Refuge, Refreshment, and Rest in Christ!
by William Bacon Stevens
"And a man shall be . . .
as a 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."
In this language, peculiar to oriental countries, the prophet sets forth the security, refuge, refreshment, and rest that the believer shall find in Jesus the Messiah. Let us analyze, in a few brief words, the language of the text, and then apply it to Jesus Christ.
The "wind" spoken of, is either the hot desert-breath which sweeps up from the arid sandy wastelands on the east and south of Palestine, blasting and wilting health, strength, life, and producing intense, and often fatal suffering — or the desolating "east wind," technically so called, which caused great destruction of dwellings, fruits, and crops throughout the western coast of Judea.
"A hiding place" from such a wind would be a peculiar blessing, where one could abide until its fury was spent, and the gentle south wind again blew.
The "tempest," unlike the dry wind-storm of the desert, was a fierce gale, accompanied with rain, thunder, lightning, and hail — the fury of which is well known. By it Paul was shipwrecked; and its violence and destructiveness on land and sea are matters of common notoriety. Those who have been tossed about days and nights in such tempests, when neither sun nor star appeared, or who have been exposed to its peltings without the shelter of a cave or shelter, well know the blessing of "a covert" from such a storm.
The "rivers of waters in a dry place," indicate the abundant refreshment that there would be in those hot and parched lands, where rivers were few, small, and uncertain, where springs were scarce, where wells were found only at long intervals and of scanty depth. Over those Arabian deserts the traveler, borne upon the camel's back — journeys day after day without seeing a stream, a spring, or a well. To him, the most delightful idea is that of cool and flowing water; water so plenteous as to be styled rivers, where he could not merely slake his thirst, but bathe his almost sun-baked body, and gain new vigor and strength from its reviving waves.
Still borrowing his images from the lands in and around the Arabian deserts, the prophet introduces one more figure — "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Trees, in those sandy wastelands, are rare — but there are frequently found immense masses of rocks, the spurs of mountains or outcropping ledges of stone, which afford protection from the sun; and, as there is generally some herbage around the rock, comfort and coolness to man and beast. The tired traveler has traversed a weary land; nothing has met his eye but burning sand, and stunted saline shrubs. At length he sees the dark rock afar off. He is thirsty and hungry, wilted with heat, and sore with fatigue; and he longs to descend from his "ship of the desert," and, in the cool "shadow" and refreshing moisture of this "great rock," recruit his exhausted strength.
There is, then, great force in the language of the prophet — far greater than we can conceive unless we have traveled in those Eastern lands. And yet, as forcible and pertinent as these illustrations are, they afford but slender ideas of the refuge, refreshment, and rest — which the soul finds in Jesus Christ.
Let us consider, then, these several NECESSITIES of the soul, and the full PROVISION made to meet its wants.
1. We need a refuge from the stormy wind of God's wrath.The Bible declares that "the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness of men," and it necessarily must be so, so long as God is holy and man sinful. Consequently all impenitent people are exposed to this wrath, for they are in the hands of one of whom it is said, "He is angry with the wicked every day." A moment's calm reflection should convince such of the extreme peril of their position. They have not a moment's security against Divine punishment, and yet, to see them in their pride and recklessness, in their hardened indifference and daily transgression — one would suppose that they had taken out life-leases for a thousand years! When the real fact is, that they stand on slippery places, and unless plucked thence by the Spirit of God, their "feet shall slide in due time!"
The traveler by land or sea who casts his eye around the horizon and sees the dense cloud gathering blackness, and the tempest rolling itself up for the onslaught — makes all preparation to meet the coming storm, or seeks a refuge from its fury. And he who attempted to brave the storm when a covert was at hand — would expect nothing better than to perish in the blast. But the impenitent are warned of this coming wrath day by day; they are pointed to the words of the Bible, which declare it; their consciences tell them that it is even so; their reason pronounces God's course a just and merciful one; they assent to the importance of having a saving interest in the Lord Jesus. Yet, hoping to brave the storm a little longer, presuming upon God's mercy still further — they go on in sin, in rejecting Christ, in struggling against the Spirit, in rebelling against God — until, in the language of Job, "Terrors take hold of him as waters! A tempest steals him away in the night, and he departs, and as a storm hurls him out of his place," for the Psalmist solemnly declares, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and a horrible tempest — this shall be the portion of their lot!"
