The Poetical Books.
We have seen thus far, first of all, the books of the law, which give us the foundation of God's ways with His people, the principles upon which He deals with them. Secondly, the books of the history, the development of those principles as carried out in their lives. Thirdly, the sanctuary section, the books of the prophets, or those that unfold the principles of divine holiness which lead us into the presence of God; and now we come to the fourth section, the last of the books of the Old Testament, the books of experience, corresponding as they do most exactly with the book of Numbers. For I need not remind you that our experience is in this world, which is the place of testing for us, a place that brings out all that calls for God's help, all in us too, our weakness, our waywardness, our unbelief in the midst of trial, in the face of opposing enemies, our failures and shortcomings. How these things cluster around the thought of the world! and how, as we think of ourselves, as living in the world, we are constrained to remember the failures and shortcomings, which, alas! mark us as those walking in it!
Now there are several very suggestive things in connection with these books of experience, that we want to look at before we take them up in detail. They are the books that have to do with earth in a very special way, even different from the book of Numbers itself, which gives us mere history. Here we go deeper, we have experience, the thoughts produced in the heart by the circumstances through which God's people pass; and you will find that that is the great characteristic of this book. It is the heart-experience of God's people, not merely their outward history. In that connection you find here, as you will not in any other section of Scripture, the human element, as I might say. It is man giving expression to his thoughts. In the book of Job, for instance, you have even the unbelieving, imperfect expressions of men, who are not clear in their thoughts of God. In the book of Ecclesiastes you have still more clearly the expressions of one who, for the time, has shut God out; and so you will not find, as I might say, — and I use the expression guardedly that in every verse you could say, That is a divine truth; because sometimes the verse is the utterance of an unbeliever, sometimes it is the utterance of weak faith, groping in the darkness and feeling after God. That does not mean that it is not inspired, but that it is inspired to give us the picture of the utterance of the heart.
How good it is that God has given us such books as these — books that tell out, on the one hand, our own weakness, our own depression in the midst of trial, but that go on to bring out God's sufficiency, and His succor, in that very place of trial! They are very wonderful and interesting books in that way. They comprise first of all, as the beginning, the book of Psalms, the largest and that which has the widest scope of any of them; the Genesis, as you might say. Next to that comes the book of Job, which gives us the affliction of God's people and their deliverance out of it, and the lesson they learn through that affliction. Then, corresponding to the book of Leviticus, the sanctuary, you have that lovely song of Solomon which introduces us into the very presence of the Lord Himself. After that, as a Numbers, the book of Ecclesiastes, which is the wilderness-book of the wilderness-books; and finally, Deuteronomy, or the gathered wisdom for the way, in the book of Proverbs.
It is very striking, not only what I have already alluded to, that you have in these books the utterances of the heart, the utterances of our experience, but you have another thing that is equally so — that they are uttered in poetry. God is going to teach His people that through these very trials they are to raise a song of praise, and that they may sing, whether mourning in the darkness, bewailing their own failure and shortcoming, or catching a glimpse of the wondrous Deliverer and being lifted up by Him. Whether they look at the enemy, being oppressed by him, or whether they look forward to the time when their feet shall be taken off the sands of the wilderness, — you have all their experiences of trial, of joy, of deliverance, of oppression, whatever it may be, all set to music, that they may sing it, sing it out in praise to Him who turns even the wilderness into a pool of water, and makes the desert itself to blossom as the rose.
There is something particularly attractive in this, something peculiarly beautiful, that in the book that lets me know my heart's trial more than any other section of the divine Scriptures, God has put it in the form of poetry. He says to us, Have you sorrows? Sing them out to Me. Are you pilgrims going through a weary desert? Learn that God's statutes are your songs in the house of your pilgrimage.
It is the pilgrim that sings, the one who has the experiences of trial, who knows what it is to sing and worship God. Our very sorrows are thus turned into song, and the minor notes as well as those of more exultant tone combine together in a sweet anthem of harmonious praise, in which all creation will one day join. This is the lesson that confronts us in the very form in which these books" are written, the poetic form in which they are put before us.
