This article first appeared in the January 1, 1945 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.21, #7) and was a New year's meditation written by editor Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
A Safe Refuge
"Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast." Psalm 57:1
Out of the depths of trouble and fear to the heights of praise and glorying in the God of our salvation.
And that, too, on the wings of prayer!
This ascent characterizes; the contents of many of the Old Testament Psalms. Many of them are occasioned by trouble and distress, are pressed from the heart of the poet by fear and anguish of soul because of the enemy that oppresses him, that surrounds him on every side, that makes it humanly impossible for him to survive. And out of those depths he struggles, dinging by faith to Him that is invisible, embracing His immutable promises, ascending on the wings of prayer to the glorious heights of victorious confidence on which he is able to break forth in joyous praise and glory to* Jehovah his refuge and strength.
Thus it is also in this psalm.
He is in deep affliction.
His soul is among lions, surrounded by the sons of men, “whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.” vs. 4. They have prepared a net for his steps; his soul is bowed down; they have digged a pit before him. vs. 6. Deeply he feels the reproach of him that would swallow him up. vs. 3. Calamities threaten to overwhelm him.
Yet, although his soul is bowed down, and he sees no way out, his faith is not crushed, and by that faith he struggles upward to the mountain. peaks of confidence in the Lord his God. He implores God's; mercy over him, and cries unto the Lord, the God of his salvation that performs all things for him. vss. 1, 2. He determines to take his refuge in the shadow of God's wings, until “these calamities be overpast." vs. 1. He grows confident that Jehovah shall send forth his mercy and his truth. vs. 3. And his heart is fixed: he will sing and give praise unto the Lord among the nations, and will declare that His mercy is great unto the heavens, and His truth unto the clouds, vss. 7-10.
Out of the depths to the heights of faith!
And is not this characteristic of the life of' each child of God in the world?
Is he not always in the depths?
And does he not always, as long as he is in this world, and in the body of this death, cry unto the God of his salvation out of the depths?
And is it not true that on the mighty wings of prayer he ascends unto the heights of joy, and peace, and victory over the world?
The victory of faith!
These calamities. . . . .
In the shadow off thy wings will I take my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.
The psalmist refers to the calamities of the moment, to certain special and very concrete calamities that were threatening his destruction at that particular time.
The superscription in the original informs us that the psalm refers to a time when David was in the cave. Whether this means the cave of Adullam, I Sam. 22:1, or the cave of Engedi, I Sam. 24:3, we know not. Nor does it matter as far as the meaning of “these calamities" is concerned. It is evident that the psalmist at this time was bitterly persecuted by Saul and his men, and that they threatened his life. Of this he speaks when he complains that his soul is among lions, in the midst of cruel enemies that set a snare for his feet, and that would swallow him up. And he declares that he will make his refuge in the shadow of Jehovah's wings until those particular calamities are overpast. And in that particular, concrete sense, we, too, may well apply these words as we are mindful of entering upon a new year.
O, yes, there is a special meaning in this phrase also for us, as we stand at the entrance of another year, this year of our Lord 1945.
Dark clouds of evil are lowering overhead!
How miserably superficial and wicked appear now the revelry and shouting, the boasting and bragging, the banqueting and drunkenness whereby the men of this world, whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, and who seek and mind earthly things, hail the new year, as if there were any reason to expect a better world, a world of peace and happiness, in either the immediate or remote future. . . .
It sounds like the drunken prattle of those whose life's slogan is: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
How vain it seems for men to meet one another on this morning of the first day of 1945, and wish for the blessing of a happy new year!
Is not the world full of misery and corruption as never before? Has there, then, ever been a time, when all the idle and proud boasts of mere men were so utterly put to shame as on this very first day of another year? Is not even now the magnificent structure of man’s culture and civilization shaking and tottering- on its very foundations? Where is now man's wisdom, man's ingenuity, man's good will and purpose to build a better world, to create lasting peace on earth among the nations? Was there, then, ever a war so tremendous in scope, so dreadful in its intensity, so bent upon destruction, as the world-conflict in the throes of which we find ourselves at the present time?
Must not the words choke in our throat and die upon our lips, when we try to wish one another a happy new year, and at the same time squarely face reality and the dark foreboding of the future?
Are not our hearts heavy?
Were not our sons torn from our hearths and hearts to shed their blood on the far flung battlefields of the world'? And is happiness quite possible when we consider their empty places in our homes, at our tables, and contemplate the possible suffering and fear and agony they may have to endure at this very moment? Do not our anxious hearts, in anticipation, a thousand times pass through the agony of the moment when the messenger of evil shall bring us the tidings that our loved ones left their lives on the blood-soaked battlefield in the far away land? . . . .
O, indeed, there is plenty of reason for us, on this first day of the year 1945, to speak of the calamities of the moment in a very special sense of the word.
In the depths we are.
What then? Shall, while our soul is bowed down with grief and anxiety, our faith despair, and our spirits be crushed, and shall we remain in the depths?
Or shall we assume the devil-may-care attitude of ungodly men, and in drunken revelry close our eyes to stark reality, and speak of a “Happy New Year" anyway?
