Summer and Winter
“Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.” Psalm 74:17
I suppose there are few who seriously doubt that the maker of summertime is God. There is something in every summer’s glory that tells us of the touch of the divine, for here indeed we see the handiwork of God. But notice that in our text it says a great deal more than just that God has made the summer. It says “Thou hast made the summer and the winter.”
It was an old belief which is still held by multitudes that rival deities had been at work on nature. It was not the handiwork of one god; it was the handiwork of two gods. And all the sharp antagonisms of the universe and all the contrasts amid which we live were tokens of their mutual enmity. Had one made the glory of the day and the other the darkness of the night? Had one cheered us with the genial heart and the other cursed us with the bitter cold? It was one power that made the radiant morn, and another that made the deepening shadow. There were millions of people who believed that once, and there are millions who still believe it.
How different, how superbly different, is the spiritual vision of this singer of the Psalms! It was the God of Abraham who made the summer, and it was his God who made the winter, too. The very hand that decked the summer meadow and cast the mantle of green upon the forest touched that summer glory and it died. Thou hast made the summer and the winter. Thou hast clothed and thou hast stripped again. Thou hast lengthened out the shining hours, and thou hast crushed them into a little space. Thou hast created the gentle breath of evening that falls on a man with a benediction, and thou the bitter and the piercing blast.
The Summer and Winter of the Heart
Now I want you to carry that great truth into regions which the eye has never seen. I want you to believe that one God has made the summer and winter of the heart. There are experiences which come to every man which are tingling with a touch of heaven. They are so radiant and so delightful that we never doubt the hand which gave them to us. It is good to be grateful for such recurring gladness, but more is needed for a life of victory. He who would conquer must have faith to say, “Thou hast made the summer and the winter.” God is not only gracious when the sun shines, He is just as gracious when the wind is sharp. He gives the glory and He strips the glory, and on His vesture is the name of Love. He who can trace His hand when it is winter–who can still say He loves me and He knows–has won the secret of that abiding peace which the world cannot give and cannot take away.
What a summertime the Patriarch Job enjoyed! How the sun shone on him for many days! There was no one like him in the land of Uz for health and wealth and happiness and peace. And then there fell on him the blast of winter, and he was desolate and deathly cold, and “The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away,” said Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Do you remember what his wife advised him? His wife advised him to curse God and die. Do you remember what his friends advised him? It was to confess that he had played the hypocrite. But Job was far too big a man for that. “Though he slays me yet will I trust him,” he said. The faith in which he conquered was just this, “Thou hast made the summer and the winter.”
Winter Is the Loom on Which Summer Is Made
And now another question arises: How does God make the summer? What is the unseen loom on which He weaves that garment of beauty which we see Him by? Don’t consider me as being mystical when I reply that winter is the loom. It is a truth which science will corroborate that out of the winter He hath made the summer. When a child rises in the morning, what an exuberance of life there is! The eyes are bright and the feet swift to run and play; and all that life, so wonderful and glad, has been created in the womb of sleep.
We say that in winter everything is dead. That is what they said of Jairus’ daughter. And then came to Christ and looked at her and said, “The maiden is not dead, but sleepeth.” So we learn that in the dead of winter–and we never talk about the death of summer–what we call death is but the child’s sleep. Life has not vanished even though the eyes are closed. And then comes morning with all its joy and renewed life, all because of the quiet sleep of wintertime. There is no thrilling beauty of springtime without the chill of December. God needs the one if He would make the other. He fashions glory out of decay.
Consider that truth then and carry it to a higher sphere. It is as true of us as of the earth that winter holds the secret of the summer. Out of December, God will fashion June. Out of the cross, He fashions the crown. Out of the trial that was so hard to bear, He brings the beauty of the saintly character. “God is merciful to me a sinner”–that is the winter of our discontent, and yet when a man has cried that prayer of despair, he is preparing for his summer and his song.
There came to Glasgow, not so long ago, a pianist with an excellent reputation. I read the Herald’s criticism of him, and there was one thing in it that I especially noted. The Herald said that he had been always brilliant–always been wonderful as an executant–but now there was a depth of feeling in him that had never been present in his work before. Have you ever heard some of the sweetest music and the origin? The emphasis that is put on the song or the instrument? I heard a story of a young pianist who was the only child and lived a devoted life to his mother. Suddenly she died and this young man was left alone and then his breakthrough came and that broken heart was resurrected in this summer. The pieces came together and the rest is history.
Perpetual sunshine may make men brilliant, perhaps, but never deep. They don’t understand. They never know. They condescend, for they cannot sympathize, for much that is beautiful in men and women springs from the season when the tree is stripped. All that is fairest in the world rises from the darkness of the cross. My brother, sister that is also how He leads us, for to our hearts the world is but the shadow. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Why Did God Make the Summer and Winter?
There is only one answer that can be given to that question in the light of all that we have learned. Not just for their own sakes has He made them–not for their sublimity or beauty merely. Through night and day, through sunshine and through the storm, God has His purpose which is never baffled. And that one purpose–how shall we describe it? Put in simple language it is this: It is the purpose of every living thing that after summer there should be the harvest. Of course, God has made purposes in everything and every season. Undoubtedly when He made the summer beautiful, He meant it to give pleasure to His children. But there is one thing deeper than all others, and that is the mellowing of the harvest field. Nothing is beautiful in nature for its own sake. Beauty is a trust for other’s sakes. Summer and winter look beyond themselves to the time when the flower shall wither and the fruit shall come. He that liveth to himself is dead. There is he that scattereth and yet increaseth. Our gifts—-our summer sun and winter storm–these have an end to serve in other lives. We are not here simply to be happy. We are here to serve and be a blessing. And “Thou hast made our summer and our winter” that we may have the joy of harvest time.