"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." Psalm 23: 1-2

In the preceding chapter we considered the opening verse, what may be called the key-note of David's beautiful pastoral song. There he had given utterance to the negative, now he proceeds, under the same Shepherd-symbol, to speak of the positive blessings belonging to all God's people. The picture here presented is that which is often witnessed in our own Highland valleys—a flock of sheep, on a summer evening, reposing by the verdant banks of some limpid stream—having around them, in abundance, the two main requirements of the fold, grass and water.

The Eastern or Arabian shepherd is known to wander for days together along the trackless waste, until he find these requisite supplies. The greenest grass would be insufficient without the stream, and the purest water would be unavailing if its course lay through barren moorlands, or among rank weeds and naked rocks. In these two expressive emblems of this psalm, we have brought before us the provision which the Great Shepherd has made for the comfort and nourishment of His flock. In other words, the ample supply of grace afforded to the believer in the new covenant, to meet all his spiritual needs. "He makes me to lie down in green pastures" [margin, in the pastures of tender grass]. "He leads me beside the still waters" [or, "the waters of quietness"]. Taking the words in a more general sense, we may gather from each of the clauses one or two simple thoughts for meditation.

"He makes me to lie down in green pastures." The first idea suggested is that of REST and SECURITY. The flock 'LIE down.' The posture is indicative of perfect repose. So timid often are sheep, that to pass by them in a meadow is the signal for scattering the whole flock. But here every cause or fear of danger seems removed. No bleat is heard in all the valley. They are moored, like vessels in a quiet sheltered haven, around the feet of the shepherd.

The life of man, as we were led more specially to notice in a former chapter, is a constant striving after rest, repose, satisfaction. Many, indeed, are seeking it in base counterfeits; yet even in the counterfeit-search we detect the aspiration after a nobler reality. In the very chasing of the shadow we discern the longing after the substance. The miser seeks it in his gold; the ambitious man seeks it as he climbs his giddy eminences; the pleasure-hunter seeks it in artificial excitements; the student seeks it in the loftier aspirations and achievements of his intellectual nature. But true rest can be found in God alone. "This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing." "When HE gives quietness, who then can make trouble?" "HE gives His beloved sleep" (rest).

It is only when we have secured possession of the Divine Shepherd's favor and love, pardon and reconciliation through the atoning work and merits of Jesus, that we can "lie down." Short of this, there will be a feverish roaming after something other, something apparently better, but a something which, even when attained, does not and cannot satisfy. Having Him for our portion, we need no other. With every longing of our moral natures answered, we can say, "This is my rest forever."

A second idea which the figure of "green pastures" suggests is that of ABUNDANT PROVISION. Observe, it is not one piece of pasture-ground that is here spoken of, but "pastures." There is no scant supply, but, on the contrary, an ample variety, to suit the circumstances of each member of the flock. The sheep may roam from field to field, yet still there is enough and to spare. Moreover, the provision is the best of its kind—not bitter or fading, but young and tender grass, as if eternal spring or summer brooded over these meadows. What diversity there is in God's spiritual provision for His people!

Grace for all times, and every time. Each tender blade has its dew-drop of comfort—each pool in "the still waters" has its reflection of love. Countless multitudes have been nourished by these pastures in every age, and still they are green—evergreen; and the song of the flock is this day what it has been for three thousand years—"The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing."

How specially is this true of the pastures of God's Holy Word! What variety have we here; doctrine, precept, promise, comfort, consolation, yes, "everlasting consolation." At no time are these pastures greener to us than in seasons of sorrow; when the world's pastures are burned up, and its choicest nooks and valleys—those that were used to be carpeted with flowers and bathed in sunshine—can offer no refreshment or repose. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever."

Let us pass to the second part of the verse—"He leads me beside the still waters!" "Still waters!" These words appear to convey, under another figure and symbol, a description just of the same calm and hallowed repose, secured to the believer, which the psalmist had in his mind in the preceding clause—the soul kept in perfect peace which is stayed on God. The wicked are compared to the "troubled sea." But this is an inland river—a quiet, gentle stream, protected from the boisterous winds which fret the ocean to madness. Strange, indeed, often is the history of the soul before it attains that divine repose; fierce are its struggles before there ensues the calm of victory and rest. Like the patriarch at Jabbok before he secured the change of name and the divine blessing, it has often times been a long night of wrestling before the dawning of the day.

You may have witnessed such a peaceful meadow as that described by the psalmist of Israel, with its quiet, lake-like stream; so still, that not a ripple bedims its surface; every rock, and plant, and spear of grass, which fringe its banks, beautifully mirrored in the surface. Yet follow that same river up these mountain ravines, and you see it fretting and foaming over rugged rocks, hurrying impetuously down to where it now sleeps so calmly in the lower valley! That is a picture of the often long unrest of the soul before it has found the peace which passes understanding; its struggles with inward corruption and outward temptation; the fierce eddying currents and impetuous cataracts of passion and sin, before it secure its glorious repose in God. Not until it reaches these quiet meadows, with their green pastures, which we have been now describing, can it say—"Return unto your rest, O my soul!"

