As feet of snow continue to pile up on my Minneapolis roof, I’m reminded of one spiritual illustration from Scottish pastor James Hamilton D.D. (1814–67). In days long before attic insulation and roof gutters he observed:
On a winter’s day I have noticed a row of cottages, with a deep load of snow on their several roofs; but as the day wore on, large fragments began to tumble from the eaves of this one and that other, till, by-and-by, there was a simultaneous avalanche, and the whole heap slid over in powdery ruin on the pavement, and before the sun went down you saw each roof as clear and dry as on a summer’s eve.
But here and there you would observe one with its snow-mantle unbroken, and a ruff of stiff icicles around it.
What made the difference? The difference was to be found within.
Some of these huts were empty, or the lonely inhabitant cowered over a scanty fire; while the peopled hearth and the high-blazing fire of the rest created such inward warmth that grim winter melted and relaxed his grip, and the loosened mass folded off and tumbled over on the trampled street. It is possible by some outside process to push the main volume of snow from the frosty roof, or chip off the icicles one by one. But they will form again, and it needs an inward heat to create a total thaw.
And so, by sundry processes, you may clear off from a man’s conduct the dead weight of conspicuous sins; but it needs a hidden heat, a vital warmth within, to produce such a separation between the soul and its besetting iniquities. That vital warmth is the love of God abundantly shed abroad — the kindly glow which the Comforter diffuses in the soul which he makes his home. His genial inhabitation thaws that soul and its favorite sins asunder, and makes the indolence and self-indulgence and indevotion fall off from their old resting-place on that dissolving heart.
The easiest form of mortification is a fervent spirit.