by Abraham Kuyper
Psalm 61:4 (R.V.):
4I will take refuge in the covert of Thy wings.
The deepest question that governs our Christian life is that which touches our personal fellowship with God. And in the Book of Psalms, which is the richest outpouring of a devout heart, you see how the inmost longings ever and again go out after this Divine fellowship.
Certainly there is in the Book of Psalms also a mention of the tie that binds us to God as the Creator and Supporter of all things; and of the relation in which by faith he who fears God stands to the Holy One; but both this tie and this relation are still something else than fellowship with the Eternal.
The heart of him who fears God does not rest until it has come to such a conscious fellowship with its God, that between itself and the heart of God there is mutual knowledge, the one of the othereven the clear sense that God has knowledge of us and we of Him.
What we between people call mutual companionship, intimate association, union of soul with soul in faithfulness and in love, is implied from of old in Psalm 25:14: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant."
Even as two intimately connected friends go through life together, and mutually unbosom themselves to each other, and in this intimate walk through life become the confidents of each other's secrets, so it is told of Old Testament heroes of the faith that they "walked with God."
And although these are but figures and terms borrowed from those that are used to describe human happenings; and although, when we would describe our appreciation of our fellowship with our God, we should never use these terms and figures except with deep reverence for His Divine Majesty, nevertheless, it is equally certain that God Himself has pointed them out to us for this end.
The Scripture sets the example in this, even to the extent that it borrows pictures from animal-life by which to illustrate this fellowship with God. As Jesus portrayed His tender love for Jerusalem by the figure of a hen that gathers her chickens under her wings, so David not only said that he would abide in the tabernacle of the Lord for ever, but also that he would trust under the covert of God's wings (Psalm 61:4).
And why not?
Is it not God Himself Who in the world of winged creatures has created this exhibition of tender fellowship, as the expression of what moved His own Divine heart? And is not every such expressive, touching picture of love's fellowship in nature a God-given help by which to interpret to ourselves what we perceive and feel, or only dimly sense, in the mystic depths of the heart?
Even the vast range of creation falls short of material for this, and therefore the Lord has purposely placed still another picture before us, by which to illustrate the intimacy of fellowship with Himself; even that of living together in one house.
The house, or with nomadic tribes the tent, was not, of course, a part of creation, but was mechanically constructed by human hands. When Jabal came to do this, the social life of man took an incredible step forward.
The house, as the family dwelling, was foreshadowed in creation. Jesus called attention to the fact that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. And was there no deep sense of want expressed in the words that He, the Son of man, had no home of His own wherein to lay his head?
Intimacy of life is only born from dwelling together under one roof-tree; the family home is the nursery of love; it is the external hedging in, with the tie of the most intimate fellowship of life.
And in Scripture the house, or dwelling, is presented as a means by which to make our fellowship with God assume a definite form. God also has a house; and the idea of dwelling in the house of our God is the richest thought that is given us, to set forth the most intimate and tenderest fellowship with Him.
Purposely, therefore, the Tabernacle of the Lord is erected in the wilderness, and presently it is rendered permanent in the Temple on Mount Zion. Moreover, it is stated, that at Horeb God Himself showed Moses the pattern of the Tabernacle. Hence Tabernacle and Temple were actual representations of what exists in heaven.
And in connection with this, the ardent longing to dwell in the house of the Lord finds expression in the Psalms. The Psalmist would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, than dwell in the palaces of the ungodly (Psalm 84:10).
"One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
But this was not permanent. Tabernacle and Temple rendered only temporary service. They were a transient form in the rich unfolding of consecrated life. And when Jesus came He said: "Woman, the hour cometh, and now is, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father, but when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21, 23). This means that without emblems, symbols, or outward forms, worship shall be spiritual, as from heart to heart.
If, therefore, we feel a holy sympathy for David's burning desire, to dwell in the house of the Lord, we may not apply this to any earthly house, not even to the visible Church. That would be the return to the dispensation of shadows. That temple is no longer a symbolic house of God made of wood and stone, but the majestic palace of God in the heavens.
God dwelleth in the heavens. There is the Tabernacle of his Majesty. There is the Temple of his Honor. When Jesus teaches us to pray, "Our Father, who art in Heaven," He detaches the soul from everything earthly, and lifts up our heart on high, in order that we shall no more think in earthly terms of the Majesty of our God.
To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life, means: every morning, noon and night to be so clearly conscious of our fellowship with the Living God, that our thoughts go out to Him, that we hear the sound of His voice in our soul, that we are aware of His sacred presence round about us, that we experience His operations upon our heart and conscience, and shun everything we would not dare to do in His immediate presence.
The Psalmist goes one step further, which plainly shows that already under the Old Covenant, amid the shadows, the faithful grasped the higher reality. For, he adds, "I will take refuge in the covert of Thy wings" (Psalm 61:4, Revised Version).
To think of the glory of God above, to picture life in His holy Temple, to have walks among angels and saints before the white throne, is not yet enough. The house of the Lord may enclose our fellowship with Him, but in that house we shall look for God Himself.
One must live with a person in his house, in order to enjoy his company, the house is nothing to us without him, and he is our first and chief concern in it.
Such is the case with our search after fellowship with God.
"Sursum corda!"lift up your hearts. I will lift up my heart to the trysting-place of Thy holiness.
But this is not the end. In order to find God, we must dwell in His house. To be near unto Him in His house is the sole end and aim of all godly desire and endeavor.
And to express this in terms of passionate tenderness and daring boldness, David exclaims: "I will take refuge in the covert of Thy wings." Here soul meets soul; here is the sacred touch; here one perceives, and experiences, and realizes that nothing stands between ourselves and our God; that His arms embrace us, and that we cleave unto Him.
But his imagery is attended with danger lest it be taken too literally, and God, in an unholy sense, be interpreted in terms of matter. False mysticism has shown to what errors this may lead.
But if you realize this, and are on your guard, this imagery is supremely rich and superbly glorious.
It means that you possess God Himself, and that you have made fellowship with Him a reality. Provided that it is in Christ, by your Savior alone, that you, the impure and unholy, are initiated into this tender fellowship with your God.
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This devotional classic offers 110 meditations on a single thought from Psalm 73: "As for me, it is good to be near to God." The author states, "The fellowship of being near unto God must become reality ... it must permeate and give color to our feeling, our perceptions, our sensations, our thinking, our imagining, our willing, our acting, our speaking. It must not stand as a foreign factor in our life, but it must be the passion that breathes throughout our whole existence."
The meditations reflect the blending of spiritual vigor with doctrinal loyalty so consistently expressed in the life of Abraham Kuyper. These are devotions with true substance, avoiding the extremes about which Kuyper adds a word of caution: "Stress in creedal confession, without drinking from the Living Fountain, runs dry in barren orthodoxy, just as truly as spiritual emotion, without clearness in confessional standards, makes one sink in the bog of sickly mysticism."
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch political leader and Calvinist theologian. Elected to parliament in 1874, he became Prime Minister in 1901 and served in that capacity until 1905. As a theologian, he revived a systematic, orthodox Calvinism. He founded the Free Reformed Church and the Free University of Amsterdam. His other works include Principles of Sacred Theology, Lectures on Calvinism, and The Work of the Holy Spirit
Further information about Abraham Kuyper's life can be seen in the translator's "Biographical Note"; further information about To Be Near Unto God can be found in Abraham Kuyper's "Preface" to that book.