“He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings shall you trust.”
Using thus the maternal instinct as an emblem of His own parental tenderness, God compares Himself to the mother bird which fosters, cherishes and protects her little ones. You have stood, sometimes, in the farmyard and there you have noticed the little chicks as they cowered down under the hen. She has given some note of warning that betokened danger–perhaps your very presence discomposed her and made her betray some little fluttering of fear. She called her little ones by her peculiar cry. They came to her and then, stooping down and spreading out her wings, she covered them and they were safe.
You would have noticed that after they were safely nestled there, the warmth of her feathers made them seem peculiarly happy and at ease. You could hear them clucking to one another and playfully pushing one another sometimes out of their places, but evidently cheerful, contented and peaceful. It was something more than the protection which a soldier would give to a comrade–it was the protection of a mother of her young. There was love in it. There was homeliness, relationship, kindliness, heart-working in it all. It was not merely the relief that might supply a little cold comfort, but the breast feathers came down upon the little ones and there they rested cozily and comfortably, serene and unmolested.
Well now, that is precisely the idea that the text teaches. So, at least, I understand it. So, evidently, Dr. Watts thought, when he wrote the well-known paraphrase–
“Just as a hen protects her brood,
From birds of prey that seek their blood,
Under her feathers, so the Lord
Makes His own arm His people’s guard.”
There is even more fullness of meaning than the doctor has compassed. Not only is protection from danger vouchsafed, but a sense of comfort and happiness is communicated, making the child of God feel that he is at home under the shadow of the Almighty. He feels he has all the comforts that he can need when he has once come to cower down under a blessed sense of the Divine Presence and to feel the warm flowing out of the very heart of God, as He reveals Himself in the most tender relationship towards His weak and needy servants.
Carrying this picture in your mind’s eye, may it often cheer and encourage you. Though I have nothing new, no bewitching novelty to introduce to you, I want to bring this old, old Truth of God vividly before your minds, to examine it in detail and press it home to your souls.
- Let our starting-point be a question–a question of paramount interest–WHEN MAY THIS TEXT BE RELIED UPON BY A BELIEVER? “He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust.” Well, it may be relied upon in cases of extreme peril. I do not doubt that servants of God, in times of danger at sea, when the huge billows have roared and the tempest has raged and the vessel seemed likely to go to pieces, have often cheered their hearts with such a thought as this. “Now, He that holds the waters in the hollow of His hand will take care of us, and cover us with His feathers and under His wings may we trust.”
Perhaps at this very moment, down in some cabin, or amidst the noise and tumult and the raging of the ocean, when many are alarmed, there are Christians with calm faces, patiently waiting their Father’s will, whether it shall be to reach the port of Heaven, or to be spared to come again to land into the midst of life’s trials and struggles once more. They feel that they are well-cared for. They know that the storm has a bit in its mouth and that God holds it in and nothing can hurt them–nothing can happen to them but what God permits. On the dry land, too, the same blessed text has often comforted the Lord’s people. Some are particularly timid in times of storm when the thunder comes, peal after peal and the lightning flashes follow each other–when it seems as if the very earth did tremble and the skies fled away from the glance of an angry God.
Oh, how it calms the anxious heart, stills the foreboding fears, and makes the heart tranquil to feel that He covers us with His feathers and that under His wings we may trust! I always feel ashamed to stay indoors when peals of thunder shake the solid earth and lightning flashes like arrows from the sky. Then God is abroad and I love to walk out in the open space and to look up and mark the opening gates of Heaven as the lightning reveals far beyond and enables you to look into the unseen. I like to hear my heavenly Father’s voice, but I do not think we could ever come to a state of peace in such times as those if we did not feel that He was near–that He was our Friend–that He would not hurt the children of His own love. It would be contrary to His own Nature and altogether apart from the kindness of His Character, as well as the constancy of His Covenant engagements, that He should suffer anything to touch His people that could do them real ill.
