Meditations on the 23 Psalm
Verse one and two.
THE TWENTY-THIRD Psalm is familiar to many. To some, it recalls the earliest associations of youth, and even of childhood. Scenes, voices, faces, long, long passed away, and never more to bc seen or heard in this world, are vividly brought before the mind, in meditating on this beautiful Psalm. The heart, at times, loves to recall and dwell on, such early associations. And, not unfrequentlv, in mature years, and even in old age, the lessons learnt in youth are the best remembered. Hence, the importance of early training and instruction in the timings of God, and of the immortal soul.
The following anecdote from the pen of a missionary who laboured in India, touchingly illustrates what has just been referred to but, as it is now given from memory, we call only vouch for its being substantially correct. In visiting an hospital, he came to the bedside of a dying soldier, and spoke to him about the concerns of his soul, but he gave no heed to what was said. He was, evidently, dying fast, but utterly careless and hardened, through a long course of sin. The earnest missionary could not bear the thought of leaving him to die in his sins, knowing what an eternity of misery his must be, were this to be the case; yet every appeal seemed ineffectual. At. last the thought crossed his mind-"I can hear from his accent that he comes from a country where the Psalms of David are generally committed to memory in youth. I will try if a verse of a Psalm will touch his heart."So when he had gained his attention, he calmly repeated to him,
"'Such pity as a father hath
Unto his children dear;
Like pity shows the Lord to such
As worship Him in fear.
For He remembers we are dust,
And He our frame well knows.
Frail man, his days are like the grass,
As flower in field he grows.'"
The dying soldier now looked at the missionary earnestly; he stared as if a voice from afar addressed him. The scenes of home and youth rushed into his mind - a tender chord had been touched. The well-known, though long-forgotten lines of the beautiful hundred and third Psalm, thrilled his soul, and were, we trust, the voice of God in his conscience. He was thoroughly broken down, so that a thousand avenues, we doubt not, might now have been found to his heart.
We are willing to believe that, in such a case, we see the happy fruits of the early instruction of the child, and of the parent's prayer to God for His blessing. For a long time, both the instruction given, and the prayers offered, seemed fruitless and o forgotten. But God can never forget. The child may, and alas, often does, but our God, blessed be His name, never can. The prayer that has been laid in faith on His table, can never be overlaid. It may often seem so, and our evil hearts of unbelief are too prone to fear that it is so; but faith afirms that it never can be overlooked, or unanswered. The prayer that has been thus spread out before Him, is ever beneath His eye. He has a father's heart, He knows what it is to bring up children; as we read in Isaiah i. 2: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." He knows every feeling that exercises a parent's heart. And the good seed of the word, too, may often seem to have been banished from the mind, and the heart and conscience become so encrusted by the world and sin, that to pierce through it is impossible. But God is faithful, and faith will never yield its hold of Him. It can ever fall back on that broad and blessed word, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things." And, again, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Rom. viii. 32; Acts xvi. 31. By means the most simple, and at a moment when we least expect it, our gracious God often works in the hearts of those we love. And when the light of God does shine into the soul, a long life of sin, with its dreadful realities, may start up before the trembling sinner in a moment; and, in another moment, by the grace of God, he may see them all blotted out, and his peace made with Him, through the precious blood of Jesus. When God works, who, what, can hinder Him?
Could we conceive of a case more hopeless than the one just described? The Philippian jailer, or the thief on the cross, were not more so. Far from home -no relatives near, and, it may be, without a friend in this world. And now, laid down to die in an hospital at the close of such a life; is he not, we may exclaim, beyond all hope? Who thinks of him now? Who cares for him there? Only ONE. He who had often heard, it may be, the parents frequent, fervent prayer- "0 Father of mercies, keep thine eye on my wandering son; let Thy hand of unwearied love be spread over him night and day; 0 bring him early to Thyself, that he may not so dishonour Thy name,"- now graciously vouchsafes an answer in peace. The parents may have passed off the scene, and prayer may have long been silent for the careless one ; but God forgets not the heart that trusted Him, and, in due time, will surely fulfil its desires. He sent His servant at the right time - gave him the right word - and all in good time accomplished the blessed work! Glad surprise will often fill our souls in heaven, in meeting those we once feared might never reach that happy land. Oh that we may count only on God,, and never doubt or fear!