Here, too, as in the former figure, we have the abundance of God's mercies set forth; not only varied pastures but varied waters. The blessings of grace are not like the Nile, one solitary river which receives no tributary all the nine hundred miles it traverses. They are rather like the Jordan, fed by a hundred rills, as it hurries through its rocky gorges. Many streams only flow in winter or spring. When summer comes (the time they are most needed) their channels are dry. But these "still waters" are full even in drought, for they are fed from the everlasting hills. When the world's streams are emptiest, the streams of grace are deepest and most ample. "The Lord," says the prophet, "shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones; and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not."

We have streams of peace, of purity, of pardon, of sanctification—all exceedingly great and precious. Look at the exuberance of God's mercies in the natural creation. Go to some sequestered nook of tangled loveliness, by brook, or waterfall, or sequestered glade. Study for an hour that one page in the volume of nature, taking the microscope with you to help you in the task. How wondrous the tints! How symmetrical the forms! How lavish the garniture of the tiny worlds of animated being which the lens discloses! It is a feeble type of the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. "Oh! how great is Your goodness which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who trust in You, before the sons of men!"

We may conclude with the reflection suggested by both clauses, that true Religion is happiness. The loveliest emblems in nature, "green pastures" and "still waters," are here combined to symbolize the experiences, and depict the reality, of the believer's life. The world has its pleasures too, and we do not affirm that they are devoid of attractiveness. Had this been the case, they would not be so fondly and eagerly clung to as they are. But this we can affirm, that while they are certain, sooner or later, to perish, they are fitful and capricious even while they last. They are sand-built, not rock-built. They are, at best, but the passing gleam of the meteor; not like the Christian's happiness, the steady luster of the true constellation. The joys of the true believer outlive all others.

True Religion is like a castle on a mountain summit, catching the earliest sunbeam, and gilded by the last evening ray. When low down in the world's valleys, the shadows are falling, and the lights are already in the windows, the radiance still tarries on these lofty peaks of gladness. That castle, moreover, is full of all manner of good things. God has furnished it with every attractive blessing that can invite the weary wanderer in. He has crowded it with love-tokens, with which He may welcome back His long-absent children; just as a mother decks out her room for her absent boy; as every available nook is made gay with flowers and embroidery, crowded with souvenirs of affection, so God has filled that castle with love-pledges. Its walls are tapestried with proofs and promises of His grace and love in Jesus.

Go, wandering one, enter within these gates! Test for yourself the reality of the divine assurance—"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe." Go, wandering sheep! make proof of the truthfulness as well as beauty of the symbol under which the spiritual existence is here, presented—as a reclining on green pastures, and by still waters. Go take your rest in those meadows of peace.

Not, however, a rest of inglorious sloth. It is rest in God; rest in the blessed assurance of His favor. But it is not rest from the activities of a holy life. It is not rest or respite from a perpetual battle with sin. Christianity, we have previously seen, is no condition of selfish inaction. The believer is a steward, a servant, a worker, a member of that royal priesthood who have each their special ministry of duty and love in the spiritual temple. Reader, let this rest be yours, the pure rest which follows the consciousness of doing good—of discharging some lowly unostentatious offices of love to the Shepherd of souls.

We value most the rest of the body when it is the recompense of hard work and toil. He sleeps most sweetly who has worked through the day most bravely. Have you ever felt the sweets of this rest? The pleasurableness experienced after some act of kindness, and compassion, and generous self-sacrifice, by which your fellows have been made the better and the happier, and in the doing of which you have been enabled, in some feeble degree, to imitate the example of Him whose life was a combination of duty and love? If these deeds are performed quietly and unostentatiously, so much more is it in accordance with the spirit of Christianity, and with the spirit of the emblem we have been now considering—the still waters, fringed with green, flowing gently, noiselessly, unobtrusively along, manifesting their presence only by the fertility they spread around them. Beautiful picture of the true Christian! The silent flow of life's everyday current, carrying blessings in its course, fertilizing as it flows; leaving behind, and on either side, the green border of faith and love, kindness and benignity, charity and unselfishness.

Still waters indicate depth. It is the shallow stream that makes the ostentatious hollow noise, gurgling and fretting along its pebbly channel. True religion is too real to be noisy. Its characteristic is deep principle, not fitful ecstasies. It is in grace as in nature—the gentle dew distills on the tender grass—the gentle rain feeds the mountain streams, and these imperceptibly feed the still waters in the lower meadows. Blessed resort, this sheltered valley of Christ's reposeful love! Hear Him calling you, as He utters the invitation, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest."

Having found the Shepherd of these green pastures and still waters, dread everything that would lead you away from Him, and forfeit the possession of His favor and regard. It is the short but touching epitaph frequently seen in the catacombs at Rome—"In Christ, in peace." Realize the constant presence of the Shepherd of Peace. "HE makes me to lie down!" "HE leads me!"

Be ever near these waters of quietness. Let the current of your daily walk and business run side by side with the heavenly stream. In the world you may and must be. "In the world," says He, "you shall have tribulation, but in Me you shall have peace." And when you come to die, others may speak of the surges of death, and the swellings of Jordan, but to you it will only be, under the guidance of the great Forerunner, a transit through the border stream, to the better meadows and better Canaan beyond. "When you pass through the waters I will be with you." You will be borne through them in the arms of the Shepherd, to rest evermore in the celestial pastures, and to drink evermore of the rivers of His pleasure.

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS