Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
" Thou anointest my head with oil" How sweetly conscious the pilgrim is of the Lord's nearness to him! This is the strength of his heart. The honor conferred is great, and may be duly esteemed; but that which the heart loves most, is the presence of the Lord. Comparatively, it matters little who may be at a distance, or even opposed to us, when the Lord is near. In His presence we enjoy a rest from all that surrounds us, which we can find no where else, and which, we doubt not, partakes of the perfect rest above.
Is this, Ο my soul, thine own experience? Knowest thou the sweet peace and the quiet confidence which conscious nearness to the Lord gives? Surely, those who have experienced the power of that presence in days of weakness and trial, can never forget it. There is a way of learning such things, which neither time nor change of circumstances can efface, and which will be remembered with profit throughout eternity. But before the Lord teaches thus, the soul must be stripped of all self-dependence, and of everything that has its roots in nature. A destitution must be felt, that looks to the Lord alone, and welcomes the supplies as coming directly from Himself. Then, the arms that enfold the fainting one—the power that raises the stricken one, and the fullness" that fills the emptied one, must ever be remembered, and remembered with adoring gratitude.
But may not a soul enjoy great nearness to the Lord, without having passed through trial, or known much of the difficulties of this present life? These, most surely, form no ground, but are often the occasion, of great conscious nearness. It is the happy privilege of all who through grace believe, to enjoy spiritual nearness to God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost. This is their birthright. " Truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." We are not only pardoned, but reconciled. Though, strange to say, I have talked with many who knew their pardon, but were strangers to reconciliation. Such, of course, knew nothing of that personal nearness to Christ of which we are speaking. The sweet, happy, home feeling of reconciliation is unknown.
But why? it may be asked. Because the truth is not fully apprehended. And what is the truth? it may be further asked. As we are merely referring to the fact at present, we cannot go into the subject; but the reception of the prodigal son may be taken as an answer to the question, and as the divine illustration of the doctrine of reconciliation. The first thing the prodigal received from his Father was the kiss of peace—of reconciliation. He is the living picture of a soul quickened, pardoned, sealed, accepted, reconciled, worshipping. Was there one in all the Father's house that felt more at home than the prodigal? Not one. He was there in the full credit of Christ—radiant in His beauty—exalted in His dignity, and adorned with the jewels of heaven. The Father in His love, we may say, knows not how much to make of him. But how few, alas, drink deeply at the fountain of the Father's love!—a love that is unchangeable, and that is infinitely above robes, and rings, and fatted calves! Ο Father—Father of the Lord Jesus, give us to know more of the love that so receives, and 80 welcomes every returning prodigal! Ο give us to taste of this perfect peace—this perfect reconciliation—this happy, joyous worship!
But may every truly converted sinner now, read in the prodigal's reception the history of his own? He ought to. The Father is not changed. And he may also connect with the love that receives, the love that seeks. So that he ought to rejoice in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And with the additional light of the epistles, we see even something more than in that ever fresh, ever precious fifteenth of Luke. The new ground, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ, and His exaltation to the right hand of God, is unfolded and expounded in the epistles. This is the entirely new ground on which the believer is placed in reconciliation with God. Hence the doctrine so fully taught in the epistles of our oneness with Christ, as the risen and exalted Man in glory. There we read that the Christian is in Christ Jesus—joined unto the Lord—seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Rom. 8:11There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1); 1 Cor. 6:1717But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:17); Eph, ii. 6.
But we return to the question of our experimental nearness to the Lord. True enough, it is our blessed privilege to know our place of nearness to Him, spiritually, and His presence with us, at all times, and under all circumstances; but who can speak of it? Rather let us meditate on the experience of the man of faith, as recorded by the Holy Spirit. Much of the experience of this psalm will apply to Christ Himself, in His path down here, and to those, in all ages, who follow in His footsteps. It is the path of a godly man, under the eye and the unfailing care of Jehovah. There is suffering and humiliation, honor and glory in the way. The former for a time, the latter forever.
But however much the Lord may be known and enjoyed in the simplicity of faith, it was by the way of Marah's bitter waters, and the dark shadows of death, that our pilgrim reached the King's table, and became an honored guest in His banqueting house. It is better that the sufferings should be first and the glory after, than that the glory should be first and the sufferings after.
While the pilgrim is still seated at the table which the Lord prepared for his refreshment, new honors and richer blessings await him. The host, we may say, according to Eastern custom, now rises from his seat, and pours the fragrant oil on the head of his guest. In oriental nations, this is esteemed a mark of the very highest honor, and is usually reserved for distinguished guests and strangers. The oil is mingled with the most costly perfumes, so that the banqueting hall is filled with its sweet odors. It is not unusual, on certain occasions, for the servant to anoint the head of each guest, but when the master himself performs this service on some favored one, what must hit honor be! Yet faith can say of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, "Thou anointest my head with oil." No servant is employed on this occasion, the Royal Host takes the place of servant Himself.
