Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
But here it may be profitable to dwell a little on the blessed and comforting truth just alluded to, namely, that all Christians shall not die—that many shall be changed, and caught up with the quickened dead to meet the Lord in the air. It is quite evident from the passages already quoted, that those who are alive on the earth when the Lord comes, shall not pass through death at all. In their case, as the apostle says, " Mortality shall be swallowed up of life." Such will be the power of life in the Son of the living God, that every trace of mortality, in their human nature, shall instantly disappear from His presence. It will be swallowed up—annihilated. And, observe, it is mortality, not death, that is here said to be swallowed up of life. Death, too, we know, shall be swallowed up in victory. In the one case, the apostle refers to those who have fallen asleep in Jesus; in the other, to those who are alive on the earth at His coming. How beautiful and interesting is the perfect accuracy of Scripture! If a word is changed, there is an important reason for the change. The same truths, and their distinctiveness, are taught by the Lord, when speaking of Himself as the resurrection and the life. " Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." John 11: 25, 26.
But need we wonder at this manifestation of the power of life in the coming Lord? Sin, we may say, is an accidental thing. It is no part of the divine arrangements. It was introduced by an enemy. But every particle of the poison of sin, with all its baneful effects, shall be completely expelled from the living saints when the Lord comes for them. There is no need that they should die: Christ has died for them. And, oh! how sweet the thought, it will be the same body still, but without the sin and its effects. Then shall our bodies of humiliation be fashioned like unto His body of glory; yet the perfect identity of each shall be preserved. And all this, observe, shall be accomplished by the power of a life, which we now see in the risen Jesus; and, 0, wondrous truth! this life is ours—ours now—ours in Him where all is victory!
It is most interesting to observe, what we may call the four-fold state, in which our divine life, is here contemplated in the reasonings of the apostle. (2 Cor. 4:6-186For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:6‑18); v. 1-9.) But although it is viewed in four different aspects or conditions, the life itself remains unchanged and unchangeably the same. It is eternal life—the life of the risen and glorified Christ.
He had spoken, in the third chapter, of the gospel in contrast with law—of the ministration of righteousness and the Spirit, in contrast with the ministration of death and condemnation. The law, as presenting God's claims on man, condemns him, because he breaks it. But the gospel reveals a righteousness on God's part, in place of requiring it from man. Christ Himself is this righteousness. When He is received by faith, we are made the righteousness of God in Him, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty—liberty from the pressure of law, and from the fear of death.
Christ glorified, is the foundation of the whole argument. " But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." The man Christ Jesus, who was on the cross for us, as our sin-bearer, is now on the throne. Blessed proof to the heart, of the perfect and eternal settlement of the whole question of sin. Humanity has been carried to the throne of God. The divine glory is fully displayed in the risen Man. He is also the blessed manifestation of our place and portion in the same glory. And, O, precious truth, in meditating on this glory, as it shines in the face of Jesus, we are changed into His likeness through the power of the Holy Ghost. Lord, grant me this grace, that I may indeed meditate, with delight and intelligence, on Thy glory, and become here, on earth, its true reflection.
The apostle preached to the world, the good news of Christ in glory. " We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." He preached Christ victorious over sin and Satan, death and the grave. He invited and entreated sinners to believe on a glorified Christ—to come to Him in faith, and enjoy the love, and share the blessings and glories of the Savior. Christ has established righteousness for the sinner in the presence of God, so that there need be no doubting and fearing. The full blessing is promised to all æé he trust in Him. " Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." What an immense power there is in such a gospel; but what weakness must characterize every other! All who believe the gospel Paul preached, are introduced into the pure light of the glory, as it is revealed in Christ. Those who reject the light, are, alas, blinded by Satan, the god of this world. What a thought! Refusing the glorified Savior, alas, alas, they fall into the hands of the enemy.