Knowing that many hearts are deeply interested in this subject, must be our excuse for saying so much thereon. But we now return to our beautiful Psalm; and it may be we shall find, that if early we were taught to repeat, "The Lord is my shepherd," we have yet to learn its meaning and application. "THE LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." This is surely the expression of a heart that is filled and occupied with the Lord Himself. It may be the expression of one who only knew the Lord as Jehovah, revealed to Israel; or, of one who knows Him as Jehovah Jesus, who saves His people from their sins; but it is evidently the language of one who is truly godly, whether Jew or Christian, and who makes the Lord his only trust. The soul, under all circumstances, is here viewed, as resting on the unfailing care, and quietly enjoying the varied resources, of the well-known Shepherd of the sheep. And that, not only for the present time, but for all times, and for ever.
This is precious faith! Mark it well, 0 my soul, and patiently meditate thereon. It is most practical; "The Lord is my shepherd." It rises, observe, above what He gives, what He does, what He promises, blessed as these are, and calmly rests on what He is Himself. As the eye of Abraham rested not on the promises, when he put forth his hand to slay his son, but on Him from whom the promises came; so here, the eye of the pilgrim, resting on the Lord, he can say, "I shall not want." When such confidence fills the heart, peace, evenness, and quietness, will characterize the life.
But knowest thou, my soul, the secret spring of such a blessed state? How is it that so few rise to this measure? Hast thou? Hast thou this rejoicing and confidence in the Lord, in the midst of wilderness circumstances? "The Lord is my shepherd," sounds like the voice of one rejoicing. "I shall not want," like that of quiet confidence. When we have learnt the deep lessons of the twenty-second Psalm, we shall understand the path of the twenty-third; and further, we shall rejoice in hope of the glory of the twenty-fourth. The three Psalms are linked together. But the twenty-second must be learnt first. To know the grace that shines on the pilgrim's path, in the twenty-third, and on the pilgrim resting in glory, in the twenty-fourth, we must know the grace that shines in the sufferings of Christ, in the twenty-second. The grace and the glory are due to Him who suffered there, and to all who own Him, in the day of His rejection. We must travel, in faith, through the twenty -second, to reach the twenty-third; there is no other path to it; and, when there, we find that the next thing is glory. The Christian is thus, in spirit, between the sufferings and the glory - the cross and the crown. He looks back on the one, and onward to the other. Sin, death, judgment, the grave, the world, Satan, are all behind him. Victory over every foe, is stamped on our life in resurrection.
The three grand aspects of the Lord's Shepherd-character, as revealed in the New Testament, teach the same precious truths.
1. As the "Good Shepherd," who laid down His life for the sheep. Comp. John x., Psalm xxii.
2. As the "Great Shepherd," - risen from the dead, He takes charge of the sheep as they journey through "that great and terrible wilderness." Comp. Heb. xiii.; Psalm xxiii.
3. As the "Chief Shepherd," who will give a crown of glory to all His under shepherds, at His appearing and kingdom. (Comp. 1 Pet. v. ; Psalm xxiv.) Surely, if we know the Lord thus, our confidence in Him must be without a question. We shall know His love, care; power, grace, and goodness, as the Shepherd of the sheep. And having gone through the wilderness Himself, He knows all the dangers and difficulties of the way.
The immediate occasion of the blessed Lord taking this place of care and responsibility, is also worthy of special note. In the eighth chapter of John's Gospel, He is rejected as the light and the truth. In the ninth He is rejected in His work. Thus rejected by the Jews in His Person and work, He formally takes His place in the tenth chapter, outside the Jewish fold, as the" Good Shepherd." Now, He gathers "the poor of the flock around Himself, as the new centre. "They shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock (flock it should be, not fold), and one shepherd." They are a "little flock" with Himself, outside the Jewish fold. They have been cast out of the synagogue, but they have all blessing in Him. Appearances may be against them, but His word assures them of a present salvation, and happy liberty. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." How unlike the narrow limits of Israel- the place of bondage! Now they have the fall assurance of salvation; and,, also, "can go in " to the sanctuary of God's holy presence to worship, and 'tout" in service to a perishing world. But this is not all: grace abounds; His heart overflows with deepest interest and tenderness for those who leave all and follow Him - who follow Him in His rejection; or, as the apostle expresses it, who "go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach,"- sharing His rejection. For all such, that wonderful revelation of grace was especially given. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." These verses will be read with tenfold more interest when we understand the circumstances in which they were first uttered; and still more, if we are in similiar circumstances ourselves.
