“For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” — Psalm 84:11.
It is not for the sake of rounding out the sentence, and rendering it sonorous, that the Psalmist uses these words, sun and shield. The two sides of Jehovah’s character are thus strikingly exhibited, — His majesty, which is as the sun shining in his glory; and His mercy, which is as this sun, tempered and assuaged by the intervening shield of clouds. To the Israelites, journeying through the wilderness, we are told that God manifested Himself as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. That is, in the darkness, when they needed light, He appeared to them as a clear and bright shining sun; but in the day, when they needed protection, He became as a cloud to shelter them from the terrible heat and brightness. And perhaps it was in reference to this historical fact that the Psalmist sang: “The Lord God is a sun and shield.”
And then is added, “The Lord will give grace and glory,” which is simply a continuation of the same thought. Glory is the manifestation of God when He shines as the sun; grace is the manifestation of God when He veils His brightness in the person of Jesus Christ. “The Lord our God is a sun,” and as such He gives glory; the Lord our God is a shield, and as such He gives grace; and neither in grace nor in glory will He withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.
The words lead us naturally to speak of God’s two fold manifestation to us, and of God’s twofold gift to us.
God’s two-fold manifestation to us
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield.”
God alone is called the sun in the Scriptures; but it is most significant that the incarnate Son of God is spoken of as the “brightness,” or “the raying forth” of the Father’s glory. We can see the sun only through the medium of the light which it sheds upon us, and we can see God only in that revelation of Himself which He has made in Jesus Christ, who is the “Light of the world.” And the incarnate Lord is just as truly God in substance, in nature, and in glory, as the sunlight is the sun. How profound is this saying, as well as how apt in its imagery, “the Lord is a sun”!
The sun is the source of all life, as well as of all light. The food which sustains the body, the colours which delight the eye, the flavours which regale the senses, are all woven with the same shuttles, — the sunbeams. The pattern is different, the warp is various, but the filling is the same; the sunlight woven and wrought together into all the countless fabrics which the body needs for food and clothing and plea sure. The thousand trades by which man gains a livelihood, the sun is carrying on all the time. He is the great farmer, who grows and ripens the grain for the millions of the earth; he is the great mechanic, who, by means of steam and vapour, lifts the water-floods to the sky, and so feeds the rivers, and showers the plains, and turns the wheels; he is the great architect, who builds the trees which the carpenter only hews and polishes; and he is the great artist, who tints the flower, and colours the landscape, and paints the sun set with a beauty which the highest human skill can only imperfectly copy. It is the most potent and everywhere present object in nature which the Spirit has here selected as the image of the invisible God. And I have thus sketched his offices in order to re mind you that the sun is the fountain of life as well as the fountain of light.
Turn now to consider Him who is “the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” His is exactly this twofold office of life-giving through light-giving. The two functions are simply interchangeable. We are told that Christ was ” the light of life,” and again, that ” the life was the light of men.”
Is it not one of the most fatal errors of unbelief that it has separated what God has joined together, and presumed to feed man’s moral and spiritual nature without the light of God’s word, or the light of His Son? Hear what many are saying to-day, — that the knowledge of a personal God is not necessary in order that one should be virtuous; that the light of con science is not dependent on the light of Christ to keep it burning; that goodness is entirely possible without God; that, in a word, the inward moral life is independent of any outward Divine illumination.
Now, it is possible, no doubt, for righteousness to exist in the heart of an atheist. There are dead virtues just as there are dead works; there are consciences whose action is simply the unexpended momentum of Divine influences long since rejected; there are virtuous instincts which are simply the reminiscences of a lost and forgotten state of innocency; there are exhibitions of truth, and justice, and honour, which are simply the old coins of righteousness still passing current after God’s image and superscription have been worn off from them, so that they who trade in them know not whence they are. And as there are dead virtues, so there is a dead light which they send forth. If you have ever witnessed at night that strange glow which is emitted from decayed wood in the forest, you have the best illustration of it. There is light, indeed, but it is utterly cold. Not a spark could be gotten from it to kindle a fire or illumine the way for a bewildered traveller. It is the light of death. And, alas! this is all that many have who, while denying God, still boast they are walking in the light.
