Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
It is always true—true at all times, and true of all saints -that when the Good Shepherd "putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice." This is a truth—a divine principle—of immense value; it has a deep and wide practical bearing. It assures our hearts that whatever betide, He is at hand -always near; within sight, as we may say, and within the sound of His voice. Yes, and the believer finds in the scene, through which the Lord has passed before him, such a fragrance of His presence, as not only strengthens, but enriches the soul therein. When—at what time soever, He putteth forth His own sheep, HE goeth before them. See that thou understandest well this precious truth, Ο my soul; it is the great truth for the sheep of Christ. It affects everything as to thy path through this world. It is thy safeguard in danger—thy victory in conflict—thy light in darkness—thy strength in weakness—thy comfort in sorrow- thy fellowship in solitude—thy brightest hope amidst the deepest gloom. He who is with thee and before thee, has tasted the bitterest sorrows of the wilderness, and has passed through the darkest night into the brightest day: and so shalt thou, only follow Him.
This truth, so blessed to the pilgrim, assures us of the Shepherd's care in every step, rough or smooth, of our wilderness journey. He is ever present—He never leaves nor forsakes. And through His perfect knowledge of the way, He confounds the enemy, turning all his hostility to the account of our blessing, and His own glory. Blessed fruit, through His grace, of all that befalls poor human nature, when traveling through the deep sand of the desert.
" The shepherd's bosom bears each lamb
O'er rock, and waste, and wild;
The object of that love I am -
And carried like a child."
"If any man serve me," says the Lord, "let him follow me." He does not say, observe, " let him do this for me, or do that for me," but "let him follow me." Quietly to wait on the Lord that we may know His will, and faithfully to follow Him, hearkening to the voice of His word, is the most pleasing service we can render to the Lord. Some He may lead into more public, others into more private paths of service, but closely to follow the directions of His word, while looking by faith to Himself, is our most acceptable service. And for all such He has left His richest promise. "And where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me him will my Father honor." John 12
These weighty and solemn truths were uttered, when the dark shadows of Gethsemane and Calvary were crossing His path. It is comparatively easy to be active for the Lord, and, as it were, to be doing some great thing for Him, in a bright and sunny day; but, oh, how difficult to follow Him through the solitudes of His rejection in a homeless world! Who of us can endure, it may be, to be separated from our dearest friends on earth, and to be thought weak and unstable?—who can endure to be in the outside place for the reproach of Christ? These waters are often very bitter. But His love desires that we should know something experimentally of His own path through this world, and the fellowship of His sufferings. It was not enough for the Lord's great love to Abel that he should bear testimony by his slain lamb to the truth that death had come by sin; but he was honored to bear witness in a more solemn way in his own death. Not only was the blood of his lamb shed, but his own blood, as God's witness on the earth. How much more Abel had to do with death in this world than Cain! How significant, and solemnly instructive to all who follow with Abel! But after all, it was the Lord's love to Abel, and the Lord's honor conferred on him.
We have the same great principle, in type, at the waters of Marah. The people knew the value of the blood of the lamb in Egypt, as their safeguard from judgment, and their complete redemption in virtue of that blood. And now the Lord would have them further to know in their own experience, the unfailing power of the blood for all the vicissitudes of the wilderness. In this way they had to do with death in all their journeyings. They were marching through the wilderness, under the shelter of the blood—the expressive symbol of death. It was on this ground alone that Jehovah could say to Balaam, " I have not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel." He does not say " there is none there," but, " I have not seen it." True, it was all in type, but we can easily see what was always uppermost in the Lord's mind. " When I see the blood I will pass over you." As if the Lord had said, " When I see the blood of the lamb I see that which glorified me—blotted out sin—destroyed the power of the enemy, and obtained eternal redemption for my beloved people." It left Jehovah free, in all circumstances, to act in pure grace towards the people. They had only to look up, however naughty they had been, or however sorely they were distressed, and grace flowed—the need was met—the bitter cup was sweetened, and they were freely forgiven.
