Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
It may be well, before closing our meditations on the cup of joy, to dwell a little on its contrast, the cup of sorrow. In the saint's experience, the latter often goes before and accompanies the former. The one being natural, and the other spiritual, both may be full at the same time. It is only while in the body and on the earth that we can meet with the cup of sorrow. It will be unmingled joy in heaven. There, we shall be met at the threshold with "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Then we shall drink, and drink forever, of the Master's own cup. We shall drink from the same fountain as Christ Himself. Having the same life, we shall have the same relish for the joys, the employment, and the blessedness of heaven; though not, of course, to the same degree.
Without this divine nature there can be no relish for divine things. To mere human nature the light of heaven would be more intolerable than the darkness of hell. Oh! what a thought! An immortal soul so driven to despair through a sense of guilt in the presence of holiness, as to seek a shelter in the depths of darkness—as to cry " to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." (Rev. 6:1616And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: (Revelation 6:16).) But even now when the gospel of God's grace is preached to sinners, it is said of such, " And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:1919And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19).) Ο that all such might be induced now to come to the light—the light of eternal love—the light of the cross of Jesus—the light of the boundless grace of God! Come! Ο sinner, come! Better far be revealed now in the light of the glorious gospel where all is grace and love—where thy many sins can be pardoned, and where eternal life is received as the gift of God, than be revealed before the face of the Judge, when the door of mercy is closed. Why not come? Is there not a terrible sting in sin, even now, when the pleasure of it is past? Hast thou not tasted this, Ο my fellow-sinner? How many are maddened to deeds of violence through the remorse and bitterness of sin, when the pleasure that led on to it is turned into gall and wormwood? But what must its bitterness be in that place where hopeless despair seizes the soul in all its dread reality? There, nothing but the sin and the sting remain, with the fearful conviction that no relief can ever come.
Why not then, my fellow-sinner, be entreated to come to Jesus now—just now? If so guilty—so far down in the social scale, that thou art ashamed of thyself in the presence of others—yet thou mayest freely, trustingly come to Jesus. Thou wilt be welcome there. And rest assured of a present pardon, salvation, and acceptance, through his precious blood. Such was the experience of the woman that was a sinner, and of the penitent thief on the cross; and such may be thine. He who died on the cross for thee and me, is surely fit to be trusted. And say, would He have died for us if He had not loved us? Oh! lift thine eyes to that cross, and see His unquenchable love bleeding there! Seekest thou another sign save the sign of the cross? God forbid! The great reality in the universe, is the love of Jesus! Heaven, earth, and hell, for a time, were all against the sinner's Substitute. All refuge failed Him. (Psalm 142:44I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. (Psalm 142:4).) But then it was that His love burst forth through every weight and pressure in all its native strength and glory. Many waters could not quench His love, no floods could drown it; though He could say, in spirit, "the waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depths closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head." (Jonah 2:55The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. (Jonah 2:5).) Again, and again, we would ask thee—Wilt thou, dost thou, value the love that willingly passed through all this suffering for the chief of sinners? And, with what end in view, thinkest thou? That they might one day share with Him His throne in glory. Do lean all thy weight on Jesus—trust all to Him. His eye can never grow dim—His arm can never become feeble—His heart can never turn cold. For time and for eternity, thou art only safe and happy in trusting Him.
But see, Ο my soul, how far thou hast wandered from the footsteps of the flock—from their joys and sorrows. Well, be it so. The Good Shepherd was content to leave the ninety-and-nine that were secure, and go far into the wilderness after a single lost sheep, and seek until He found it.
We were speaking of the two-fold aspect of the Christian's experience. The cup of natural sorrow, and the cup of spiritual joy. He may know, at times, what it is to have both cups filled to overflowing. The poor human heart may be so broken with sorrow, that it cannot look up; strength, motive, object, as to this life, may be gone. At such a moment he feels a pressure as if he were down and could never rise up again. And surely, but for the Lord's helping hand, he must have gone a step beyond the rallying point. Such is the crushing, exhausting weight of human sorrow—and such, the Lord's loved ones may be allowed to experience. The blessed Lord Himself as the Man of sorrows, had deeper experience therein than any of His people ever can have. And now as the living Head, and great High Priest of His people, He knows how to succor, and raise up, the sorrow-stricken soul.
Just at this point, the Lord may so reveal Himself to the soul as to draw the eye away from its own sorrow, and turn aside the keen edge of its anguish. Not that the trial is removed, or less; nay, it may be deepening, and that which is dreaded may be unmistakably drawing near. But the soul, we may say, is now in two regions—two states of being. In nature, amidst the desolations of earth; in faith, amidst the unchangeable realities of heaven. Both are real; but the spiritual joy changes the character of the earthly sorrow, and strengthens to bear it. Quietness of soul being restored, it now remembers, that the happy soul is only called up to wait with the Lord, and to enjoy a quiet time with Him before the public display of His glory. But, oh! what experience; and how real! To have poured out, at the same moment, a full cup of joy, and a full cup of sorrow too! The latter, we know, shall ere long be clean forgotten; but the former will be remembered throughout eternity, as one of the strongest, sweetest expressions of the Savior's compassion, love, and tender sympathy.
