by Octavius Winslow

The Valley

"Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me." -Psalm 23:4.

"Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me." -Psalm 23:4.

Plaintive and pensive refrain of our Song is this- yet how inspiriting and melodious! What a marvellous combination of note, and harmony of sound! It speaks of soul-depression; the pathway of the valley; the shadow of death; the presence of the Shepherd; and the triumph of the sheep! "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me." The spiritual landscape of the Christian- like the natural- is diversified in character, feature, and tint. Mountains and hills, rivers and valleys, forests and glens, grassy mounds and sunny slopes, compose it; and each succeeding and varied scene, presents some new and brighter view of the divine character, and brings the saints of God into the experience of some yet unstudied and unlearned lesson in the divine life. It is in this way our education for heaven is advanced: it is thus our acquaintance with God is promoted. We only experimentally and closely know God by personal relationship. A theoretical or intellectual religion is of little or no practical avail. We must know God, not by hearing and reading merely, but by personal understanding and feeling; the emotional, as well as the thinking, faculty must be brought into play: the heart must, so to speak, discourse with the head- there must be a communication, a harmony of the intellect and the affections in the religious training of the soul. Perhaps we conceive of God as so infinitely great that He can only deal with us- and we with Him- in the greater events of our history; while the smaller incidents- the little affairs of daily life- are left to the government and molding of blind chance, or fortuitous circumstance! But this is practical atheism of the worst description. It is the privilege of the believer to recognize and practically act upon the truth that, there transpires not an event or incident in his history but marks the hand and echoes the voice of his Divine Shepherd. The Lord is in it. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered"- Christ thus teaching us that our Heavenly Father takes cognizance of the minutest event and circumstance of our individual history, and that there is nothing too trivial or common to be beneath His interest and control. And thus, although the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, yet He seeks a dwelling-place amid the sighs and groans and desires of a humble, broken, and contrite heart; and all the interests of that heart- its faintest desire, gentlest sigh, and softest prayer- are entwined with the purposes, thoughts, and affections of His. "You are NEAR, O Lord," should be the consciousness of every believing mind: You, God, see me! You, God, hear me! You, God, shield me! Jesus meets us in every bend of our path, and speaks to us in every circumstance of our history- in the cloudy pillar, as in the golden beam; in the soft, 'still small voice,' as in the roar of the tempest and the vibration of the earthquake- and thus, were there less atheistical unbelief in our hearts- alas! so natural and so strong- we should feel that God has to do with us, and we with God, in the most infinitesimal event and incident of our history. Oh deem nothing too small for God! If it concerns you, it yet more deeply concerns Him; if it is your care, it is still more His. "Casting all your care upon Him; for He cares for you;" and how could He care for you, felt He not your care? You are His child by adopting grace, and nothing that attaches to you as a child is alien to Him as a Father. But let us now bend our ear to this pensive yet triumphant strain of our song- "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me."

The course of the flock- as mapped in this verse of the Psalm- is clearly that of THE VALLEY- and rich and holy is its teaching. There are VARIOUS VALLEYS which trace the journey of the Christian- and in each of which some especial blessing is found, and found in no other. The first stage of the divine life commences in the valley- the valley of repentance and humiliation for sin. All pass through this valley who are called by grace, and have set out for heaven. It is, indeed, the first step in real conversion. Until we are led down into this valley, we tread the high mountain of self-righteousness and pride, in the self-inflated, boasting spirit of Nebuchadnezzar, who walked in the palace of his kingdom exclaiming, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" Alas! there are many heights, each one more elevated than the other, traversed by the natural man, from the towering summit of which he fondly, yet vainly, hopes to reach heaven, as easily and surely as Moses from the top of mount Pisgah! But, from all these elevations, divine grace, by a descent gradual yet effectual, removes him, leading him down into the valley of his own sinfulness, emptiness, and poverty, extorting from him the only prayer expressive of his felt condition- "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Oh, blessed valley of death is this! There is something more than shadow here- there is reality! -it is death itself! The sentence of death is now written upon all imaginary holiness- imaginary merit- and spurious hopes of salvation by the works of the law. The "commandment" has been applied by the Spirit to the heart and conscience- 'sin,' that lay dead and dormant, is 'revived,' quickened as into new life; and we 'die' to all our own righteousness, false hopes, and vain expectation of mounting to heaven from the Babel we had so zealously, yet so foolishly and fatally, reared. And now the lofty look and the proud heart are brought low, and with the hand upon the mouth, and the mouth in the dust, the humbled soul exclaims, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

