Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
Here, meditate, Ο my soul, on this wondrous revelation -this bursting forth of light, and living strength from the dark and, hitherto, unknown regions of the tomb. The victory is complete! Christ has, personally, gone through the straits of death, and cleared the passage for all His followers, of every difficulty and danger. He who was in the lowest parts of the earth, is now in glory. And from that glory—the glory of God in the risen Man -divine light now shines into these low and lonely depths. The gloom of death is dissipated—the darkness of the grave illuminated—the shadows of death are only on the human side, and felt by our poor human hearts.
Death itself, by man, the justly styled King of Terrors, is completely vanquished! Every circumstance of death and the grave is mastered forever. The Lord is risen from among the dead, and associates us with Himself in resurrection life, power, and glory. What a blessed position to be brought into! We stand on the same triumphant ground as the Conqueror Himself, and enjoy, with Him, the spoils of His victories.
What is death? What is the passage of death? What are the issues of death? are questions that had never been fully answered in Scripture until now. Up till the time that the blessed Lord appeared, died, rose again, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, comparatively little was known on these solemn subjects. No doubt, godly souls in Old Testament times, who had been taught of the Spirit to trust God through all their pilgrim days, could quietly trust Him in the hour of their departure. The last glimpse we have of Jacob is truly beautiful. We see him as an aged pilgrim, leaning on his staff, worshipping the living God. And the picture of Joseph is that of peace and victory. " By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones." Heb. 11:21, 2221By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. 22By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. (Hebrews 11:21‑22).
But to the Jew, as such, the subject of death was necessarily a more gloomy one than it is to the Christian; consequently, the application of verse 4 (Psalm 23) would be somewhat different to the latter. It is of the Jews that the apostle speaks when he says, " who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Christians may get into this state of mind, and some may never have been in any other, but it is certainly contrary to the cheering light, and happy liberty of the gospel. Such, we fear, have never seen, or understood, the death and resurrection of Christ, as God's great principle of blessing to the Christian. This is the alone ground of peace with God, oneness with Christ, and of full liberty from the fear of death.
Again, to the Jew, as such, this world was the land of the living. It was the place of his blessing; and the great promise to obedience was, "That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." "I had fainted," says the Psalmist, " unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (Psalm 20 vii. 13.) But to the Christian, we may say, it is the land of the dying. " I protest," says Paul,........
" I die daily." It is also the land of death—the death of the Lord Jesus Christ; consequently, it is the valley of the shadow of death. The cross has thrown its dark shadow over the whole scene. And where, it may be asked, is the place of the Christian's joy and blessing? In heavenly places in Christ.
Heaven is the Christian's home; he is from home in this world. As men, we speak of the place where we were born as our natural place; then is the Christian entitled to speak of heaven as his natural place. He is born of God—born from above. And the place, circumstances, and company, that are suited and proper to his nature as a child of God, are on high. And never, never, until he reaches the shores of his father-land, shall he breathe his native air, or know what the feeling of home means. Hence, the instinctive longings and desires of the heart to reach his Father's house are only natural, " My cheerful soul now all the day Sits waiting here and sings; Looks through the ruin of her clay, And practices her wings.
Faith almost changes into sight, While from afar she spies Her fair inheritance in light, Above created skies.
Some rays of heaven break sweetly in At all the opening flaws; Visions of endless bliss are seen, And native air she draws."
Here, in this body of sin and death, and sojourning in a world of evil, where Christ was crucified, we may have much, and most blessed fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost. But this is the effect of grace in the midst of evil, and of the Holy Ghost's presence in the believer. The Father cares for the children—the Shepherd cares for the sheep, and the Holy Ghost's presence on the earth is the power by which we enjoy our inheritance on high.
This is a great truth, my soul; the truth, I mean, as to thy new birth—thy new life—that thou art born of God—born from above—quickened together with Christ! What then? What flows therefrom? That thou art a child of God—an heir of God—a joint-heir with Christ, and placed in Him, far, far above the power of death and the grave. Meditate, I repeat, Ο meditate, deeply, patiently, on what is involved in this most marvelous truth. The knowledge thereof will go far to explain thy wilderness experience, relieve thee of thy wilderness burdens, and shed a flood of light over the dark valley.