The blood of the Lamb was their divine passport from Egypt to Canaan. Nothing could stand before it, everything yields to its power. If the hosts of Egypt attempt to stop the journeyings of the blood-sprinkled people, they are cast into the depths of the sea; and if all the nations of the earth had sided with them, they must have shared the same fate. " I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Sheba for thee." The deep waters of the lied Sea must make a way for the ransomed of the Lord to pass over; not an hoof was left behind. The manna, the cloud, and the living stream from the flinty rack are supplied, all enemies are subdued, and every need is met in virtue of the same precious blood. And though the river of death, at the end of their journeyings, overflowed all its banks, and Jericho walled to heaven, as the threatening rage of the enemy, and the tokens of his power, they present no barrier to the infinite power of the blood. But where is its power not felt and owned, willingly or unwillingly? It rent the veil of heaven, and unlocked the portals of the grave. What is higher than heaven? What is deeper than hell? Matt, 27. 50-53.
But we are all prone to forget, like Israel of old, what the Lord has done for us—what bitter cup He drank for us—and that we carry through the wilderness with us, the same " token" of His unchanging love. Hence, we often need to get a taste of the bitter, in order to remind us of that which alone can sweeten; and that all the difficulties, trials, and temptations of this life, are to be borne in fellowship with Him. This His love desires. He has gone through them all for us, and that with infinite patience, meekness, and wisdom, as an example to us. And, oh! wondrous grace, He allows to us in our afflictions, a ministry of love, sympathy, and kindness, which He allowed not Himself. He was forsaken of God in His sore distress—He was surrounded by the violence and rage of His shameless enemies, who gaped upon Him with their mouths like ravening and roaring lions. All refuge failed Him, comforters there were none. Psalm 22:1-211<<To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.>> My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. 3But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. 6But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. 9But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. 10I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly. 11Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. 14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. 19But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. 20Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. 21Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. (Psalm 22:1‑21).
This was for us; there he drank the bitter cup of God's wrath against sin. And He will have us to know Him there, in love for us. And we have to learn by experience, however painful the lesson, that nothing but the bitter cup of Calvary can sweeten the bitter cup of Marah. In other words, the sympathies of His heart who died there, are alone sufficient to soothe the sorrows of ours. But glory be to God who gave His Son, we find all in Jesus. His cross is ours—His heart is ours. The full value of the cross is ours—the tender, boundless sympathies of His heart are ours—ours now—ours forever. Oh! wonderful, precious, blessed truth! What more do we need? The cross and heart of Jesus—ours. Eternal springs of all blessing! The blest, though bitter waters of Marah lead to a deeper knowledge of Calvary; and the deep, and painful need of a broken heart to deeper fellowship with His. He could say, and in truth, as none else ever could, "Reproach hath broken my heart." Yes, and more, in place of the tender sympathies of fellow pilgrims, which. His people so abundantly enjoy, He had to add- " And I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none." (Psalm 69) Oh! what a refuge we have in the once broken and desolate heart of Jesus!
" Jesus, my All in all Thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The medicine of my broken heart;
,Mid storms, my peace; in loss, my gain;
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown,
In shame, my glory and my crown.
"In want, my plentiful supply;
In weakness, my almighty power;
In bonds, my perfect liberty;
My refuge in temptation's hour;
My comfort 'midst all grief and thrall,
My life in death, my All in all."
When the Lord has thus brought us down to a true sense of our own weakness, and to more real dependence on His unfailing strength and constant care, the purposes of His tender love are answered. The deeper the trial, the stronger the expression of His love. And now we can say in the rich experience of our souls, " HE restoreth my soul." Not the green pastures and the still waters, pleasant and excellent as these are—No; but the Lord Himself. The path becomes more and more individualized; there must be greater nearness to the Lord as our shepherd, and more direct fellowship with Himself. " HE restoreth my soul: HE leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."