But what a blessed truth is it, that there is provided a refuge in Christ Jesus! That which so threatens us with vengeance, is the holy law of God pronouncing its just curse on every act of disobedience. It is the transgression of this law, which is sin. It is the justice of God, which requires that this sin should be punished; for the decree of this holy lawgiver is, "Cursed is every one who continues not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them." From this curse, and consequent punishment, we can be freed only in two ways: by perfect personal obedience — or by the obedience and suffering of a recognized substitute and surety. To roll off the curse from our heads by personal obedience to all the precepts of the law is impossible, because we inherit such sinful natures that "we go astray as soon as we are born." And consequently what the Apostle says is necessarily true: "By the deeds of the law, shall no flesh living be justified."
But when, by the fall of our first parents — this way of personal obedience was forever closed against us. We were exposed, unsheltered, to the full penalty of the violated law and its attendant curse. Christ opened a way of escape, by condescending to take the sinner's place, bear the sinner's curse — and thus, by his own obedience and death, create a new title to life; the covenant . . .
being devised in the counsels of the Godhead,
being written in the blood of the cross,
being sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Christ, then, having "satisfied the law and made it honorable," having "borne our sins in his own body on the tree" — "has redeemed us from the curse of the law," has effected a reconciliation with God, has made it possible for him "to be just and yet the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." And the simple condition upon which we are put in full and eternal possession of all the blessings of this scheme of redemption — is to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." To believe in him in such a way as . . .
to commit to him the undivided interest of our souls,
to look to him alone for salvation,
to cast away every other help and refuge, and
to come to Christ in the simplicity of a faith that takes him at his word, exclaiming with one of old, "Lord, I believe — help my unbelief!"
When the sinner has done this he has, in the emphatic words of the Bible, "fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before him in the gospel" . . .
he has "put on Christ;"
he has "hidden his life with Christ in God;"
he has "made the Lord his stronghold and tower of defense;"
he has found "a covert from the storm,"
for there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. The law's dread curse cannot reach him whose life "is hidden with Christ in God." Justice cannot arrest him who has gained the refuge of God's own providing. He boldly pleads what Christ has done. He boldly declares Christ to be his surety — and the destroying angel cannot touch a hair of the head of those, upon the lintel and door-posts of whose heart — is seen the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Thus it is that Christ became a full "covert from the storm" of divine justice, and a full "refuge from the wind" of God's consuming wrath! The tempest which was due to us — was poured in its fury on him, and we are spared its blast, because our surety has borne its brunt, and now offers to all who will believe in him, the sheltering refuge of his atoning grace.
2. We need that which will slake the thirsting of the immortal soul, "rivers of water in a dry place." The soul is of celestial origin; it will never die; and it is ever panting after that which is adapted to its spiritual need, and which will satisfy its aspirations. It is the possession of this immortal soul, which makes man a being so "fearfully and wonderfully made." And though the great majority of men seem to lose sight of their souls, and are perfectly reckless as to what becomes of them — there is still at times a startling assertion of their rights, and an importunate putting forth of their needs, which shows that, though debased — they are not destroyed; though chained down to earth by the fetters of flesh and blood — they yet struggle for freedom and for relief.
The world, however, can offer nothing but "dry places" to the soul. Sin has blasted its pastures, and dried up its well-springs — so that, in a spiritual sense, we live "in a parched and barren land." The world can never satisfy the desires of the soul; these desires are unbounded by time, and unlimited by space — they stretch away into the future, they rise above the seen and the temporal. The soul has insatiate longings. There is in it, when not completely palsied by sin, and choked in all its utterances — a thirsting after more light, more happiness, more knowledge; and such light, and happiness, and knowledge as earth can never give, because they do not pertain to earthly things. Who can recount the unsatisfied yearnings of his soul!
You feel in your own consciousness, the intense thirst of the spirit for something that you have not; and as aspiration after aspiration lures you on with the promise of satisfying waters — how does your heart sink within you as you find, after weary efforts to reach these rivers of pleasure — that it is only the mirage of the desert, the tantalizing mockery of a thirst made more painful by the very effort to reach the delusive stream! And when the soul, under the convicting influences of the Holy Spirit, is made to feel, in a very peculiar sense, the thirstings after the new birth — feeling, as it has never before felt, the worthlessness and unsatisfyingness of all that earth can offer — then how does it strain after something that will slake its thirst and satisfy its cravings; but nothing earthly contains it, and nothing earthly can impart the blessing.
To the soul thus situated, Christ offers himself as "rivers of water in a dry place." He presents himself as the one who alone can satisfy its needs and meet its aspirations. He stands beside every earth-hewn cistern, and laying his hand upon its curb, says of it, as he said to the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well, "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again — but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst." He sends out his prophets and apostles with the cry, "Ho! Every one that thirsts — come to the waters." His own language is, "If any man thirsts — let him come unto me and drink." While the Church, the bride of Christ, catching up the tones of her beloved, and joined by the stirring voice of the Spirit, exclaims, "Come! Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely!"