Or shall we put our trust in the vain words of men, of the mighty and great of this world, that speak of chariots and of horses, of the power of Man, when they assure us that soon the calamities will be overpast, and that the dawn of a better day is already within the range of their vision?
We shall do nothing of the kind.
Vain is the help of man. And the expectation of the wicked must surely perish.
No, we shall not remain in the depths to be crushed by grief and oppression-. We shall not drunkenly and foolishly close our eyes to reality, and speak of happiness where there is none. We shall not put our trust in princes and in the great of this world, in the might and wisdom of men. But we shall cling to the mighty God of our salvation, as seeing the invisible, and out of the depths we shall cry unto Him!
We shall trust in His mercy which is unto the heavens, and in His truth which is unto the clouds.
And we shall make our refuge under the shadow of His wings.
Until these calamities be overpast!
Till they be overpast!
But will they, then, ever come to an end?
O, to be sure, these calamities may be considered an especially dark cloud, that will soon be overpast.
Not always will David's soul be among these lions that now threaten him with death and destruction. His stay in the cave, surrounded by Saul and his men who seek his life, will not be for ever.
And. the same is true of our present calamities.
All men somehow look forward to the time when they shall be overpast, when the glad news shall reach us that the war is over, that the armistice has been declared, that the peace treaty is signed, that the nations are about to lay down their arms, and that our boys may return home. They long for that time, and they earnestly scan the sky of events to discover whether this dark and lowering cloud, of evil is almost overpast, and the sunshine of peace and earthly happiness may presently be expected to pierce the darkness and to gladden our hearts.
And, no doubt, there is good reason for this expectation.
These calamities will overpass, sooner or later.
But what then?
Or is it of any real avail that the present calamities, the troubles and fears and sufferings of the moment, shall have come to an end? Is it not true, then, that calamities like the present are very common in the world, that in recent years they have swept down upon us with increasing frequency in spite of the avowed intentions of men to prevent them, that they have grown in intensity, so that the periods of relative peace and prosperity seem like patches of pale sunshine between ever fiercer and more destructive storms?
And, in general, are not the present calamities but an emphatic manifestation and reminder of the one great, universal calamity of sin and death, and of the wrath of God under which we pine and die? And is it, then, of any avail that we make our refuge under the shadow of Jehovah's wings until these calamities are overpast, unless we include in these calamities all our misery of sin and death, and look (forward to the time when the great cloud of universal calamity shall have overpast, and the light of the eternal day shall shine upon us from the face of God in Christ?
In the ultimate sense this is the implication of David's prayer and confession.
For David is the anointed of the Lord, ordained by Jehovah to sit on the throne of Israel. As such he suffers. Because of this the enemies set themselves against him, and take counsel together to 'destroy him. For, though the royal seed runs in the line of Judah, the present incumbent of the throne is (from the tribe of Benjamin, and he is determined to maintain his position, and to kill the anointed of the Lord. Yet according to the promise of the Lord, David could not perish at the hand of Saul. He will he exalted out of his present calamities to Israel's throne. Hence, until all these calamities will be overpast, he makes his refuge in the shadow of Jehovah's wings, trusting that He will deliver him.
Yet, in all this David is but the type.
And his sufferings are but the type of the unspeakable sufferings of Him that was to come, upon Whose head the dark cloud of all the calamities of sin and death, of all the enmity of the powers of darkness that would set themselves against him, and of the fierce wrath of God against the iniquity of His people, would break and burst, and would pour out its untold agony of hell. . . .
On Him were the promises!
He was to be exalted to the throne of the kingdom of heaven for ever!
And in all His sufferings He truly said: “I will make my refuge in the shadow of thy wings, until these calamities be overpast!"
And He was not put to shame.
For it was God that justified Him! And in His resurrection the lowering cloud of His calamities, and of all our calamities, was dispelled for ever!
That resurrection is our only hope!
It is the light of the eternal day piercing the darkness of our present death,
The end of all our calamities!
Finding a safe retreat!
Under His wings!
In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge!
As the little chicks run to the protection of their mother hen's wings in the time of danger, so I will seek a safe refuge in the care and protection of Jehovah!
And this refuge we need.
For, although the enemy is overcome, sin is atoned and blotted out, the world is overcome, and death is swallowed up in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; although, therefore, centrally, in Him, and in His exaltation at the right hand of God, the dark cloud of these calamities, and of all calamities, is overpast, yet, in our flesh we are still under the cloud, end the perfect day cannot dawn until the final resurrection and the perfect revelation of God’s tabernacle with men in the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
And under that cloud, in the body of this death, we still suffer many things: pain and sorrow, persecution and tribulation, reproach and scorn, destruction and war, sin and death. . . .
And we need the comfort of the conscious assurance that we are under the wings of the God of our salvation, His power and grace, His protection and care, His truth and faithfulness, His unfathomable love, and His everlasting and abundant mercy, always forgiving, always saving, always preserving, always delivering us from death and leading us unto everlasting life and glory!
That retreat is safe!
For He is the almighty Lord, sovereign also over all our calamities, and using them unto our salvation!
And to make our refuge by faith in the shadow of His wings is rest and strong consolation.
Peace that passeth understanding!
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.