Meditations on the Eighty-fourth Psalm.
(Previously published in book form with Psalm 23)
"The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." John 10:11.
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." Ps. 122:1.
VERY little needs to be said by way, of preface. The "MEDITATIONS" are well known. Their reappearance in a separate volume is to meet the expressed wish of many friends.
Besides, when lying scattered in short meditations amongst other papers, as in "Things New and Old," they are less readable. Indeed, the difficulty in reading them connectedly, even when there is a willing mind, is so great, that comparatively few will take the trouble. But they are so convenient in the present form, and so different to the reader when thus together, that it is almost like a new book.
The circumstances under which the greater part of the Meditations on the TWENTY-THIRD PSALM were written, and of which they may be said to be the MEMORIAL, give them a special interest to some. But that circle is narrowing. Many who loved and were loved, have gone to the Lord since JULY 1ST, 1864. The earth is becoming poorer, but heaven grows richer. They have gone before, we are following after. "A LITTLE WHILE," expresses the period of our separation.
The main object of these Meditations, I may here say, is to lead both writer and reader to greater nearness in heart to God. There is no piety so deep or real as the reference of the heart to God in everything, and all day long. This is living in God's presence — beneath the glance of His eye. "I will guide thee with mine eye," is the promise. Wondrous truth! — a child of God on earth, taught to read his Father's eye in heaven! This indeed is nearness — guidance — fellowship — fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, through the teaching and power of the Holy Spirit. (Ps. 32; 1 John 1:3)
When our souls are in this state, we walk in the light as God is in the light. We are happy to have everything that concerns us looked at there. Christ is revealed to the soul in His fulness and glory by the Holy Spirit. Our joy is full. Difficulties vanish. Clouds and darkness disappear before His brightness. Our love to Him rises to the measure of our enjoyment of His love to us: we can never rise higher than what we see in Him, whether it be love, self-denial, or service. Hence the practical importance of these words, "Looking unto Jesus."
There may be troubles on every side, as to the circumstances through which we are passing, but amidst them all the heart is calm, peaceful, and quietly referring all to God. Faith looks only to Him; it trusts only in Him; "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." (Ps. 25; 62)
Fain would I lead my many dear young friends thus to walk with the Lord. If one we love be far away, we not only think of that one, but we instinctively refer all that interests us to the absent one. Before we are aware, we find ourselves wondering what he would think of this — what he would say to that. This is natural — it is the communion of hearts that love; distance cannot hinder it. Thus should it be with the child of God and his Father — with the disciple and his Lord.
In faithfulness and love would I say, in conclusion — make Christianity the one great business of your lives, and make all other things bend to it. It is worthy of the entire consecration of heart and life. There can be no solid peace, no lasting happiness, no steadfastness of course, without this. When other things share the heart with Christ, all goes wrong spiritually. The conscience becomes uneasy, the heart becomes unhappy, and feebleness in divine things soon follows.
May the Lord keep us all very near to Himself and ever walking in the light of His countenance; and may He bless to many, many souls, the following Meditations. and His name shall have all the glory.
A. M. London.
"The soul is the dwelling-place of the truth of God. The ear and the mind are but the gate and the avenue; the soul is its home or dwelling-place.
The beauty and the joy of the truth may have unduly occupied the outposts, filled the avenues, and crowded the gates — but it is only in the soul that its reality can be known. And it is by MEDITATION that the truth takes its journey from the gate along the avenue to its proper dwelling-place." J. G. Bellett.
MEDITATIONS ON THE EIGHTY-FOURTH PSALM.
THE EIGHTY-FOURTH PSALM is in some respects very different to the TWENTY-THIRD; still, in other respects they resemble each other, and may be profitably studied together. Both have been favourite themes of meditation with the children of God in all ages — both are practical and experimental. In the one we are introduced by the Good Shepherd to the green pastures and still waters, in the other we are led by the same hand into the courts and tabernacles of the Lord. But the way to the full blessing in both is through the valley. Whether it be the King's table or the hill of Zion, the way to both lies through the vale of tears.
The subject of the house or habitation of God occupies a large and interesting place in scripture. Thus we have the tabernacle in the wilderness, the temple in the land, the church of God now, the house of many mansions in heaven and the tabernacle of God with men in the post-millennial earth. But as our great object is the promotion and deepening of practical Christianity in the souls of our readers, we would glance, in our meditations on the eighty-fourth Psalm, at the state of things in the professing church around us. We may thus use Old Testament types and terms in illustration of New Testament truths, and of the practices of professing Christians.
Psalm 84:1. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts." It is well with the soul when it longs after the habitation of God — when it loves the meetings of His saints because He is there. It is the divine nature breathing after the living God and desiring blessing from Him.
There may be a certain pleasure felt by some in attending a place of worship, so called, who have no divine life in their souls; but such go not to meet God. Strong emotions of a reverential kind may be awakened through tender associations, as the congregation sings,
"How lovely is Thy dwelling-place,
O Lord of hosts, to me!
The tabernacles of Thy grace.
How pleasant, Lord, they be.
We'll go into His tabernacles,
And at His footstool bow:
Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest,
Th' ark of Thy strength, and Thou."
Nevertheless, were they to be told when on the way to their accustomed meeting-place, that God was to be there, they would gladly turn back. It is only those who are born again that can say, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Having the divine nature, we are capable of enjoying God and delighting in Him. True personal piety loves the tabernacles of the Lord. The place of His presence is the favourite resort of the devout soul. Three things are necessary to acceptable worship.
1. The divine nature as the capacity.
2. The Holy Spirit as the power.
3. The word of God as the rule.
(John 4:23, 24.)
This is true and blessed experience, O my soul: pray, is it thine? It is only that kind of experience which all the children of God may have, even the babes in Christ. It is written, "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," and surely the child is the same nature as his Father and capable of the closest fellowship with Him; but we have also His word and Spirit. True, oh most true! But art thou child-like enough to have no rule but thy Father's word, and no power but His Spirit? Is there nothing in thy religious ways which is the fruit of tradition or education? O my Father and my God, I know I am Thine — I bow to Thy truth; but oh, give me to enter more distinctly, more consciously, into the blessed realities of divine worship.
But may I ask of thee and of all to whom the question belongs — What is thy motive? what is thine object? what are thy desires in attending the meetings of God's people? Art thou quite clear about the three things? Do not the frequency, regularity and general uniformity of the services tend to weaken their proper effect on thy soul and lead thee to forget their true meaning and object? The thought of going to the habitation of God, and of being with Him there, could not fail to produce an immense effect upon us if we fully realise it. What thorough self-judgment there would be before leaving the secret chamber for the public sanctuary; and what close watchfulness over every thought, word and act while there: not that there should be the least feeling of bondage, for the Father's presence is the children's home, and the place of happy liberty. "The Father seeketh such to worship him." He not only accepts, but seeks our worship. He loves to hear His children's praise, adoration, thanks-giving. But, for this very reason, He would have their worship to be with the heart, and with the understanding also.
Oh, what a thought! What grace! God dwelling with men: not as a visitor merely, as He was with our first parents in the garden of Eden, but as a dweller. Meditate on this great truth, O my soul. Be not thoughtless or forgetful, suffer not custom to induce formality; alas, that the constant enjoyment of such privileges should' be the means of destroying their native power over our souls! Remember, oh remember, it is to the tabernacles of the Lord of hosts thou art invited. The word "tabernacle" means the dwelling of God with man. This thought of wondrous love and grace to us has been in God's mind from the beginning. He showed Moses a pattern of the tabernacle on the mount. The plan is His own; but oh, what will it be when it is fully carried out! For this we must wait until we reach our Father's house on high and also the new heavens and the new earth. Then God will have everything His own way in His own house. "And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3, 4.)
What a description of our future dwelling-place! Who can conceive its blessedness? But it is home — the dwelling-place of God, for the heavenly saints will be His tabernacle and yet we shall dwell with Him. What a mystery of love and glory — of grace and blessedness! And, oh, wondrous thought! this is the eternal state and home is its character. The millennium is past — the ages have run their course — eternity in its unmingled happiness is begun. And what is the symbol of its perfect blessedness? just that which has always been the symbol of God's grace and man's privilege, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus — "The tabernacle of God." Now, the church is the "habitation of God, through the Spirit." Then it will be His tabernacle: during the millennium it will be seen as "the holy city, the new Jerusalem."
"With Him I love, in spotless white,
In glory I shall shine;
His blissful presence my delight,
His love and glory mine.
All taint of sin shall be removed.
All evil done away:
And I shall dwell with God's beloved,
Through God's eternal day."
But the leading thought in our beautiful psalm is not so much our dwelling with God, as God dwelling with as. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts." At the present moment, of course, it is in the church He dwells, through the Holy Spirit. "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. 2:16-22.) Ere long the children will have reached their Father's house on high, as we have already seen; but so long as they are "passing through the valley of Baca," He graciously moves with them in their travelling tent, so that, in one sense, they are absent from His dwelling-place, the house of many mansions, and are earnestly longing to be there, as we often sweetly sing -
"Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him, I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day's march nearer home.
Then shall all clouds depart,
The wilderness shall cease;
And sweetly shall each gladdened heart
Enjoy eternal peace."
But it is to the great truth of God's presence with us now in the assemblies of His saints that I desire to draw thy closest attention, O my soul. Paul says to his son Timothy, "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:15.) Surely the consideration that He is there would lead to a spirit of worship and holy becoming watchfulness over our whole deportment. For although the house through man's failure (2 Tim. 2:20, 21) has become "a great house" in which there are vessels "to honour, and some to dishonour," the principle of God's habitation and that which is due to His presence must remain unchangeably the same. And if we cannot say in faith, the Lord is there, what is the use of our going? It would only be a human association, however orderly, not the "habitation of God through the Spirit." It is on this blessed fact, O my soul, that I beg thy deepest meditation. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name," saith the Lord, "there am I in the midst of them." This is His pledge. He seeks not to be relieved from it; only we do relieve Him if we are gathered in any name but His. This is the condition, "gathered together in my name:" that is the pledge, "there am I in the midst of them." True, I grant, the Lord is above all our ignorance and failure, and He can be, and surely is, present in meetings where faith could not say for certain the Lord was in the midst of them. Faith is ruled by the word of God, not by the experience even of His blessing. Faith in His presence works wonders in the soul and in the assembly. It checks the pretensions of mere nature; it readily dispenses with all human inventions; it quiets all fears and gives perfect rest of heart in His all-sufficiency.
