Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
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 wherein 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 remember 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 shad hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb 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. 49, with Rev. 7 But it is also true now, in a spiritual sense, of every sheep and lamb in the highly-favored flock of Christ. But knowest thou this blessed truth, Ο 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 Mew 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 shad 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; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 4: 6) 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 nourished, 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, Ο 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. 3:1818For 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 Peter 3:18).
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?
" He restoreth my soul; lie leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name 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 progress 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 dishonored. "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. 1; 5; 3:14.
But we cannot yet say, in the language of the twenty-fourth Psalm, which is strictly millennial, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein." No, we are still on the ground of the twenty-third Psalm, as the sheep of Christ in much weakness, and Satan is still " the god of this world" -" the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Hence the many trials and sorrows by the way; and hence the need of the Lord's refreshing, restoring grace. Satan does all in his power to injure, and terrify the sheep of Christ, as they pass through his territory. He lays many snares for their feet, and he gilds many a scene that he may attract the eye, and take it off the Good Shepherd who goes before them. Well the enemy knows that if they follow closely after Him, all his own snares and attractions are unsuccessful. He who goes before His flock meets the danger or the difficulty, and removes it, before they come up to it, blessed be His name. All difficulties vanish from His presence, and all enemies are powerless before Him. The great lesson to be learned in the wilderness, is entire dependence on the Lord.
When Israel had safely passed through the deep, and stood in triumph as the Lord's redeemed on the margin of the desert, their redemption was complete, but Canaan was not reached. The wilderness, with all its temptations and difficulties, lay between. The Lord had many lessons to teach His people there. But before they were called to this character of experience, God had made Himself known to them in His grace and power—as the great " I AM." In their glorious deliverance out of the land of Egypt, He had acted for them, in pure grace, through the blood of the iamb. Thus far, it was grace without rebuke, so that they ought to have known Him as worthy of ail their trust.
As characteristic of the wilderness, the first thing that meets them is a difficulty. " In which direction does our way to Canaan lie? " they might say to each other. There were no roads to be seen—nothing but a trackless desert lay before them. What was now to be done? Just what they were always to do, and what the Lord's redeemed should ever do—LOOK UP. There they would see Jehovah Himself, the true Shepherd of Israel, in His cloudy chariot, moving on before them. They were only safe in following Him; having no will, no wish, no way of their own, only to follow Him, in the full assurance that He would lead them by the best way, to the promised land. Oh! how happy for Israel had this been the case then; and how happy for us now, were we always content thus closely to follow the Lord—" the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls."
But another, and a deeper trial for Israel soon came. The knowledge of accomplished redemption, the full assurance of forgiveness, and the enjoyment of God's favor, never exempt us from trials and disappointments in this world. We have many profitable though painful lessons to learn in the wilderness. But if we never knew want, we could never know relief; and the value of a divine restorative, is best known to a fainting soul. "So Moses brought Israel from the Bed Sea; and they went out into the wilderness of Shur: and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter." What a disappointment! At the end of a three days' journey in the wilderness to find no water, and when they did find it, it was bitter! What a trial! But Jehovah, the great "I AM," was there: and faith could say, even in these circumstances, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul." His grace never fails. If I grow faint and weary, "He restoreth my soul." If I forget and fail, " He restoreth my soul." Yes, and more, " He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Gracious Lord! He maintains my soul in spite of my weakness, in the paths of true holiness. Such is the language of a calm and patient faith. But on the other hand, the natural heart would reason within itself and say, can this be love? Does the Lord not care for His people after redeeming them out of the hand of the enemy? Most surely He does; only have patience. He is about to teach them a lesson, which is of present, future, and eternal value: a lesson, which when learned, is worth all the disappointments of the desert to know. This is the object of His perfect love, in the present trial.
" And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?" And what, we may ask, could the man Moses do in such a state of things? Only, as before said,—look up. " And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet." Thus, the Lord sweetens the bitter waters. It was not their murmurings that sweetened them, nor any means of their own devising, but the Lord's own remedy, and applied according to His own directions! He only can sweeten the bitter cup, but He always can, and He always does; blessed be His name! Better have a bitter cup, and the Lord to sweeten it, than have no bitter cup at all—better far be cast, bound hand and foot into the fiery furnace, and have the honor and blessing of walking there in per-feet liberty with " the Son of God," than be saved from going into the furnace. Oh! what a field, my soul, for meditation, is the rich field of experience! Like the hind let loose, roam through it, and feed in it. Shepherds tell us that "variety of pasture is good for the flocks; " and sure thou art that to be occupied with only a part of God's word, and not with the whole, is to see only one side of truth, and not the truth of God generally. It is thus that many become narrow and confused in their views, and faulty in their faith and practice. In our beautiful, and highly instructive Psalm, we have the wide, wide field of wilderness-life spread out before us.
But we will return to our lesson. What kind of a tree, we may ask, can this be, that changes the bitter waters into sweet? In all the forests of the universe, there is but one tree to be found that can do this. But this tree is a divine specific—it never fails. It is enough to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever was pressed to human lips, and to turn all the bitterness of wilderness-experience into the most delectable cup of heavenly blessedness. It was on that tree that Jesus died—that divine love triumphed over human hatred—that God was fully glorified—that sin was utterly abolished—that Satan was completely overthrown- that death was made stingless—that the grave was made powerless—that eternal peace was made for the feeblest of the flock—that the gloomy gates of hell were forever shut- and the glorious gates of heaven thrown wide open, for all who believe in Him who died upon the tree. This tree, rooted in Calvary, sends its boughs of rich blessing into all the earth, and fills the highest heavens with its ripened fruits. It stands as the moral center of the universe, and is the brightest display of God's moral glories, that can ever be seen or known. Oh! who would not accept the wilderness-cup, to be taught thereby, the many glories of the Savior's cross?*
(* It will be of interest to many of our readers to know, that this paper was written about two weeks before the event—so solemn and sudden to the writer—of July 1st. Then, as we may say, the sweet waters of health, affection, and activity were flowing around him. But it is now plain, that the Lord, in love, was preparing His servant through communion with Himself, for what was so near at hand.—Ed.)
" We are by Christ redeemed:
The cost—His precious blood;
Be nothing by our souls esteem'd
Like this great good.
To God our weakness clings
Through tribulation sore,
And seeks the covert of His wings
Till all be o'er."