The Treasures of the Snow – David James Burrell (historic sermon 1844-1926)
“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” -Job 38:22
I am sorry for city people who never have known the delights of rural life. “God made the country, man made the town.” What do they know about the singing birds and flowing brooks, the blooming fields and golden harvests? What do they know about the joys of winter; the glassy river, the tinkling bells, the merry shout of children issuing from the school-house door into the pleasures of the falling snow? To us in the great metropolis a snow-storm means naught but unsightly heaps at the street corners waiting to be carted off: it suggests no more than a question of health and possibly another of honesty in the administration of municipal affairs.
Let us stand for a little while under the falling flakes and take the lessons that come to us. The treasures of the snow! Out of the mint of God up yonder falls this glorious wealth all stamped with his image and superscription. Inasmuch as snow was infrequent in the Holy Land there are not many references to it in Scripture; yet enough for helpful suggestion in many ways. Out of this treasury we bring seven golden texts, to wit:
I. “The fool saith in his heart There is no God.” The fool I catch a flake in my palm; nay, not there, else its fragile beauty will die in an instant, but rather on a velvet cushion and put it under a microscope. Now let the “fool” look and say again, “There is no God!” Here is an epistle from somewhere asking as plainly as if pen and ink had written it, “Who made me?” Did this miracle come by chance? Nay, out of nothing, nothing comes. Now catch another snowflake on this velvet cushion and a hundred more and a million more, for the air is filled with them; and out of these we will construct our proposition. If you speak of chance then let us reason under the law of chances. How shall we get our first term? By making a progression of products, thus: multiply your first flake by your second, the second by the third, and so on while the snow-flakes fall. Multiply until you have exhausted the last flake in the heavens, then multiply that product by the last snow-storm and so on until you have exhausted the last snowflake that ever fell since the beginning of time. What have you? A line of figures belting the globe again and again and again like parallels of latitude. Now having our first term let us proceed with the calculation. It is a simple problem in proportion. As this line of figures is to one, so is the probability of a supreme intelligence to the hypothesis of chance or a fortuitous concourse of actions. It is beginning to dawn upon us now why the good Book pronounces him to be a “fool” who says “There is no God.”
II. Our next golden text is this, “In wisdom hath he made them all.” A close examination of these snowflakes under the glass reveals the fact, (i) that every one is perfect, absolutely perfect; and in this the snowflake differs from every masterpiece of man. The thing we make may approximate nearer and nearer to perfection, but never reaches it. Put the finest lace under the glass and it looks like a fishing-net of jute; its fairy figure running zigzag like a worm fence. On the other hand the snowflake grows finer and finer the more you magnify it. Man’s best work is a chronometer which will vary possibly a second in a twelvemonth. Wonderful! But if God were to run the planetary system by such a timepiece chaos would have ensued long ages ago. The sun is his chronometer. All his work is perfect, absolutely perfect. Perfection is the distinguishing characteristic of a divine thing. (2) Still further we note an infinite variety in these flakes of snow. Descartes announced that he had discovered ninety-three various forms or patterns. The words had scarcely fallen from his lips before another declared that he had found nine hundred. Indeed there is no limit to their diversity; it is fair to say that no two of them are precisely alike, just as no two leaves in Vallombrosa are alike, just as no two human faces are alike on all the earth. This infinite variety is also a distinguishing feature of the work of God. (3) But all these varied forms are patterned under a common law and under that law are uniform. How shall we account for this? Chance? Or has science otherwise explained it? “Oh, the ancients in Job’s time knew little about snow or any other natural phenomenon. Many things have been discovered since then. All this is explained. “Ah, by whom? What is snow? “Congealed vapor” But what is vapor and how congealed? Go on with your explanation. Whence this law? Law is usually supposed to suggest a lawgiver. You ask us to believe in a law like this with all its marvelous manifestations and no one behind it? You smile at our faith and call it credulity; but here is a burden that our faith cannot bear; it requires a greater credulity than ours to believe that all this merely happened. Go back as far as you can in your scientific researches and you will never reach the ultimate. You come to a curtain hanging before an inner chamber; draw it and you stand in the Holiest of All.
III. Our next golden text is this, “There is the hiding of his power” How feeble seem these fallen flakes.
“Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of his garment shaken;
Over the woodlands wild and bare,
Over the harvest fields forsaken,
Silent and soft and slow
Falleth the snow.”
Yet here is God’s dynamite. In this apparent weakness is the hiding of his strength. The flake that falls into the cleft of the rock, with a few more of its feeble kinsfolk, shall take hold of the roots of the everlasting mountain and tear them asunder. This is God’s way of working. He builds his temple without the sound of hammer or of axe. The sunshine, the atmosphere, the fallen rain; these are his calm potencies. You trample the snowflakes under foot, the children play with them; yet they have within them the possibility of great convulsion. Here are magazines of power. Men work amid demonstration, the shouting of ten thousand voices, the booming of heavy artillery. God’s power is quiet, constant, persistent, infinite, everywhere. So ubiquitous is his omnipotence that men have sometimes taken Force to be their god. When it was desired to blow a ledge of rocks out of New York harbor there were years of preparation; digging of mines, placing of charges, laying of fuses; then the city stood listening; the explosion, the water spout, and it was done. God rides through the universe in his chariot of Almightiness and its ponderous wheels move as silently as the waving of a butterfly’s wings.