The sixth verse gives the explanation of what we call the first state, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The heart is the vessel of the light. A light from the glory is kindled in the human heart. Divine life, through faith in a glorified Christ, being thus communicated, we are responsible for its manifestation, as a light shining in a dark place. It is the light of life. It comes direct from God. He who at first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts. Christ is our life, our light, our glory. In this dark world, before the eyes of man, we are called to be the reflection of our absent Lord. This is the first state of the new life. And how important! What a place it gives us here! The men of this world, who will neither read the Bible nor religious books, will surely read the lives of Christians. Ο to be an epistle of Christ, known and read of all men! As the Jew could read the ten commandments when he looked on the tables of stone, so may the eyes of those that are around us, be able to read Christ, in our daily walk and conversation.
" But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." This is the second state. The divine life is viewed in near contact with the mortal body, and with all the infirmities and evils connected therewith. But no evil can ever touch the life of Christ in the soul. The more the vessel was troubled on every side, the more evident it became that the power of God was there. It rose above the working of death in the apostle, and triumphed over all the difficulties of his thorny path. " For we which live," he says, "are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal body." This " dying daily," caused the life of Jesus to shine forth more brightly. Like Gideon's pitchers, the light was manifested when the vessel was broken. But what experience! What conflict! What service! His many and heavy afflictions he calls light, and but for a moment, in the view of that eternal weight of glory, which he saw before him. Encourage, Lord, and strengthen the hearts of thy weak and sorrowing ones now, who come so far short of the example of thy servant Paul.
We now come to the third state. The " unclothed" state—the one more immediately under our meditation. Paul was " willing rather" to be in this state; although, at the same time, he saw in the Man Christ, glorified in heaven, the perfect, or resurrection state. This is the fourth state, when the person, complete, shall be glorified, after the image of Christ in glory. This was the grand object before the apostle's mind. "For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." See also Phil. 3
The fourth state being connected with the Lord's coming, we have much more light and definite teaching on it. than on the intermediate state. Comparatively little is said on the third, or separate state of the soul. A veil, we doubt not, has been purposely drawn over it, so that it might not come between our hearts and our Lord's return. Had the soul's blessedness with Jesus, during the present period, been fully revealed, we might have been selfish enough to have thought so much about it, and to have longed so much after it, that the hope of His coming might have lost its proper place and power in our hearts. The Holy Ghost guards the hope of the Church on all sides, and with special care. But enough is revealed to satisfy the heart of faith, as to our dear departed ones. Further light is, in love, withheld. Meditate deeply, my soul, on what is revealed, and be subject thereto. And knowing the love of Jesus, and the unchangeableness of our divine life amidst all changes, the interpretation thereof will be easy.
" For me to live is Christ," says the apostle, " and to die is gain." This is a contrast. To live is Christ—to die would be a gain upon that. And, further, he adds, " For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better." " With Christ," would be his "gain." This would be "far better." But first of all, carefully note the blessedness of the state with which he contrasts departing " to be with Christ."
" For me to live is Christ." What nearness to Christ, what communion with Him, the servant must have that can say this! It includes the idea, first of all, of having Christ for his object, his motive, his joy, his strength; and, also, of great love for the Church, a deep and tender interest in all that concerned the name and glory of Christ, and the well-being of His people. " For me to live is Christ,"—is like the condensed energy of the Spirit, that would sum up all of that mighty heart, that bright light, that noble servant, in these few words. And now comes the important question—How much would such an one "gain" by death? He would be "with Christ" -in the enjoyment of Christ, personally, in heaven. And this is like the condensed energy of the Spirit as to the other side—the consummation of all blessedness—"with Christ." But would the soul not lose much of its interest in all these lower things, now that it has reached the higher? Most assuredly not! It has the higher things in addition. This is the point of great interest as to the "unclothed" state. We can never lose anything that we now have, in fellowship with Christ; because, He is already risen and glorified. He is our life—that life has no trial to go through. It only loses, in death, the poor, cumbersome body in which it groaned, being burdened.