The book of Psalms as that which is first and largest of them all, claims our first and most careful attention. How full it is, and what a wonderful book — wonderful in its very structure. There is not a subject of experience in God's people's path that you do not find here. Sometimes I think we have rather a heartless way of speaking of the book of Psalms. We say there is no food for Christians in it, that it is not proper Christian experience. And yet the saints of God through all times have found their comfort here, have found that which gave exact expression to their own experiences. Far be it from me to say a word against the wondrous fulness of the grace of God revealed in Christ in the New Testament; far be that thought. But I say unhesitatingly that those who know best the full gospel of God's grace, love, too, these wondrous expressions of experience which you find in the Psalm books. All the way through they put words into our lips, put in language what we ourselves experience, if we would not utter it to God.
As to its structure, it is divided up for us, as it were, into a Bible by itself; God thus showing that our experience involves the truth of the whole Bible. And so we have brought out, as in the Revised Version, its division into five books, in the same way as throughout the larger portions of Scripture. I will first designate them and you will see how clearly marked they are. We have first, from the first psalm to the forty-first, the first book, or the Genesis of the Psalms. Then from psalm 42. through 72 you have the second book, or Exodus of the Psalms, where you have brought out, the people at a distance from God, and their salvation unfolded. From psalm 73 through the eighty-ninth you have the Leviticus of the Psalms, or the holiness of God, as manifested in connection with the people. If you ask how we know that these are the divisions, I simply call your attention to the fact that each of these psalms that I have marked as the close of a book ends with a doxology; for instance, here at the close of the eighty-ninth you have, "Blessed be the Lord for evermore, Amen and Amen." Then from psalm ninety through 106th you have the fourth, or book of Numbers, which gives us the wilderness experience of the book, closing, as you notice again in the last verse of the 106th psalm, with the doxology, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting; and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord." The rest of the book gives us the Deuteronomy, from the 107th to the close. Thus we find the book of Psalms itself is a Bible in miniature; a little Bible, as it were, made just for our experience, which yet gives us the whole scope of Scripture applied to the needs and longings and sorrows of the hearts of God's dear people.
But that is only the beginning. Who can pretend in the compass of a few minutes to give even a portion of the thoughts that are in this wondrous book of Psalms? Let us just strike a few key-notes that make up the grand chorus that you find rising ever higher, ever sweeter, until it culminates in the grand finale that you have there at the close in the 149th and 150th psalms. The first psalm gives us the walk of the man of God upon earth, what we should be here on earth: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly;" "but his delight is in the law of the Lord." Then he is described to us as to his fruitfulness, and on the other hand, the ungodly are described, who shall not stand in the judgment.
But who is this godly, obedient man? Is it you? is it myself? Can I say that I am the man described in that first psalm? Alas! that is what we ought to be; it is what we are not. And when we ask, Who is the man that is thus fully blessed — where is he? You find the answer more particularly in the second psalm, which presents to us, first of all, the rebellion of the nations against God's Man, and then the setting of Him up in Mount Zion as the centre and source of blessing. Let us stop there a moment. We have the key to all our experience here upon earth. What is it? First, that our walk should suit that which is according to God's mind as to it. But it is not. Secondly, that all His counsels are centred in His Son, His King, whom He sets upon His holy hill of Zion. In other words, the experience of God's people upon earth centres around the two thoughts of our walk and of Christ. And in those two thoughts you have the key-note to the whole book of Psalms.
Now, if you trace on from the third psalm to the seventh, you find that you have five psalms there, and five is the number which speaks constantly of responsibility, and the exercise through which we pass under God's hand. You find there several prominent thoughts. There is, first of all, the enemy, who opposes us in a world like this. Then there are circumstances by which we are surrounded, circumstances such as David passed through, for instance, when he was in the cave, and Saul was pursuing him. Then you find false accusations of people not in sympathy; and you find, too, that but a remnant of Israel is truly awakened. There is also a sense of God's wrath and chastening upon this remnant. Now all these features, are primarily connected with Israel's remnant in the last days; but they speak to us, too, — connected with the Person of Christ, and with the desire of God that His people shall be according to the demands of that first psalm. So you find these five psalms linked together, and they give us, as it were, the development of truth through the exercises of the remnant in untoward circumstances, without the full knowledge of grace.