In Rom. 5:1-111Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. 6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:1‑11) we have this line of christian experience clearly set before us. It may be profitable to glance at it for a moment. To have a personal and spiritual acquaintance with these eleven verses, is a rich inheritance to the soul. " Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." In these two verses, the full blessing of the soul, with reference to the past, the present, and the future, is summed up. The work of Christ is the basis of it all. " Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification/'
As to the past, in the case of every believer, all is blotted out—all connected with the old man came to its end, in God's sight, on the cross. Both the root and fruit of sin were judged there. All that needed putting away, was put away, according to the claims of God's glory and the sinner's need. Hence, the Christian is now one with Christ in resurrection. Death, judgment, the world, sin, and Satan, are behind him. On this ground—the ground of death and resurrection, there is perfect peace for the Christian—peace with God. " Being justified by faith we have peace with God." As to the present, we are introduced to the full favor of God. Our standing is in grace. " We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand." And as to the future, we " rejoice in hope of the glory of God." We are placed between the cross and the crown; our yesterday was Calvary, our to-morrow is glory.
This is true christian condition; not experience, but faith. Being justified, having peace, standing in grace, waiting for glory. Experience flows from this condition. The Spirit, of God having conducted the Christian to the very height of his condition, as a new man in Christ, and even given him a glimpse of the glory behind the veil, He brings him back, as it were, to taste, in experience, the trials of this life. Still he can glory. He glories in the depths as well as on the heights. None can glory in tribulation as those who are rejoicing in the immediate hope of the glory of God. So it was with the great apostle, who was " caught up to the third heavens." There he found Christ as the only ground of his glorying; but when down here again, and in tribulation through " a thorn in the flesh," he found the same Christ in the depths with him. " Most gladly therefore," he exclaims, " will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Ami such experience we also find in the eleven verses before us. " And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience f and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." Thus the wheels of his soul are set in motion, and, through deep exercise, he again, we may say, reaches the heights. He has now the blessed enjoyment of the love of God shed abroad in his heart, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. What a blessed state of soul to be in, though under the very shadow of death! But this is not all; he has more to learn in this vale of tears, he must go through another kind of experience. The Christian is again brought back, not to the lesson of tribulation, but to an experimental acquaintance with the depths of his own moral ruin. What he was, as without strength, ungodly, a sinner, and an enemy, he is now taught; but he learns these humiliating truths in the light of God's perfect love, and the Savior's perfect work, and the Holy Spirit's presence. And mark now, Ο my soul, the point he reaches by this process; higher he can never be raised. " But we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Surely, joying in God Himself, surpasses all our enjoyment of the things lie gives.
Well mayest thou wonder, Ο my soul, at what may be known, experienced, and enjoyed by the poor pilgrim saint in the wilderness. In the eyes of men he may appear a heartless, soulless, joyless, undefinable inhabitant of earth. But oh! what depths he penetrates—what heights he scales—what sights he sees—what power he commands, and what glory gilds his path! With him, it is glory on the threshold of heaven, and glory in the valley of humiliation. He knows the history of the future better than the past, and divine light sheds its rays on the present. Ah! poor, blind, dead world, thou knowest not this mysterious man! Oh! that thou wouldst but come to Him who is the light of life, and the light of men. Grace has no evil eye: what it has it longs for thee to share. It preaches, prays, watches, that thou mayest know and love the only Friend of sinners. Were one candle to light a dozen, its own light would be undiminished, but the united light is stronger and better. Now, just now, cast in thy lot with those who are walking in the light of the Lord; and may thine own path be as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
" Though in my flesh dwell no good thing,
Yet Christ in me I joyful sing,
Sin I confess, and I deny;
For, though I sin, it is not I.
I sin against, and with, my will:
I'm innocent, yet guilty still.
Though fain I'd be the greatest saint,
To be the least I'd be content.
My lowness may my height evince,
I'm both a beggar and a prince;
With meanest subjects I appear,
With kings a royal scepter bear.
I'm both unfettered and involved;
By law condemned, by law absolved;
My guilt condignly punished see,
Yet I the guilty one go free.
My gain did by my loss begin;
My righteousness commenced by sin;
My perfect peace by bloody strife;
Life is my death, and death my life.
I am not worth one dusty grain,
Yet more than worlds of golden gain;
Though worthless, I myself indite,
Yet shall as worthy walk in white."
The Believer's Riddle, Ralph Erskine.