I’m sure many of you will know the the poem God Knows, and if you don’t, I expect you’ll recognise the first line. It is a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, who taught at the London School of Economics. It is one that rolls around the back of my mind in relation to some half-remembered sermons and talks, and one that came to mind when I read reflectively, pray about the past, and think about the future. You can read it in full on Wikipedia, and some of the story behind the poem. Yet I digress – onward with the poem:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of the day in the lone East.
It is a simple poem. About trust and hope and fear and future and doubt. About moving from one place to another. About another way of being, another light in the darkness, and the power of faith as a life is placed in the hands of another. For some people, 2016 has been so 2016. For others, 2016 has been a year of inspiration or reflection. Either way, regardless, we all stand at the gate of the year. 2017 beckons, stories not yet told, obituaries not yet needed, cultural shifts not yet dreamt of.
I’m a fan of Charles Spurgeon, the great British Particular Baptist preacher, who died in 1892, and is often called ‘The Prince of Preachers’. At the time of writing this blog post I’m most grateful for his legacy of writing, particular his bite-size, hard-hitting daily thoughts, found in The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith (thanks, Christmas present! and also online and in app form. The Morning reading for December the 29th starts with 1 Samuel 7:12, wherein we find the word this blog post is framed with:
Spurgeon’s comments, inviting the reader and the prayer-er into reflection and gratitude, are far more beautifully written and prompting than anything I could write:
The word ‘hitherto’ seems like a hand pointing in the direction of the past. Twenty years or seventy, and yet, ‘hitherto the Lord hath helped!’ Through poverty, through wealth, through sickness, through health, at home, abroad, on the land, on the sea, in honour, in dishonour, in perplexity, in joy, in trial, in triumph, in prayer, in temptation, ‘hitherto hath the Lord helped us!’ We delight to look down a long avenue of trees. It is delightful to gaze from end to end of the long vista, a sort of verdant temp, with its branching pillars and its arches of leaves; even so look down the long aisles of your years, at the green boughs of mercy overhead, and the strong pillars of lovingkindness and faithfulness which bear up your joys. Are there no birds in yonder branches singing? Surely there must be many, and they all sing of mercy recieved ‘hitherto.’
But the word also points forward. For when a man gets up to a certain mark and writes ‘hitherto,’ he is not yet at the end, there is still a distance to be traversed. More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strength;, more fights, more victories; and then come sickness, old age, disease, death. Is it over now? No! There is more yet…
I am someone who likes words. As ever, this blog post could just be for myself, reinforcing something. But this word ‘hitherto’ is a word that we don’t often use any more. A perfect word for the time we find ourselves in. The word that cuts through the 2016-ness of 2016, or the irritation we might feel at others using that language. A word that can help us pivot our perspective, preparing for 2017 by praising God and giving thanks for what he has already done – even as we look forward in confidence to what more he will do.
We can close with the close of Spurgeon’s thought, the ‘more yet…‘. This is not a description of what 2017 will be like. But it is a beautiful cinematic trailer for the ever-coming Kingdom of God, the way of living that is breaking in, where the cracks in our world begin to let the light through:
Awakening in Jesus’ likeness, thrones, harps, songs, psalms, white raiment, the face of Jesus, the society of saints, the glory of God, the fulness of eternity, the infinity of bliss. O be of good courage, believer, and with grateful confidence raise thy ‘Ebenezer,’ for —
He who hath helped thee hitherto
Will help thee all they journey through.
When read in heaven’s light how glorious and marvellous a prospect will thy ‘hitherto’ unfold to thy grateful eye!