In this valley of repentance, self-renunciation, and godly sorrow for sin, Christ is found- and found only here! This that was, in a sense, the valley of death, now becomes the valley of life! It is here our first discovery of Christ is made. Where else should we look for Him but "outside the camp," and in the valley- the scorn of the Pharisee, and the rejected of the worldling- but the attraction and the treasure, the Savior and the Friend of every poor, penitent sinner; who, feeling the plague of his own heart, and casting away the leprous-tainted, sin-soiled, worthless garment of his own righteousness, comes to Jesus, and accepts Him as all his salvation and all his desire? Oh how real and precious does Christ now become! and how true and glorious does the gospel appear! Truly it is a new creation within; and the old and material creation outside is now clothed with a beauty and a charm unseen, unfelt before; for lo! "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!" Every object in nature- the flowers of earth, and the stars of heaven- as now seen with a spiritual and new-born vision-  bloom with a beauty and shine with a splendor, the most brilliant imagination could never have conceived; and, recognized as the work of the Incarnate God- of Him who died upon the cross- appear as though the universe had but just sprung from chaos at the fiat of its Maker, clothed with the splendor, fragrant with the perfume, and vocal with the song of its first-born creation! It is only to the Christian's eye- and as seen to be the work of Jesus- that this world appears, even in its sin-tainted and curse-blighted condition, to be surpassingly beautiful. It is true, the painter, the poet, and the philosopher may revel amid the sublimities and wonders of 'nature'-  portraying them upon canvas, chanting them in song, and illustrating them in science- but, until there is a new visual faculty of the soul, a veil conceals even from the most artistic eye, and the most brilliant fancy, and the most learned mind, more than half the grandeur and splendor of the universe. Creation, recognized as the handiwork of Christ- God seen in it- oh then it is the sentiment comes with a power perfectly irresistible- "He has made all things beautiful!" "How great is His beauty!"

Study Creation with the Christian's eye- not with the eye of a Byron, dimmed with the mist of an atheistic philosophy, but with the eye of a Milton, lit up with the noontide splendor of the Sun of Righteousness! And when you look down at the flowers- those stars of earth, and up to the planets- the jewelry of heaven, and when you gaze upon the rainbow, kissing the valley, then springing to the sky, arching and tinting hill and cloud with its mysterious beauty-  and when you gaze upon the cloud-piercing Alps, capped with its eternal snows, inaccessible to the foot of man- oh let the devout thought, the rapturous feeling, leap from your adoring soul- "My Father- my Redeemer made it all!" -and lo! the curse will seem to have rolled from creation, and "instead of the thorn will be the fir tree, and instead of the brier, the myrtle tree; the mountains and the hills will break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

My reader, have you been brought into this valley of humiliation? and have you there found- where alone it can be found- the "Rose of Sharon" -the "Plant of renown" -the "Lily of the valley" -the "Tree of life" -even the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, discovered alone by the soul led down into the depths of its own conscious sinfulness.