When we appeal to the word of God, how striking is the relation which we find everywhere indicated there between light and life, between the knowledge of God and the life of God! “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent,” as though spiritual life were simply “the light of God” transmuted and wrought into holiness of heart and righteousness of conduct. It seems a very fine material from which to weave such a solid fabric. Men cannot credit it, that by simply studying the Bible, and absorbing the rays of Divine revelation which fall there, all the sturdy virtues, purity and truthfulness and temperance and justice, can be developed and brought into exercise in human characters. But such is, beyond all question, the fact. And next to the curious skill of nature, which transmutes sunbeams into beams of wood, nothing is more wonderful than that transformation of the Spirit which builds character out of faith, human conduct out of Divine truth, strong virtues out of spiritual knowledge. This is the Divine order.
“God is light,” and He leads men in the paths of righteousness, not simply by lighting up the way for them, but most of all by strengthening them to walk in that way, through building them up in inward holiness. He gives food to the soul before He gives guidance. “Light is sown for the righteous,” and not till we have reaped it and gathered it into our bosom, and eaten it, have we strength to walk in the way of the Lord. Indeed, mere external light would be only a mockery without the internal life enabling us to follow its teachings.
I am the way, says Christ; but how little of hope there would be in that revelation, had He not also added, and the truth and the life! It is life that the lame and bruised and far-off wanderers from God need in order that they may get home. And blessed be God, who hath shined into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; it is not merely the illumination which shows us the path of duty which He gives us, but life with which to walk that path; Christ, the life, to lead us unto Christ, the way.
But it is said that the Lord is a shield as well as a sun. Christ incarnate hides God from us as well as reveals Him to us.
When Moses asked Jehovah to show His glory, He answered, “No man can see My face and live.” And so we find Him constantly speaking to His servant out of the cloud, as though such a covering were necessary to mitigate and temper the brightness of His glory.
And, so far as we can know, it would be no more possible now than it was then, for men in the flesh to look into the face of God without being consumed. It is certainly impossible as yet for men to know God as a Spirit, and to understand all His ways. Hence the incarnation is a veiling as well as an unveiling of God, a mystery as well as a manifestation. The time had come for revealing the Father’s love and grace, but not for laying bare all the secrets of His wisdom or the deep purposes of His will. And hence there is just as great occasion for admiration in beholding the self-contained reserve of Christ in dealing with things which for the present must be hidden from men, as in contemplating His unaffected frankness in opening even to His humblest hearers the great things which He came to reveal.
It is the weakness of man to tell all he knows; it is the glory of Christ that He was a master of silence as well as a master of speech that He knew how to say to His disciples at one time, “To you it is given to know,” and, at another, “It is not for you to know.” How obvious it must be that while Christ came into the world to reveal the Father, He did not come to answer for us all curious questions, and to gratify all idle speculations which men may choose to raise! Hence I believe that it is just as true that He shields God from the gaze of irreverent speculation as that He uncovers Him to the eye of humble faith. It may be a hard saying, but it probably true, that Christ’s person and revelation blind the proud and unbelieving, just as much as they enlighten the submissive and believing. Take, for example, His incarnation. What a thick veil of mystery it is to some! Instead of revealing God, as it was meant to do, from how many does it seem only the more utterly to hide Him. Take the resurrection of the body. How it coarsens and complicates the doctrine of the future life to many who had no trouble with the philosophic doctrine of the immortality of the soul! Or, take the doctrine of vicarious atonement, which the Son of God reveals as God’s method of forgiving sin, — what a scandal it is in the eyes of many who had settled the whole question of pardon on the ground of the infinite fatherhood of God! These are illustrations of revelations that blind by their excess of light, and in them we seem to catch a glimpse of the meaning of those most solemn words, “that seeing they might not see.”
But there is another and most blessed sense in which the Lord is a shield to us. He interposes between us and God’s violated law. He takes all the penalties and pains of that law into His own bosom. He throws Himself athwart the track of justice, and bares His own breast to its punishments, that we may be spared from them, through His endurance of them. And this He takes upon Himself because He only is great enough for such an interposition. God alone can shield us from God. The eternal Son is the only Being that can intercept eternal punishment and ward it off from us. The shield of faith may enable us “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one,” but only the shield of the Infinite Conqueror can avert from us all the fiery penalties of that law that is exceeding broad.
