Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalm 16

Psalm 16  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Psalm 16
I may here remark a distinct characteristic of this psalm which comes into greater relief by the contrast of the one which follows. It touches on no circumstances, though it supposes them. It is divine life with God and knows and lives in the present consciousness of only Him. We find that there must have been death, hades, and the grave, but they are only mentioned as the occasion of the power and faithfulness of Jehovah. The psalm is man living through, with, and in view of God in this world, and so enjoying Him forever in spite of death. Circumstances are but circumstances, and not the subject of the psalm; divine life never passes away. “While we look not,” says the apostle, “at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” Such is the Christian expression of this. The former part of the phrase, which I do not cite, tells the effect of this as to circumstances, and is to be compared rather with the following psalm. The apostle beautifully expresses life itself in one word: “for to me to live is Christ: to die,” no wonder, was “gain.” But it is important to remember, that there is an inward divine life which dwells and joys in God, having nothing to do with circumstances, though enabling us to go through them, and in us helped by them, because annulling the flesh and the will, so that we live more entirely of the inward life with God.
But the consequence in the soul, is the deep consciousness of blessing. “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.” Christ could not have said that in the same way, had He had the kingdom living on earth; nor could we, were we in the garden of Eden, or the world at our disposal. This living relationship with God casts a light, a halo on all; lights the soul up with such a direct consciousness of divine blessing that nothing is like it, save the full realization of it in the presence of God. A man with God, enjoying Him in a nature capable of doing so with all the necessary conscious result where it shall be fulfilled without a cloud, a man as Christ was in this world with God—is the most perfect joy possible, save the everlasting fulfillment of all known and felt in it. It is not Messiah's portion, it is that joy of which Christ speaks when He says: “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” No doubt, He will inherit all things: but I do not think this to be the thought here. This was not the joy set before Him for which He endured the cross and despised the shame. There is “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us.” That is known in joying in God. Life has its delight there. In God's presence is fullness of joy.
The lines fallen in pleasant places, I believe to be His joy as man in God, and in what was before God. Compare Col. 1:1-31Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:1‑3). In what follows we have the active expression of this life, in reference to God. “I will bless Jehovah who giveth me counsel.” We need in divine life the positive instruction of wisdom—counsel; wisdom, a divine clue and direction in the confusion of evil in this world—to be wise concerning that which is good. Not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time; not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. Jehovah gives counsel. So if any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to every man liberally and upbraideth not. There is the immense privilege of the positive direction and guidance of God. The interest He feels in guiding the godly man aright, in the true path suited to God Himself, across the wilderness where there is no way. For innocence enjoying the blessings of God, there was no need of a way. In a world departed from God, what way can be found? It would be to return, but that is impossible; no sinner ever returned to innocence. The way of the tree of life is shut up on that side—but how a way in the world without God? But God can make a way, if He gives a new life, with a new object to that life—Himself as known in heaven—if there is a new creation and we are new created. Now Christ is a new life, and passes through the world, according to this life, to a new place given to man, and He does so as man, dependent man. God has prepared the path for man endowed with this life, and so for Christ, who was this life, and so the light of men. He has even prepared the special works suited to it— “good works which He hath afore prepared that we should walk in them.” This last thought indeed goes somewhat beyond our psalm. It, at any rate, includes the activity of divine nature in man, and is not limited to the right and holy path of man having this life before God, a thing as important in its place as the other. So Moses asks not, “Show me a way across the desert,” but “Show me thy way that I may know thee, and that I may find grace in thy sight.” What Moses sought Jehovah gives—the counsel and guidance of His love. So Christ walked; so He guides His sheep, going before them: and now we are led of the Spirit of God, as ourselves sons of God. It is the divine path of wisdom which the vulture's eye has not seen: the path of man, but of man with the life of God, going towards the presence of God, and the incorruptible inheritance, in an uncorrupted way—the path of God across the world; but God gives counsel for it. There is dependence on God for this, and Christ walked in it. “Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel,” says even the remnant of Israel; and, Psalm 32., “I will guide thee by mine eye.” I repeat, He is interested in the guidance of the man of God, and the soul blesses Him. In this path Christ trod. The written word is the great means of this; still there is the direct action of God in us by His Spirit. But there is also divine intelligence. “My reins instruct me in the night season.” The divine life is intelligent life. I do not separate this from divine grace in us, but it is different from counsel given. We can be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Col. 1:99For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; (Colossians 1:9), kO. “Why even of yourselves (says the Lord to the Pharisees) judge ye not that which is right?” Thus, when removed from external influences, the secret workings and thoughts of the heart show what is suited to the path and way of God in the world. A man is spiritually minded and discerns all things. It is the working of life within (in us through grace) on divine things, and in the perception of the divine path, what is well pleasing. In Christ this was perfect, in us in the measure of our spirituality; but that to which the Christian has to give much heed, that he neglect not the holy suggestions and conclusions of the divinely instructed life when freed from the influence of surrounding circumstances. It may seem folly, but if found in humbly waiting on God will in the end prove His wisdom. It can always be discerned from an exalted imagination.
