THE LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF
SPIRITUAL LIFE by Octavius Winslow
"The Obscurations of
"Until the shadows flee away." -Solomon's Song 4:6
Shadow is as essential as light to the beauty of a
landscape, or the perfection of a painting. Either, destitute of shading-
the darker hues heightening the effect of the more brilliant coloring, and
throwing into bolder relief the objects of nature, and the studies of the
pencil- would lose more than half their expression and grandeur. Thus is it
with the spiritual life of the soul. Light and shade are closely and
artistically blended with the picture of the Christian's life. Drawn by a
Divine Artist, all its parts- however inartistic and incoherent they may
appear to the superficial eye, or even to the more tutored eye of the
Christian himself- are essential to the completeness of the work, and are
the production of Him who is "excellent in counsel, and great in beauty."
Let it be once admitted that God is a Great Artist, and that the Divine
Image restored to the human soul is the masterpiece of His productions, and
all mystery vanishes touching the necessity, wisdom, and perfection of
blended light and shade in the daily walk of the believer. Our present
subject, then, is of the SHADOWS of spiritual life. The words which suggest
it are replete with instruction and beauty. They are, if we correctly
interpret them, the language of the Church. "Until the day break, and the
SHADOWS flee away, I will get to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of
frankincense." The truth embodied in the first part of this passage has
already received our attention. And yet we cannot too frequently or too
emphatically remind the reader of the strong tendency there exists of
overlooking the "day of small things" in the history of divine grace in the
Living in an age of rapid thought, and of yet more rapid action- an age
in which even religion has caught the spirit of the times, and immediate
conversion would seem to be the popular idea of the day- and against this
idea we are loath to breathe a word of dissent, seeing that the Holy Spirit
is a Sovereign, and that, instant grace may be as real; and as frequent, as
instant glory- may there not exist the danger of overlooking the mere faint
and progressive process in which, perhaps, the majority of cases, divine
grace dawns and grows in the regenerate soul?
But our present chapter proposes to delineate, not the lights which
illumine, but the shadows which darken, the path of spiritual life in its
course to that 'perfect day' of glory, that 'morning without clouds,' to
which it is destined eventually and surely to arrive. In the absence of
those shadows, which we now proceed to notice, how much of the beauty and
completeness of the Christian character would be lacking! The landscape
would be too light, the picture too brilliant. Both would lack that
soul-subdued and chastened tone which the varied and somber hues of the
Christian life impart. Let us, then, briefly trace a few of the clouds which
thus shade the spiritual life of the believer.
The first we adduce is, the shadow of spiritual ignorance, which, more or
less deeply, rests upon every pious mind. The spiritual education of the
believer is, in its most advanced stage, but initiative and progressive.
Compared with what he may yet attain, he has learned but the alphabet of
divine knowledge. The Bible, with all his profound knowledge and research,
is still but as the kindergarten book in his spiritual training; and the
more advanced his attainments, the profounder and more humbling is his
conviction how little he knows in comparison with what he yet may know.
Such was the experience and such the testimony of Paul, who, writing to
the Philippian Church, thus expressed himself. "Not as though I had already
attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may
apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." "That I may
know Him." He knew Christ as few knew Him; but, placing no limit to his
attainments, and thirsting for yet higher ones, praying to know more and
still more of the Divinest, loveliest, and most wonderful Being in the
universe, he was willing to forget- not ignore- 'the things which were
behind' -the ground he had traversed- pressing forward and upward to higher
rounds in his heavenly ascent, 'apprehending' or taking hold of that for
which he was also 'apprehended' -or taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Oh for more of this Christ-longing spirit of the Apostle! The grand
secret of growth in grace, of planting our feet higher in the steep of
holiness and love and heavenliness, of rising above earth and its sins and
sorrows, is in knowing more of Christ. Realizing more our resurrection and
ascension with Christ, it will be moral lever lifting the soul into a higher
region of love and purity and communion, even where Christ sits at the right
hand of God. Nor was the Apostle alone in this aspiration after the increase
of spiritual knowledge. Listen to the prayer of Elihu: "That which I see
not, teach me." Here is the humble acknowledgment of conscious ignorance.