But how is it, may I ask, on what ground can God thus dwell with sinful man? This seems even more wonderful than men dwelling with God in their bodies of glory. Both are wonderful; but both are the fruit of the great work of redemption. We owe both to the blood of Jesus. Redemption is the foundation of the relationship. We never read of God dwelling with Adam in the garden of Eden though in a state of innocence. He made a happy dwelling-place for him and set him in it and it would appear that He visited him there, but He never dwelt with him. Creation could not furnish a suitable foundation for God's dwelling-place on earth.
The song of Moses (Ex. 15) is the first intimation we have of God's habitation on the earth. But now, observe, redemption, typically, is accomplished — the great deliverance is wrought. The desire of Moses is answered by the revelation of God's own eternal purpose. But He waits until His people are safely through the sea. "The Lord is my strength and song," sang Moses, "and he is become my salvation; he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him." Farther on he is privileged to sing God's answer to his own desire. "Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation. . . . Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established." Note here, my soul, that God adds the word "holy" when speaking of His habitation — not merely "habitation" according to the desire of Moses, but "holy habitation"; and, further, it is called "the sanctuary." These expressions stamp the character of God's dwelling-place according to His mind.
Now that the work of redemption is accomplished — His people delivered out of the land of Egypt — not a hoof left behind — the song of victory on their lips and their faces Zionward, He ascends His cloudy chariot as the great "I AM," to guide them through the desert, and be their all-sufficient help in every time of need.
Learn then, O my soul, this one grand, all-pervading truth — the value of the blood of Jesus. Or, rather, seek to know God's estimate of its value. When thou hast in some good measure learnt this lesson, a thousand doubts and difficulties as to God's ways in grace with man will disappear. But who on earth can speak of its power? We know it delivers from Egypt's bondage, sin and misery, and vindicates God in showing mercy. It is the basis of all blessing from first to last; it is our title to the highest privileges and to the richest blessings of heaven. It has rent the veil, and laid open the way to the Father's throne and fitted the children to be there; it has opened to the worshipper the holy of holies; and it has unlocked to the sleeping dust of God's redeemed the portals of the tomb. It meets the highest claims of God and the deepest necessities of man.
Is it asked then, how can God dwell on earth with failing man? The answer is in the blood. Or, is it asked, how can such ever dwell with God in heaven? Again, we can only reply, the answer is in the blood. In virtue of that precious blood, faith can say - the immediateness of God's presence, in Christ, is now my happy home, and assuredly will be for ever. And so far from feeling anything like a spirit of bondage there, the blessed feeling is — at home, in happy liberty; but everywhere else is distance, bondage, misery.
"My joy was in the blood, the news of which had told me
That spotless as the Lamb of God my Father could behold me,
And all my boast was in His name
Through whom this great salvation came.
And when, with golden harps, the throne of God surrounding,
The white-robed saints around the throne their songs of joy are sounding,
With them I'll praise that precious blood
Which has redeemed our souls to God."
But before passing on to the second verse, may I have a word with those who have never felt their need, or seen the value, of the blood of Jesus? You go regularly, it may be, to what you call your place of worship; but whatever it may be to others, to you it can be no place of worship. Worship is the grace that has come down to save, re-ascending in grateful praise. But you are unpardoned, unsaved, unreconciled to God, and dare not come into His presence. His presence would be intolerable to you and your sin would be intolerable to Him. Without the pardoning, cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, you can never come happily together. Why then, oh why, be satisfied with a mere form of religion? Were God to meet you on your own ground, what would be the consequence? Nothing but the terrors of judgment against sin — nothing "but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." The "adversaries" are those who despise the blood of the covenant.
Oh then, dear friends — you who belong to that class — that large class, who pay an outward respect to religion, but have no inward grace in your souls — be warned, affectionately warned in time. The mere flickering light of profession is extinguished for ever when the Bridegroom comes. You are left in darkness, eternal darkness, just when the light is needed. The brightness of His coming will extinguish for ever the lamps of the foolish virgins. Let me entreat you then to come at once to Jesus. Come to Himself. His own word is, "Come unto me." It is not, be persuaded, go there, or do this or that, but simply, sweetly, graciously, heartily, "Come unto me," and the promise is sure, "I will give you rest." If you come to Jesus, you are God's friends; if you refuse, you are God's foes. Are you not alarmed sometimes? are you not unhappy? It must be so. Are you not going the downward road to destruction with your eyes open? Oh! what shelter, think you, would the thin veil of a little religiousness afford? It would only be the witness of your guilt, like Adam's fig-leaf apron, and aggravate your misery. Awful thought! No Jesus — no blood — no pardon — no salvation — no heaven! Oh! the thought, the dreadful thought of going down, it may be, from a well-frequented pew or from the communion table to the depths of unutterable woe.
May God in mercy save from this awful doom every precious soul that shall ever hold these lines in his hands! Him that cometh to Me, says the loving, gracious Saviour, I will in no wise cast out. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin.
"The seraphim, with shading wings,
Whose cry through heaven's vast temple rings,
In glory serve near God's high throne:
And there may BLOOD-WASHED sinners come.
From darkness brought to wondrous light.
And called to walk with Christ in white,
Oh may our lips and lives declare
His praise, whose holy name we bear."
Psalm 84:2. "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Here an important question presents itself — Is there any difference between the state of a believer who longs and thirsts for the courts of the Lord, and one who longs and thirsts for the Lord Himself? Most assuredly there is. Both states are good, and they may be very closely connected, but they are distinct; and both may have been the experience of the believer at different times. In the one case, blessing is desired; in the other, it is God Himself. Blessing would surely be the result in the latter case, even more abundantly than in the former; but it is not the object. If the quality of an action depends upon the motive, the difference is manifest. In the one state, self is thought of; in the other, God only. But if we compare the first two verses of this psalm with the first two of Psalm 63, we may see more clearly what the difference is.
Psalm 63, you will observe, opens differently to Psalm 84, and surely in a much higher strain. There, the desire of the soul is for God Himself. It says, with great fervour, "My God." It is fully conscious of its relationship with Him, and the blessings which flow therefrom. What state of soul can be more blessed than this? Only listen to its deep and ardent yet holy breathings, "O GOD, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee . . . in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." Psalm 84 opens with, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Here, God is known and desired, but it is in His relationship with His people — as He reveals Himself in the assembly of His saints. There it is the direct, blessed outgoing of the whole heart to Himself, abstractly, though placed in the most unfavourable circumstances, even in the dry and thirsty land, where no; water is. Here it is more like the longings of a captive Israelite, who once enjoyed the privileges of tabernacle worship, but who is now deprived of those happy seasons. Nevertheless, he who thus longs after the courts of the Lord is no stranger either to them or to the Lord who is worshipped there. It was love to the Lord, no doubt, that led the disciples, on the mount of transfiguration, to propose to make three tabernacles. The desire was that He might remain with them in the tabernacle; so that, in some cases, the tabernacles may be valued for the sake of Him who dwells there. But though the living God must ever be the real object of all the desires of the renewed soul. the blessed truth, as to the privileges of God's children, may not be fully known; and if so, the thoughts cannot rise to the proper centre.
How grateful to the heart of God must it be to see His child so longing after Himself, and so caring for His glory, as in Psalm 63; and that, too, when everything in the world is against it. But in such a case self is lost sight of, it is the divine life that breathes. What bloom — what fruit for the eye of God in this wilderness world! But this was always and perfectly so in Christ only. The world, and even Israel as God's sanctuary, was to Him a dry and thirsty land, yet His first care ever was His Father's glory. Blessed, perfect example for all the children of God! Let it be thine, I pray thee, O my soul. Let the subject command thy deepest meditation. It is worthy of thy most prayerful study and of thy closest imitation. This world never furnished for Him one drop of water to quench His thirst, or one green blade to refresh His eye; yet He complained not, but trusted in the Lord and waited for Him. All His fresh springs were on high. He drank at the fountain; yet, as man, He thirsted for God — the living God, as no one else ever did. He could say, in a sense peculiarly His own, "O GOD, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is."
But is not the Christian welcome now in those courts above, as was the once lowly Jesus Himself? Through the riches of God's grace he is. And, oh, what grace this is! His title is thine — His privileges are thine — thou art ONE with Him as the exalted Man in heaven. Let thy thoughts then, and the deep breathings of thy heart rise to their proper object. Though feeling this world's barrenness, murmur not, but send thy thoughts above and drink at the fountain there. Reckon that all thy fresh springs are in the living God — thy God and Father. Meditate on the countless blessings of accomplished redemption and of closest relationship. Know that thou art a child in the family of God — a member in the body of Christ as risen and glorified and also a servant in His kingdom. Seek, oh seek, to walk worthy of such distinguished privileges. They are now real to faith and shall, ere long, be fully manifested in the glory. And, oh, blessed truth! these relations in grace can never be disturbed. God's gifts and calling are without repentance. He never recalls His gifts, neither in time nor throughout eternity. Hast thou a gift? — wait upon it — cultivate it — be diligent in thy gift — it is thine for ever and to be used for ever for God's glory, though now we know not in what way. But, meantime, let these things be thy whole study — the one great business of all thy earthly days. The knowledge of Christ is the most excellent of all knowledge; and the science of Christianity is the most excellent of all science.
But we must take one other glance at Psalm 63 before leaving it. In place of the saint seeking his own blessing in the courts of the Lord, right as that may be, we find him longing to see the power and glory of God. "My soul thirsteth," he says, "to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." This is surely a blessed state of soul to be in, especially when in the sanctuary or seated at the Lord's table. In place of thinking about good to ourselves, we should be thinking about glory to Him. Would to God that this were more usually the case with those whose privilege it is to remember and show forth His dying love!
How differently even Christians may be occupied, though seated around the same table and eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. We speak not now of timid, doubting souls, who go there fearing and trembling, lest they should eat and drink judgment to themselves; but those who have the full assurance of pardon and acceptance. Some may be occupied with the happy associations of the place — the presence of certain friends, rather than the presence of the Lord; or, it may be, with their own refreshment. They may have come weary and thirsty, but their thoughts and desires are not rising higher than their own blessing. Of course, they know it is the Lord's table and that He is there; but such is their present state of soul, that they rise not to full occupation with Himself, or to the apprehension of His power and glory as displayed in the sanctuary. But when we have more thoroughly done with self, and are more fully occupied with Christ, it is different. He is then our all and in all — a perfect covering to the eyes — the complete filling up of the heart. We are sweetly conscious of our nearness to Him, and of our oneness with Him. We remember Him on the cross, we know Him on the throne. The effects of the cross and the effects of the glory are seen and felt. Love is lost in its object, and the disciple is lost in his Lord. He has not a breath but for His praise and not a word but for thanksgiving.
"Of the vast universe of bliss,
The Centre Thou, and Sun:
The eternal theme of praise is this,
To heaven's beloved One.
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou,
That every knee to Thee should bow."
