a place of refuge

Last night after church we saw a fox. It came round the corner looking anxious but when it saw everyone standing around it ran back again and disappeared into someone’s garden. It was probably scared of the fireworks, poor thing.

It reminded me (in a roundabout way) about a story/anecdote I read once – about a deer being chased by dogs, just about on its last legs, running through the woods until it saw someone’s cottage, where it bolted in for its life. The man saw it running in and slammed the door after it to keep it safe inside. When the hunt turned up in hot pursuit and challenged him he said no way could they have it – it had fled to him for refuge in a time of utter helplessness and he wasn’t going to betray it by handing it over to be killed now. (Another version of this story is in the back of my mind though, unless it’s a different story – some creature like a rabbit that was small enough to be sheltered inside a man’s coat – I can’t decide which one I like better.)

The bigger point though which was being made on the basis of that anecdote is that it can be seen as illustrating the spiritual case of a soul fleeing for refuge from pursuers much more powerful and determined than itself. Not in everyone’s experience, but sometimes, a person can feel that they have relentless and merciless adversaries hard on their heels, what the old writers spoke of as the terrors of the law, and an accusing conscience. With no way of shaking them off they’re in just as desperate a condition as these exhausted creatures – if not more so, because what gives the law and the conscience their particular power is the conviction that the law is right and good and that there is no possible excuse for having broken it in all the ways and magnitudes that you have.

In that case, the discovery of a Saviour and salvation is just as unexpected and just as exactly suited to the needs of the moment as the cottage in the woods with an open door. A scheme has been worked out in divine infinite wisdom where someone can stand and call to harrassed and frightened sinners to come to him for refuge – he provides the safe place, he can stand up to the demands of the law and the outcries of conscience, and show infallibly that justice has no claim whatsoever any more on those who have fled to him, and that conscience can rightly be quietened when God himself is satisfied with the steps that have been taken to put away sin. ‘Deliver them from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.’ ‘Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.’ For hundreds and hundreds of years this testimony has been made about the Saviour and it still stands true today: ‘Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.’

Of course it’s always a pity when such extreme measures need to be taken with anyone before they will accept that they need the very salvation which he provides – just as soon as we ever hear that there is such salvation available, free and sovereign, and from such a Saviour, glorious in his mercy and grace, we should and ideally would fall in with it there and then. But the salvation itself is available for anyone, even people who never considered themselves to be in any need of it at all and treat it as an irritating irrelevance (this was Erskine’s point), and it is objectively suited to the needs which we have (whether we’re overtly conscious of them or not). This salvation is complete, it is secure, and it is freely available to everyone who needs it.

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One thought on “a place of refuge

  1. This caught my eye in the Fourfold State:

    “… some give their hand to Christ, who give him not their heart. They that are driven to Christ by terror, will surely leave him again when that terror is gone. … Yet … when the blessed Jesus is seeking sinners …, they are bold and perverse … It is with the soul as with Noah’s dove; she was forced back again to the ark, because she could find nothing else to rest upon; but when she returned, she would have rested on the outside, if Noah had not put forth his hand and pulled her in. The Lord sends his avenger of blood in pursuit of the criminal, who with a sad heart leaves his own city, and with tears in his eyes parts with his old acquaintances, because he dare not stay with them, and flees for his life to the city of refuge. This is not at all his choice; it is forced work; necessity has no law. But when he comes to the gates, and sees the beauty of the place, the excellency and loveliness of it charm him, and then he enters it with heart and good-will, saying, ‘This is my rest, and here I will stay’ …”
    (Boston’s Fourfold State, p284 in the 1989 Banner of Truth hardback)

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