As the Alpine snows give way to the warmth of the sun and the cold earth is exposed to its rays after the long winter, there is a sudden burst of exquisite beauty as a carpet of tiny flowers seems to spring up almost overnight. All around is the remaining ice and the darkened and dead vegetation from the previous year, but in such an unlikely setting the blossoms seem especially attractive.
Creation yields many parables and the Alpine spring certainly does. John Newton once prayed after what had seemed a long winter-time in his soul;
Lord, afford a spring to me;
Let me feel like what I see;
Ah! my winter has been long!
Chilled my hopes and stopped my song.
Winter threatens to destroy
Faith, and love, and every joy;
If thy life is in the root,
Still I could not yield thee fruit.
Speak, and by thy gracious voice
Make my drooping soul rejoice;
O, Beloved Saviour, haste,
Tell me all the storms are past!
On thy garden deign to smile;
Raise the plants, enrich the soil;
Soon thy presence will restore
Life to what seemed dead before.
What was so personal and so distressing to John Newton is a situation which, sadly, is not uncommon amongst believers today;
nor is it unknown in the life of churches! How many would have to say, ‘Ah! my winter has been long!’, if they were really honest and sensitive about their spiritual condition. The frost of a spiritual winter seems to have hardened many hearts, quenched the fervency of many preachers and all but paralysed many churches. There may well be life beneath the snow; existing, but only just, in the hard frozen earth, but there is no evidence of it even if the snow is dug away. There is only one way in which that life will force its way to the surface; it must be stimulated by the warmth of the sun. There is only one way in which a spiritual winter can be changed into a glorious spring; the Sun must shine onto and into the soul. Only the Source of all life can revive the life He has given.
In more remote areas nearer to the North or South Poles there are fast tracts of ‘permafrost’. Here the ground is never soft and the spring flowers can never blossom. What an awful condition that would be for any who had once professed the name of Christ, or any church which had once known blessing from heaven. Laodicea, bad though it was, was neither cold nor hot, just insipid and nauseating! (Revelation 3.16.) It would be a great mercy if the sight of our spring flowers, the first glimpse of the snowdrop’s white bud maybe, aroused our prayers for a spiritual springtime in which our souls were ‘strangely warmed’ and all our hard feelings melted away. Surely we would rejoice to feel new life ourselves and rejoice with a double joy to see new life in others.
Another wonder of the springtime is to see that, in spite of the cold and the frost, the life beneath has been spreading. Last year’s bulbs have been dividing and multiplying only to be evident when the longer warmer days arrive. So ‘new life’ may be the life planted years ago which is renewed and revived or it might be ‘new life’ appearing for the very first time. What a springtime that would be if every believer saw a new life burst out of the darkness beside them. Is that the prayer of the churches today? Or have we become so inward looking that the only concern is to enjoy a springtime alone? That cannot be if the life we have is life from heaven.
The joy of the Apostle Paul was to see the churches growing in numbers and in sanctification. The Apostle John had no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth. The joy of every true believer is to see the prosperity of other believers and of other churches, as well as to enjoy a personal sense of the presence of the Lord.
‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4.6).