This, O my soul, is worship — true, spiritual worship; and well becomes, on all occasions, the courts of the Lord — the holy of holies. Christ has His right place in the heart and in the assembly. The Holy Ghost is ungrieved — unquenched. Is this thine own experience, may I ask? Is it thy habit, or only known at intervals and far between? There is no good reason why it should not be the uniform experience of every Christian. The blood of the sacrifice has been sprinkled seven times on the mercy seat — sin has been blotted out — the Great High Priest is in the sanctuary above and the Holy Ghost is in the assembly on earth. God is fully satisfied in Christ; He has thought of everything for us — we can only worship and adore. "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." (Heb. 3:1)
We now turn for a little, in our meditations on the sanctuary, to a class of hearers who stand at an infinite distance from those on whom we have been meditating. No comparison can be drawn. Outwardly, all may seem to have the same object in view; but inwardly, and in God's sight, it is far otherwise. There is reality in the one, but only formality in the other. Christians may be actuated by different motives, but all have eternal life, and, like water, this life naturally rises to its source — God in Christ. Hence the thirst for God — the living God. They cannot live in a land where no water is, they must draw from the resources of heaven to meet their need on earth. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14.) But where there is no divine life, there can be no divine motive, desire or object. The natural man rises no higher than himself: self, not God, is his centre, motive and end.
Why, then, it may be asked, does the natural man care about going to any place of worship? Various reasons might be given; but in no case could it be said that to "draw near to God" is his object, His thought is rather to appease God by going, and to keep Him at a distance. We speak now of professors who know something of God and of their own unfitness for His presence, but who attend some place of divine worship — so called.
There is in every merely natural man a dread of God. Ever since the day that "Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden," it has been so. And the truth which we have now stated then came out. "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." But just because man is afraid of God, he is willing to go through a certain amount of religious observances, with a view, as we have said, of appeasing or satisfying God, and thus, for the time, keeping Him at a distance. This may. not be said in so many words, or even owned, but the melancholy fact is everywhere apparent. Are not the usual carnal enjoyments of a Sunday afternoon more heartily entered into when the usual religious services have been attended to in the forenoon? And why is this? Because the neglect of religious duties would disturb the conscience and so mar the pleasure.
Miserable as this state of things may appear, it is but the necessary condition of souls not reconciled to God. Such must be the state of things between the soul and God, however fair the profession, until He is known in the Person and work of Jesus. These two words of awful depth, "without God," describe their sad condition. Nothing can be more awful. "Without God" as to every circumstance around, and "without God" as to every thought and feeling within. What a gloomy, lonely, empty scene it must be, notwithstanding the apparent gaiety and happiness of those who fill it! The immortal soul, with its noble capacities, is without its proper object. Still, while here, it is upheld by a false hope and the enemy is hindered from driving it to despair. Indeed, his object is rather to soothe and stimulate, than to awaken and alarm. The deadly sleep of sin suits his purpose better. But oh, what must the agony be when the eyes are opened in that place where no mercy can ever come — when the fearful and hopeless doom of the soul is fully realised!
Dear reader, if thou art still "without God" — a Christian only in name — oh! listen to a word of faithful warning, entreaty and encouragement. Why, oh why not give heed to these things now? Why not believe God's word now? Why not flee from the wrath to come now? The full tide of God's free grace is flowing through the land now. Whosoever will may drink of these living waters now. The door of mercy stands wide open now. The Saviour waits to welcome all who come now. None who come are cast out now. The very fountain of redeeming love is open to all now. It is free to all — it is free to thee: come — oh come — drink freely — drink abundantly — the spring can never dry up — the channel can never be choked — why not drink and live? Why content thyself with a mere empty form? Nothing short of reality will suit God. Refuse not these living waters now, lest the day come when worlds could not purchase one drop of cold water to cool thy burning tongue. Oh! what a day of grace this is, when access to the very fountain of God's love is open to the chief of sinners — to the most hollow of professors. "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." (Rev. 21:9.) Now, grace is supreme, it is characterised as a sovereign. "Grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 5:21.)
Oh sin not away, dear reader, this day of wondrous grace! Even now thou art an infinite loser, with all thy earthly pleasures, compared with one who can say, "O God, thou art my God." Who could describe the black desolation of a soul that is without God — without the Saviour — without the Comforter — and, consequently, without pardon — without peace — without salvation? The good things of this life may be possessed in abundance — the heart may be generous — the mind richly endowed — the associations to a wish and a capacity ample enough to enjoy them all. Still, he is "without God," and the whole system in which he moves, so far as his soul is concerned, is an utter desolation — a scene of dismal emptiness. Why, supposing he could lay his hand on all the treasures of earth and say, "these are mine," it would be but earth still, and earth only.
Nothing short of being brought to God in all the blessedness of Christ can meet the soul's need. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." God only can fill up the dreary void of an unsaved soul. There is no life but in His favour — no rest but in His love, and no joy but in His presence. "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." Wert thou a master in Israel, and a stranger to the new birth, it would avail thee nothing. There is no heavier doom in scripture than that which is denounced against "sinners in Zion;" and no judgment so given in detail as that against Babylon. "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isa. 33:14.) This must be the fearful end, and the awful eternity of those who are not "the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus." Outside of His presence they must be for ever. And, in saying this, we have said what is the summing up of all misery. To be outside the presence of God, is to be in the forsaken place. A thousand figures may be used to describe its desolation, but one stroke of the divine pen sums it all up in that word "forsaken." What heart would not sink there? We learn something of its terribleness from Him who was there in love for us.
It is bad enough to be "without God in this world," but what must it be in the next? Now the sinner thinks the evil day far off, hope bears him up, and he makes merry with his friends and seems quite happy. But the day will come when he must leave them all, and then, alas, the awful reality will be known. The eternity which he refused to prepare for and the wrath which he refused to flee from, are come. Behind the stroke of death which has removed him from this world, is the judgment of God against sin; and now that judgment must take its course. There is no Saviour — no intercessor at the judgment-seat. The awful sentence, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire," is heard. He had often listened to the invitation, "Come unto me," but heeded it not. But now, no beseeching, bitter cry can alter the sentence — he knows it. Beseeching, weeping, struggling, are in vain. He must go to his place. But alas! alas! it is the forsaken place — forsaken of God, forsaken of man: as, godless, Christless, homeless, friendless, he is cast into outer darkness. His eternal state is sealed. The gates of hell can never be opened and the chain that binds him call never be broken. Weep, weep, O my soul! lament with a sore lamentation — the fearful end of sinners in Zion" — of lifeless professors! Oh that the gospel trumpet may give a long, a loud and a certain sound everywhere — that many may be awakened ere it be too late!
Should these lines ever meet the eye of one whose conscience honestly says, "I am the man" — pause, I pray thee, and listen to a last appeal. That fearful place, shouldst thou be taken away in thy sins, must be thine for ever. Yes, painful as it is to write it — that sentence — that prison-house — that chain — that fire, must, ere long, be thine, unless there be a thorough change of mind — a genuine repentance — and a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But why not be decided at once, and give thy heart to Jesus? Is it fair, I ask, to offer to Him the cold formalities of a lifeless faith, and to give thy whole heart to the world? He only, deserves the heart, and He only can lawfully demand it. But well I know thou wilt never give thy heart to Him, until thou believest that He has given His heart for thee. But when this great truth is seen, no power on earth or in hell could keep thy heart from Him. Then thy cry would be, "Oh, if I had a hundred hearts, He should have them all!"
"Take Thou our hearts, and let them be
For ever closed to all but Thee;
Thy willing servants, let us wear
The seal of love for ever there."
Let thine eye then, dear reader, be fixed on the loving Saviour, and keep it fixed there, until thy heart goes freely out to Him. It can only be drawn by what thou seest in Him. Think not of thine own heart, or of the act of surrendering it. Let Him draw it to Himself, blessed Lord! He only is worthy of it, and He only can fill it. Dwell on the love of His heart — think of the love that willingly went to the forsaken place for thee, a sinner; and if the gates of thy heart open not to the loving, long-suffering, gracious Saviour, who still knocks and still patiently waits there, all the tongues and pens in the world must prove ineffectual. The Lord grant that thy heart may be made captive by His victorious love!
"Drawn by such cords we'll onward move,
Till round the throne we meet,
And, captives in the chains of love,
Embrace our Saviour's feet."
Psalm 84:3. "Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God." The tender care of God, over the least of His creatures, is here most touchingly alluded to. The psalmist, while in exile, envies them their privileges. He longs to be nestling, as it were, in the dwelling-place of God. The believer finds a perfect home and rest in God's altars; or, rather, in the great truths which they represent. Still, his confidence in God is sweetened and strengthened by the knowledge of His minute, universal, providential care. It becomes his admiring delight. "God fails not," as one has beautifully said, "to find a house for the most worthless, and a nest for the most restless of birds." What confidence this should give us! How we should rest! What repose the soul finds that casts itself on the watchful, tender care of Him who provides so fully for the need of all His creatures! We know what the expression of "nest" conveys, just as well as that of "a house." Is it not a place of security — a shelter from storm — a covert to hide one's self in, from every evil — a protection from all that can harm — a place to rest in, to nestle in, to joy in?
But there is one thing in these highly privileged birds which strikes us forcibly in our meditations — they knew not Him from whom all this kindness flowed — they knew neither His heart nor His hand. They enjoyed the rich provisions of His tender care; He thought of everything for their need, but there was no fellowship between them and the Great Giver. From this, O my soul, thou mayest learn a useful lesson. Never rest satisfied with merely frequenting such places, or with having certain privileges there; but rise in spirit, and seek, and find, and enjoy direct communion with the living God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The heart of David turns to God Himself. "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God."
But that we may the better understand the true position and the spiritual meaning of the altars of God, let us take a glance for a moment at the camp in the wilderness.
Coming towards the tabernacle, we meet with the sin-offering. It is burning outside the camp. The sin with which the victim was charged, typically, is consumed there. This is the type of Christ, who knew no sin, made sin for us. The whole question of sin was settled on the cross. The sin of our nature, and the many sins of our life, were judged, condemned and put away there. The blood of the sin-offering was taken within the veil, and its body was burnt to ashes outside the camp. The apostle, in alluding to this offering, observes, "For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." (Heb. 13:11, 12.)