Let not this imagery, however, betray us into any thought of a Divine vindictive anger, which is so furious to come at us that it can only be stayed by the interposition of the Son of God. But God is perfectly holy; and it is as impossible that holiness should not contain the double quality of hatred of sin and complacency towards obedience, as that the fire should not contain both light and heat. Yet Christ — oh, wondrous achievement ! — was able to separate these two elements. He took the penalty into Himself, detained, endured, and exhausted it in His own person; and the love which fell upon His own faultless obedience He let pass on to us. He received the one undiminished, and transmitted to us the other unstinted. Ay, more. As the cloud withholds from us the heat of the sun that would smite us by day, and yet transmits to us the light of that sun softened and transfigured and glorified into a beauty that it could never have had before, so the love of God is nowhere so beautiful as when seen in the face of Jesus Christ on the cross, or shining through the rifts of His wounded and broken body.
And so, my hearers, how many seeming paradoxes in our Saviour’s teaching may be explained by the imagery of the text, “a sun and shield,” and by the double idea of revealing and concealing which it contains! It is plain now how Christ could say, at one time, “No man hath seen God at any time,” and yet add, at another, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” It is not difficult now to reconcile two such contradictory sayings as “Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape,” and “From henceforth ye have both seen Him and known Him.” And as the lurid words of Scripture fall upon our ear, “Our God is a consuming fire,” we have only to utter the Psalmist’s prayer, “Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of Thine anointed,” and we may read them translated into the dialect of grace, “God is Love.”
God’s two-fold gift to us
“The Lord will give grace and glory.”
There is a striking correspondence between the first and the second parts of the text. As a sun, God gives glory; as a shield, He gives grace. For grace is simply what we receive and what we escape by the interposition of Jesus Christ between us and a holy law. It is not the result of God’s condoning or overlooking our sins, but rather of His expiating them in the person of our Substitute, that so He may perfectly justify us from them. Grace, instead of being merely a concession from God’s love, is the holy approval of God’s law falling upon the believer after all its claims and conditions have been satisfied. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Righteousness and justice have part in the transaction, as well as mercy and compassion.
And this gives a certain strength and vigour to the doctrine of justification by the blood of Christ, which is far different from what appears in the notion that pardon is simply an easy tolerance of wrong-doing. What is the difference between the ministry of Moses and that of Christ? Is it that the one brought in the law, and the other brought in grace? No! “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” All that the commandment enjoined, Christ perfectly kept. All the punishment which it threatened, He fully endured. All the honour which it claimed, He completely rendered. The truth in the inward parts, which it demanded, He presented who was without spot and blemish. He did not dull the edge of justice by any weak concessions to sin; He did not weaken the claims of law by any attempted abolition of its penalties. He told the truth about sin, and about the ill-desert of sin, and about the righteous punishment of the sinner. He told the truth about the law of God, and the justice of God, and the coming judgment of God. “Truth came by Jesus Christ.” He came “to bear witness to the truth.” He was “the Truth.”
So far His mission and that of Moses were the same. But, blessed be God, “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” What the great lawgiver never could do, He did, — taught the decalogue to justify by having satisfied it with His own spotless obedience; made the commandment pronounce a benediction on the penitent sinner by having endured in His own person the utmost chastisement of His sins, and so reconciled the claims of justice and of mercy that God “might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Who, then, is Christ crucified but the Lord our shield?” He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Strange paradox this, — healing by Christ’s stripes! It is because those stripes were arrested and exhausted on Himself that healing instead of hurt is ours. He simply disarmed the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, and then transmitted free and unencumbered the blessing which He had earned by His righteous obedience.
It is the grace side of the shield, then, that we are gazing at when we stand facing the cross of Christ. There we hear only, “Father, forgive them!” But go behind that cross, and you will find the truth side. There fall all the hurtling penalties of the broken law; there rain all the chastisements of our broken peace: there descends the outer darkness of God’s hidden face. Sin must be punished, and He who is now ” made sin for us,” bears witness to that truth in every wound and word and groan. For He has put Himself under the law, that He may honour it while saving us. But we are “not under law, but under grace,” since the Son of God has thus covered us with His own person. How shall I make it simple? Have you noticed how the glass which the gardener puts over the hot-beds serves two exactly opposite ends? It conveys the sunlight to the plants, and yet keeps out the cold. It is thus both a medium of the warmth which fructifies, and a barrier against the frost that kills. So of Christ’s atonement. It arrests the rigours of God’s justice, and transmits the blessing of His love. It keeps off from us the penalties which our sins deserve, and conveys to us pardon which Christ has deserved for us. And thus it is at once a barrier against that “wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and a transparent medium for that “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that bringeth salvation” which “hath appeared to all men.”
