"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23: 1-4

What a deathless poem the twenty-third Psalm is! It is the psalm of all psalms. Our Bibles would be robbed of their brightest jewel without it; and our memories of a garnered and cherished treasure. What a myriad multitude there would be, could we assemble all who have ever read or sung it! There would be the sufferer on the sick-bed shortening and beguiling his weary vigils by repeating its consolations. There would be the martyr chanting it at his stake as the flames wrapped their red winding-sheet around him. There would be the soldier in his bivouac on the eve of battle, pondering its majestic solaces, by the smouldering embers of his fire—or his Bible found among the heaps of the slain, with its leaf turned down at the song of 'the valley of the shadow of death.' There would be the shepherd, wandering by the green pastures and still waters, warbling the strains of the inspired minstrel of all time, who had thus sanctified his calling. There would be the bereaved mourner stooping over some withered flower—deploring some extinguished light in the earthly dwelling—singing of a house and home where he and his restored loved ones would dwell forever. It has been sung on the hills of prosperity and in the valleys of woe—by the tongue of prattling infancy—by manhood in its prime, and by old age with its tottering step, leaning on the rod and staff of which it touchingly speaks. Little did he who first swept its numbers on his harp, think of the legacy he had thus bequeathed to the Church of the future; when, in some bright moment of his own waning years, he lifted the curtain of life and reposed in thought on the fond images of boyhood, as by day he led his sheep along the mountain sides, and by night folded them in the sheltered hollows; taking these memories of sweet sunshine as hallowed symbols of the Shepherd-love and faithfulness of God.

The images of this pastoral song may be of earth, but its pedigree is of heaven—it is a heaven-born psalm. Surely, Goodness and Mercy, the two guardian angels—sister spirits—spoken of at its close, must have fetched it on shining wings down from the upper sanctuary. For three thousand years has it gladdened, comforted, solaced the Church in the wilderness. "Its line has gone through all the earth, and its words to the end of the world." And the numbers now singing it in the Church below are nothing to the ransomed tongues in the Church of the firstborn, to whom its undying cadence is still dear. Let us at present gather around the opening sentence—the opening strain. "THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD I SHALL NOT WANT."

JEHOVAH, "All-sufficient," the covenant Shepherd of His people—embarked on their side, and pledged for their salvation. The old patriarch Jacob speaks of the "Shepherd of Israel;" Peter speaks of "the Shepherd and Bishop of souls." But David uses a loftier—more endearing epithet. That Almighty All-sufficient omnipotent Being, says he, is mine; He is MY Shepherd; or as he elsewhere sings—"This God is our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death." It is not the promises of God he leans upon; it is upon God Himself. It is not the streams he drinks of; but, stooping over the Infinite Fountain, he exclaims, 'Behold my covenant portion! God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.'

We know not if he shared the beautiful belief of the Hebrews regarding attendant angels hovering over the human pathway from birth to death. But he seems to say, "Here I have a nobler creed—a mightier Guardian, The Lord of angels is my Shepherd."

Let us consider, a little more particularly, the words of our motto-verse, as expressive of these three things—Thankfulness for the past, Confidence in the present, and Trust for the future; although these must necessarily be suggestive of some similar consoling truths which we have already dwelt upon in a preceding chapter.

Let us view this song of the flock of God as expressive of THANKFULNESS FOR THE PAST. Jehovah, All-sufficient, HAS BEEN my Shepherd. Many there are who can see no better law or principle regulating the allotments of their daily life, than accident and capricious fortune. They see the shuttles of apparent chance darting here and there in the loom of existence, weaving a web of varied hue—an intricate pattern—black threads and white threads—joy and sorrow, in strange and fitful alternation. No, not so! The shuttle is in the hands of the Great Weaver. Life is not a mere kaleidoscope—its events gliding and shaping themselves into fanciful and wayward combinations. God has a plan, a divine plan, in all. Every mercy is His bestowing; and when mercies are withdrawn, and sorrows take their place, it is equally of His wise, though sometimes mysterious, appointment.

Seek, like the psalmist, to see your Shepherd's guiding hand in all the past, and to retain in the remembrance that best blessing—a thankful heart—thankful for small mercies as well as for great ones. As the magnet attracts to itself the tiniest iron grain as well as the largest—so the redeemed, regenerated soul, magnetized with the love of God, bears away with it the lively remembrance of the smallest tokens of the Divine favor, as well as the 'memories of God's great goodness,' and feels that no mercies are unworthy of remembrance, for all are undeserved.