And now, leaving the sin-offering behind, we enter the gate of the court. The first thing that meets us here is the brazen altar, or altar of burnt-offering: sin is not the question here. That has been dealt with outside. It is the sweet-savour offering. Jesus, the spotless Lamb, is a sweet savour unto God. There is identification, with the offering on the part of the offerer, but no transfer of guilt to it. "And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him." (Lev. 1:4.) This identification of the offerer with the offering, plainly sets forth the Christian's identification with Christ in death, resurrection, ascension and acceptance. The whole of the offering ascended as a sweet savour unto God. Infinite holiness, righteousness and love, fed upon the burnt-offering. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay, down my life, that I might take it again." (John 10:17.) The believer is one with Christ who died and rose again, and is accepted in the Beloved. When this truth is known in the soul, the believer has settled peace with God. He rests, as it were, in the altar. "Even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God." Not that the Jew ever had what we call settled peace; "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." But what they could not do, Christ has done. "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10) So that the spiritual meaning of the types is now more fully revealed. The darkness is past," as John says, "and the true light now shineth." Hence Jewish terms are used in the New Testament, as illustrative, rather than descriptive of christian blessing. The terms "altars," "sanctuary," "tent" and "tabernacle" are full of instruction to the Christian and are typical of that which is connected with our position, character and blessing; but it is always better to study the shadow through the substance, than the substance through the shadow.
May we not say of many now, that they still linger in the cheerless desert, and never get nearer the tabernacle than the sin-offering? Like the publican they stand afar off, and cry, "God, be merciful to me a sinner"; but we can never tread the courts of the Lord until, having seen our sins consumed in the wilderness, we pass through the gate. Then we can say with the apostle, He "who was delivered for our offences" — as the sin-offering — "was raised again for our justification" — as the burnt-offering. Then the true consequences of faith in the complete work of Christ are divinely given. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." This is christian position, and perfect rest to the heart. Being justified — having peace — standing in grace — waiting for glory. Death, judgment, sin, Satan, the world and the flesh, are all behind him, and nothing but the glory of God fills his bright future. He is to "rejoice in hope," not merely, of glory, but "of the glory of God." For a believer to remain in the barren wilderness, and cry to God for mercy as a sinner, or as a leper outside the camp, is not humility, but dishonouring to the Lord and injurious to ourselves. The Lord give us, to rest in the work finished at the brazen altar, and to worship in the sweet fragrance of the golden altar!
"O Lord, the way, the truth, the life!
Henceforth let sorrow, doubt, and strife,
Drop off like autumn leaves
Henceforth as privileged by Thee
Simple and undistracted be,
My soul which to Thee cleaves!"
We now advance to the laver. It stood between the brazen altar and the door of the tabernacle. We have the substance of this shadow in John 13. At the consecration of the priest, the entire person was washed at the laver; but this washing was never repeated. It was the sign of regeneration. "The washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." We may be restored more than once, but We can only be regenerated once.
In all who would draw near to God, regeneration is the first and indispensable thing. We must first be right as to nature and then as to practice. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." But though we cannot trace or explain the operations of the Spirit in the new birth, there is no need to be perplexed or troubled with doubts as to the blessed reality. The word of God is plain. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." And again, we read, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." The soul that has faith in Christ Jesus has been washed in the laver of regeneration and is capable of worshipping and serving God.
After the priests were duly consecrated, they only washed their hands and feet at the laver; but this they did every, time that they engaged in service, or drew near to worship. What a lesson for thee, O my soul! Weigh it well. Dismiss it not in haste. Dwell on the great practical bearing of these words, "Every time they engaged in service, or drew near to worship." Regeneration is not enough of itself for the worship and service of God; nay, more, the full assurance of pardon outside the camp, and of acceptance inside the court, are not enough; there must be personal purity — the sanctification of the heart to God, or communion with Him will be interrupted. Holiness becometh God's people — God's service — God's worship — God's house for ever. No change of dispensation can alter this. "It shall be a statute for ever to them."
On pain of death the priests were commanded to wash their hands and their feet at the laver, according to the ordinance of God. They might not always see a need for it, nevertheless they were to wash. Neither would any sort of water do, it must be the water in the laver of brass. Here again, my soul, learn another lesson; for I know of no symbol more fraught with practical lessons than the laver. Learn then, that no human resource — no merely human notion or effort, however apparently wise and prudent, can supply that which fits us for the worship and service of God. And many who are content to trust Christ for justification, believe that sanctification is a matter of attainment by their own efforts; hence their disquiet and often great trouble of soul, because they see no progress. But we must learn to find all in Christ, and make progress in our knowledge of Him and of what we have now in Him. The laver, most likely, was filled with water from the smitten rock: from the same wounded side the cleansing water and the justifying blood both flowed.
The hands and the feet characterise our works and our ways: and if we would go on happily with God, all these must be tested by His word. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word." "By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer." (Ps. 119:9; Ps. 17:4.) The word of God, acting upon the heart and conscience, through the light and power of the Holy Spirit, answers to the typical use of the laver. It is "the washing of water by the word." But if we allow in our works or ways that which the word of God condemns, the freshness and power of our christian character are gone. Solemn consideration! Would to God it were more considered! How often, alas! it happens that for some trifling vanity, Christ is lost sight of, the blood of atonement and the water of purification are forgotten, communion is interrupted, spiritual weakness follows and, it may be, doubts and fears. Under such circumstances we can only drag heavily through a service which we may not be willing openly to give up; and in some circumstances, such spiritual deadness must prove a drag upon others.
As the importance of this subject cannot be overestimated, we shall give in full the word of the Lord thereon. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: when they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord: so they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their "generations." (Ex. 30:17-21.)
The force of these solemn warnings seems to be embodied in the Lord's words to Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." He does not say, observe, thou hast no part in me, but no part with me. It is not a question of life in Christ, but of fellowship with Him. The meaning of the figure is plain — in going through this world of temptation and sin, after our conversion. we contract defilement by the way, which Christ only, as our great High Priest, can cleanse away. But we must be open and unreserved in our confession to Him. We must put, as it were, our soiled feet into His hands that He may wash them and wipe them with the towel wherewith He is girded. We can keep no secrets from Him. The condition of the feet proves where we have been. Deliberately to allow or indulge in anything, whether in thought, word or deed, that is contrary to Him, defiles the conscience, hinders communion and weakens our christian energies. But in the midst of much conscious weakness and failure, even with much watchfulness, let us not forget the blessed truth — the rest-giving truth — that Christ is our sanctification. In the sin-offering, we see Him as our sin-bearer; in the burnt-offering, as our risen life and acceptance; and in the laver as our complete sanctification. "Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30.)
True, He has gone to heaven, but He thinks of us there. The glory of the upper sanctuary takes not away His heart from us, nor hinders Him from waiting upon us in our need. "He loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:25, 26) This is what He is doing now, though in glory. But His love is the spring of all, and He willingly serves for the end which He has in view. Thy love, O most blessed Lord, is unwearied, in spite of all our carelessness, or even our heartlessness. We stand "clean every whit" before the face of God, through Thy precious blood; and now Thou art careful to maintain us in communion and service by the water of purification; but both, we know, flowed from Thy wounded side. Blessed fruits of Thy death for us!
Should not thy daily experience, O my soul, tend to deepen thy love and esteem for thy Lord? and should it not also lead thee to greater watchfulness and self-denial, lest thou shouldst grieve Him? "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" — to purify "himself, even as he is pure." How couldst thou get on one hour without Him? Think on thy many unworthy thoughts and feelings, not to speak of thy doings. And yet He keeps thee clean — "clean every whit" — clean according to the presence of God — clean according to all those relationships into which thou hast entered in Him. He girds Himself for this lowly service, though in heaven, and He restores communion and power to serve God by the Holy Ghost and the word. Oh wondrous, gracious, matchless love, that can thus serve in spite of everything! "My little children, these things write I unto you. that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1)
We now approach, through the door of the tent, to the golden altar. By regeneration we enter into an entirely new state of things. "I will wash mine hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, O Lord." (Ps. 26:6.) There were two altars; the "brazen altar," and the "golden altar." To those, no doubt, the psalmist refers, when he says, "Even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God." Both were made of shittim wood, which sets forth the holy humanity, the perfect manhood of the Lord Jesus. Incarnation lies at the foundation of all His work for us, and of all our blessing in Him. The one altar was overlaid with brass, the other with pure gold. The overlaying shadows forth His Godhead, but in distinct aspects. We have the same Jesus in both, but shadowed forth indifferent circumstances. In the one, humiliation and suffering; in the other exaltation and glory.
At the brazen altar we see the lowly Jesus presenting Himself of His own voluntary will, through the eternal Spirit, without spot to God. Infinite holiness and justice feed upon the ascending offering with perfect complacency; and grace — boundless grace — flows out from the God of righteousness to the chief of sinners. It is a sweet savour of rest to God — "God is glorified in him." And it is the ground of the believer's relationship, acceptance and fellowship with God and the Father.
At the golden altar we see the once lowly Jesus crowned with glory and honour. It is now the exalted Christ in His ascended glory who ever lives to make intercession for us. The brazen altar had no crown, but the golden altar had "a crown of gold round about." In His humiliation He was mocked with a crown of thorns; in His exaltation He is crowned with glory.
The golden altar is the symbol of priestly worship. There is no question here of pardon, of personal acceptance, or of sanctification. These important questions were all settled outside the house of God. Praise, thanksgiving, adoration, worship, ascend to God continually from the golden altar. Our prayers and our praises come up before God in all the sweet fragrance of the ascending incense. When the holy fire of God tested the sweet incense "beaten small," it found nothing there but the rich fragrance of the preciousness of Christ. But when the same fire tested Nadab and Abihu, alas! for poor fallen nature, no sweet incense was found there. "Our God is a consuming fire." "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." O reader, is thy peace made with God? If not, kiss the Son — be reconciled to the Son — be friends with the Son, before the testing time with the holy fires of God's justice come to thee. "Our God is a consuming fire." But when the holy fire of God's judgment tests the Son, all ascends as sweet incense. Nothing but perfection is found in the Man Christ Jesus. His Person, work, character and ways, all, all ascend to God as a sweet-smelling savour; and, oh! blessed be His name, the prayers and praises of the friends of the Son ascend and are accepted and shall be fragrant for ever in His sweetness.
"Unworthy is thanksgiving, a service stained with sin,
Except as Thou art living, our Priest to bear it in.
In every act of worship, in every loving deed,
Our thoughts around Thee centre, as meeting all our need.
A bond that nought can sever has fixed us on the rock,
Sin put away for ever, for all the Shepherd's flock
And, Lord, Thy perfect fitness to do a Saviour's part,
The Holy Ghost doth witness to each believer's heart.
As dews that fall on Hermon, refreshing all below,
The Spirit's holy unction doth all Thy beauty show
Ah then, how good and pleasant to worship, serve and love,
To rise o'er all things present, and taste the joys above."