Beyond all question, all who have been quickened since death entered by sin, have received their new life, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostle, referring to Old Testament saints, speaks of " the Spirit of Christ which was in them." He is that eternal life which was with the Father, and was, in due time, manifested unto us. There is no other life—no life anywhere else, for the soul dead in sin. " And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (1 John 5:11, 1211And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (1 John 5:11‑12); John 3:3636He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36).) But although, from the beginning, life could only be found in and by Christ; still, it appears quite evident, that the condition of the life enjoyed by the Christian, is quite different to that of the Old Testament saint. " I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'' (John 10:1010The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).) This abundant life, we doubt not, is life in resurrection. John 20:2222And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (John 20:22).
Not only is the Christian a child of God, but he is said to be quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Now, only mark, into what scenes of blessedness this great truth-this union with Christ, introduces the believer? United to Him, the risen Head, He communicates to us the privileges of His own position before God. He is the well-spring of the believer's new life; it is fed by Him every moment. Neither sin, Satan, nor death can ever touch it. The Christian, by faith, has begun his eternity with Christ. He needs not to wait till death, or the coming of the Lord, relieve him.
The foundation of all this great truth for the soul, is the death and resurrection of Christ. He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. In the greatness of His love, He bore the burden of our sins in His own body on the tree. Death in ail its bitterness He tasted for us, and put away sin, the source and sting of death, by the sacrifice of Himself. But God raised up that blessed One, and quickened us together with Him. And now, blessed be His name, we know of a truth, that our evil nature has been judged, our sin and sins all blotted out—that righteousness has been divinely accomplished—that our peace with God is made—and that we are one with the risen Jesus, in an entirely new sphere, where no evil can ever come, and where the light of God's countenance shines on us perfectly, and forever. 2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21); 1 Pet. 2:2424Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:24); Heb. 2:9; 9:269But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)
26For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
; Col. 2:12, 1312Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Colossians 2:12‑13); Eph. 2; 1 Cor. 15
This is the only position from which death can be fairly and calmly viewed. Like Joshua of old, who, from Canaan's side of Jordan, returned to its center, and there planted his twelve stones of victory. From the heavenly side he could calmly contemplate the river of death, and go down into its depths. But the priests were there before him with the ark of the covenant, and, with "the Lord of the whole earth," it was as easy to pass the Jordan as the Red Sea.
But to the merely natural man, who knows he is un-pardoned—unsaved—death must be a fearful thing. If he thinks at all about it, and is intelligent and honest, the very thought of it must be dreadful. Death and judgment, the fruit of sin, are the two great objects of men's fears. And so they may. Terrible indeed, to an immortal soul, must be the consequences of death and judgment. And how humbling, too, is death to the natural man. He must succumb. The strong man must bow to it—the proud man must humble himself to it. The wise and the rich are alike unable to avoid it, or resist it. It is an implacable enemy that cannot be appeased or turned aside -that cannot be guarded against-that will not be sent away—that is relentless—rapacious—insatiable.
Can I prevail on my reader, if this be his, or her, state, to give this subject a serious thought? And, oh, let it be now—just now. Delay not! Time is on the wing—thy days are flying fast—already they may be few. And what then? The eternal ages—an eternity of unmingled blessedness, or unutterable woe.
In the whole field of fallen human nature, there is nothing to be found more awful than death. For as in the forest, so in this field, " as the tree falls, so it lies." How solemn—how eternally solemn! As death finds the soul, so will the judgment-seat, and so will a long, long eternity. Beyond death there is no repentance. As the breath leaves the body, the state is unalterably fixed. This is man's last change—a change which admits of no succeeding one forever. Oh, then, my dear reader, listen to the affectionate entreaties of one who loves thy soul, and would earnestly warn thee against neglecting its salvation! " For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? " The whole material world, in the Savior's estimation, is of less value than one human soul. And, it may be, that the well-being of thy precious soul has never cost thee a serious thought. The most ordinary things of this life, or some ornament for thy person, may have cost thee more thought than thy soul's eternal destinies, or the sufferings and death of Christ, by which alone it can be saved.