Nor is it only from violent commotions in the physical world that you are liable to suffer shocks. Many of you have known times of disruption in the mercantile world which have been the occasion of frightful horror. The wheels of trade have run off the tramline through some violent collision of opposing interests. Or on a larger scale the whole system of commerce may appear to have collapsed as with an earthquake. Great houses, whose very names were the bulwarks of credit, have suddenly tottered and fell. While curious eves have looked on with marvel, many have been the humble people struggling hard for a bare livelihood who were involved in loss and disaster which paralyzed all their efforts. Though panic has prevailed on every side, has it not been sweet, passing sweet, to find succor under the wings of the Almighty and hear His voice saying to you, “Trust in the Lord and do good, so shall you dwell in the land and verily you shall be fed”?
I know that such calamities are heavy and hard to bear. Were it not so we should never have been furnished with such strong consolation. When the foundations of enterprise are slackened and gigantic schemes burst like a bubble. When the mill is at rest and looks like the hulk of a disabled vessel. When the workshops are closed and the artisans, skilled to labor, seek a pauper’s pittance at the gates of the union–or when the affliction falls upon the fields and the folds, a blight destroying the crops and disease cutting down the oxen–these are the sorrows of the world, and chosen men of old have trusted in God nor found Him to fail in straits like these. So said one, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
Yet more, Brothers and Sisters–who among you need be reminded of the fears that seize the breast when pestilence is spreading through the land and rumors that it has approached your own doors have reached your ears? Neighbors or kinsfolk are struck down without warning. With anxious looks and eager enquiries you listen for tidings that are well near death to hear. Have you ever counted the watches of the night, dreading every sound and pondering every sensation as if it were an ominous omen? What about when the cholera has been raging, or the fever has been making havoc–when science has been baffled to find out the cause or cure of some insidious disease that walks in darkness and wastes at noonday? And when those who were prone to jeer at religion and laugh at prayer have uttered pious ejaculations and said, “This is no doubt a visitation of God”–do I need to remind you?
Well, at such times has it not been good for you to seek the cover of His wings and rely on the gracious promise, “Because you have made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, your habitation, there shall no evil befall you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling”? In all times of public calamity, in any season of domestic grief and on every occasion of personal danger, I beseech you, do not cast away your confidence which has great recompense and reward–for if your faith will not bear up under such trials as these, what is it good for? What anchorage is there for your soul? If you cannot bear these little alarms, how will you do in the swellings of Jordan, when grim Death appears in view? And amidst the terrors of the world to come, when the very pillars of the universe shall reel and all things shall pass away–how will you be able to stand calmly and serenely if these things move you?
No, Beloved, let the weakest of you play the man and as you have believed in your God, be ashamed of cowardly fear! Be as Ezra was when having once made a resolve, he resolved to abide by it at all hazard. “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him.” Pluck up courage and say within yourselves, “Now will I prove that promise true, ‘He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust.’ But texts of Scripture like this are not made to be hung up on a nail and only taken down now and then in stress of weather! Blessed be God, the promise before us is available for sunny days, too–yes, for every hour of this mortal life. When you leave your house tomorrow morning, you will little know what peril may befall you during the day. "At least,” said an old Divine, who was accustomed to spend the most part of his time in his study–“at least the studious man is safe from the accidents which shorten the lives of others.”
So he vainly thought. The very day after he had used the expression, a chimney stack fell through his study and had he happened to have been sitting where he customarily did, he must have been crushed to pieces! There are dangers everywhere and the guardian care of God can never be safely dispensed with. If we walk aright, we shall never venture upon a single day without first seeking Divine protection. How many who have escaped out of terrible storms have, nevertheless, died in a calm? Where some have passed through battles without a scar, they have afterwards been killed by an accident so slight that they would utterly have despised a precaution to avoid it. You always need Divine protection and, Believer in Christ, you shall always have it, for, “He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust.” This is for you tonight when you strip off your garments and lay your weary frame upon your bed. Then you may say, “Now, Lord, cover me with Your feathers.” And it is for you tomorrow, when you are going out to your daily labor, not knowing what may befall you, you can use the same petition, “This day, O God, grant that under Your wings I may trust.”
