The Higher Purposes of Winter
“Thou hast made.., winter.” Psa_74:17
It is always easy to believe that God has made the summertime. There is something in a perfect summer day that speaks to us of the divine. The beauty which is around us everywhere, the singing of the birds in every tree, the warmth of the pleasant summer sun, the amazing prodigality of life, these, as by filaments invisible, draw our hearts to the Giver of them all and make it easy to say, “Thou hast made the summer.”
With winter it is different. It is not so easy to see the love of God there. There is a great deal of suffering in winter both for the animal creation and for man. It may therefore aid the faith of some who may be tempted to doubt the love of God in winter if I suggest some of its spiritual accomplishments.
Winter Deepens Our Appreciation of Summer
One of the higher offices of winter is to deepen our appreciation of the summer. We should be blind if summer were perpetual. Someone has said, and very truly said, that our dear ones are only ours when we have lost them. They have to pass away into the silent land before we know them for what they really are. And in like manner summer has to pass, leaving us in the grip of icy winter, before we fully appreciate the summer. It is not the man who lives in lovely Scotland who feels most deeply how lovely Scotland is. It is the exile on some distant shore, yearning for the mountains and the glens. It is not the man with abundant, unbroken health who feels most deeply the value of his health. That is realized when health is shattered.
In Caithness, where I lived four years, there is a great scarcity of trees. I never knew how much I loved the trees till I dwelt in a land where there are none. And we never know all that summer means to us, in its pageantry of life and beauty, till we lose it in the barrenness of winter. Lands that have no winter have no spring. They never know the thrilling of the spring when the primroses awake and the wild hyacinths, and the iris waves in the breeze. Thoughts like these, in January days, make it easier for faith to say, “Thou hast made the winter.”
Winter Puts Demands Upon the Will
Another of the higher purposes of winter is the greater demands it makes upon the will. I should like to take a simple illustration. In summer it is comparatively easy to get out of bed at the appointed hour. For the earth is warm, and the birds are busy singing, and the light is streaming through the open windows. But in winter, to fling the covers off and get up when it is dark and perishingly cold, that is quite a different affair. That calls for a certain resolution. It makes instant demands upon the will.
Now broaden that thought to the compass of the day, and you reach a truth that cannot be denied. The countries where the will is most developed and where moral life is most vigorous and strong are the countries that have winter in their year. There “ain’t no Ten Commandments east of Suez,” says Kipling in a familiar line. The singular thing is that east of Suez there isn’t any winter in the year. Rigorous winter days when life is difficult and when it takes some doing even to get up are God’s tonic for His children’s will. “O well for him whose will is strong. He suffers, but he does not suffer long.” Let any young fellow have his will under control and he is on the highway to his victory. Summer is languid; winter makes us resolute. We have to do things when we don’t feel like them. And Thou—the Giver of the Ten Commandments—Thou hast made the winter.
Winter Intensifies the Thought of Home
Another accomplishment of winter is to intensify the thought of home. In lands that bask in a perpetual sunshine, home-life is always at a minimum. I had a friend who for three years was prisoner in an internment camp in Germany. I asked him once when he felt most homesick, and I am not likely to forget his answer. He said that the only times when he felt homesick were when fog settled down upon the camp reminding him of winter fogs in Glasgow. In summer he was happy. It was good to be alive in summer. But when the fog came, he thought of lighted streets and saw his cozy and comfortable home. And always the thought of home is sweetest, and the home-life richest and most beautiful, in the dark, cold season of the winter. We talk in the same breath of hearth and home, and it is in winter that the hearth is glowing.
There is one poem about a humble home more beautiful than any other in our literature. It is a picture by the hand of genius of the joy and reverence of the hearth. But the “Cottar’s Saturday Night” could never have been written in the tropics. It is the child of a land with winter in its year.
Now think of everything we owe to home. Think of what the nation owes to home. “From scenes like these auld Scotia’s grandeur springs.” Home is the basis of national morality. Is it not easier when one thinks of these things to say in the bitterest January day, “Thou hast made the winter”?
Winter Stirs Us to Charity
The last purpose of winter I shall mention is how it stirs our sluggish hearts to charity. With that we are all perfectly familiar. Did you ever watch a singer in the street in the warm and balmy days of summer? The passersby pay him little heed and rarely give him a coin even though he is singing all the charms of Annie Laurie. But in winter, when the air is biting, and when the snow is deep upon the ground, Annie Laurie brings him in a harvest. Folk are extraordinarily good to me in giving me donations for the poor. For one donation that I get in summertime, however, I get ten in the bitterness of winter. Winter unlocks the gates of charity. It unseals the hidden springs of pity. It moves us with compassion for the destitute, and so to be moved is a very Christlike thing. Such thoughts as these in stern and icy days, when we are tempted perhaps to doubt the love of God, make it easier to say with David, “Thou hast made the winter.”