There is the valley of affliction which lies in our pathway to heaven, along which all the sheep travel, and was trodden by the Shepherd of the flock Himself; for, "though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." Thus the valley of sorrow is the royal road through which all traveling to the delectable mountains are led by the Shepherd. It is an essential part of our education for heaven- our learning of the New Song- that we should pass through this valley- often profoundly deep and densely shaded. Our descent into it may be singularly mysterious. We are, perhaps, led down by the Shepherd from some verdant hill-side, where we fed so luxuriantly- or from some silvery stream, upon whose soft bank we reclined so peacefully- into the loneliness and gloom of the valley of tears, to learn some new lesson, to experience some new truth, to taste some new spring, found only there. It is not always upon the consecrated heights of devout communion, Christian joy, and entrancing song, that we find the richest fruit, the sweetest flowers, the purest streams of the divine life. All no! "He sends the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills;" and so He fulfils the precious evangelical
promise- "I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." And so it is when God brings us low, we discover the springs of life and grace and truth, found nowhere so full, so sweet, so refreshing, as in the valley winding among the 'hills' of difficulty and doubt, weariness and neediness, which lie in our path to glory. Oh there are blessings found in the shaded valley, that are not on the sun gilded height; even as there are sublimities seen by night, invisible to the eye by day! It is here the character of God is unfolded- the compassion of Christ is felt- the consolation of the Spirit is experienced. We have found it good to be in the valley. Almost paralyzed with wonder, and overwhelmed with emotion, in the shaded valley into which the Shepherd has gently led us we have plucked our ripest fruit, cropped our richest pasture, and drank our purest spring of divine truth, sweet peace, and holy joy! The discipline of sorrow thus hallowed, we have echoed the lofty note of our sweet-singing Psalmist- "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Your statutes." Shepherd of my soul! if this be the pasture, these the blessings, found in the valley of sorrow, the valley of tears- my rebellious will disciplined- my heart's idolatry surrendered- my worldly-mindedness removed- and You made more precious to my soul- then,
"Your way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be!
Lead me by Your own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
"Smooth let it be, or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Your rest.
"You take my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to You may seem;
Choose You my good or ill."

But the most solemn valley we have yet to pass- "the valley of the shadow of death." "It is appointed unto men once to die," and even the believer is no exception to this divine appointment. The Shepherd Himself was not exempt. He must pass through the valley of death before He could " open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." We must keep in view the essential distinction of Christ's death and ours. Christ suffered death as the Substitutionary Offering of His Church; consequently, death was to Him not what it is to us, (a covenant blessing), but an unrepealed, unmitigated curse. He met, not the shadow, but the substance of death; not the phantom, but the reality- suffering countless million deaths in one! If it is an appalling event for one individual to die, what must have been the "bitterness of death" to Christ, dying the death- the sting of each buried in His heart- of every individual sheep of His flock? Oh, had He not been God, as He was man- and had not His love been equal to His Deity- infinite, boundless, fathomless- how could He have drank and exhausted that tremendous cup of death's unmingled bitterness? Consider its ingredients- all the sins of His Church- the curse entailed by those sins- the condemnation involved in that curse- yet all this He endured in the sacrificial, sin-atoning sufferings and death through which He passed.

Turn we now to THE DEATH of those for whom He thus died. Christ's death has essentially and entirely changed the character of ours. The believer, in the words of Jesus Himself, "shall not see death." Literally, it is death- symbolically, death is a shadow. Poetically, death is a sleep. "Those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." And what is this sleep? It is not the sleep of the soul- the soul loses not for a moment its consciousness. It is the sleep of the body- an euthanasia- in which the mortal part of our nature only reposes in unconsciousness until the trumpet of the Archangel wakes and bids it rise a "spiritual body" 'the body of our humiliation fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body.' Banish from your mind and your creed the freezing, cheerless idea that the soul of the believer sleeps until the resurrection morn! No! the soul- even of the lost- in its transit to eternity is not the subject of a moment's insensibility. 'Absent from the body'- that instant the believer is 'present with the Lord.' The moment that the body closes its eyes upon all the sin and suffering of earth, the ransomed soul opens its rapt vision upon all the glory and splendor of heaven- and JESUS is the first Object which meets, fastens, and feasts its ravished and wondering gaze!