When–shall I ask again–may this promise be relied upon? Well, Beloved, it may be particularly relied upon in times of temptation. Earnest Christian men are not so much afraid of trials as of temptations. If you could extract the tempting element from our afflictions you would have rendered the gall devoid of at least half its bitterness. To suffer is little, but to be provoked to sin–this is the great cause of fear. “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” said the wise man. But why? It was not because poverty would be inconvenient, but lest he should sin through poverty. “Give me not riches,” he said–not because riches might not be desirable, but lest he should sin through the deceitfulness of wealth. The great horror of a Christian is sin. Find him a place on earth where he could live without sin and there he would fix his residence, not asking you whether it were a dungeon or a palace!
If there were a place where my temper could never be ruffled. A place where I could never be agitated into pride or be silenced into cowardice. If I could find a spot where sloth would never molest me, or where earthly passions would never rise up for my casting down, thrice happy would I be to borrow the wings of a dove and fly there at once! As your temptations are just the things which you dread, it behooves you to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but remember, if the Providence of God should at any other time constrain you to go where you are tempted and must be tempted, you may then fall back upon this gracious Word of God–“He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust.”
I have noticed that young people who are often exposed to severe temptations are very generally preserved from falling into sin. But I have noticed that others, both old and young, whose temptations were not remarkably severe, have been generally those who have been the first to fall. In fact, it is a lamentable thing to have to say, but lamentably true it is, that at the period of life when you would reckon, from the failure of the passions, the temptation would be less vigorous, that very period is marked more than any other by the most solemn transgressions among God’s people. I think I have heard that many horses fall at the bottom of a hill because the driver thinks the danger past, and the need to hold the reins with a firm grip less pressing as they are just about to renew their progress and begin to ascend again.
So it is often with us–when we are not tempted through imminent danger we are the more tempted through slothful ease. I think it was Ralph Erskine who said, “There is no devil so bad as no devil.” The worst temptation that ever overtakes us, is, in some respects, preferable to our being left alone altogether without any sense of caution or stimulus to watch and pray. Be always on your watchtower and you shall always be secure.
In anticipating the temptations of next week–you working men who labor side-by-side with skeptics. You young women living in graceless families. You merchants who have to go among others whose mode of conducting trade is not clean. (You each and all know the temptations common to your own lot in the busy commonwealth). Resolve in the strength of God that you will walk uprightly and that as Christians you will not soil your garments. And then you may come to your heavenly Father for His protection and say to Him, “My God, I am more afraid of sin than I am of lightning, or of fire, or of the murderer’s dagger. Keep me day by day from sin. Defend me from evil. ‘Cover me with Your feathers, for under Your wings will I trust.’”
So, again, this text may be very blessedly applied to our souls and I hope it will be, in times of expected trials. I do not know that it is right for us to anticipate trials at all. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” We ought never to sit down and begin fretting ourselves about what may happen, because the ill we dread may never come to pass. Many a true servant of God has said to himself–“What shall I do when I get old? I am just able, now, to pick up a living, but what shall I do when these withered limbs can no longer earn my daily bread?” Do? Why, you will have the same Father, then, as you have now to succor you and you will have the same Providence then as now to supply your needs! You thank God for your daily bread, now, and you shall have your daily bread then, for He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust!
Some of God’s servants who have been thus afraid have had no cause of complaint, for their latter days have been blessed. They have been placed in comfortable circumstances and they have had to wonder at the liberal hand which furnished their table and to chide the unbelief of their own fretful spirits. Others of them have been taken away from the ills they forecast and conveyed to Heaven long before they had reached anything like the period of bodily infirmity or mental imbecility they dreaded. So with you, dear Friends. God will take care of you. Only rest on Him.
It is bad to make troubles. I always say of home-made troubles, that they are very like home-made clothes–they never fit well and they are generally a long while before they are worn out. You had better take the troubles God sends you–they are more suitable for you! You will be able to carry them, and you will be able to get over them by His Grace. Do not begin to think of what you will do in the year, 1899. Why, Jesus Christ may come before then, or you may be absent from the body and present with Him before then! But, if you are of such a nervous temper that you cannot help sometimes anticipating, or if you are so speculatively disposed that you will carry your almanacs with you and chronicle black days in the coming years, then just make a note of this in the margin–“He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings shall you trust.”
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may, it cannot bring us anything but what God shall bear us through. So let it come and let it go. The Lord’s name be praised! We shall bless His name in it and after it and why not before it? There is another hour in which this text will be particularly consoling to us, and that is the hour of death. Ah, we may sing what we will and say what we will, but dying is no child’s play. Thank God it is going Home! We know that it is not death in some respects. It is but a change in our mode of life. Absent from the body we are present with the Lord! But still, we cannot think of that death dew which will lie cold on our brow, the failing voice and the glazing eye, without some natural shrugs. When we would gladly go forth to meet it, we shrink back again to life–“Fond of our prison and our clay.” But what shall we do when we come to die, when the physician can no longer help us and the beating of the pulse waxes faint and few? Why, then, “He shall cover us with His feathers and under His wings shall we trust.”
Oh, it will be so blessed to go cowering down right under the shadow of the Almighty, hiding ourselves as the little chickens do in the hen’s feathers–losing our own individuality in the realization of our union to Christ–finding that it is not death to die, but coming nearer to God in very deed, in blissful experience, nearer than ever we were before! Looking forward into that unknown future, across the shoreless sea and listening to the billows as we hear them sounding in the dark, we thank God that they are not billows of fire to us–that they are not waves of everlasting wrath, but that they are waves of eternal bliss!
But, be they what they may, whatever there may be in the future, whatever may be meant by the millennium and the burning of the earth, and the wreck of nature–whatever may be meant by vials and trumpets and by all besides in the arena of prophecy, “He shall cover us with His feathers and under His wings shall we trust.” And amidst the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds, safe, safe, safe and near our God and blessed eternally shall we be! Beloved, in such an hour may such an oracle as this come rolling sweetly into your souls to cheer and comfort you!
II. Having thus answered a first question and told you when this promise may be relied upon, let us proceed to answer another question–HOW MAY WE EXPECT THE TEXT TO BE FULFILLED? It may possibly be verified to us by our being preserved altogether from the danger which we dread. God has often, as predicted in the present Psalm, in times of pestilence and famine and war, preserved His people by remarkable Providences. Especially has this been the case in the experience of those of His people who have been lively in their faith and careful to follow His instructions. Now, if there is one instruction that Jesus Christ has plainly given to a Christian, it is this–“I say unto you, resist not evil.”
Our Brethren of the Society of Friends have been admirably firm and consistent in their declaration that they have no right to bear arms. In the times of the massacre in Ireland, when Protestants took a town, they generally cut the throats of the Catholics. And when Roman Catholics took a town, they always returned the compliment by killing the Protestants, but the cry always was–“Spare the Quakers! Spare the Quakers!” They had hurt no one–they had taken up no arms. Strange to tell, through that long and bitter warfare only three Quakers died and those three had fled from their homes to find a refuge in a neighboring castle with the troops. Of course they rested on an arm of flesh and it failed them.
When the British bolts were flying through Copenhagen, fast and furious, and the Danish town seemed given over to destruction by Nelson’s terrific bombardment, there was one house upon which not a shot or shell ever fell. Nelson and the British knew nothing of that house, of course, but there it stood, as safely as old Rahab’s house when the walls of Jericho fell down. It was the house of a Quaker, who, when an order was given for all to defend their houses in a particular way, said he had nothing to do with fighting. The man rested in God and God’s protection was wonderfully spread over him. In the literature of the Society of Friends, there is a large number of anecdotes showing how God has especially marked out times of peril for preserving those men who scrupulously refused to defend themselves and rested on the promise of their faithful God.