Do think, I pray thee, my fellow sinner, on this all-important subject! At all costs yield to its pressing claims. If it should involve the breaking of many engagements as to this life, and the blasting of all thy prospects therein, care not—suffer not such considerations to detain thee on the world's enchanted ground, or hinder thy decision for Christ. Remember this, and this is plain; that he who sides not with Christ, sides with Satan, and must share with him the lake of fire. This is the second death. Oh, dreadful thought! What shall I say unto thee? How shall I plead with thee? Shall 1 fall down at thy feet and shed the beseeching tear? Shall I be as a fool in thy sight? Shall my loud and bitter cry be to thee as the noise of some fanatic—or of one who is righteous over much? Well, be it so; all these and more. I speak from feeling, not by rule. I am content if only thou wilt bethink thyself, and flee at once to Jesus, who has paid the ransom price of the sinner's redemption. To see thee at last as a jewel in the Savior's crown, or as a monument of grace on the plains of eternal glory, would be a rich compensation for being reckoned fool or madman in this world. But, soberly, tears of blood, could I shed them, would not be too much to shed over a soul that refuses the provision God has made, for His own glory in our eternal happiness.
Jesus, God's blessed Son, "was made a little lower than the angels......that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Heb. 2:99But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9).) Here all is plain. Scripture never exaggerates, if preachers do. What does this text teach us? This truth, plainly, that sin, unrepented of, brings the sinner to the place, that the grace of God brought Christ. In grace and love, He took the sinner's place—the place of the curse—the forsaken place, where it Was not possible that the cup of wrath should pass from him. Now we see, in the cross, where sin leads to—what sin deserves—and how God deals with it. Doubtless, sin was measured and dealt with in the holy Person of Jesus, in a way that can never be done even in the lake of fire. God's hatred of sin was perfectly expressed on the cross. One drop of that cup which He drained—one stroke of that judgment which He exhausted, would sink a world of rebellious sinners in the depths of woe. But there, alas, the cup will never be drained—the judgment never exhausted.
Truly, may we not say,—If such things were done in the green tree, what must it be in the dry? If the true and living tree so felt the fires of holy justice, what must become of the dry and rotten tree? If He, who had not a particle of sin in Himself, was thus dealt with, when sin was imputed to Him, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? What, my friend, would the rotten branch of thy good deeds avail thee, in the swellings of Jordan? One thing seems perfectly plain—he who rejects God's green tree now, can have nothing to say at last, when God rejects the dry.
But, oh, the Lord grant that this may never be the case with thee, my reader, or with any soul who has ever read, or heard, that beautiful text, " Jesus was made a little lower than the angels.....that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." What a revelation of the heart of God for us! " By the grace of God; " and what a blessed work by the Son! He tasted death that we might never taste it. Oh, believe it—rest in Jesus -trust all to His finished work! Glory in the fact, that the God of all grace loves thee—that He spared from His bosom His well-beloved Son, that He might taste death for thee a sinner. And now, can I hear thee saying?- ' Bless the Lord—He has tasted death for me a sinner. Now I believe it-the bitterness of death is past-had I a hundred hearts He should have them all.'
Descending from glory on high, With men Thy delight was to dwell, Contented our Surety to die, By dying to save us from hell; Enduring the grief and the shame, And bearing our sin on the cross, Oh! who would not boast of this love, And count the world's glory but loss?
It is well for thee, my soul, to plead, and to plead earnestly, with sinners who are unprepared for death. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord," as the apostle says, " we persuade men." But now, for a little while, let thy contemplations be confined to the triumphs of the saint in that solemn hour. Thou hast spoken of the human side—the dark valley; now look at the heavenly side—the way of glory. Suppose then -The messenger of peace is come—come to close, in quiet sleep, the pilgrim days of one who has been something like forty years in the wilderness. Of one, we shall still suppose, who had become foot-weary, but whose sympathies were all with Christ and His people, and who cared for the testimony of Jesus on the earth. But the Lord's appointed time has come. The tie is dissolved; the body is left behind; the happy soul is liberated—it is present with the Lord.
Here pause, one moment, my soul. Pray what tie is it that is dissolved? The tie that binds the divine life in the earthen vessel. " For we know, that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Here the apostle speaks on behalf of all Christians. " We know." There is no thought whatever, in such a case, of death being " the wages of sin." Christ, our Surety, paid the penalty in full—so full, we may say, that it is not necessary the Christian should die at all. And certain it is, that all Christians shall not die. " We shall not all sleep," says the apostle plainly, " but we shall all be changed." And again, " then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:5151Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (1 Corinthians 15:51); 1 Thess. 4:1717Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)) The dissolving of the tabernacle, gently or roughly, touches not our eternal life in the risen Jesus. It simply dissolves its connection with the earthen vessel. The new man in Christ can never taste of death.