But it may be said by some, that as David, the writer of this Psalm, lived long before the humiliation and cross of Christ, he could know nothing of these things. True, so far; but he knew what it was to be rejected by man, and cast upon God, even after he was the Lord's anointed. David and his companions in "the cave of Adullam," typify Christ and those that gather around Him. But we doubt not that "the spirit of Christ," in David, so guided him in writing the Psalm, that it applies to both Jew and Christian, and may be the truthful expression of the experience of both; only, in a much higher, and more spiritual way with us. "The Jews' religion" had its place and day before the cross; Christianity after it. This makes all the difference. We know not Messiah after the flesh, but a risen Christ in heavenly glory. We are associated with Him there. Judaism was earthly in its character; it had "divine service," and a "worldly sanctuary." Christianity is heavenly. Christians are seated together in heavenly places in Christ. Our place is to be outside the camp with Christ, as witnesses, and inside the veil with Him, as worshippers. And now, from this heavenly point of view, it is our happy privilege to meditate on the rich experience of this delightful Psalm, in the full light of gospel truth.
"My Shepherd is the Lamb,
The living Lord, who died;
With all things good I ever am
By Him supplied.
He richly feeds my soul
With blessings from above;
And leads me where the rivers roll
Of endless love."
Ver. 2. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ; he leadeth me beside the still waters." The effect of the knowledge of Jesus as the good and great Shepherd, is rest of soul in Himself, and the quiet enjoyment of His love and grace. To know Himself is life - eternal life. To know His work is peace - perfect peace. "He maketh me to lie down." To sit down is to rest; but to lie down gives the idea of full, perfect, refreshing rest - complete repose. This is what the Shepherd provides - what He leads to; not, alas, what we always accept. We often wander in fields where-in is no pasture, and beside the troubled, not the quiet waters. But this comes from occupation with self and unbelief, not from the Shepherd's hand and care. He would have the feeblest of His flock to be free from all anxiety as to the future. The Shepherd's thoughtful love is enough. He has charged Himself with the entire care of all who follow Him. We have only to watch the direction of the Shepherd's eye, and confide in His unfailing care. "I will guide thee with mine eye "-" I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," are His own words. His sheep cannot want. They may often be greatly tried in their journeyings through the wilderness, and often be ready to faint and fail because of the way; but we must re-member that the Lord's grace never fails; and that we must ever count on Him, and what we have in Him. He is with us always, even unto the end. We may quietly rest in Him. He maketh us to lie down in "green pastures"- in the midst of plenty - we rest in the abundance of His grace; and He ever leads beside the still waters.
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by."
Peace, plenty, and security, characterize the portion of the Lord's beloved flock. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb o which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
This beautiful passage, which so touchingly represents the Lord's delight in the sealed remnant of the Gentiles, will be literally true during the millennium, of all who are faithful to "the King of Glory." (Comp. Isa. xlix., with Rev. vii.) But it is also true now, in a spiritual sense, of every sheep and lamb in the highly-favoured flock of Christ. But knowest thou this blessed truth, 0 my soul, for thyself-is it thine own experience? It can only be known by the word of God, and enjoyed in the heart by faith. "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Our rest and plenty are not natural and worldly, but spiritual and heavenly. When the heart is simple, all is plain and easy.
We have heard the feeblest sing in the joyous sense of deliverance, and with amazing heart, even before the pangs of the new birth were well over;
He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay,
And on a rock He set my feet,
Establishing my way.
He put a new song in my mouth,
Our God to magnify:
Many shall see it, and shall fear,
And on the Lord rely."