In the first place, the state of the soul is exactly the opposite, for pretension to special spiritual guidance is never humble. But besides, the controlling judgment of God's word which overrules the whole divine life is there to judge false pretensions to it. To this divine life is always absolutely subject. Christ wise was this life, yea, was the Word and Wisdom; yet (and because He was) always wholly honored the written word as the guidance and authority of God for man. But guidance by the Lord is not quite all the practice process of the exercise of divine life. It looks entirely to the Lord. “I have set (says Christ, walking as man on earth) Jehovah always before me.” He kept Him always in view. How have our hearts to own that this is not always so! how withdrawn from all evil—how powerful morally in the midst of this work should we be, were it always so? There is nothing is this world like the dignity of a man always walking with God. Yet nothing is farther from failure is humility: indeed it is here it is perfect. Self-exaltation is neither possible nor desired in the presence and enjoyment of God. What absence of self, what renouncement of all will, what singleness of eye, and hence bright and earnest activity of purpose when the Lord is the only object and end! I say the Lord, for no other such object can command and sanctify the heart. All would go against duty to Him. He alone can make the whole heart full of light when duty and purpose of heart go together and are but one. Indeed this is what James calls “the perfect law of liberty” —perfect obedience, yet perfect purpose of heart, as Jesus says, “that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father hath given me commandment, so I do.” We say, as Christians, Christ is all, and He that loves Him keeps His commandments. Thus Jesus set Jehovah always before His face. This is man's perfection as man. This is the measure of our degree of spirituality, the constancy and purity with which we do this. But if Jesus did tins, surely Jehovah could not fail Rim nor us. So walking, He maintains the saint in the path which is His own. “I set Jehovah always before my face: He is on my sight hand, so that I shall not fall.” This is known by faith. He may let us suffer for righteousness' sake—Christ did so—be put to death—Christ was; but not a hair of our head can He let fall to the ground, nor fail in making us enter into life according to the path in which we walk, but here it is confidence in Jehovah Himself. It is faith, not the question of righteousness in Jehovah, which is in the next psalm. Faith in walking in the path of man, according to God's will and towards God solely as the sanctifying end and object, knows that God is at its right hand. Jehovah will secure. How, or through what, is not the question. It will be Jehovah's security. What strength this gives in passing through a world where all is against us and what sanctifying power it has! There is no motive, no resource but Jehovah, which could satisfy any other craving, or by which the heart desires to secure itself in seeking aught else. Hence come what would, Christ waited patiently for Jehovah, looked for no other deliverance. Nor have we to seek any other, and this makes the way perfect. We turn not aside to make the path easier. And to this the psalm turns. Death was before Christ. As Abraham was called to slay his son, in whom the promises were to be fulfilled, Christ as living on the earth had to renounce all the promises to which he is entitled and life with them. The sorrow of this to Him—for He felt all perfectly—is depicted in the 102nd psalm; but as Abraham trusted Jehovah and received Isaac from the dead in a figure, so the Lord here, the leader and finisher of faith, trusts Jehovah in view of His own death—is perfect in trust in it. He had set Jehovah always before Him. He was at His right hand, therefore His heart was glad and This glory rejoiced.
