Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
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 be 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 infrequently, in mature years, and even in old age, the lessons learned in youth are the best remembered. Hence, the importance of early training and instruction in the things of God, and of the immortal soul.
The following anecdote from the pen of a missionary who labored in India, touchingly illustrates what has just been referred to; but as it is now given from memory, we can 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 he the case; yet every appeal seemed ineffectual. At last the thought crossed his mind—Ί can hear from his accent that he comes from a country where the Psalm 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 parents' prayer to God for His blessing. For a long time, both the instruction given, and the prayers offered, seemed fruitless and 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 arc too prone to fear that it is be; but faith affirms 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 Isa. 1: 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." Romans via. 32; Acts 16. 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 startup before the trembling sinner in u 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 jailor, 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—"O Father of Mercies, keep thine eye on my wandering son—let thy hand of unwearied love be spread over him night and day -, bring him early to Thyself, that He may not so dishonor 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 fulfill 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 he our excuse for saying so much thereon. But we now return to our beautiful Psalm; and it may be we shall find, that however early we were taught to repeat, " The Lord's 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 avid 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 forever.
This is precious faith! Mark it well, O 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 learned 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 Psalm are linked together. But the twenty-second must be learned 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 10, Psalm 22) 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. 13 Psalm 23) 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. 5, Psalm 24) 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 center. " 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 full assurance of salvation; and, also, " can go in" to the sanctuary of God's holy presence to worship, and "out" in service to a perishing world. But this is not all—grace abounds—His heart over flows 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 similar 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.