Having thus glanced at what our beautiful psalm alludes to, we can now better understand the exclamation of the psalmist in the fourth verse: "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee." Blessed indeed, we too may exclaim, and blessed shall they be for ever. They are dwellers, not visitors, in God's house. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." This is true, blessedly true, of all who trust in Jesus now. But though God's children are all priests by birth, as were the sons of Aaron, they are not all, alas! priests by consecration. (See (Ex. 29) Comparatively few know their priestly place at the golden altar. Many of them are doubting as to whether their sins, root and branch, were all consumed outside the camp; and consequently, such are afraid to come within the court, and as for being assured of their full justification and sanctification in the risen One, they gravely doubt and fear that such blessedness can ever be their happy lot. Hence that state of soul which answers to priestly consecration at the laver and happy worship at the golden altar, is unknown and unenjoyed. They are not priests by consecration.
Our text is plain. "They will be still praising thee." Doubts, fears, unsettled questions, all are gone. Such cannot exist in the holy place. All, of course, who are in Christ must be, in God's account, where He is; but all who believe in Christ do not know and believe that they are in Him, as being one with Him now. When the state of our souls answers to what is symbolised by the holy place, we can only praise. "They that dwell in thy house will be still praising thee." Then we are happily near to God, and have communion with Him in the glorified Christ through the power of the Holy Ghost.
The symbols of the holy and most holy place speak volumes as to our perfect blessedness in Christ. On the one side, as we worship at the golden altar before the veil, there is the table of show-bread — the communion table. We are nourished with the bread of life. The incarnate, crucified, risen and eternally living One is the centre and source of our communion. We are one with Him in resurrection. "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"
On the other side there is the candlestick of pure gold, shedding its sevenfold light on the communion of saints; the centre shaft of pure gold, shadowing forth Him who is the source of all light in testimony, through the power of the Holy Ghost. The rent veil reveals the ark of the covenant; this type was Israel's grand centre of old — the antitype, Christ Himself, is ours now. In fine, the Christian is placed at the very centre of God's wide circle of grace and glory, but he cannot see — he can never see its limit.
With a full heart, and a thankful heart, thou canst truly exclaim, O my soul. "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they will be still praising thee." But the heart does also exclaim, "Oh, why do so many still stand outside? Why do so many still prefer the wretched husks of the far country, to the fatted calf in the Father's house?" Still there is room — still there is an open door — still there is a ready welcome — and still the voice of unwearied love cries, and cries to all who will listen to His voice — "Come, come, enter while there is room — him that cometh I will in no wise cast out." May God clothe with power His own word, both spoken and written, that many precious, immortal souls may be gathered in! Amen.
"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee: in whose heart are the ways of them." The great secret of strength in the ways of God is the full assurance of His love. When we have learnt the love that gave Jesus to die for us and the Holy Ghost to quicken and teach us, we shall be content to trust the ordering of all things for our journey homeward to Him. This is the strength of God in the soul, and this alone will give good heart for the way in which He leads, be it rough or smooth. What else could make the weary pilgrim sing on his lonely way, or the martyr glorify God in the fire? True, it is the way in which the cross is found, but it is God's way — the way home, and the heart is in it.
The desires of the renewed soul, we know, can never be fully satisfied until it reaches the Father's house on high; but till then, the way thither must be the main thing with the heart. Here pause for a little, O my soul, and meditate on this great truth. It is of daily, hourly importance; see that thou understandest it well. It will give strength and courage to thy heart, decision and firmness to thy feet, and consistency to all thy path. Do, I pray thee, dwell upon it, and dismiss it not till thou hast comprehended its meaning. Forget not the blessing here given. "BLESSED are they that dwell in thy house. . . . BLESSED is the man whose strength is in thee." Let all, then, who are now passing through the valley of Baca, comfort and strengthen themselves in the blessing of their God and Father. Who can explain the fulness of that word "blessed" when thus used of Him? And think not because the great truths of this beautiful psalm are expressed in Jewish style that their full spiritual bearing applies not to thee. God and His love — Christ and His sympathy — the Holy Ghost and His ministry — home and the way thither, are subjects for the heart, and not confined to any particular dispensation.
God alone is the strength of His people's heart from first to last. For example, when the returning wanderer knows and counts upon his father's love, his heart will be in the way that takes him home. The road may be rough and dreary, and he may have many smitings of conscience for his past undutifulness, but the thought that his father's house is at the far end of it is strength for the way, whatever the difficulties may be. Already he sees the overflowings of his father's heart, and the rough path is smoothed — the long way is shortened. The beautiful green lanes and flowery paths which lead in another direction have no attraction for him now. Once, alas! they had, but not now — they lead not to home, his heart is set on his father's house.
This is the Christian's shield — unwavering confidence, in spite of everything, in the unchangeable love of God his Father. The full assurance of heart that He changeth not is the invulnerable shield of the pilgrim. To question God's love in the trial is to drop his shield and expose his heart to the fiery darts of the devil. Every circumstance may seem as if the Lord were chastening in anger, but faith rises above the circumstances, and affirms that it is all in perfect love. How often has the timid though sincere Christian been so tempted to doubt the Father's love in the trial, that all strength for the journey seemed gone. He has felt as if he could only sit down and weep in despair.
"Is this love?" whispers the arch-fiend to the bereaved heart. What purpose could it serve to take that loved, useful and needed one away? Who can fill his or her place? Earth never can, you know. Is this what you call love? Can you believe that this is love to you? And the poor, weakly, bedridden one, he will also be sure to tempt to impatience and to hard thoughts of God. Such are the wicked suggestions — the poisoned arrows of the enemy; and which are sure to fly thick and fast into the unguarded soul, especially at a time when the heart is overwhelmed with sorrow and sorely tried by repeated disappointment. Nothing but the shield of faith can quench such darts of unbelief. Nevertheless, faith will always vindicate God and His truth, however heavy or sweeping the stroke. It will calmly rest in the truth, that the Father's love is the same — the same as when He gave His well-beloved Son to die on Calvary. Before such faith all enemies and temptations are powerless.
But sometimes in trials of lesser weight the Christian may be more off his guard, and the enemy more successful. His great object always is to weaken the believer's confidence in the kindness of God. The way to the Father's house leads out of the world, and so it must always be a path of trial, disappointment and difficulty. When dwelling in the house, as the psalmist says, we can only praise; but when on the way to it, we may have great conflict. Hence it is that when we now realise in the power of the Spirit our oneness with Christ in the presence of God, we can only worship and adore; but when meeting the practical difficulties of life, we may have much to confess and pray for.
Take an example — a common case. The young Christian has scarcely entered on the path of obedience to the Lord when he loses his situation. He may have filled it for years and all went smoothly on, but his heart is now in the ways of God according to His word, and he cannot bend so easily to certain things formerly required, which he now sees have not the sanction of God's word. Everything becomes changed: to walk and act according to the word tests all. So long as the believer walks according to traditional habits the cross is avoided. He may not think that the word condemns anything he does, but when he has been enabled to lay aside tradition, and to be guided only by the word of God, he finds out the difference. Such strictness, almost everywhere, is felt by others to be an inconvenience, and very soon unbearable. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12.)
Such is often the form in which the cross has to be taken up at the present time. Nevertheless, it is a real cross, and one by which the enemy will seek to dishearten the young Christian. He may be reduced to straits and everything may seen to go against him. His trials thicken, and all looks dark. He begins to question if he has taken the right path — if he has really had divine guidance. Even his nearest kindred may little understand his course and reproach him with being righteous overmuch. Confidence in all, save in God Himself, is now gone. What a breaking down and sweeping away of all earthly and fleshly resources!
Now, we may say, he enters the valley of Baca; it is the place not only of trial, but of tears. He is brought into deep exercise of soul before God. Self is judged. This is the young Christian's valley of Baca. It is the exercise of soul, rather than the trial, that makes it a well — that digs the pools. He has now found out that a desire to live to God's glory may turn the fairest scenes and the brightest prospects of earth into a vale of tears — a place of humiliation and sorrow. But if there be simple faith in God, the dreariest part of the desert may become a fruitful field, and where nothing but disappointment and distress were expected, the richest blessings may be found. But, on the other hand, if he gets under the power of his circumstances, and is tempted to look to the world or the flesh as a resource, his tears will be yet more bitter and more abundant. The trial, no doubt, is enough to test the strongest faith and the bravest heart, especially if we have to wait long for the answer to our prayers. But our God will have us to confide in His love alone and to learn what He is to us, however painful the process.
"Who passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools." This is God's way out of the world; hence the trial to nature. The great moral system of Satan in the world must be faced, and this is no easy matter. The strongest link that binds it to us must be broken, the cord that is nearest to the heart may have to be cut asunder. Thus it is called the valley of tears. The path of many for a long way, if not all the way, is watered with tears. Scarcely had the joy of conversion been tasted, in many cases, when the pain of separation from the world in some of its tenderest associations must be experienced. And how often unfaithfulness in this respect hinders the good work of God in the soul, and mars its sweetest joys! But the idol of the heart must be given up, and the heart unreservedly given to Christ. But now, the joy and the sorrow together break up the very fountains of the poor human heart, and every footstep is watered with tears. Thus all have a valley of Baca to pass through; it is the way to Zion. Even the most spiritual and devoted of the Lord's people must have the exercises of the valley.
Take two examples from scripture: Paul's thorn in the flesh, and the bereavement of the sisters at Bethany.
1. The thorn in the flesh was truly humbling to the great apostle. This is evident from what he says to the Galatians, "And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not." It was something that made him despicable as a preacher. And he thought, no doubt, that it would greatly hinder his usefulness; but he had to learn that the great hindrance to usefulness is the flesh. Thrice he prayed that the thorn might be removed. "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me." ( 2 Cor. 12)
What a solemn, weighty, terrible truth this is for all the Lord's servants! Weigh it well, O my soul, learn the badness of thy flesh — it is incorrigible! The flesh will make a bad use of God's purest mercies. Paul might have boasted that he had been in the third heavens, and that no one had ever been there but himself. But the Lord, in great mercy to His dear servant, met the danger in humbling him. Doubtless He could have met it otherwise, but this was the way of His love and His wisdom. O, Lord, may this painful lesson be well weighed by all Thy servants. The flesh, we see, in the best — in all, is only a hindrance in service. Oh! what need, my soul, to be daily judging the old nature, and to be daily growing in grace by feeding on Christ's fulness.
The valley of humiliation and sorrow became the place of blessing to the apostle: "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness." When he heard these gracious words, he no longer prayed for the thorn to be taken away. Now he glories in that which had been so painful and humbling to him. "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Now he rests in the love that had ordered everything for him and on the all-sufficiency of the Lord who was with him. In fine, he found the valley to be a well of rich blessing; rain from heaven filled the pools. When caught up to the third heavens he found the Lord there; and now while in the depths he finds the same blessed One with him there. What nearness to — what intimacy with the Lord! He knows Him on the heights and in the depths. What experience — a man in Christ in the third heavens, Christ with a man in the place of nature's weakness and sorrow! Nevertheless, Paul is in the valley of Baca, but He makes it a well, and showers from heaven fill the pools. Our blessing comes from that which has humbled us — emptied us, and taught us that difficulties and impossibilities are nothing to the Lord.