We all know how singularly the Lord has shielded those who trusted in Him in the times of pestilence. That old house, still standing in the High Street at Chester, is a lasting proof of the power of faith, with its old letters cut in the black wood, “God’s Providence is my inheritance.” When everybody else was flying out of Chester into the country, the man who lived in that house just wrote that inscription up over the door and stayed in the town, depending on God that he should be preserved. And none in his house fell a victim to that black death which was slaying its thousands on all sides. Strong faith has always a particular immunity in times of trouble. When a man has really, under a sense of duty–under a conscientious conviction–rested alone in God, he has been enabled to walk where the thickest dangers were flying, all unharmed. He has put his foot upon the adder and the young lion and the dragon has he trampled under his feet. Having confidence in God, God has verified and vindicated His promise and the child of God that could so trust has never been put to confusion.
There are some dangers from which the Providence of God does not preserve the Lord’s people, but still He covers them with His feathers in another sense, by giving them Divine Grace to bear up under their trouble. It little matters, you know, whether a man has no burden and no strength, or a heavy burden and great strength. Probably of the two, if it were put to the most of us, we should prefer to have the burden and the strength. I know I should. Now there is generally this for you–that if you have little trouble, you will have little faith–but if you have great faith, you must expect to have great trouble. A manly spirit would choose to take the trouble and take the faith, too. Well, then, God will give you this cover with His feathers–though you have to carry the load you shall have strength enough to carry it. You shall find, as a dear saint once said, the sweetest thing next to Christ in all the world was Christ’s Cross. And that to carry Christ’s Cross was the next best thing to beholding His Glory. You shall find your afflictions become your mercies and your trials become your comforts. You shall glory in tribulation and find light in the midst of gloom and have joy unspeakable in the season of your sorrow. Thus God covers us as with His feathers.
In yet another way does God set seal to this record when by His Grace, having sustained His servants in their trouble He brings them out of it greatly enriched. Oh, it is a great blessing to be put through the fire if you come out purified! It is a sweet mercy to have to go through the floods if some filthiness may be removed! The children of Israel went down to Egypt to sojourn there, but after hard servitude and cruel oppression they came up out of it with silver and gold, much enriched by their bondage. Did you ever notice that memorable passage in which the Lord has borne witness to His gracious heed for them before He brought about their deliverance? “God heard their groaning and God remembered His Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel and God had respect unto them.” Comment is needless. In the season of their direst grief God was All in All to them. And you, child of God, shall losenothing by your losses–you shall be a gainer by them, a greater gainer than others by their gains–for all your losses and troubles shall not touch your immortal part! As bars of iron make not a prison or a cage to a free soul, so afflictions that are merely temporal and bodily shall not hamper or lessen the joy of an immortal spirit. No, we shall mount above the billows of our griefs and sing as we lift our heads above the spray! We shall rise above the clouds of our present afflictions and look down upon them as they float beneath our feet, rejoicing that the Lord has borne us, as upon wings, above them all, to bring us to Himself!
So you see, either by keeping us out of trouble, by helping us to bear it, or by bringing us through it with great gain to ourselves, “He shall cover us with His feathers and under His wings shall we trust.”
III. A third enquiry suggests itself to me, in responding to which I shall be very brief–WHY MAY WE BE QUITE SURE THAT IT SHALL BE SO? You may find a strong ground of personal assurance in the fact that faith enlists the sympathy of God. Faith seems to me to enlist everybody’s sympathy. There is a blind man going along and he wants to get across the street. He puts perfect confidence in you, though he cannot see you and does not know you. He feels sure that you will lead him across. Now, I know you will.
If there were a little child that had lost its way and it came running up to you, a big, tall man, and said, “O, Sir, I do not know my way home, nor where I came from, but I feel quite sure you will take care of me till I have found my mother.” Well, you would not, any one of you, turn round and spurn him away–you would feel as if you were firmly held with chains around you. Now, it is a point with God that He always will be as good as you think Him to be, yes, and a great deal better! And if you but think that He will be a gracious and merciful God to you and so rely on Him as His child, it is not in the heart of God to turn away from a humble faith that dares to lay hold upon Him. Try it, dear Friends, and you will prove it true.