"I will fear no evil!" An elevated note of our song is this! What! "no evil" in the approach of the 'king of terrors'? "No evil" in the assaults of the Evil One? "No evil" in the near prospect and realities of eternity? "Yes," responds the dying believer, "I fear no evil! Death cannot sting me- Christ has died! The grave cannot hold me- Christ is risen! Sin cannot condemn me-Christ has atoned! Satan cannot touch me- Christ has conquered! The fetters I wore so long and so wearily, now fall broken and shattered at my feet- and I am free!" What, in reality, has the believer to fear in death? When Christ passed through the valley, He destroyed the substance of death, and left nothing but its shadow- its phantom- its dream! Oh, believer in Jesus! are you afraid of a shadow? And have you forgotten the exceeding great and precious promise- "As your day, so shall your strength be"? "As your day" -and not before your day! The grace laid up for a dying hour is wisely reserved by God for its 'day,' and never given ahead of time. Oh, how prodigal we should be of the precious treasure were the deposit entrusted to our own keeping! It is the prerogative and design of faith to live upon God by the day. This is evidently His purpose and arrangement. "As your day, so shall your strength be." We have daily demands for grace quite enough, irrespective of anticipating our reserves, and antedating our need. We need living grace for life's daily duties and responsibilities, temptations and trials- and we have it all in Christ, our Depositary and Head, and it is ours- affluently and freely- by pleading the promise- "My grace is sufficient for you." Our dying grace will come at the appointed time, and when most we need it; and as we experienced the grace of Jesus all-sufficient for life- its deepest sorrows, its sorest trials, its strongest temptations, its greatest difficulties- so shall we find it all-sufficient for death- its fears and doubts, its tremblings and faintings- once more, and for the last and closing scene, presenting the precious promise- "My grace is sufficient for you." Wait, then, trustfully, calmly, hopefully, God's appointed time for the divine strength, grace, and comfort, that will bear you safely, yes, triumphantly through the shaded valley.
"His wisdom is sublime,
His heart profoundly kind;
God never is before His time,
And never is behind."

No! "I will not fear" -why should I, with such a Father- such a Savior- such a Comforter at my side, as I traverse the swellings of Jordan, my foot of faith firmly planted upon the precious promises that pave my pathway to glory? Oh, what must be the power of the blood and righteousness of Christ, which annihilates every fear at that dread moment when the "King of terrors" brandishes his uplifted dart, prepared to strike, but powerless to sting! Where this boldness at a moment when the stoutest heart might quail- this calmness, when the most sublime heroism might succumb- this smiling at the pale messenger, when nature is dissolving, and loving watchers are weeping and sobbing?

"Come, death, shake hands!
I love your bands;
It is happiness for me to die!
What! do you think that I will flinch?
I go to immortality!"

Where, we again ask, does this sublime victory over death come from? Our sweet Songster shall supply the answer.
"For You are with me." The presence and power of the Savior in the hour and point of death, alone explain the phenomenon. There is no fact in the believer's history more certain, as there is not one more precious, than that the Divine Shepherd walks side by side with each departing member of His flock. If ever the Savior is manifestly and sensibly with His saints, it is then. Never did He permit one of His sheep, not a lamb of His fold, to pass down the valley unsustained by His arm, uncheered by His voice, unblest with His smile. It may be that the loved ones who shared and soothed our earthly pilgrimage are absent now; or, if present, we may be unconscious that they are at our side. A fond parent may watch in silent agony the closing scene- a devoted husband, a loving wife, may tenderly wipe the cold death-damp from our brow- an affectionate child may bend to catch the last sigh from our lips- and yet we are utterly unconscious of their presence and their love! But of one presence- of the nearness of one Friend- your departing spirit is fully, blessedly sensible. "You me with me!" breathes from the dying lips- resounds through the valley! Hell trembles! Heaven rejoices! And all the saints and angels shout for joy!

"Death comes to take me where I long to be;
One pang, and bright blooms the immortal flower.
Death comes to lead me from mortality
To lands which know not one unhappy hour.
I have a hope, a faith- from sorrow here
I'm led by death away- why should I flinch and fear?
"A change from woe to joy- from earth to heaven
Death gives me this- it leads me calmly where
The souls that long ago from me were riven
May meet again! Death answers many a prayer.
Bright day, shine on! be glad! Days brighter far
Are stretched before my eyes than those of mortals are!"