THE STAG AND THE CITY OF REFUGE.
S. Giles. September 1.
"DELIVER MY SOUL FROM THE SWORD: MY DARLING FROM THE POWER OF THE DOG."--PSALM XXII. 20.
THIS is said by our LORD, by Whom the whole of the 22nd Psalm is spoken. And He says it as Man. As GOD He could deliver Himself. As GOD He needed not to pray that He should be set free from His enemies. But as Man, he feared their rage and their malice: as Man, He desired to be preserved from them. And therefore this is His prayer: "Deliver My soul from the sword: My darling from the power of the dog."
That which was His prayer, ought to be ours also. We have abundant cause to use it day and night. We are never safe unless we continually pray that our souls may be delivered from the sword,--that is, from destruction; our darling from the power of the dog,--that is, of Satan.
And why is the soul called our darling? Because it ought to be dearer to us than any other thing that we have, or that we want. It ought to be: but GOD knows it is not. Men think much more of pleasure, and honour, and riches, than of their souls: they give their souls for these things: they give their souls for less than these things, that they may indulge in passion or evil speaking, or lying: the least temptation, and they yield to it. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" The whole world! Why, we give our souls for a moment's pleasure; we give our souls because we will not bear a moment's pain. Our souls our darling! No. I will tell you what man makes his darling: it is his body. He is content to toil hard for that. He is content to suffer for that. He thinks it very well worth while to rise early and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness, if his body may profit by it. Half the labour that he spends on that would bring his soul into the kingdom of heaven.
What has all this to do with S. Giles's day?
I will tell you.
S. Giles was a holy man who was born in Greece about a thousand years ago, and came thence into France. We know very little of him, except that he was one of those who, like S. John Baptist, served GOD in the wilderness. They relate a story about him, which I am going to tell you. I do not know whether it is true or not; but at all events, it has a good lesson for us, if we listen to it as we should to a parable. And this is it:
S. Giles was one day standing at the door of his cell in the middle of a wild heath, when he heard the blowing of horns and the baying of hounds. Presently a stag, that was hard hunted, bounded up to the place where he was, and crouched down at his feet. While he was marvelling what this might mean, the hounds and huntsmen came up. But they could not draw nigh the place where he stood. When the dogs came within twenty yards of the Saint, something kept them from approaching any nearer to him. The huntsmen urged them forwards; but all in vain: there they stood and bayed. Men, horses, and hounds could not harm the stag. There it lay, at S. Giles' feet, safe in the midst of its enemies. And at length, seeing that all their efforts were in vain, the huntsmen rode away, and the stag bounded off to the forest.
Now how does all this apply to us? Thus. S. Giles, I think, is a type of our LORD: and we are like that poor stag. The devil and all his wicked angels are always seeking to destroy us. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." And if he desired to have a saint like S. Peter, and if he did have him, and if he would have destroyed him too but for our LORD'S especial prayer, what is the case with us? There is only one thing that we can trust in. If we look to ourselves and to our own strength, what is it? It is like the straw trusting to itself not to take fire when the torch is thrust into it. Our Blessed LORD, Who conquered Satan on the Cross, He it is Who can guard us from the devil now; and to Him, and to Him only, we must go.
But all kind of going will not serve the turn. If we take long about it, if we do not look as it were naturally to Him, we shall be lost in the mean time. If the stag had walked quietly along, stopping to browze here, and rest there, the dogs would have torn it in pieces long before it could reach the feet of S. Giles. So I have read a story of a traveller, who saw a battle between a poisonous spider and an insect that it had attacked. Every time this insect was bitten by the spider, it settled on the leaves of a plant that grew near at hand, and sucked them; and as it sucked them, it was healed, and came back to the battle as strong and as fresh as ever. But the traveller was cruel enough to take away the plant. The poor insect, when bitten, went as usual to look for it, and could not find it; and it presently died on the spot.
So it is again with us; when we are wounded by Satan, when we have unholy thoughts put into our minds, when we have said unholy words, or done unholy deeds, we must go at once to our LORD to heal us. If we delay, we may be prevented from going at all. The poison of Satan may work in us, and we may come to like his temptations, and to rejoice in our sins: we may come to wish to continue in them: we may come to delight in the devil's work, quite forgetting what are his wages.
Let us take one more example of what I mean, and this time it shall be from the Bible. You know that GOD was pleased to appoint certain Cities of Refuge for the Jews; and the use of them was this: If any man killed his neighbour without intending it,--as, for example, if, in felling a tree, the axe-head came off from the helve, and struck him that he died, then he was to flee to the City of Refuge, and there he was safe. But till he could reach it, the nearest relative of the slain man, who was called the Avenger of Blood, might kill the slayer if he could light on him. Therefore the roads to these cities were always kept in the best order, and at all turnings there were sign-posts with the words, THE WAY TO THE CITY OF REFUGE, because a single delay might cost a man his life. So I have seen a picture where the gate of the city was represented as close at hand, and the manslayer running towards it for his life. But close behind him was the Avenger of Blood, with his spear in his hand; and it seemed very doubtful whether the flyer would reach the city before the pursuer would strike him with it.
This City of Refuge means CHRIST: and the pursuer is Satan. What would the Jews have thought of a man who, having slain another unawares, instead of flying to the city at once, lingered here and there, went to see his friends in this place, did some business in such another place, amused himself with the sights of the journey, and rested when the sun was hot, and sheltered himself when the rain fell? Would they not have said that he deserved to be slain by the Avenger of Blood? And what can be said of us, when we know that we can only be safe from Satan by flying to CHRIST, if we so live as though that were the very last thing we had to care about; as if any business, any amusement, were of more worth in our eyes than that? What can be said, except the words of S. Paul, "Whose damnation is just?"
This new month makes us feel that autumn is coming on. And these changes of season not only teach us that the world passeth away and the lusts thereof, but should make most of you remember that you are already far on in the autumn of life, and that the winter cannot be far off, when you shall lie down in the grave. Then it will be all in all to you whether, like the hunted stag, you fled from Satan to the feet of JESUS; whether, like the wounded insect, you sought to be healed by the Blood of JESUS; whether, like the man that had slain his neighbour unawares, you fled to JESUS as to your City of Refuge. That will be the one question then, whatever you think now. "Martha, Martha; thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.