And you may be quite sure that He will cover you with His feathers, because we have hundreds of promises to that effect. There is not time to quote them all, but there is one like this, “He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And here is another, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.” And then there is this, “Fear you not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God! I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.” “Fear not; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be you confounded.” There are hundreds of promises like these, and will He break them? You keep your promise to your child and will not God keep His promise to you? O rest in Him, then! He shall cover us with His feathers, for His own Word declares it!
Moreover, you are His child and what will not a father do for His own dear child? Were one a stranger you might take little heed though he were in trouble, in danger, or in deep distress–but your child, your own child–oh, you cannot rest while he suffers! How agitated we are when our little ones are sick. How we get the best advice for them. When they are in pain how willingly would we take their pain if we could relieve them and spare those cries that seem to pierce our heart as well as our ears! If anybody hurts them, why the most placid of us find our temper soon roused. “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.”
Though He bears long with their adversaries, yet will He come to the help of His own beloved ones, for He is fatherly in all the sensitiveness of His heart, as well as in all the judiciousness of His chastisements. He will protect His own. Remember there is one point of which God is always jealous, that is His own honor. There is no verse of any hymn we ever sing more Scriptural than that one we were singing just now–
is engaged to save
The meanest of His sheep.
All that His heavenly Father gave
His hands securely keep."
Christ must convey even the smallest boat safe into the port of Paradise. He must not suffer one of these little ones to perish, for such is not the will of our Father who is in Heaven. Come then, you tremblers, you doubters, you little ones, you that think you cannot have a part in the promise! Come now, come nestle down under those great wings which seem so close to you! The wings that are lined with the feathers of the Eternal will be strong wings, as though they were bars of iron through which no storms of trouble can ever beat–through which the enemy, though he comes from Hell itself–shall not be able to drive his darts. Come to the strong wings yet so softly feathered, so tenderly lined with loving kindness and affection that the weakest and most trembling may find comfort there!
And now, dear Friends, although I have not said anything new, yet I know that this is full of comfort to God’s people. It must be so! At least, if I am one of them, I know it is, for it has often greatly cheered and gladdened me in the times of darkness and despondency, (and I have plenty of such times), to feel that I could abide under the wings of my God and all was well and all was safe. But what must it be to be without God? Blessed be His name, we do not mean to try it, but what must it be? “Sam,” said a man once to his Negro, “would you give up your religion and be made a king, or would you keep your Jesus Christ and be flogged to death?” “Oh, Massa,” said he, “give me Jesus Christ and flog me to death 20 times if you will! I could never give Him up! He is my joy and my comfort.”
And truly we can say that! Give us but a sense of Divine love and we will not strike about our condition. Only to know that God is our Friend we will not ask who else is on our side, for having God we have all! Let who will be our enemies–all must be well when God befriends us! What must you be without God, some of you? You may be trying to satisfy your soul with the love of kindred–your wife and children are your only inheritance under the sun. That is better than some men strive after. But they are dying comforts–there is a thorn in all these roses, sweet roses as they are. I do not think the dearest wife and the most beloved children can really fully fill the heart. I know you need something more sometimes. I know you do!
Others of you have been trying to fill your hearts full with those idle associates of yours, those jolly companions, those jolly fellows, just the sort you delight to spend an evening with. They are poor comforts when you are sick and they will be poorer comforts, still, when you come to die. You must not suppose that if you loved Jesus Christ and put your trust in Him, you would give up the joy of life. You would just have found it! You would, then, begin to be happy because you would have found what your soul needs to fill it. As quaint old Quarles says–“The heart is a triangle and all the world is a globe and you cannot fill a triangle with a globe. It is nothing but the Trinity that can fill the heart.” Let Father, Son and Spirit get into the heart by a living faith and the heart is right full to the brim and the man is content in all his trials!
I would you had Christ to be yours! He is to be had, my Friend. Whoever trusts in Him is saved. He is God–worthy to be trusted! Moreover He died, the Just for the unjust, bearing our sins. Depend upon the merit of that death of His and you shall be saved! God bring you into a state of faith and bless you now for Christ’s sake. Amen. PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON–Psalm 91.