2. We turn now to the sisters in Bethany. They were much bowed down under the pressure of their circumstances. In their deep affliction they counted on the Lord's love and sympathy; they send for Him, and say, "He whom thou lovest is sick." But in place of answering their prayer according to the desires of their hearts, and with all speed, He seems rather to turn away from them and go somewhere else. Such delays are a great trial to faith and patience. But He was teaching them to wait His time, and on Him alone. We cannot hurry Him. "When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again." The sisters were passing through deep waters, it was indeed a vale of tears; but
"His tears ere long shall hush that fear
For every heavy heart for ever;
And we, who now His words can hear
Beyond the hills, beyond the river,
Know that as true a watch He kept
On those far heights, as at their side
Feeling the tears the sisters wept,
Marking the hour the brother died.
"No faintest sigh His heart can miss;
E'en now His feet are on the way,
With richest counter-weight of bliss
Heaped up for every hour's delay."
The Lord cannot change. Blessed, blessed truth for the, sorrowing heart! But their feelings rose above their faith and their hearts fell below their circumstances. Hence, they were disposed to blame the Lord for not coming when they sent for Him. Both Martha and Mary said, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." But greater things than healing the sick were now filling His mind and the scene before Him. He could have said the word, as on other occasions, and Lazarus would have been healed; but, no; He acts "for the glory of God, that the Son of man might be glorified thereby." And when the right time was come, He takes His place in the scene of death, in resurrection power and glory. Lazarus is dead — Israel is dead — man is dead — the sisters are bereaved and desolate. But the Lord is equal to all the need. The whole scene is filled with His glory. The bursting tomb, the rising Lazarus, radiate His glory as the Son of God. By that voice, "Lazarus, come forth," the deep caverns of the grave are pierced and the sleeping dust awakes. What a testimony to the unbelieving Jews! What a rebuke to the unbelief of Martha and Mary — to the unbelief of us all in the time of affliction! He bestows life, raises the dead, glorifies God, and mingles His tears with the sorrowing ones. The mighty power of God and the tenderest human affections are perfectly displayed in this wondrous scene. O, what a meeting of the whole need of the heart — what a filling up of the pools — what showers of blessing from above are provided for all pilgrims, in all ages, when travelling through all parts of this vale of tears!
"O blessèd solace! 'Tis a Father's rod —
No rod of wrath — but of unchanging love,
No stroke inflicted which He could have spared!
Infinite wisdom has with love combined
To make the blow accomplish — and no more —
Its salutary end. A Father's rod:
The thought suppresses every falling tear —
Checks every murmur — mitigates each pang.
Unerring Parent! — Mourner! can you doubt
His faithfulness? Then look to Calvary!
Behold that bleeding, dying Lamb of God!
'Twas love for thee that sent Him from His throne,
And nailed Him there! And dare we entertain
The thought, that He whose nature and whose name
Is LOVE, could send us one superfluous pang,
Impose a needless burden, or permit
The thorn to pierce He knew would pierce in vain!
That cross becomes the blessed guarantee
That all is needed! Mercy infinite
Prevents one drop from mingling in the cup
Which could have been withheld. Thou God of love!
Vouchsafe us grace to bow beneath Thy rod;
And breathe — although it be through burning tears
And half-choked utterance — 'THY WILL BE DONE.'
Wells of Baca.
Psalm 84:7. "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." Blessed indeed is the way, rough or smooth, that leads to such a glorious end — before God, in Zion — the centre of grace and glory. But it seems strange, at first sight, that pilgrims should find strength for such a journey in the valley of tears — the place of self-mortification. And yet, we may say, they could find it, in like manner, nowhere else. We are strengthened through faith in the risen Christ and in reckoning our old nature as crucified by His cross. Never, until we enter into the great truth of the cross and a risen Christ, is the strength of God perfected in us. This is the blessed teaching, though crushing work of the valley. "When I am weak," as the apostle says, "then am I strong." We go, as it were, from weakness to weakness, and yet from strength to strength. It is not merely in Paul as the Lord's servant that this grace so wonderfully shines forth, but in his felt, conscious weakness.
This is carefully to be noted. It is worthy of thy deepest meditation, O my soul. There is no truth more practical in the Christian's history and none, we fear, less understood or longer in being reached. "My strength," says the Lord, "is made perfect," not merely in my apostle, or in my servant, or in my disciple, but "in weakness." There must be acknowledged weakness before there can be known strength. But, oh! what a time we are in learning even a little of this lesson, though we have a divine Teacher. Mark the great hindrance to progress from the lowest form in the school of Christ.
Why does that newly-awakened soul refuse to believe God's word, though weeping sore to know His mind? just because self is in the way and the work of the cross is not yet learnt. Self and its feelings are treated by the anxious one as of higher authority, and more to be trusted, than the word of God. What a place to give, we may well exclaim, to mere human feelings! But how often have we heard, from the lips of such, these words, "If I could feel that I am pardoned, I would believe it." This is vain, important, unjudged self. It sits on high and judges everything as below it. And this distrustful nature and opposition to God have not yet been detected by the awakened soul! And, of course, while this is the case, there can be no peace, no rest, no assurance of salvation enjoyed. Dark despair, oftentimes, seems near at hand; and the darkness and the despair will be in proportion to the reality of God's work in the soul. The more real the work, the more real the distress if self be in the way. And this state of things must continue so long as the voice of self is listened to. It matters not what blessed things the Lord says to such in His word; they all go for nothing until self be set aside as an utterly condemned thing by the cross. This is the most subtle of Satan's snares, both with young and old.
The word of the Lord is before the soul in all its plainness and fulness. It meets every case, condition and state. The light of a cloudless sky shines on them all. But, no; it matters not. Self refuses to yield. It will readily acknowledge God's word to be true; but still says, "It is not true to me yet, for I have not experienced the change within which warrants me to believe that it is true to me." This state of mind may seem humble, but it is really pride — it is unbroken self resisting God and His word. But the controversy must go on until self is subdued. God will never yield the point — the soul must. But that may not be until after many tears and sighs, and sleepless nights. Let us mark for a moment the struggle.
God says to the awakened, restless soul, "Believe my word and you shall be perfectly happy." "No," replies the soul, "first give me to feel an inward change that the word is true to me and then I will believe it." "What!" God again says, "is not my word true, whatever your feelings may be! Can any inward change make my word more true than it is! Why should you ask for any token that my word is true?" But again the soul will venture to say, "How can I believe unless I feel?" Once more God graciously replies, "How can you feel unless you believe?" Thus the sorrowful struggle goes on, until self is lost sight of and the word of God received as the answer of His love to the anxious soul. He waits patiently in His love until His word is believed without the feelings, for that is what it must come to in all, sooner or later. In some cases the struggle is short, in others it may last a life-time. This depends on the simplicity of faith; for the feelings so much desired can only be produced by means of the written word received into the heart. Oh! that we could persuade every weary one to have done with self and to rest entirely on the sure word of God; then would they have rest and peace and joy, and then, too, they would be strong for labour in the service of Christ.
The practical importance of this point cannot be over-estimated. Thousands of true believers are kept in a state of uncertainty through looking to themselves in place of looking to Christ or through looking to their feelings instead of listening to His word. And the unhappy consequence is that they bear little testimony for Christ and do little service for Him; they are so much occupied with good-for-nothing self that the best things are lost sight of. Thus the enemy gains an advantage. Oh, that we may ever remember that all our blessing flows from the grace of God, and securely rests upon His word! And that word can never be truer or plainer that it is now. Of course, we shall, by-and-by, understand it better; but our knowledge of the word is the fruit of faith, not the ground of it. Faith bows to God's word and sets to its seal that He is true. Sweetly entering into its depths or discovering its treasures comes afterwards. We must wait on God that He, by the Holy Spirit, may shed divine light on the infinite fulness of His own word.
"Thy faith hath saved thee," is the plain word of God to all, without exception, who come to Christ — who believe in Him. Having been brought to see our need as sinners and to trust in Jesus, the full blessing of God is ours. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." Faith believes it just because God says it and the feelings follow. The good news fills the soul with joy unspeakable and full of glory. When self has been silenced, and the word of God allowed its right place in the heart, the believer enters, in measure, into the very joys of heaven. The precious word of God will not be truer there. Therefore we ought to know our blessing now as perfectly, though not so fully, as we shall do when enthroned and crowned in glory. But before this happy condition of soul is enjoyed, self or the flesh must be judged, broken and mortified. This needed work of self-judgment must begin with conversion and never cease while we are here. It is founded on the work of the cross. There God judged the sin of our nature and our many actual sins. (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24.) We should have the same thoughts of sin and self and Christ and the cross as He has.
The valley of Baca sets forth the place of blessing through deep exercise of soul. When self is broken down and distrusted we go from strength to strength until we appear before God in Zion. When delivered from the galling bondage of self-occupation and the heart is happy in the liberty of Christ, we have made a fair start on our journey homewards and great blessing will be our daily portion. "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them." (Ps. 84:5.)
In Psalm 84:6 we have that which characterises the way home: "Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools." And in Psalm 84:8 we have the precious fruits and rich experience of the wilderness journey described: "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
All the males of the tribes of Israel were commanded to appear before God in Jerusalem three times a year. The godly women such as Hannah and Mary, though not bound by law to go, seem to have gone also: "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles." (Deut. 16:16.)
The psalmist, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, meditates in his solitude on these journeyings. He sees in vision the different tribes going up to the worship of Jehovah. His heart, like the heart of every true Israelite, longs to join them. They are in the way of blessing. In this respect the spiritual instruction of the psalm applies to the Christian as well as to the Jew. The ways of God are always ways of blessing to the soul. Doubtless these annual feasts were seasons of the deepest interest to Israel. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. . . . Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord." (Ps. 122) The numbers going up to worship must have been at times very large. This is plain from Luke 2:44, "But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance." The many little companies meeting each other would greatly increase the general company, as they approached the city of solemnities. Brother meeting brother, and friend meeting friend, must have been the occasion of many tears, both of joy and of sorrow.
"Blessed, who, their strength on Thee reclined,
Thy seat explore with constant mind.
And, Salem's distant towers in view,
With active zeal their way pursue;
Secure, the thirsty vale they tread,
While, called from out their sandy bed —
As down in grateful showers distilled.
The heavens their kindliest moisture yield —
The copious springs their steps beguile,
And bid the cheerless desert smile.