His flesh rested in hope, for the Jehovah He trusted would not leave His soul in Trades nor suffer His Holy One to see corruption. Holy One is not here the same as “saints in the earth.” Saints are those set apart—consecrated to God. Thy Holy One is one walking in piety, agreeable to God. It is Christ known in this character. He is also given this name! in psalm 89:1919Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. (Psalm 89:19). where read “of thy holy one.”
Remark that it is thy Holy One, One who morally belongs to God by the perfection of His character. Christians are such, only full of imperfections. They are saints, set apart to God, but they are also—and are to walk as—the “elect of God, holy and beloved:” and as such to put on the character of grace in which Christ walked. The former part of Col. 3. displays this life at large in us. Eph. 1:44According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4) shows it in its perfection in result. This confidence of the pious soul in the faithfulness of Jehovah, the reasoning of faith from this nature that it could not be otherwise, and the consciousness of relationship with God as His delight, is very beautiful here. It is not, “thou wilt raise me,” but it is not possible in the thought of One in whom is the power of life, that Jehovah should leave the soul that has this life in hales, far from Him in death; and the object of His delight to sink into corruption. This moral confidence and conclusion is exceedingly beautiful. “It was not,” says Peter, “possible that He could be holden of it.” This may include His person, but His power cannot be separated from this grace. The same confidence, flowing from life, is manifested as to Jehovah's showing Him the path of life. It is the perfection of faith as to life, but in Jehovah. “Thou wilt show me the path of life,” perhaps through death; for there, if he was to be perfect with God, this path led—but not to stay there, or it were not a path of life. Jehovah could show Him no other. Man had taken, in spite of warning, the path of death—the path of his own will and disobedience; but Christ comes, the obedient man. There was no path for man in paradise—no natural path of life in the desert of sin. Man had not life in himself; but what path of the new divine life in man could there be for man in a world of sin, amongst men already departed from God? The law had indeed proposed one, but it only brought out the sinfulness of man's nature. The knowledge of sin was by it, and its exceeding sinfulness. Christ, who had life, no doubt, could have kept it; yea, did so, because in Him I was no sin, but there he was in this wholly dissociated from us who are sinners. He was alone, separate from sinners. But in a path of faith, He could be associated with those quickened by the word—confessors of sin, not keepers of law, judges of all evil, separated by quickening grace from sinners, and treading the path of faith across the world, not of it, towards the full issue of this divine life, which was not here, which must go through the death of flesh. He had nothing to judge, nothing to confess, nothing to die to or for in Himself; but He could walk in the holy path of faith across the world in which they, as renewed, had to walk. But for them this holy path was necessarily death, for there was a life of sin. He could have abode alone, and had twelve legions of angels, and gone on high; but, speaking reverently, though this would have been righteous as to Him, there was no sense in His becoming a man for this. And not only does He die for them, (for expiation is not the subject of this psalm, but life,) but having set out to go with, yea, before, them, He treads this path through death, that He may destroy its power for us, and treads it alone, as He had overcome Satan's power in this world, and now destroyed it in death too—treads it alone. The disciples could not follow Him there, till He had destroyed Satan's power in it. “Thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me after.” No earnestness of human will, no affection could abide there. But when dead to sin, and strengthened with the strength of Christ, he could let another bind him and carry him (as Jesus did) whither nature would not. Christ then associated Himself from John's baptism with these saints in the earth—trod the path, only perfectly apart from sin, and only with God, doing His will, showed this path of life in man; then, having died to sin, and the full result of this life in its own place, where no evil is, lives to God. He did so, by faith, when down on earth always, but as man, in a world apart from God, and taking the word as His guide, living by every word that came out of the mouth of God, as we have to do. The resurrection demonstrated the perfectness of a life which was always according to the Spirit of holiness; but now He lives in it in its own place, and this is what, though through death, in an undiscontinued life, He anticipates. “In thy presence is fullness of joy.” This, always His delight, was now His perfect enjoyment, “and at thy right hand.” (Divine power had brought Him to this place of power and acceptance—the witness of His being perfectly acceptable to God) are “pleasures for evermore.”
