heaven centered instead of earth centered. It means that we long, not for the joys of tomorrow, but for the joys of eternity. For if we truly place our trust in God, we will accept nothing less than being with Him forever.
So finally, trust in God means service. Realizing our utter dependence on Him, putting away all things of this world in our longing for Glory, we will manifest our trust in God by striving to fulfill the earthly task that He has given us. Be our task little or great in the eyes of others, we, who trust in God will do it to His glory and His alone.
This is trust, the trust in God which will carry the Church through the night that lies ahead. But this trust only comes from God alone. It is a matter of prayer and earnest spiritual endeavor.
Yes, the night is rising in all its glory and we find the beauty of the night in our absolute trust in God as our sole support. Thus, when the night is fully risen, we will see God in the glow of the moon, and hear Him in the whisper of the wind. God is speaking, are you listening?
There is a story told about a lovely white rose which the Lord placed in a weed patch. This rose was the only thing of true beauty in that patch and was well aware of that fact. Each morning, as the dawn opened her fingers over the earth, she placed one crystal drop of dew on that rose. This was the rose’s crowning beauty, for the dew drop shone like a sapphire crown. And so, each morning, the rose would cup itself toward the dawn to receive its one drop of dew, and each morning it stood with its face to the sun so the drop would glimmer. But one day, the rose, in all its beauty, decided to turn away and let its own glory be reflected in the dew drop. So the next morning, and for many days thereafter the rose turned itself away from the dawn, losing its beauty, for the dew drop became just another drop of water. And then the morning came when there was no dawn. When the rose awakened late and looked around in fear, it found that a tree had grown overnight and was taking all its sun. Of course, the rose lost all its beauty then, and blackened and died. In its self-pride the rose had killed itself. The rose had forgotten to reflect the light.
This same thing often happens to us as Christians; but it should not ever happen.
As the dawn gave the rose one tiny dew drop, God has given us many dew drops in the form of talents. Some of us have only one drop, some have many, but be they few or many, they only attain beauty as we turn to and reflect God’s light.
Of course, reflecting God’s light into creatures so weak and sinful as ourselves is difficult at best. We are prone to depend on ourselves, to trust in our own strength, to strive for our own glory rather than God’s
But, if reflecting God’s light is difficult, it is not impossible.
First, reflecting God’s light means we have complete faith in Him and turn to Him in all things. It means that each breath we take, each heart beat, is a song of thanksgiving to Him. It means that our first thoughts in the morning, our last thoughts at night and our prime thoughts through the day are toward Him… not because they have to be toward Him, but because we can’t help but turn them in that direction. Faith is a radiance which we carry with us always. It is something which puts such a peace and overwhelming joy in our souls that no one, absolutely no one, can mistake the fact that WE ARE DIFFERENT.
Yes, we are different. Thus, in reflecting God’s light, we do not forget the men whom He has made, for, when we reflect God’s light, it is in love to our fellow elect. This does not mean the false brotherhood which is so prevalent today, not does it mean just giving things to other people in distress, nor yet does it mean just caring for your own family, even though that must come first. What loving our fellow man means is just that: Love. And love implies sacrifice, total unselfishness. It means that we give of ourselves until we are totally emptied, and then we give some more. It means we give to others even when they hurt us, or might hurt us. It means we help them gain peace inside, just as we help them in physical ways. This type of giving is sacrifice; it is draining; yes, it is even killing; but it is our Christian duty. This giving is what sets us apart as Christians, it is what is necessary to reflect God’ light, for this is what Jesus did for us.
He gave Himself until He was totally empty in the garden of Gethsemane, and then He gave more on the cross. He gave even though we continually hurt Him. And He gave to give us peace; … peace with God.
So, reflecting God’s light is, basically, love: Love of God, love of our fellow Christians because of God.
Nevertheless, knowing what is expected of us in reflecting His light is not enough. For us, knowing, and, yes, even wanting to do it will not make it so. Only God does make this reflection possible. It is He who gives us total commitment unto Himself so that we, when we do find ourselves reflecting His light, must not even then praise ourselves; we must then, more than ever humble ourselves before Him in thanksgiving. Then, and only then will we know, thought only vaguely, what reflecting His light really is. Then, and then only will our total being be consciously and completely committed to God.
And then, when the fingers of eternal dawn unfold themselves over the weed patch of this world, the true sun, the Son of God will find us turned to the Light with our talents shining as jewels for His crown.
I heard my God walk by today
As morning filled the sky.
I heard my God walk by today
As afternoon drew nigh.
I heard my God walk by today
In falling drops of dew.
I heard my God walk by today
I heard my God, did you?
I saw my God walk by today
In heaven’s lofty tower.
I felt my God walk by today
In every passing hour.
I heard God walk with me today
E’en though my steps were few.
I heard God walk with me today,
I heard my God, did you?
I heard Him when, in glad array
Dawn broke across the sky.
I heard Him, too, at eventide
When darkness crowded nigh.
I heard my God walk by today
And so with joy I bring
My prayer to Him by Angel wing:
“God, lead me all the way!”
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