From stage to stage advancing still,
Behold them reach fair Zion's full,
And, prostrate at the hollowed shrine,
Adore the Majesty Divine."*
* Merrick's Metrical Version of the Psalms.
As pilgrims and strangers in the valley, they met each other. They were now far from home; but they had one common feeling, one common joy and one common hope. They were all journeying to the same glorious city, the same temple and the same God. And great must have been their delight when, worn and weary with the wilderness, they caught a glimpse of the towers and palaces of their beloved Zion. "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." (Ps. 48) Thus it is with the Christian through the bright gleams of his blessed hope.
"Mother of cities! o'er thy head
See peace, with healing wings outspread
Delighted fix her stay.
How blest who calls himself thy friend!
Success his labours shall attend,
And safety guard his way.
Thy walls, remote from hostile fear,
Nor the loud voice of tumult hear,
Nor war's wild wastes deplore:
Here smiling plenty takes her stand.
And in thy courts, with lavish hand
Has poured forth all her store."
In these touching scenes of Israel's past history, we have their future glory brightly foreshadowed, and also the Christian's path through this world strikingly illustrated. But there is always this great difference between the Jew and the Christian — "We walk by faith, not by sight." The Jews' religion was chiefly by sight. "The law is not of faith." But alas, there is a great deal of that which is Jewish as well as Christian in many believers. Hence the large place that feelings, doings and ceremonies have with many.
It is only by faith that we know our pardon, acceptance and peace with God. And without the knowledge of these there can be no strength for the journey and no happy enjoyment of God Himself in Zion — in the riches of His grace. As all blessing flows from the grace of God and is all founded on the cross of Christ, so it all rests on His word. And the Holy Spirit, by whom we are quickened and taught, is given in connection with faith. "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2.) This great doctrine of life in Christ, as unfolded by the apostle in the second chapter, and its kindred subject, "the Spirit," in the third, are both received, entered into and enjoyed by faith. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Whether to be "life" or "the Spirit" — eternal life or the witness of the Spirit — both are known and can only be known by faith. They are matters of revelation in the word, not merely of feelings in the soul. True, most true, the feelings will follow and answer to the truth believed. Faith and feeling go together; but faith must always have the first place. Faith, experience and practice form the threefold cord of practical Christianity.
Would to God we knew more of this — saw more of this! Meditate thereon, O my soul, and let thy one desire be to give a living manifestation thereof to thy Master's glory. God grant that these three things may never be separated in His children! Bear in mind for thyself, O my soul, that wonderful word, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Phil. 4:13.) Here observe and carefully note that it is through faith in the risen Christ that we go from strength to strength. The risen Christ, victorious over every foe, is the strength of the Christian for his journey through this world. He has his motive to devotedness in the once lowly Jesus, and strength for walk in the now exalted Christ of God. "He loved me and gave himself for me." is surely enough to command the entire consecration of the heart and life to Him. It is easy to give our hearts to Jesus when once we see that He gave His heart for us. But our strength from day to day and from one stage of our journey to another is in the risen, triumphant, glorified Christ. Blessed Lord — my Lord — Jesus — Christ — I need Thee in all Thy names and titles — I need Thee as my Jesus — my powerful motive for this sluggish — this carnal — ease-loving heart of mine. I need Thee as my Christ on high, with every enemy beneath Thy feet and beneath mine too, as one with Thee. I need Thee as my Lord — my sovereign Lord — my coming Lord — my blessed hope amidst all that would entangle and hinder me down here. Oh let my affections be governed and my character formed by my knowledge of Thee as my Lord, Jesus, Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost!
The Christian's blessing, whether it be strength for the journey or the enjoyment of God in Zion above, is all by faith. This is the great principle of the believer's action and of his whole history on the earth. His going from strength to strength and his entering into the fulness of grace (Zion is the symbol of grace in royalty — royal grace — 2 Sam. 5) is by faith, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence, the tone of his spiritual condition rises or falls according to the simplicity and reality of his faith. It enters into everything — it corrects everything — it characterises everything. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23.) If this weighty truth be duly considered, the Christian will sometimes be brought to a halt on his journey. For the moment, at times, he has no word of direction. What is he to do? Go on without it? God forbid! This would be unlike his Lord, who ever waited till the word came. "It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." The word had not come — the Saviour would not eat. What must His disciples do in such a case? Stand still. And it is often very good for the soul thus to stand still. To go on without the word would be to go from weakness to weakness and not from strength to strength; and, further, it would be to lose the sense of grace — royal grace. He must now wait on God — self-judgment follows — the eye becomes single — the whole body full of light; and now he goes on his way rejoicing.
The importance of the principle of faith is great, for it includes not merely justification, but the walk of the Christian in every way, both sacred and secular. So great, so minute, so practical is this principle, that it is plainly said, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." The well-known eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an illustration and proof of this, though the witnesses are selected from the Old Testament. It was by faith that the elders obtained a good report.
Here, for a little, O, my soul, meditate on this deeply practical truth — a truth fraught with such important results. This will be thy health and strength in divine things. Lord, give me grace patiently to study Thy word and implicitly to bow to its teaching. And may the light of Thy Holy Spirit so shine on what Thou hast revealed, that I may see its true meaning and its present application.
But why, it may be asked, so press this point? Do not all Christians most surely believe the holy scriptures? True, so far; and it is of such we speak. We are not thinking of the Rationalist but of the true Christian who believes in the plenary inspiration of scripture — in the WORDS which the Holy Ghost teaches. (1 Cor. 2:13) But there is so much remaining of what we may call practical unbelief in many of God's children, that we feel constrained to press the point. It is by implicit, unquestioning faith in God's word that we walk in the light of His countenance — that we honour the blessed Lord in His Person and work — that we live and act in the power of an ungrieved Spirit. Surely this is all-important and worthy of being pressed. Whence come all these doubts, uncertainties and perplexities of every shade and on almost every subject, from the beginning to the end of many a Christian's course? Is it not because of the practical unbelief which still lurks in the heart? And are they not all unworthy of the relation of a child?
Is not the truth of God definite and unchangeable? Why then should that which we call faith be indefinite, uncertain, wavering? True, most true, the word of God demands our most patient, prayerful study, in dependence on the Holy Spirit; and it may be a long time before we understand many parts. of it, if ever in this world. Truth, though plainly revealed, is not necessarily plain, even to the spiritually minded, at first sight. Now "we know in part, and we prophesy in part." But should our ignorance or feeble apprehension of the truth hinder us from believing it? When grace is at work in the soul, faith rises above all these difficulties, and lays hold on the truth just because God has revealed it, and receives great blessing thereby. We pay but a poor compliment to the truth of God when we refuse to receive it heartily and implicitly because we do not understand it. This is our folly and our pride; nevertheless, "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." When the doing of Christ's will, not our own, is our motive, progress will be sure if not rapid.
"If I say the truth," answered the blessed Lord to the Jews, "why do ye not believe me?" Here our Lord appeals to the truth of His sayings as the ground of faith. It was not a question of their intelligence, but of the truth of what He was saying. Faith, then, is the receiving as true, without question, what God declares in His word to be so. But now, have we not often, in the exercise of self-judgment, detected the absence of implicit faith in certain great truths of God's word because we do not understand them, or, as we often say, "we cannot realise them?" But what is this really? Is it not unbelief? Simple faith receives God's word as true, absolutely true, whether it be understood or not — realised or not.
But as the object of our meditations on this subject is strictly practical, and for the joy and strength of precious souls, we will illustrate what we mean by a few passages. And first, let us look at the well-known text — "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This is one of the very first truths that a newly-awakened soul must learn if it would make a fair start. But how feebly, alas, do many enter into these great truths, who have been many years converted! Yet nothing can possibly be plainer. But now suppose this truth to be received in the simplicity of faith, what would be the effect? Why, the full assurance that neither sin nor spot remained on the soul. There would be no more conscience of sins, though "in the light, as God is in the light." The purest light of heaven detects no stain on the blood-cleansed soul. The word of God says plainly enough "all sin," not some sin. Faith receives it as absolutely, unchangeably true, just because it is the word of God. But when the eye is turned away for a moment from the truth, something ventures to suggest the inquiry, "How can this be? how are we to understand it, seeing we are daily liable to sin, in thought, word and deed?" "That also is true," faith answers. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves." But this belongs to another line of thought, to a different range of truth; and the one passage must not be brought forward to weaken the force of the other, far less to make it, as it were, untrue or uncertain. This is the working of the native, lurking unbelief of the heart, under the suggestions of Satan, and must be watched against. It is this kind of unbelief, in its many forms and degrees, that we are now seeking to detect and condemn. It is most weakening and withering to the child of God.
Be on thy guard, precious soul, lest thou shouldst be robbed of the very foundation of thy peace with God. Christ made thy peace by the blood of His cross. It is not now to make, adored and loved be His name. Honour Him with the full, unwavering confidence of thy heart. Always reason from God's heart downwards to thyself, never from the feelings of thine own heart up to Him. Hath not the Spirit of truth said, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin"? But art thou disposed to inquire who are included in the "as" that are so cleansed? Most surely, all who believe in Jesus.
Hold fast this great truth, I pray thee. It is plain, positive, absolute, unchangeable. Suffer not the reasonings of thy natural mind, or other parts of God's word, to weaken its power in thy soul. When the word has gone forth from the lips of eternal truth, it can never be broken. God has said "all sin;" believe it. It may be difficult to understand or to explain; it may be opposed to thine own experience; it may be different from much that thou hast learned from other quarters; it may break to pieces some favourite system of doctrine which thou hast been building up. Well, never mind, let all the rest go. Nothing can either be true or good that contradicts the truth of God. Weigh well the thought — the precious truth - there is no limit to the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son. Be not afraid to rest upon it, to proclaim it, to affirm it. Were the heavens over thy head to open, and their full light to shine into thy soul; were every accuser from beneath to beset thee round, and count up thy many sins; and wert thou to appear as a witness against thyself — what then? No refuge could be found either in reasonings or in feelings at such a moment; but faith could rise in the full strength of God's word, nothing daunted, either by the unsullied light of heaven, or by the threatening darkness of hell, and affirm in the confidence of truth — my sins are all forgiven; they are all cleansed away: God sees none; faith sees none; not even a trace of them remains behind. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This is God's view and God's statement of my case. He can explain it: I am not bound to do so; but I am bound to believe it. And I know and do proclaim that there is no limit to the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son. Couldst thou, O mine enemy, find out many more sins against me, millions more, my answer is, all that thou canst write under the head of sin, is gone — yes, and gone for ever. The light of heaven is my witness. God have all the glory, the blood of Christ have all the credit, I am "in the light as he is in the light." "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" — not to heaven merely, but to God. This is faith, implicit, unquestioning faith in God's word and nothing more than He is entitled to from all His children. But, oh I what a bright and blessed type of Christianity we should see compared with what we often meet with were this the case. We turn now to another passage:
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1) We ask ourselves, we ask the christian reader — How far have we entered into the wondrous truth of these words "in Christ Jesus"? We believe it, of course, and bless God for it; but who could explain it. save on the principle of faith? and who could receive it save on the same principle? But even faith, if mixed in any measure with reason or governed by feelings, is greatly enfeebled in its apprehension and enjoyment of the truth. Remaining unbelief mars the blessing. Reason is totally blind here. Nothing but implicit faith receives, grasps, enjoys the blessed truth.