In the eighth psalm again is opened up to us the Person of the Lord; as though God said, I have set before you in the first psalm what you ought to be; and in the second psalm, Him who is to be King in Zion, through whom alone you can be blessed. I have put before you your experience in the world, in the face of the enemy, of opposition and trial; and now you emerge from that experience again to have set before you Man. But what Man? God's Man: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars that thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?" What is poor, puny man, with his little experiences, with his brief day upon earth? "What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?" Ah, you know in what a divine way the apostle treats that subject. He says, "We see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He by the grace of God, should taste death for every man." We have Jesus before us as the true Man — the Second Man — and all things put beneath his feet. These eight psalms form a sort of preface to the whole book. It is Christ at the beginning and Christ at the ending, and whatever the experiences through which we pass, they are linked with our apprehension of Christ, and we enter more fully into the knowledge of Him through the experiences.
Do you know that it is your trials that make you know Christ better? that it is your sorrow that brings you into fellowship with Him the more? Tell me, when did Mary and Martha know Christ better? when He was a welcome guest at their home, when they heard Him, when Martha was busy serving Him, or when, with the gloom of their sorrow, with their brother in the grave, the Lord appears in the power of resurrection? We always fear as we enter into the cloud, we always tremble when we go into the darkness, but, beloved brethren, it is in the cloud that we hear the voice, "This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him." And that is what you have all through this book of the Psalms. Thus, in the ninth and tenth, the enemy is described; the man of sin, that bold, blatant foe of God's people who lurks in the secret places of the villages like a ravening lion, ready to spring out on God's poor afflicted people. They see him there setting his mouth against the very heavens and saying, Who is God? why should I care for Him? and in view of that terrible enemy you hear their sighing and groaning.
In the five psalms that follow, (the ninth and tenth give us, as I was saying, that wicked one, the Antichrist) you have the experiences that flow out of the oppression of the Antichrist. The foundations are assailed, the fool says, "There is no God" then you have the cry for deliverance. Then look on to the fifteenth Psalm. In the ninth and tenth they had the wicked one before them, and in the fifteenth the psalmist asks the question "Lord who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall go into Thy holy hill?" He wants to know who it is, in view of the abounding wickedness of the world, that can have a place with God, and where is the answer? Did you ever think of it that the fifteenth psalm is a great interrogation point? It asks a question practically without answering it, for it puts the standard so high. But we pass into the sixteenth, and there is the answer there is the One who shall abide in God's tabernacle. Who is it? Is it some mighty king? Is it even the King on the hill of Zion you have in the second psalm? Is it the Son of Man, with all things under His feet, as you have in the eighth psalm? No; it is He who once, as the lowly Jesus, walked here, the man of faith, walking through this world as you and I have to walk through it. That is God's answer. He says, You are groaning and asking who it is that can have a place in My tabernacle? Look at this Man of faith here: "Preserve me, O God, for in Thee, do I put my trust." And all through that psalm you have got the key-note of faith, from its beginning to the joy of resurrection at the close, where He says, "Thou wilt show me the path of life," you have set before you Christ as the perfect Man of faith here upon the earth.
And so we might go on and take up each of these psalms. From the sixteenth on through to the twenty-fourth, you have before you, in some way or other, the person of Christ Himself, who meets every craving, every sense of need that the people of God may have — meets it most perfectly in His person and His work. I will just allude for a moment to three of these psalms, the twenty-second, twenty-third, and twenty-fourth. In the twenty-second, as you know, you have Christ as the sin-offering; the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. In the twenty-third, we have Him as He is spoken of in the epistle to the Hebrews — the Great Shepherd, the One who is brought again from the dead, and as risen now, leads His people in the green pastures and by still waters; and in the twenty-fourth, He is presented to us as the King of glory, the Chief Shepherd who will appear and lead His people through the portals of glory into the fold of true blessedness. In other words, you have brought before us in these psalms, Christ in His wondrous work — as making atonement in the twenty-second, as leading us into liberty and joy in the twenty-third, and into the fulness of blessing and reward in the twenty-fourth, — the everlasting gates lifted up.
We hear the sighing and the groaning of the people of God, we see them under the oppression of the enemy, we see the enemy with all his false accusations against them; we even see their own conscience under the sense of their guilt before God, then He turns them to Christ and says, "In Him you will find perfect peace; in His person, in His work; and in the place into which He has gone, you will find absolutely rest for your souls."