How much there is in our spiritual education for heaven which we do not
see! "We know in part." Let the range of study be as wide, and the spiritual
eye as strong as it can be, the confession of the most advanced Christian
will still be, "I see through a glass darkly- I know in part." Take, for
example, our knowledge of sin. We do, indeed, know something of its
blackness just enough to impel us to the Open Fountain; but our views are
shallow, our conceptions cloudy, and our contrition imperfect. There is a
depth in sin we have not sounded, a mystery we have not unraveled, and a
turpitude we have not felt. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from
secret faults." The error of the judgement, the error of the will, the error
of the affections. Hence, the necessity and wisdom of David's prayer-
"Cleanse me from secret faults."
The secret faults against which he prayed were not sins committed in
secret and veiled from every eye; but those faults which in themselves were
secret, of which he himself knew nothing, nor even suspected- sins of the
mind, sins of the affections, sins of nature, and "the iniquity of our holy
things." "Cleanse me from secret faults." What a needed prayer for Christian
men of business! The vast commercial transactions of the day, the opening
fields of enterprise, the thirst for wealth, the ease with which it is
acquired, the temptations to deviate from the strict line of integrity and
uprightness, must, necessarily, involve a tendency to many 'secret faults,'
against which the religious professor, borne on upon the rapid current of
the age, has need vigilantly to watch and pray. Oh when will the mercantile
men of our nation, imitating the example of the devout Thornton, that true
Christian merchant of his day- erect an oratory side by side with the
counting-house, to which, in 'all times of their wealth,' and in all times
of their adversity, anxiety, and temptation, they may resort, and receive
grace and strength and soothing, where alone it is found in holy,
confidential communion with God!
Closely allied with the cloud of spiritual ignorance of sin, is the
passing shadow of guilt upon the soul. Perhaps no shadow of the spiritual
life is so darkening and depressing as this. It may, indeed, be but as a
vapor- some known duty neglected- an opportunity of usefulness lost- an
unkind word spoken- a hasty spirit betrayed some Christian principle
faltering- still, it is a passing shadow; and the mirror of the conscience,
which should ever be kept in the highest polish, is in a moment dimmed, and
the soul is affected thereby.
And is there no remedy for this temporary obscuration of spiritual life
no dissolving of this passing cloud? Oh yes! The blood of Jesus applied,
effaces in a moment the sense of guilt, leaving not the shadow of a shade
upon the conscience.
And what a chill shadow is the temporary obscuration of the Divine
presence- the veiling of the light of God's countenance- the momentary
hiding of Jesus from the soul. The vicissitudes through which spiritual life
passes- its ebb and flow-its partial or its total eclipse- are, more or
less, the experience of every believer. Oh, there is no sorrow like
spiritual sorrow: no cloud so dark, no shadow so cold, no sky so rayless as
that which intervenes between God and the living soul. It is a solemn and
instructive thought, that He who is our spiritual life, Himself traveled
through this stage of its history. "My God, my God! why have You forsaken
Me?" It was the total eclipse of the "Sun of Righteousness," of which the
natural sun, now clothed in sackcloth and in sympathy with its Creator, was
Are you walking in soul-darkness, beloved? Is God hiding His face? Has
Jesus suspended His sensible presence? and is this shadow, deep and dark,
resting upon your spirit? Cheer up! It is not the darkness of unregeneracy,
but the passing shadow of Christian life, and before long it will dissolve
and vanish. Listen to the language of your covenant God and Father: "For a
small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you.
In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting
kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord." The 'small moment' will
before long pass, and the shadow will disappear- and the joyous language of
your soul will be, "O God! You were angry with me; but Your anger is turned
away, and You comfort me."
With the shadow of adversity, in some one or more of its protean forms,
all true believers are familiar. "The Lord tries the righteous," and He
tries them because they are righteous. Not more essential the knife that
prunes the branch- not more necessary the fire that refines the gold-
not more needful the storm that rarifies the atmosphere- than is adversity
to the growth of the spiritual life of the soul. Is not the experience of
every believer in harmony with that of the Psalmist? "Before I was afflicted
I went astray: but now have I kept Your word." "It is good for me that I
have been afflicted; that I might learn Your statutes." To no discipline is
the divine life of the soul under greater obligation than that which thus
prunes and refines, and which thus fructifies and purifies.