There is no need of the soul which is not met and satisfied in Jesus Christ. He . . .
fills it with his own fullness,
restores it to more than pristine joy,
reunites its lost affections to God,
calls out its highest aspirations,
leads it on from one stage of glory to another, from one peak of knowledge to another, forever widening its vision, forever expanding its powers — forever making it to quaff of the waters of that "river of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb!"
With what great propriety may the prophet term Christ, "rivers of water!" Not a fountain, bubbling up today and exhausted tomorrow; not a mountain stream, swollen with winter's snows and dry in summer's heats; not a single river even, that in time of drought might perchance shrink within its bed. But to express the exhaustless fullness and overflowing abundance, Jesus is styled "rivers of water!" The flocking crowd of Christians may here drink and drink again; the nations of the earth may quaff its pure water — but cannot drain it dry! There is in Christ sufficiency for every soul! All its holy longings, all its heavenly aspirations, and all its thirstings after righteousness — are met, and more than satisfied. When Christ is once apprehended as the true fountain of pleasure — then we are assured that we could ever be satisfied with the broken cisterns of earthly comfort, which can hold no water.
3. The soul needs spiritual rest:"The shadow of a great rock" in this "weary land." It has tried many plans of worldly greatness — and found them vain! It has traversed many ways of promised pleasure — and found them painful! It has sought out many inventions to hold it up in the day of its prosperity — and found them "miserable comforters all."
It is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit, to cause men to perceive the weariness and burdensomeness of sin. For so accustomed are we to sin, so infatuated with it, so blinded by nature to its evils and its sorrows — that unless made to see it with a spiritual vision imparted by the Holy Spirit — we would never feel our real wretchedness and our intolerable burden. But when we do begin to feel and acknowledge this — then do we eagerly seek for true relief and rest.
To all such, Christ is revealed as "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." He gives rest to the soul . . .
by pardoning the sins which so weigh it down;
by removing the curse which we so justly deserve, and
by imparting new life to the fainting spirit.
And when our sins are forgiven, and the penalty of death removed, and the spirit of Christ infused into us — then, of course, there will be such a sense of relief and comfort as the traveler experiences who comes, after long hours of travel over a burning sandy waste — to "the shadow of a great rock," and in its refreshing coolness finds the desired rest.
Such is the gracious aspect in which Christ manifests himself to his believing people:
a refuge from the wind of adversity,
a covert from the storm of divine anger,
a source of unfailing refreshment to the hungry and thirsting pilgrim,
and a secure and blessed rest to the sin-weary and guilt-laden soul.
Sadly, then, are they deceiving themselves, who refuse the offered grace of Jesus Christ. And why do they refuse? Because they dare not rise above the fear of man; and, in face of the taunts and jeers of so-called friends, go to Jesus. Or because they are so pleased with their own garments of self-righteousness — that they will not put on the offered robe of Christ's righteousness. Or because the pride of their heart is so great that they will not humble themselves upon their knees and confess that they are great and hell-deserving sinners in the sight of God, and are willing to receive salvation as the free gift of sovereign grace, "without money and without price."
And will you for these reasons . . .
reject the Savior?
ruin your soul?
Look at them! Will they bear examination? Hold them up in the light of eternity, and with the fearful realities of the future unfolded before you — how do they look there?
Utter them at the bar of God, and tell him who "sits on the great white throne," surrounded by angels, and with the book of judgment open before him — tell him, and tell it out so loud that all the universe can hear: "I rejected you, O Christ, as my 'refuge!' I refused you as 'a covert!' I turned away from you 'as rivers of water!' I sought you not as the 'shadow of a great rock in that weary land!' And all . . .
because I feared what man should do unto me;
because I could not brook the ridicule of my fellows;
because I was so engrossed in buying and selling and getting gain;
because I was so delighted with my own morality;
because I was too proud to bend the knee to you, O Christ!"
How will such excuses sound at the Judgment Seat of Christ?
Yet at that Judgment Seat — you must stand; before that rejected Savior — you must bow! And as you cannot stand acquitted there except through faith in him, as you cannot meet him in peace except through the salvation of his own providing — so let me urge you, pilgrim to eternity, traveler through this weary and stormy land . . .
to seek this only "hiding place from the wind;"
to flee to this only "covert from the storm" of wrath;
to drink only at these "rivers of water" in the dry places of earth,
and to sit down only beneath this "shadow of a great rock" in this weary land of earth — yielding with a glad mind and heart to the invitation of Jesus, "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden — and I will give you rest!" Yes, "rest!" Rest to your souls, rest on earth, rest in Heaven — a rest that will never end!