It is very significant that after we have passed that wonderful unfolding of what Christ is, from the twenty-second to the twenty-fourth psalms, you have the first real actual acknowledgment on the part of the people of their sin. In the twenty-fifth psalm, there is the actual confession of sin. Before that you have the sense of God's anger, the sense of His permitting the enemy to afflict them and all that; but you have not the real, honest, open confession, "For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great" until after the cross. I might say who is it that can truly confess? who is it that can truly go to the very bottom and learn what sin is? where will you find sin presented in its exceeding sinfulness? Is it in the sinner who knows not Christ? He has a sense of his transgressions, and manifold shortcomings, but he does not know sin, as the saint of God knows it, who has had a view of Christ. I get a view of the sin-offering that has put away my sin, I get a view of the spotless Person as in the sixteenth psalm, who is the model for my walk, and in view of that I can come in the twenty-fifth psalm to fathom the depths of iniquity that are in my heart, and the confession will come out without forcing. I know what sin is, because I know what Christ is. You will always find the ripest saint has the deepest view of sin. The one who knows the Lord Jesus best of all is the one who knows himself best of all; or as Paul has put it for us, "We rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
But we cannot go on looking at psalm after psalm in this way. At least you see how beautifully they are linked together, and how beautifully you have thrown in, between the sorrows and sins of the people, the person and work of Christ. So let it be with our lives. Let it be with all our wilderness experience that our sighing is turned into singing His praise. That is what you find as the practical effect from the twenty-fifth psalm on to near the close of the first book — to the thirty-ninth psalm, and then at the very close you have, in the fortieth and forty-first, again presented the person of the Lord. How beautiful it is to trace all through, the person of the Lord and His work. He is seen as the sin-offering in the twenty-second psalm, and there in the fortieth, you see Him as the burnt-offering as it is quoted for us in the tenth of Hebrews: "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared me." In other words it is Christ's work in subjection to the divine will presenting us to God, "by the which will" as the apostle says, "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once." The forty-first psalm closes the book. In none of the other books of the Psalms do you have the person and work of Christ so prominently put before us, as you do in this first book. It is most beautiful, most helpful to see how it links it all together with the experience of God's people.
Then when you come to the second book, from the forty-second on, we cannot speak in detail as we have been doing, but I want you to notice how different the thought is. Here you have the people away from God, and yet, sighing and crying for Him. The forty-second and forty-third give us that sense of distance, and the presence of the enemy. Then in the forty-fourth, you have the actual persecution: "Yea for Thy sake we are killed all the day long"; and then when they are at the lowest point, when they have told out all the sorrows of their condition, the forty-fifth begins with a song of love. The forty-fourth a song of man's hatred and persecution, the forty-fifth, the song of God's love in Christ: "My heart is inditing a good matter, I speak of the things that I have made touching the King." He is coming to His poor afflicted people in their distance under the hand of the enemy, the King that takes vengeance on their enemies, and delivers His saints. As a result in the forty-sixth we see, "God is our refuge and strength." In the forty-fourth they are "accounted as sheep for the slaughter," in the forty-sixth they are looking up with confidence to God as their refuge and strength. What is the secret of it? He who is fairer than all the sons of men has come in to succor, and the sense of that makes God their refuge and strength. The forty-seventh gives us the joy, "Clap your hands all ye people," and the forty-eighth is Mount Zion, the joy of the whole earth. Instead of a scattered afflicted people under the oppression of the enemy, you have Mount Zion with her bulwarks and surrounded by her walls — God known in her palaces for a refuge. It is all because of that blessed One who, for the sake of His beloved people, has girded His sword. upon His thigh and gone forth to conquer their oppressors. How beautifully the Psalms are thus grouped together.
Then again most strikingly, just as you had in the twenty-fifth psalm, going into the depths of self-judgment, because of the knowledge of what Christ has done, so here after God is known for a refuge through Christ, you have in the fiftieth and fifty-first psalms a deeper going into sin still, especially in the fifty-first where you have the acknowledgment of blood-guiltiness on the part of David. But David is not only writing here for himself, because of his awful sin in giving up Uriah to be killed, but it is David speaking for the whole people, and acknowledging the sin of blood-guiltiness in their rejection of Christ, and giving Him over to be slain by the Gentiles. And just as David when he was convicted of his sin could not plead as an excuse that he had not slain Uriah, so the people when they are brought to a sense of their sin dare not say that they have not crucified Christ; the Jew will not dare to plead that he did not pierce Him. How solemnly Scripture says, "They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced." They might say the Roman soldier pierced Him, but when they are truly convicted of sin, they will see that they are the ones who are guilty of the blood of the blessed Son of God, and they will confess it, like David owned his sin; and as a result, the walls of Zion will be built, and the blessing will come in.