Sweet are the uses of adversity; and never so sweet as when most bitter!
"Out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong comes forth
sweetness;" and from an adversity that looked so consuming- from an event
that threatened, as with lion-strength, to crush every fair prospect of
life- there has issued some of the costliest blessings in the believer's
God fashions graciously the hearts of all His children alike; "for what
son is he whom the Father chastens not?" All are tried. The family
provisions are "the bread and the water of affliction." "Humble and scanty
fare this!" exclaims the worldling; nevertheless, lowly and distasteful as
it may be to those who are living upon 'husks'- that which they call food-
there is in it an element of sweetness, and a power of nourishment and
growth, which the living soul only knows and fully tests. "The full soul
loaths a honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
Affliction times are fruit promoting times to God's "trees of
righteousness." Afflictions deepen the roots, and clothe the boughs with the
foliage and fruit of righteousness. Oh, who can fully estimate the real
advance of the spiritual life of the soul in one hallowed trial, through one
sanctified sorrow? The slumbering spirit of prayer is roused- the truant
heart is recalled- trembling faith is strengthened- and the spirit shaded
with sorrow and the soul bowed with calamity, turns to Jesus, and finds in
the wounded and wounding hand of the Savior, the balm and the succor which
'heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.'
There are some believers who only become fruitful in trial, who make no
headway in their spiritual voyage but in a storm! Their language is the echo
of the sweet poet of Olney; "More the treacherous calm I dread, Than
tempests bursting over my head." And does not this shadow pass away? Oh,
yes! When, like a faithful servant, it has discharged its errand; when its
heaven-sent mission is fully accomplished, it will dissolve into the light
of joy, and issue in a new song of praise. "The Lord is merciful and
gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide:
neither will He keep His anger forever." "Weeping may endure for a night,
but joy comes in the morning."
In the literal night, when suffering, nervousness, or mental depression,
banish sleep from the pillow, life's shadows- its responsibilities, cares,
and anxieties- gather thick and dark around the soul. Every object assumes
an exaggerated form of terror, and is clothed with a deeper hue of gloom.
But all is not shadow to the Christian then. One remembrance of God, one
glimpse of Jesus, one thought of heaven, one moment's realization of
eternity, and the clouds dispel, the shadows flee, and the melody of the
song- never so sweet as at night, floats like angel's chimes around the
"I have remembered Your name in the night" -Your name as Father, Your
name as Jesus. "In the night His song shall be with me." "When I awake" -as
from a troubled dream, from those darkling shadows which drape my bed- "I am
still with You," and find myself reposing upon Your paternal bosom. Oh what
a mercy to wake in the morning and feel ourselves with Jesus!
So it will be when we fall asleep in death! We shall awake in Heaven, and
find ourselves still and forever with the Lord!
"In silence or the middle night,
I awake to be with Thee;
And through the shadows as the light
Your mercy smiles on me.
"I talk with You upon my bed,
In meditation blest,
And sweetly pillow there my head,
Upon my Savior's breast.
"I think of Him who knelt and prayed
At midnight on the hill;
Then walked the sea, His friends to aid,
And bid the storm be still.
"I think of Him who took the cup,
In dark Gethsemane,
And, gathering strength from prayer, rose up
To die for such as me.
"I think of heaven, where never more
The weary ask for night,
But ever freshening glories pour
New raptures on the sight.
"So do I learn a parable,
That in my darkest day,
When waves of sorrow round me swell,
The storm shall pass away.
"Nor will I turn my head aside,
Though bitter griefs be mine;
But say with Him, the Crucified,
Father, my will is Thine.
"Thus shall I praise You while I've breath,
To sing Your love to me,
And welcome even the night of death,
To wake and be with Thee."
The shadow of temptation, be it from Satan, from the world, or from his
own heart is, to many Christians, the most severe and terrible of all that
fall upon the soul. Our Lord passed through this fearful ordeal as none
other ever did, or ever can. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the
wilderness to be tempted by the devil. "And during forty days and nights He
fought single-handed with the foe, assailed by him with every form of
weapon, yet foiling him at every point, and quenching the flaming dart with
the Divine shield of the Word- "It is written." Long and dark was the
conflict, but He came out of it- as every tempted believer will- more than
conqueror, even triumphant; as Daniel from the lions' den, unwounded; as the
three Hebrews from the fiery furnace, unscathed.