IV. Still another of the golden texts is, “He giveth his snow like wool,” Rather like a covering of wool; that is to say, a coverlet. The figure appeals to us all. We are back again in the trundle-bed and the dear mother has come to hear us say our prayer and then to arrange the coverlet and tuck us in. So the good God cares for all nature; the seeds and roots; the burrowing and hibernating creatures; he covers them all over; giving his snow like wool. O infinite love! Shall he not much more care for you, O ye of little faith? These snowflakes are “feathers from the wing of the Almighty protection.” He cares for us along the journey of life and when all is over and we lie down to our final rest, he still lays his coverlet above us. Out in the graveyard just now, as far as eye can see, are the mounds of the sleeping dead. He has given his snow like wool. So they abide the coming of the Lord’s great day.
V. Another of the golden texts is, “His raiment was white as snow.” Here are three visions of the glorious One. Daniel saw him, when all the earth powers had vanished, approaching in a chariot of flame to take the seat of universal empire, while ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him, and lo! “His garment was white as snow.” The chosen three went up with the Only Begotten of the Father into the Mount of Transfiguration, and while the cloud of “the most excellent glory” folded them in, they saw him changed; his face shining like the sun and his garments “white as no fuller on earth could whiten them.” The aged dreamer in Patmos saw him in the midst of the golden candlestick clothed in a priestly garment down to his feet; in his right hand seven stars; his voice as the sound of many waters; his countenance as the sun shineth in his strength; and his head and his hairs were “white as snow.” All this in token of his holiness. The great multitude around his throne are ever praising him and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!” Alas, then, what is to become of us, for we are as an unclean thing? “Have mercy upon me, O God!” cried David shamed and tortured by his accusing conscience, “Have mercy upon me according unto thy loving kindness, and according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin; for I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Is there an answer to that prayer? Can the sin-defiled soul be washed and made whiter than snow? Aye !
VI. For here is another of the golden texts, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” These falling flakes are messengers from the City of the Great King; each of them bringing a white flag of truce with overtures of peace.
What is the blackest thing in all the world? Not jet, nor ebony; not the raven’s plume, nor the pupil of an Ethiop’s eye. The blackest thing in all the world is said to be the blight at the heart of a flower when it is just stricken with death. So the blackest thing in the moral universe is sin at the center of a soul, spreading corruption through the whole nature of man.
What is the reddest thing in the world? Not the glow of the sunrise or of the sunset; not the heart of a ruby. The reddest thing in the world is the stream that flows from the fountain of life. Blood; “the life is in the blood.” The most vivid of all tragedies is that of Calvary. In all the moral universe there is naught that so touches the heart of the race.
What is the whitest thing in the world? Not ivory, nor molten silver, nor alabaster; not a lily painted on a spotless wall. The whitest thing in the world is the driven snow, for this is not superficial, but whiteness through and through. In all the moral universe there is nothing so glorious as the whiteness of holiness; the fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints.
What is the greatest thing in the world? Love ! Aye. Not our love to God, but God’s love to us manifest in Jesus Christ. The love that holds the hyssop-branch of our frail faith and with it sprinkles the blood upon the soul defiled with the blackness of sin, until it becomes as white as the driven snow. This is the marvelous alchemy of grace. There is forgiveness with God.
VII. And yet another of the golden texts, “When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was as when it snoweth in Salmon.” Here is the picture: a mountainside swept bare by the wind, the snow driven hither and thither upon it. What does it mean? These are not drifting masses of snow; these are the bones of the slain, bleached in the sun; these are shields of the mighty; these are ermine cloaks, royal mantles cast away in flight. A mighty rout! God’s enemies have been put to shame. The great squadron has come forth riding on white horses and clothed in white linen, with one at their head arrayed in a garment dipped in blood as one who trod the winepress alone in their behalf. Armageddon is over. There are shouts of victory in the distance. Babylon is fallen! All hail the power of Jesus’ name! And here on Salmon naught but the drifting snow.
Thanks be to God for this assurance of the glorious outcome. His Word is doing its work : “His word shall not return unto him void, but shall be like the snow which cometh down from heaven; it shall accomplish that which he doth please and prosper in the thing whereto he sends it.” In God’s economy all things have their uses. Every snowflake is under commission. So am I; so are you. God help us to praise him in an implicit obedience like that of the forces of nature of which it is written: “Praise ye the Lord. Praise him from the heavens. Praise him from the earth. Ye monsters and all deeps; ye fire and hail; snow and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling his word!”