The proud, worldly, unthankful heart is never satisfied—all it has, it takes as a matter of course; and, notwithstanding all it has, it is ever craving for more. The thankful heart, on the other hand, baptized with the new affections of the gospel, delights to traverse in thought the past, and to connect each bright spot in the retrospect with the great Bestower of all good—saying, in the words of him who wrote this psalm, on another of those occasions of his life which drew forth the acknowledgment of his grateful spirit "What am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me hitherto!"

This song of God's ransomed flock implies CONFIDENCE IN THE PRESENT. "Jehovah, All-sufficient, IS my Shepherd." How blessed thus to repose our present in God; and to say, as we lie passive in His hands, "Undertake for me!" He is portioning out for us as He sees fit, having His own infinite reasons for what may appear perplexing to us. We, with an unquestioning and unreasoning faith, fully trusting His Shepherd-power, tenderness, skill, vigilance, love. He does not consult our short-sighted wisdom in what He does. The clouds do not consult the earth as to when they shall visit its fruits and flowers—its cornfields and forests, with their watery treasures. The pining plant does not dictate to the heavenly reservoirs as to when they shall unseal their hidden stores. These give a kindly and needful supply "in due season," and the earth has never yet, for six thousand years, had to complain of them as niggard almoners of their Creator's bounty.

So it is with the soul—He who makes the clouds His—chariot who opens and shuts at will the windows of heaven—locking and unlocking the fountains of the great deep—says to all His people—"Trust Me; I will give you all needed present blessings—I will come unto you as the rain, as the latter and former rain upon the earth. I do not pledge myself as to how or when the rain shall fall—but I will cause the shower to come down in his season: there shall be showers of blessing. As your day is, so shall your strength be."

O that we could learn this lesson of entire confidence in a present, personal God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being! Behold, the sun of the natural heavens, the great central luminary—a dumb insensate mass of matter—holding its dependent planets in their orbits, controlling their unerring movements; they in calm, silent submission, yielding obedience to the will of this sovereign lord: how much more may we hold on our way in the orbit of undeviating obedience, exulting God's ever-present power and love; so that in the remotest solitude, as well as the densest crowd, we can say, "Alone, yet not alone, for my Father and Shepherd is with me!"

A necessary result of this confidence in the wisdom of God's Shepherd-dealings, will be, contentment with our lot, whatever it is. We cannot say precisely at what time of his eventful life David wrote this psalm—whether it was amid the splendor of royalty, or when a weeping exile amid the glens of Gilead. But he seems in it to rise above all outward experiences—the pomp and circumstance of life. "It matters not," he seems to say, "what my condition may be—crowned or uncrowned—a king or an alien—I have a nobler heritage than earth can give me, or than earth can despoil me of. The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing."

A happy, gladsome motto for us all, in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth. Go to that lowly, despised, down-trodden believer. He has lost his worldly substance, his health, his children. Wave on wave of earthly calamity has swept over him; and yet, conscious of some hidden, unexplained "needs be," and of a nobler reversion—he can sing through his tears, "I lack nothing!"

Aim after this contented spirit; not fretfully murmuring at your present allotments, or ambitiously aspiring after other positions in life, as if mere change itself would rid of vexation and augment happiness. Happiness is not dependent on place, or sphere, or locality, but on the state of the heart. Wherever God dwells and holiness exists, there must be contentment and peace. As the Christian poet well says—
"While place we seek and place we shun,
The soul finds happiness in none,
But with a God to guide our way,
‘It is equal joy to go or stay."

And if we thus confide in God, He will confide in us. Beautiful are the words of the prophet "You meet him that rejoices and works righteousness; those who remember You in Your ways." Those that remember You and confide in You, "You meet them!" The Lord comes out half-way to meet the confiding heart. The Shepherd comes out half-way to meet the timorous yet confiding sheep. The old father comes out half-way to meet his prodigal; and when He does meet him, He has the first tear and the first word of welcome. "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in You!"

This song of the flock expresses trust for the FUTURE. "Jehovah, All-sufficient, shall be my Shepherd-I shall not be in want." "That dark future." How many are speaking of it as such! It is in the Shepherd's keeping, and we may well leave it there. How beautiful the impress of God's hand in the works of outer nature. Every blade of grass, every forest leaf, how perfect in symmetry of form, and in tenderness of color. With what exquisite grace He has penciled every flower, delicately poised it on its stalk, or spread a pillow for its head on the tender sod! The God who has "so clothed the grass of the field," will not be unmindful of the lowliest of His covenant family. But we need not go so far as the silent volume of nature. We may open the volume of our own experience. Just as the husbandman sees in the flush of green in early spring the pledge of a golden harvest, so we may take the crowded memories of His Shepherd-love in the past, as proof, and pledge, and token, that not one thing will fail us of all that the Lord our God has spoken unto the house of Israel. We can exultingly add with the psalmist in subsequent verses, "I WILL fear no evil . . . Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