All that we now know, and enter into, through the teaching of the Spirit, must abide forever. We only lose that which belongs to the first Adam, but nothing of that which belongs to the last Adam. There is immense force in the apostle's words of contrast, far better—Even better! This would be true as to everything touching the soul's connection with the blessed Lord, both as to the higher and lower things.
It is no longer in our power to communicate to the dear departed soul, that which we know would have given it joy here; bat being present with the Lord, everything that is worthy of His love, and fitted to deepen the joy, and elevate the worship of the loved departed, we can happily trust Him to communicate. All is well! How well! " Absent from the body, present with the Lord." How far the soul, apart from the body, (its own proper instrument of expression) can express itself, we venture not to say, but in its bright consciousness, it remembers and loves. It thinks of the past and present; it anticipates the future. It waits in patience, with Christ, for the morning of the first resurrection; but its present and blessed feast is His unchanging, never-ending love.
" There are our loved ones in their rest:
They've crossed time's river—now no more
They heed the troubles on its breast,
Nor feel the storms that sweep its shore.
But 'there' pure love can live, can last -
They look for us their home to share:
When we in turn, away have passed,
What joyful greetings wait us there -
Across the river!"
There is only one other passage I would refer to on this point. It has always been a favorite with the weary pilgrim. I mean the Lord's own word to the penitent thief, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." The sweetness, the comfort, the rest of heart, which this assurance gives, is beyond all expression. There, " with the Lord" and with loved ones who have gone before, the soul rests, clothed in light, and breathing the air of heaven. The mother has found her first-born, long, long, gone before her, but never forgotten. And, oh! what a fresh spring to her worship! " Ο magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together," will now be their joyous song. And there, too, the husband meets the wife of his youth, who was early called, but whose hearts were formed to love, not only for time, but for eternity. True, human relationships will be unknown there, but hearts and loves remain forever.
But lest we should anticipate the resurrection-state, we leave, Ο most contentedly leave, our dear, our loved, our cherished, departed ones, "with the Lord," and with each other, in that blooming garden of heaven's choicest delights. Now, we often travel by faith, between the dark valley and that bright Eden above; but soon, soon, the Lord will come. Lord, Lord of that happy land, how soon?- when, Ο when, shall the cloudless morning come? "A little while," is the Master's own measure of His absence. Then, when that happy morning dawns, we, too, shall say farewell to this vale of tears. Faith's work shall then be done; " for we shall see him as he is." Hope, too, shall then be realized in the Person of the Lord, as it is written, " And they shall see his face." These all-important companions of the valley are no more needed. Faith, so long accustomed to the flight, shall then, and forever, " fold her wings." Farewell, " precious faith," but, oh, how much I owe thee! Hope, " blessed hope "—soul-sustaining hope, shall then be lost amidst the glories of the Jerusalem above; but love remains; yes, love, eternal love prevails through all the ransomed throng.
But what, my soul, what of the poor body, that lies moldering in the grave? The now humbled body, shall, ere long, share eternal glory with the soul. Scripture is plain on this point. But I will do little more than quote two or three passages.
"What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you." (1 Cor. 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19).) Here, observe, the Holy Ghost has taken possession of the body. He has thus appropriated the body to God. Had the text said, "your heart is the temple of the Holy Ghost"—the question of affection might have been raised; but it is your body—which plainly assures us that the body, living or dead, is in the custody of the Holy Ghost—that, henceforward, He is the Custodian of the believer's body. Again, " But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Horn. viii. 11.) Here it is said not merely " your bodies," but " your mortal bodies," which meets the heart in sweetest grace. But what a volume of truth we have on this subject in 1 Cor. 15 "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body......And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
Need we anything more, Ο my soul, to set the heart of strongest affection at rest forever! Let patience have her perfect work—the " little while" will soon be past. " Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
" The resurrection-morn will break,
And every sleeping saint awake,
Brought forth in light again;
Ο morn, too bright for mortal eyes!
When all the ransomed Church shall rise,
And wing their way to yonder skies -
Called up with Christ to reign."