Look up, tempted one! Your spiritual life needs this discipline. It is
but a passing shadow, obscuring for a moment its luster and beauty. And yet
how little of Christ as tempted in all points like as we are, and as
succouring those who are tempted, should we experimentally know but for this
shadow falling upon our spirit!
It is a pleasant thought, that the shadow of temptation, however severe,
leaves no trace of guilt upon the conscience, except only when we
voluntarily yield to its power. The mere assault of a temptation involves no
sin, and leaves no taint. And this reflection should go far to lighten the
dark shadow with which this subtle and malignant foe of the Christian seeks
to overwhelm the soul.
"The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation," and He will
deliver you. When He has tried you, you shall come forth as gold, your
spiritual life all the purer, and your Christian character all the brighter,
for the fiery temptation through which your loyalty to Christ and truth and
conscience has passed.
But all is shadow here! The world is a shadow- and it passes away! The
creature is a shadow- and the loveliest and the fondest may be the first to
die! Health is a shadow- fading, and in a moment gone! Wealth is a shadow-
today upon the summit of affluence, tomorrow at its base, plunged into
poverty and dependence! Human friendships and creature affections are but
shadows- sweet and pleasant while they last, but, with a worm feeding at the
root of all created good, the sheltering gourd soon withers, exposing us to
the sun's burning heat by day, and to the frost's cold chill by night! Oh,
yes! 'Passing away' is indelibly inscribed upon everything out of and below,
God; yet how slow are we to realize the solemn lesson it teaches- "What
shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!"
In this point of light our subject addresses itself pointedly and
solemnly to the unconverted reader. What is your life but a vapor that
passes away? and what its pursuits but shadows- unreal, unsatisfying,
evanescent? Your rank, your wealth, your honors, your pleasures, are but
phantoms which appear but for a little while, and then are lost in the
deeper shadow of the grave, and the still deeper and longer shadow of
eternity! Oh, turn from these dreams and hallucinations, and, as a rational,
accountable, immortal being, on your way to the judgment-seat of Christ, fix
your mind upon the solemn, endless future! You are going to die! And, oh,
when that dread hour comes- viewed from a stand-point so real and appalling-
how will your past life appear?
While penning this chapter, the writer was requested to visit a gentleman
approaching the solemn hour of death. Casting his eye upon the rich gems of
art which crowded the walls of his room, he pointed to them, and solemnly
exclaimed, "What can all these shadows do for me now?" And such will be your
exclamation when you come to die! Oh flee to Jesus! Believe in Christ!
Embrace the Savior, who rejects no poor penitent sinner who comes to Him!
"What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own
"But there is a Shadow- which yet is not a shadow- beneath which we may
recline and find perfect refreshment and repose. It is CHRIST, the "Shadow
of a Great Rock in a weary land." He is a "Shadow from the heat," when the
sun of affliction scorches us; "the Rock that is higher than we," when the
heart is overwhelmed with the billows of grief. All other shadows will
dissolve, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and forever," and "knows
not the shadow of a turning."
Soon the last cold shadow will fall upon us, and then all will be
glorious and endless reality. Shrink not from death, O believer in Jesus!
for, through Christ, it is but a shadow. Jesus, by dying and rising again,
has annihilated the substance of death, transforming it into a phantom, a
shadow, a sleep, an unsubstantial thing; through which the ransomed soul
passes, and finds itself in a moment encircled by the realities, the
splendor, and the music of Heaven- "absent from the body, present with the
"Yes, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will
fear no evil: for You are with me." Until then- "Until the shadows flee
away, I will go to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense,"
-I will go to Christ, and give myself to prayer.
"The clouds hang heavy round my way,
I cannot see;
But through the darkness I believe,
God leadeth me.
'It is sweet to keep my hand in His,
While all is dim,
To close my weary, aching eyes,
And follow Him.
"Through many a thorny path He leads,
My tired feet;
Through many a path of tears I go;
But tis sweet
To know that He is close to me
My God, my Guide;
He leadeth me, and so I walk