This explanation of grace, I know, may sound mechanical, — as though Christ’s cross has power to decompose the rays of God’s holiness, extracting the retribution which it bears against sin, and leaving the love which it contains for the sinner. It is not mechanical, however, but intensely human and natural. The indignation which you feel towards the clerk who has robbed you and abused your confidence may lose all its fire in passing through the family circle which shields him, — the suffering wife and children bearing the heaviest penalties of his wrong-doing in the blasted home, and yet pleading for your leniency and compassion towards the offender. It is no far-fetched notion Human life abounds in illustrations of grace coming to the guilty, because the sting of punishment has been lodged in some innocent substitute, and indignation refuses to press its demands any further. And, if human life did not contain it, the Bible does. And that must be enough. It is because “Christ suffered, the just for the unjust,” that we are brought to God and made to enjoy His favour, so that where sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded.
Will you, oh, hearer, receive that grace to-day? Will you accept the protection of the shield of the Son of God, which is offered to cover you from the wrath to come? Will you stand, gratefully, penitently, trustingly, when God has put you “under grace”? Or will you break through the very barriers which the Redeemer has erected for your defence against an injured justice, and put yourself once more under the law of God? That will expose you to a severer condemnation than you would otherwise have known, seeing you despise the riches of His grace. The promise has been fulfilled to us and to our children. “The Lord will give grace.” He has not only given it, but He has enthroned it upon the mercy-seat, so that now we are told that “grace reigns” by Jesus Christ our Lord. To go back to the law is now disloyalty to grace, and to Jesus Christ, by whom grace came. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, where with he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
But now we turn to the other part of the promise: “The Lord will give glory.” It is a well-nigh infinite step from the one thought to the other. Grace is a free gift, glory is a reward; grace is ours as sharers in Christ’s humiliation, glory is ours as partners in His triumph; grace is our earthly portion, glory is our heavenly recompense. And it cannot be too carefully noted, that the Christian is never either encouraged or expected to get his reward of glory in this life. Glory cannot reign in this present evil world. “The glory that Thou hast given Me,” says Jesus, “I have given them.” But as Christ never came into the possession of His glory till He ascended to His Father and our Father, so we shall not till we ascend. And even then our reward of glory will be exactly according to our service here, — no more, no less. But whatever differences in degree there may be, all the redeemed shall share it. Every one who has been in grace here will be in glory there.
That glory will be the joy of unhindered communion with God and the sight of His open face. It is the other side of the Christian’s destiny, hidden from sight as yet, but then uncovered and luminous as the unclouded sun: light instead of darkness, joy instead of sorrow, sight instead of faith, rest instead of toil. Three times the apostle Peter sums up the believer’s twofold inheritance with these grand outlines: “The sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” It is suffering now. The cross of Christ which shields us, shadows us also. It brings us grace; but it binds us into fellowship with our Lord’s humiliation and rejection. And so long as we are in the flesh that shadow will still be over us, reminding us that our portion here is self-denial, condescension, and cross bearing.
Glory on earth would be as misplaced for a Christian, as suffering would be in heaven. We are therefore to covet and rejoice in the trials which belong to our present state. Instead of having that so common fault, an infirmity for glory, we are rather to “glory in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.” The more of these things we take upon us, the more of the heavenly fruition will be our inheritance. The cross bearing that trains and inures us to Christ’s sufferings here, is just the discipline that is to fit us for the nearest fellowship with His glory there. It is “by patient continuance in well-doing ” that we are to “seek for glory, honour, and immortality.” And may God help us that with all our might we aspire to this heavenly reward.
Christ died not simply to save us, but also to glorify us; not merely to give us an entrance into heaven, but to give us “an abundant entrance.” He prayed for us, not simply that we might be kept, but that we might be with Him where He is and behold His glory, and that attainment is to see God as He now sees Him, — His face no longer veiled from us because of the infirmity of our flesh; His countenance no longer shielded, lest it may overwhelm us with its brightness. They shall see His face and live. They shall look upon His countenance as the sun shineth in his strength,” and not be afraid. Instead of the sins that hid His face from them, they shall be without fault before His throne. Instead of the clouds and darkness that shut them out from God, there will be the cloud of glory to shut them in with Him. Oh, blessed hope! Oh, bright reward! And “now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
Would you like your own copy of books by Peter Wade and other authors? Go to our Catalog.