David seems to love here, as elsewhere, to sit at these windows of covenant faithfulness, looking, at one time, back along the chequered vista behind him, and then casting a glance across the river of death into the shining city. "Goodness and Mercy," the two attendant guardian angels that have tracked his footsteps all the bygone way, he sees still at his side. Other messengers, other attendant ones may have met him on the road. Sorrow, clad in her somber attire—Bereavement, with her tearful eye—Pain, with her languid countenance. But his joyful contented spirit can see none in all the catalog but two—GOODNESS and MERCY!

In the spirit of the great apostle, he does not give thanks only sometimes for some things, but "always for all things." His motto seems to be, "I have set the Lord always before me." Grateful for the past, he still follows the steps of the guiding Shepherd-chanting His pilgrim song, "I shall not be in want!" Let us banish all unholy distrust for the future. "Take no thought" (that is to say, Do not be over-anxious or over-careful) "for tomorrow;" that 'tomorrow' is in the hands of One boundless in His resources, infinite in His love. Do not charge Him with insincerity when He says, "All things work together for good to those who love God." "No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." If He leads you along a rough and thorny road, hear His loving voice thus reassuring your faith and lulling your misgivings, 'Your Heavenly Shepherd, your Heavenly Father—knows that you need of all these things.'

Above all, think of that leading Shepherd as the Savior who died for you; who Himself, as we have previously seen, was identified with you as the Man of Sorrows, in every earthly experience of sorrow and woe, and can enter with exquisite sympathizing tenderness into every bleat of His weary, suffering flock. He foresees and anticipates every emergency that can overtake you. He can avert every danger, and disarm every foe. "All power has been committed to Him in heaven and in earth."

Oh! as you may be now surveying the yet untrodden road, leading 'uphill and downhill to the city of habitation,' remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

How many of us can sing this first note of the song of the Lord's flock which we have now been considering? All can do so, who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior—all who have their feet planted on the Rock of Ages, and who have closed with the terms of offered covenant mercy. Can we say, "He has set MY feet upon a Rock, and put a new song into my mouth, even praise unto our God?" All are warranted to come to that Rock. There is no lip that may not learn to sing that song. There is no wandering sheep that may not come to partake of these heavenly pastures. God has made provision not for the strong only, but for the weak, the weary, the tempted, the sorrowful, the suffering—all may partake of the Shepherd-love of that God, "All-sufficient." The feeblest lamb of the flock can utter its trembling cry of confiding trust. The same Jehovah-Shepherd and Lord is rich to all that call upon Him. The anointing oil of blessing poured on the head of the true Aaron flows down to the very skirts of His garment, so that the least and lowliest are made partakers of His covenant grace.

Who can give utterance to words akin to those of the psalmist regarding any earthly portion? Who that have made the world and pleasure their chief good, can say, on the retrospect, "I lack nothing?" Rather, have you not to tell of great aching voids in your hearts which nothing on earth can fill? If we were to analyze the fevered souls to whom these covenant blessings are strange, would not this be the confession, perhaps reluctantly wrung, 'The Lord not being our Shepherd, we lack everything; yes, everything that is truly worthy to be called a portion? Our outer life though thoroughly furnished with all the world can give it—how empty! These gaudy treasures of a vain earth, what a hollow mockery, dissevered from the true riches of God's love and favor!'

Let it not be ours to barter these glorious realities for things which perish with the using, to return our Shepherd's overtures of kindness with cold indifference, chilling unconcern.

Be it observed that all the blessings spoken of in this song of the old Hebrew minstrel are present blessings. We do not say that the blessings of the future—the blessings in store for us, are not greater still; that the view, across that river Jordan, of the green hills of Canaan, opens up wondrous revelations of bliss and glory of which we can at present form only the feeblest conception. But that divine Shepherd-love, with all its attendant blessings, is ours now, if we have fled to Christ for safety, and can lay hold by faith on God as our covenant God. "We who have believed DO enter into rest." "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." Yes, we can sing the Lord's song, even in this strange land. We shall indeed meet (we must expect to meet) with chequered experiences—seasons of depression, sorrow, suffering. But we need never fear with such a Guide. We have an All-sufficient refuge when our hearts are overwhelmed—"Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel! You who lead Joseph like a flock." And when angels come down to our pillows, to bear us away from the cloud and the storm, to dwell in the hills of glory, we shall carry the old song of the flock on earth up amid the enduring pastures of the blessed—"THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT!"

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