Such is life as life is with God—life shown as man in this world, associating itself with the saints on the earth, and treading their path; not Christ uniting them to Himself. Life before God, and looking ever at Him: a life which, though free from sin, neither innocence nor sinful man could know—which, in fact, had not to be lived in paradise which could not be lived as belonging to the world, but which was lived to God through it: setting Jehovah always before it as its object. Such is the life we have to live. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Christ, as the psalm shows us, lived the life of faith, and never of anything but faith; and this was His perfection. In this world there is no other for a man. A life which has no object but the Lord Himself. This is a wonderful point—not one object in the world at all. For otherwise, it is not faith, but sight, or lust. Innocent man had no object: he enjoyed in peace God's goodness. Man departed from God—had many objects: but all these separate his heart from God, and end in death. Morally separated from God, he may find a famine in the land, but has no way God for his object. But the new life which comes down from the Father looks up with desire to its source, and becomes the nature in man which tends towards God, has the Son of God for its object—as Paul says, “that I may win Christ.” This life has no portion in this world at all; and, as Life in man, looks to God, leans on God, and seeks no other assurance or prop, obeys God, and can live only by faith. But this is a man's life, does not extend to God. God as such is holy, is righteous, is love; but cannot, it is evident, live by faith. He is its object. Nor is it exactly an angel's life, though they are holy, obedient, and loving. It is man's life, living wholly for and towards God in a world departed from Him hence, towards Him and by faith; for it is not merely that they serve in it. That angels can do; but though not morally of it, for the life is come down from heaven, “They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” Yet, as to their place as man, they are of it, and hence have to live in order not to be of it morally; objectively entirely out of it; thus having to say to God, or it would be idolatry. But, thus, while it is a man's life, and no more as such, yet it must be absolutely for God according to His nature: and it lives, in that it lives, to God. The living Father had sent Christ, and He lived, (δια τον Ηατερα) for the sake of the Father: so he that eats me shall live for me. God is the measure of perfection in motive—hence, hereafter in enjoyment, and a heart wholly formed on Him. This life of man Christ led and filled the whole career of. Out of this Satan wanted Him to come in the wilderness, and have a will, make the stones bread, distrust, try if the Lord would fulfill His promise or fail him, have an object—the kingdoms of the world. This last destroyed the very nature of the life, and Satan is openly detected and dismissed. Christ would not come out of man's dependent, obedient place of unquestioning trust in Jehovah. His path here was the excellent of the earth, perfect in the life which was come down from heaven, but which was lived on earth, looking up to heaven. Whatever our privileges in union with Christ, it is all-important for the Christian to live in the fear and faith of God, according to the life of Christ. It is not man's responsibility without law or under law as a child of Adam: it is all over with us on that ground. It is the responsibility of the new life of faith, which is a pilgrim and a stranger here—a life come down from heaven. “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son hath life; “but a life which man lives in passing through this world, but wholly out of it in its object—a life of faith, which finds in God's presence fullness of joy. A man's life does not extend to God, though perfect for God, and in its delight in God. Such was Christ, though He was much more than this. Such are we as far as we are Christians; only we have to remember that the development of this life in us is not, as in the psalm, in connection with the name of Jehovah, but with the full revelation of the Father and the Son. The blessed one who thus lived as man on earth is as man at God's right hand, where are pleasures for evermore, with Him in whose presence is fullness of joy. His flesh saw no corruption, and His soul was not left in hades. He despised, for this joy set before Him, the shame and endured the cross, the leader and finisher of faith.