It is quite evident from what our Lord says in the house of Simon, that this custom prevailed amongst the Jews:: "My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment." What self-righteousness so ungraciously withheld, the poor penitent supplied. The Pharisee did not think He was worthy of a little water for His feet, far less the costly oil for His head. But who ever heard of self-righteousness having either oil for the head, water for the feet, or the kiss of gracious welcome for the lowly Son of man? But the humble penitent finds them all. The fountains of her heart are broken up to bathe His feet with tears. Like a man, who once said to the writer, after the word had reached his heart, and who could scarcely speak from emotion, "I seem to have got a well in my heart, and it is constantly springing up to my head." This woman, too, found a well—a springing well in her heart; and also the means of finding the costly ointment, and every other tribute of respect for the Savior of her soul. Oh! what a scene! what a lesson! A poor, fallen, degraded sinner—an outward breaker of the law, enters the abode of man's righteousness, bows at the feet of the Son of David, and carries off the blessing in the very face, and from the very center of the Pharisee's vain glory. She is enriched with, the noblest prize that soul ever found, while the chiefs of the people, who refused to bow to Jesus, are left poor and miserable, and blind and naked. " For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
The practice of anointing is frequently spoken of in Scripture. The holy oil was largely used in the Jewish worship. Their prophets, priests, and kings, were consecrated, and inaugurated with it. It formed an important ingredient in the offerings; even the vessels of the tabernacle were to be anointed with the " holy anointing oil." As compounded according to divine directions (Exod. 30), it was, no doubt, an expressive type of the Holy Spirit in His many and various operations; and its noiseless flow through the golden pipes, (Zech. 4,) may represent His silent, unseen working in the soul.
But the anointing of the head, as in our beautiful psalm, is more the emblem of a personal blessing, than of a ceremonial observance. The man of God, in the beginning of the psalm, under the similitude of the sheep and its shepherd, speaks of his perfect confidence in Jehovah; and that confidence never fails him; it characterizes the psalm. " The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." He is led forth by his shepherd's hand to the green pastures, and beside the still waters. But a day comes when a dark cloud passes over the whole scene. He goes through sorrow and suffering, though the hand that strikes be unseen. Death crosses his path and leaves its dark shadows behind. The once joyous, peaceful, happy scene is turned into a vale of tears. Still, the Lord is there, and His presence is enjoyed. " Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." And now the figure is changed—changed from the emblem of a sheep con-tiding in a shepherd, to an invited guest at the King's entertainment.
" Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over." The " table," may be the symbol of the soul's communion with the Lord Himself. It may be employed here to set forth a richer, fuller character of communion with Him. As He says elsewhere, " Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Rev. 3:2020Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20).
The anointing of the head, seems to partake more of an open, public expression of the Lord's favor; and in this distinguishing blessing, the anointed one is brought into blessed fellowship with the Master Himself. He was anointed, not with the oil of the sanctuary, but with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. " And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and, 10, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." (Matt. 3:1616And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matthew 3:16).) We elsewhere read, that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power." And again, " Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Acts 10:3333Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. (Acts 10:33); Heb. 1:99Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. (Hebrews 1:9).
Most marvelous indeed is the blessing to our souls that shines under the emblem of anointing. Here we are said to be the "fellows" of Christ; and as man, we know, He is addressed as the "fellow" of the Jehovah of hosts! (Zech. 13) What a link! thou mayest well exclaim, Ο my soul, what a link between us and the living God! It is also said of all Christians, " But ye have an unction from the Holy One." And that, " He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God." (1 John 2:2020But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. (1 John 2:20) Cor. 1:21.) True, most true, He is anointed with the oil of gladness above his " fellows;" still, we are His "fellows." The Spirit of truth affirms it, we believe it, and the day will declare it.
As the anointed kings and priests of our God and Father, we shall, ere long, be associated with our blessed Lord, in His dominion and glory. We shall then be the public companions of Him, under whose hand will be the whole government of the heavens and the earth. " And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.....they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev. 20) But let it not be thought that our reigning, or companionship with Christ, terminates with the thousand years. True, that will be the end of the time-period of the reign; and then Christ will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." (1 Cor. 15) But our reigning with Christ will just be, as it were, commencing then; for we " shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1717For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) (Romans 5:17).) Our eternal life, and our reign with Christ, are co-equal.
Blessed Lord! what love! what a prospect! what can we say? Ο give us to walk worthy of the holy oil of our God that is upon us! Meantime, we can only worship and adore in the presence of such grace. In truth we may say, "My cup runneth over."
" HAIL, to the Lord's Anointed! Great David's greater Son:
When to the time appointed, the rolling years have run,
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression, and rule in equity.
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For Him shall praise unceasing, and daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing—a kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never His covenant remove;
His name shall stand forever. His great best name of love."