Further on we learn, that the measure of our blessing is the Lord's own measure. "Because as he is, so are we in this world." "Whosoever drinketh of this water," pointing to Jacob's well," shall thirst again. But whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst." The deepest well of human bliss may soon run dry, but the "living fountains of waters" have their spring in the heart of God, which can never fail. And again, "Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life; iie that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John iv., vi.) And further still, as the foreign shoot that is grafted into the olive-tree drinks of its richness and fatness; or, as the members of the body have nourishment ministered from the head; so are we vitally united to Christ, and we feed on Him, both as to our heavenly and our time-condition.
But in the passage before us, it is rather the Lamb feeding us, than we feeding on Him. "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters." Both are blessedly true; but the former agrees more fully with the strains of the twenty-third Psalm. He who laid down His life for the sheep, and washed them from their sins in His own blood, now feeds them and leads them with His own hand. What grace! What gentleness! To be protected and nou-rished, in our journey through the wilderness, by the very hand that was pierced for our sins, should fill our hearts with perfect confidence in our Shepherd, notwithstanding the manifold trials and difficulties of the way.
The great thing, undoubtedly, is to know Himself, and to know what we are to Him, and what He is to us. What has He done in the past, what is He doing in the present, and what will He do in the future, to manifest His love? May not His great work be all briefly summed up in this? When we had lost all - the soul, holiness, happiness, and God - He not only brings the lost one back to God, but, oh, wondrous truth,- truth fraught with complete blessedness - He recovers God for the soul and this is all, for" God is love." He is the living God, the only source of the soul's life, holiness, and happiness. Oh! what a truth! Who can estimate its blessedness? Dwell upon it, 0 my soul; only think-the soul recovered for God, and God recovered for the soul! What a recovery! What a reconciliation! Not, observe, that God needed to be reconciled to us; no, God never was man's enemy; on the contrary, He so loved us when we were in our sins, that He gave His Son to die for us. And it is plainly stated, that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Nothing was needed to turn God's heart to us, blessed be His name! But the cross was needed, that by it, God might receive the atonement, and we the reconciliation. We, alas, were enemies to God in our minds by wicked works; but love triumphed in the cross; for thereby righteous reconciliation was accomplished, and man's-enmity to God was slain. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." 1 Pet.- iii. 18. And now, mark well, my soul, in thy meditations, this inviting aspect of God's love towards us; it is well fitted to quiet many a fear, and comfort thee in any trouble - to fill thee, even now, with joy unspeakable and full of glory. And mark, too, that word of exquisite tenderness which refers to the wind-up of thy weary journey through this vale of tears "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." With His own hand He wipes away the last tear that shall ever dim, the pilgrim's eye. May we not call this the privilege of love, which the Father claims for all the children?
Ver. 3. "Re restoretle my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Though under the faithful care and watchful eye of the Good Shepherd, we have to pass through a world, in which many and powerful foes surround us, and closely beset our path, "The god of this world," we are sure, hates us, because he knows full well that when he is chained in the bottomless pit, we shall be in the full liberty of the glory with Christ. There is no book in all the Bible he tries to keep people from reading, or dislikes so much as the book of "The Revelation ;" and, why? Because, therein his own, complete overthrow, and eternal misery, are plainly foretold. He wants to conceal this from the eyes of men; and, alas, how wonderfully he has succeeded, as to this precious and profitable book. Many think it cannot be understood, and that it is unprofitable to read it; whereas, the Lord has connected a special blessing with the reading and the understanding of this book. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein: for the time is at hand." (Chap. i. 3.) The Lord's judicial dealings, not only with Satan, the source of all - evil, but with the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God, are herein unfolded. He shows us how He will square accounts with each. There can be no millennium until these judgments are past. "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee ?" - It is all important to see the final results of the rise and pro-gress of these three great divisions of mankind. Other books show us the failure, "The Revelation," the fall, and the setting aside of these bodies, or classes, as the responsible witnesses of God in the earth. But more than that, " The Revelation" shows us the Lord Jesus Christ taking the place of the faithful and true witness, on the failure of all others, - and re-establishing all things on a new footing, that God may be fully glorified in the scene wherein He has been dishonoured. "These things, saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. . . . Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, and the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth." Rev. i. 5., iii. 14.
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