Ere leaving this book, I would call your attention to the fact that it closes with the familiar seventy-second psalm. Take the forty-second and the seventy-second psalms and compare them together. In the forty-second you have, "Like the heart panteth after the water-brooks," a thirsty soul away from God, panting after Him. In the seventy-second, you have the Lord in possession, the Lord reigns and He comes down like rain upon the mown grass, and His people rejoice and bless God because of the restoration of the blessing through Christ Himself, the King's Son. Those two psalms, I might say, at the beginning and at the close give us the picture of their whole experience in connection with their sin. They are away from God, they are brought back through Christ. This is the Exodus.
The third book answering to Leviticus opens with a sanctuary psalm, the seventy-third, which tells us of the only place where they can understand what God is, and the whole book enlarges upon the principles of holiness which we find in the presence of God.
Then at the ninetieth and ninety-first psalms you open up the book of Numbers, the fourth, the wilderness book of the whole Psalms. These two psalms are in beautiful contrast. In the ninetieth you have what man is alone: "We spend our years as a tale that is told." Man is born, he lives, his days are few and full of trouble, and he dies; and all he can ask is, "so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." When you come to the ninety-first, you have a beautiful contrast. It is not the first man, but the second; it is the one who "dwells in the secret place of the Most High, who abides under the shadow of the Almighty." Man without Christ is the poor man of the ninetieth psalm, fittingly written by Moses the leader through the wilderness, as an expression of what man would be without the knowledge of anything else but himself, and God's demands upon him. Then in the ninety-first you have One who will tread upon the lion, and the adder, One who will go on conquering, in the very circumstances of trial which have oppressed the one in the ninetieth psalm. This is Christ, dear friends, the true Man, who goes through the wilderness with its joys and sorrows, as having the presence of God all the way.
There are other beautiful psalms very striking in this fourth book that we cannot speak of except to call your attention to them. For instance, you have that series commencing with the ninety-fifth and going on to the hundredth. It is in the book that speaks of the world, and of our experiences through it. You have here the world itself, the trees of the field as it were, clapping their hands, and rejoicing at the presence of the Lord, when He shall come and take His power and reign.
Just a word on the remainder of the psalms must suffice, before we pass on to the other part that is before us tonight. From the 107th till the close you have the fifth book or Deuteronomy. One of the most prominent psalms in that portion is the 119th, which gives us God's word celebrated in every possible way. The Deuteronomy, as we have seen, gives always the principles of God's dealings with His people, the wisdom which they get when they go over their path with Him. Here He shows what that wisdom is. It is in that word before us, the all-sufficient guide, the all-sufficient sustaining power for His people in this world. So you have the whole alphabet used eight times, eight verses to each letter of the alphabet, as though God would emphasize for us in this way that the new creation number, eight, is connected with His Word, and He wants us to know how full that Word is; it is as full as the new creation.
But we must close this brief glance at the Psalms. There is very much that I have not even alluded to, but enough I trust to show us what a wonderful line of truth it is that runs through it all; how wonderfully everything leads up, higher and higher to the praise and worship which gradually gains in power and strength. All trial is looked at, everything dwelt upon only to find in it fresh fuel, fresh material for praise and worship. Just as when you have a mighty flame of fire and you cast upon it water, it does not quench it but makes it burn still more intensely, so you find that as the flame of praise and worship kindles, the thought of what Christ is above all, and of what God is to His people in every circumstance; the very afflictions and trials only cause the flame to burn up more brightly and intensely than ever, till as in the 149th and the 150th psalms, all creation joins with the redeemed people of God, in eternal songs of praise. What an ending to our experience! And the little song of praise that you may be able to sing, like a feeble chirp of some little bird in the dark before the dawning of the day, is but the prelude to that great chorus of worship, which is quickening and quickening and uniting together till it all goes up in one grand anthem of praise. Just so we have it set before us most wonderfully in the book of Revelation, where all things, — every creature in heaven and earth and sea, — unite to ascribe blessing and honor and glory and power unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb forever and forever.
"Hark! the heavenly notes again!
Loudly swells the song of praise
Through creation's vault, Amen!
Amen! responsive joy doth raise."
Do you wonder that the Psalms are thus the first of these books of experience, and that they give us in this way every form of experience through which God's people pass, and turn it all to worship and to praise? A Genesis indeed, in its varied fulness.
We come to Job next; and there are three thoughts I believe that will give us the key to the whole history of Job. Those thoughts are Satan's malice, Job's self-righteousness, and God's glorious majesty. Satan's assault on Job you have in the first chapters, and when God has permitted Satan to do his worst, he passes from view. He has introduced Job into the circumstances which God will use to probe him. Satan, with all his malice, is but the tool in God's hands, as it were, to polish His people, taking from them the tarnish which prevents their reflecting His image.
But at the close of the book, God comes in, and reveals His majesty and His power; and what a change! Job who had closed the mouths of his friends, but was in bondage and misery, now learns the secret of deliverance. And what is that secret? Is it that God vindicates him, or confirms him in his good opinion of himself? He could tell Satan that there was none like Job upon the earth, but He speaks far differently to Job himself. Ah! in God's holy presence, awed and broken by His majesty, he learns how vile and full of sin he is: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." That is the secret of deliverance for the best man that the earth has. His name is significant as meaning a penitent. Think of it, the best man on earth a penitent, the best man on earth abhorring himself, and getting to the end of himself; and then you find God for him. Beloved, that is the secret, I say, of our deliverance as well as Job's. When you have learned what you are, when you have learned what good self is as well as bad self, have learned to have no confidence in yourself, then God can come in and turn all Satan's assaults and all your experiences of what you are, humiliating though they be, into blessing for you. You have now done with self, and now you can go on with God.
And how beautifully that links with the next portion that you have in these books of experience. I have come to the end of myself in Job, the end even of good self. When a man has no more goodness that he can be occupied with, if he has no more attainment that he can delight in, if he cannot stand himself off and look at himself, and say, "See what a man I am, and what I have done," what has he as the object before his heart? How beautifully the song of Solomon gives the answer. I am delivered from myself for what purpose? To be occupied with the blessed Son of God. Oh! who would not exchange Job with all his goodness and uprightness, who would not exchange occupation with Job for occupation with Christ, with the love and with the heart of Christ? Are we wrong in saying that it is the Song of songs. That it is the song that leads all other songs, the song that sets aside all other songs, that which celebrates for us the Person and the love that passes all knowledge — Christ our blessed Lord.
I say again, to be delivered does not mean merely to be delivered in a negative way with nothing positive before us. It does not mean to be set free from self-occupation to have some other kind of occupation with things of earth; but to be delivered is to have Job set aside that Christ may fill my soul; and that it may overflow in a song that celebrates Him. We find all through this beautiful little book, with its few brief chapters, the soul grappled by a love that is so mighty, so big that the heart cannot contain it. Are you familiar with that thought in the song of Solomon? I do not say is your intellect familiar with it; I do not say can you give the various dialogues and experiences running through it; but are you familiar with the heart that throbs through it? Do you see the One from behind the lattice, who looks out at us in such a way that you can see His very features, at it were, and hear His voice? Are you, am I, living in any sense in the sanctuary of that holy place where the Lord Himself is the object before us? That is the sanctuary, the true Leviticus, That is holiness, the acme of all experience, which is to lead us into heart acquaintance with Christ. Let us pray that God will make that more a reality, that we may know practically what, like John, it is to have the head upon the Lord's bosom, or like the bride here, who says, "Thy love is better than wine," better than the choicest vintage of earth's joy.
You go on next to that other book, of Ecclesiastes, alas, in such contrast to the song of Solomon. You step out from the heaven of the Lord's presence into the earth of the wisest man's experience. You had in Job the best man, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes; and in Ecclesiastes you have the wisest man, and his wisdom is but folly. Here is a man who has had every opportunity; he has kingly prerogative; thousands wait upon his bidding; he has all wealth, every thing that heart could wish. He has all wisdom — every opportunity to enjoy himself in the world, and what is the result? "Vanity of vanity, — all is vanity."
I see a young Christian looking out on the the world. He says, I must have my experience in it, I must know something of what it has to offer. Why should he? Here we have the divine record of the experience of the man who had every opportunity to learn what the world was. "What can he do that cometh after the king?" This man marshals the world before him; he says, I will get all I can out of it; and all that he gets out of it is bitterness, vexation, disappointment. Do we repine at our circumstances? Suppose you were to answer tonight truthfully, What is it that prevents your being perfectly happy, what would you say? Is the health not very good, the position in life not just what you would wish — work is too hard, hours too long, pay too small? Would not something like that be a truthful answer for many? What is it that makes people happy? Solomon says if you have all the wealth of a king, and all his power; if you spent your time in seeking enjoyment; if you spent your whole life in searching through the rubbish of this world, you would find nothing but disappointment.
What a mercy it is that we have not to walk in this path, but can take the experience of this wise man who has walked it. If I was traveling over a lonely moor, with the roads not very clearly marked, my eye-sight not very bright, and I should meet a traveler coming from a certain direction in which I had been thinking of going, and I see he is covered with mud; I say, "Where have you been?" "I have been up that road as far as it leads to the very end of it." "And what have you found?" "A quagmire of filth and disappointment." Would I walk up the same road? would I not be thankful to have met the man who saved me all the humiliation and trouble of walking in such a path? And yet how often is it that we do not seem willing to take the experiences of the travelers who have gone ahead of us. God has permitted one of the wisest of earth to walk through that road from end to end, and come back with all the mire of it upon him, and say, "vanity and vexation of spirit." And yet down in the bottom of our hearts how often do we wish to have our own experience of it all. We will get nothing in that path but what Solomon got. How wise we are if we take his experience, and rest satisfied with the Song of songs.
The love of Christ, and the person of Christ, and all the tender assurances of what He is to me, are sufficient without the bitter experience that I would gather in passing through the experience of Ecclesiastes. Have you learned that lesson? are you willing to learn it? Happy, happy are you if you have.
That is just what God would gather up and bring home to us in the book of Proverbs. It is divine wisdom which has gathered up all that we need for our path, and put it before us in such a shape that we find a word for almost everything. Even if we had time, I fear that all I could do would be to point out here and there nuggets of gold which lie thick along the very surface of the book. There is this however to note: It is the book of wisdom for the path; it is God going over the path with us. In Ecclesiastes, you have king Solomon going over the path alone in his own experience; but in Proverbs, you have God going over the path with us, pointing out the dangers, the need of care in this direction or in the other. And he who will be a wise man, is the one who has his mind and heart and conscience fully equipped with the wondrous truth in this book of Proverbs. No doubt there is much that is typical in it. I have no doubt, for instance, that this strange woman in it is the world, and that what we are to beware of in her allurements is the contrast of what you have of the unchanging love of Christ in the song of Solomon.
Nor do I doubt that in the king you have, the king who scatters away darkness by the light of his countenance, and in whose favor is joy; whose favor is like the cloud of the latter rain, — you have Christ there as the coming King. But between the beginning and the ending of the book, between the warning you get of the strange woman at the beginning and the unfoldings as to the king in the close, you have a great mass of practical words for the way.
There are thirty-one chapters in the book of Proverbs; just one chapter a day, for a month. If you will take it and read a chapter every day for a month, carefully and prayerfully, and note the words of wisdom that are in it — I need not assure you of what value it will be to you. If you will do this again and again your profit will be the greater, for it is not a book that you can close and put away, but one that you can live by as a guidebook through the world. You will find a direct word from the Lord for many a question about which you are in doubt now — about your associations, your conduct with your fellow-men, with your brethren; about the avoidance of strife, the avoidance of pride — hundreds of dangers which beset our path. They are provided for in that wondrous book of wisdom for the way. God wants us to profit by it.
That gives us, in brief and imperfect way, the outline of these books of experience. If we have done nothing else but have our hearts stirred with a craving and a longing to know more of the wonders of God's word; if it has begotten in us a desire to make it more practically our own; if we carry out that desire, I am sure it is not in vain that we have dwelt upon it at this time.