But all is plain and simple to unquestioning faith. If a child puts his ball in a drawer, he knows where it is and how safe it is. When God says the Christian is in Christ, he ought to know where he is and how safe he is. God cannot be mistaken, neither can faith. And if Christ be at God's right hand in heaven, the Christian, in God's sight, is there too. And if Christ be in perfect rest and security there, so is the Christian. And surely, in spite of everything, the truth of God ought to be received without a question. Besides, God graciously condescends to explain to us how this is. The second verse explains the first. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Christ is our life, but He is in resurrection and free from the law of sin and death. The death and resurrection of Christ wrought the great deliverance for His people. The believer makes this marvellous blessing individual. He does not say, observe, "hath made" them free, or us free, but "me free." This is enjoyed, happy liberty. It is the voice of triumph. Now I am free — free as the power of the risen life in Christ can make me — free from the law of sin and death. My standing is no longer in the first, but in the last Adam. Hence the apostle says, verse 9, "Ye are not in the flesh," or in the first Adam state, but "in Christ Jesus," or in the last Adam state. Oh! what words are these — "Hath made me free" — yes, "me." I, who was once the miserable man in the seventh chapter, am now the happy man in the eighth — happy in Christ, as the risen, ascended and glorified Man. God has said it, faith receives it and the heart enjoys it.
We might select many other passages in illustration of our subject, but we must leave the christian reader to follow up in his own private meditations this profitable exercise. Let him for example, examine how far he has entered into the meaning of such passages as "Hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus"; "Because as he is, so are we in this world"; "Who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Eph. 2:6; 1 John 4:17; Gal. 2:20.)
"'One Spirit with the Lord:'
The Father's smile of love
Rests ever on the members here,
As on the Head above.
'One Spirit with the Lord:'
Jesus the glorified
Esteems the church for which He bled,
His body and His bride."
We now return to our instructive Psalm and meditate, for a little, on the contrast between the Jew and the Christian as therein suggested.
The Israelites required to leave their homes and journey through the valley in order to appear before God in Zion — the city of David. This was their place of worship. But it may be said of the Christian that he is toiling through the valley and reposing on Mount Zion at the same time. Such are the mysteries of faith. As a matter of fact, he is in the world; as a matter of experience, he is in the wilderness; as a matter of faith, he is in heaven. Take an example.
A young Christian may continue to live in the same family after he is converted that he lived in before his conversion. But how changed to him everything is! The blood of the Lamb is on the door-posts of his heart and he is separated from the world though still in it. But he can no longer take part in the worldly ways of the family. In following Christ he has become a witness for Him and this is unbearable. He is blamed for carrying things too far; all sympathy between him and the family is gone; now he is an alien in his father's house. This is wilderness experience and sometimes bitter enough. But amidst it all he knows his oneness with Christ in heaven and feeds on Him there. He finds, as it were, that Egypt, the wilderness and Canaan are all under the same roof. But with these he finds the blessed Lord divinely suited to each. His knowledge of Christ greatly increases. He knows that he is sprinkled with the blood, and thereby sheltered from the world's judgments; the cloud, the manna and the living water, as suited to the desert, are with him; and he also feeds on the old corn of the land. His motives — his resources — his way of life are unknown to his own family. Faith can only understand the Christian's position in this world.
Here let thy thoughts dwell for a little, O my soul. What knowest thou, experimentally, of these things? The matter is plain and must be the experience of all if the heart be for Christ ONLY. Christ is not in this world; and if the Christian has given up the world for Christ, what has he here? Nothing. What can be plainer? If he has given up all on earth for Christ in heaven he can have nothing here. This is the Christian's position in the world. He is a stranger and desolate as to the resources of earth. All must come from Christ, who is now his all and in all. Fellow-pilgrims are his companions and heaven is his resource. Hence he lives and walks by faith. "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." But the resources of faith are boundless. It lays its hand on the richest treasures of heaven and says, These are mine — mine in the right of Christ — mine now — mine for ever. Such is faith; it lays hold on every good thing. Nothing is hidden from it — nothing is kept from it. What grace unfolds, faith appropriates, the heart enjoys and the life displays. Would to God it were more so — always so! but that is the principle. "All things are yours . . . ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's. (1 Cor. 3:21-23.)
The term "Zion" in the verse before us is one of so much interest and importance, that it demands a special notice. And the more so, because it is often used by ecclesiastical writers as descriptive of the church or as synonymous with the expression "Church of God." This we believe is a mistake. It is the chosen seat of royalty during the millennial reign of Christ. The order of events connected with the advancement of David as God's elected and anointed king throws much light on the order of events in that yet future and glorious day. "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." Whether we view the hill of Zion historically, as in connection with David; or devotionally, as in the Psalms; or prophetically, as the throne of the Messiah's kingly power and glory — it is a place of great interest and significance.
It is first mentioned in connection with the history of David, when he became king over all Israel. "Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion; the same is the city of David." (2 Sam. 5:7.) The Philistines were still in the land, and the people of Israel were in the lowest condition possible. They had chosen a king after their own hearts and now they were smarting keenly for it. Samuel had faithfully warned them and foretold what the state of things would be under their self-chosen king. But they refused his counsel, and said, "Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like the nations." (1 Sam. 8) Such is the obstinacy of self-will: and none are so deaf to all good counsel or so blind to danger as self-willed people. "We will have a king over us." Surely this was daring and dangerous ground! So it was, and it ended in the most overwhelming disasters. And such must ever be the result, when the unbroken will is allowed to act. Alas! that the Christian should ever be found, in any sphere of life, thus set on having his own will!
The Jews had not that bright, living Example before them that we have. The Master whom we follow could always say, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." "Not my will, but thine, be done." Besides, what happened to Israel because of their wilfulness has been written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Be warned then, O my soul — beware of seeking thine own will. It is always wrong. Besides, remember how blinding and hardening it is. Eyes, ears, reason, affection — all are closed and sealed up that the will may have its own way. How often it yields not, even in the presence of impending ruin, and to the most earnest pleadings of friendship. Meditate in the view of these things, O my soul, on the path of the obedient One. Follow Him. He hath left us an example that we should walk in His steps. God's will only is good. Thou wilt never seek thine own will in heaven — why here? But should the Lord suffer thee to have it, as He did Israel of old, it may be for thy sore chastening, that thou mayest learn to say, "Not my will, O Lord, but thine be done." Rather let thy prayer be, "Grant unto me, O Lord, in Thy mercy, a subject will, a chastened spirit, a tender conscience, a subdued heart, for Thine own name's sake. "
"He always wins who sides with God,
To him no chance is lost;
God's will is sweetest to him when
It triumphs at his cost.
"Ill that God blesses is our good,
And unblest good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will."
Israel could scarcely have been in a state of greater confusion and ruin than when David established his throne on mount Zion. Both the kingly and priestly departments of the nation were in great disorder. The sanctuary was defiled, the priesthood corrupted, the ark of God in captivity, and "Ichabod" written on the whole scene — the glory had departed. For this terrible state of things there was no hope, no resource, in Israel. But God in mercy interposes. He calls out David, a man after His own heart. He awakes, as it were, out of sleep. The language of Psalm 78 on this particular point is remarkable. "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach. Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he had established for ever. He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young he brought him: to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands."
Saul was a king after the people's will, David after God's heart. Not that David always acted according to the heart of God; but he was chosen of Him. David, alas! failed, and failed grievously, and needed the mercy and forgiveness of God. Nevertheless, we often find the heart of David responding to the heart of God in a very blessed way. And who ever felt his sin more keenly than David, or confessed it more fully? Or who ever counted more thoroughly on the goodness of God for pardon and restoration? In short, he understood in a remarkable way the heart of God and the grace that dwells there.
After David had taken possession of Jerusalem, the Philistines eyed him with Jealousy. He inquires of the Lord, follows divine directions, goes out to battle, and gains signal victories over them. God is with him and directs the movements of his army. The people, under David as their leader, triumph over their enemies. A great deliverance is wrought in Israel. The downward course of things is stayed and Zion becomes the hope of the people — the resting-place of faith. The grace of God has done it. The people are greatly blessed. They find out that it is better to follow the Lord's will than their own.
David becomes a type of the Lord Jesus, not only in his rejection and suffering, but in His victories. The Lord will make war with His enemies immediately before the establishment of the millennial kingdom. The Lord will descend from heaven for the destruction of Antichrist and those confederated with him; but, like David, after His throne is established in Zion, there will still be enemies outside of the land of Israel to subdue. "The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies." (Ps. 110) And also, as under David the people triumphed over their enemies, so will they under Christ. "For the Lord of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. . . . And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the Lord is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded. And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the Lord their God, and will hear them. And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the Lord." (Zech. 10:3-7.)
All this clearly enough is future. It must take place after the appearing of the Lord in glory, and before the Solomon character of His reign is established. The early part of Christ's reign will be the antitype of David's — the warrior king; Solomon typifies Christ reigning in millennial peace and glory. But we cannot pursue this subject at present, we must return to David.
Another thing now fills and occupies his mind. He was a man of faith before God as well as a man of power before his enemies. His throne was now established in power on mount Zion, but the ark of God still dwelt in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the covenant was the visible link of God's relationship with His people. Hence the loss of the ark was the "Ichabod" of Israel. And now, having prevailed over his enemies and united all Israel under his sceptre, his heart longs to restore the ark to the tabernacle which he had pitched for it on the hill of Zion. Here the faith and piety of David shine most brightly; and never in stronger contrast than with the house of Saul. Michal, like her father, cared nothing in heart for the glory of God. But David rejoiced to humble himself before the Lord, and reproved Michal in the strongest way. He cared for the glory of God and the welfare of His people. Neither Michal nor her father's house cared either for the one or the other. They never understood the claims of the God of Israel. They thought only of themselves. But how different it was with David! At the prospect of the ark entering the city, his heart leaps with joy. But if we would know more fully the feelings of David on this occasion, we must study carefully Psalm 132. There the Spirit of God records them as an everlasting memorial of his devotedness to God and His people! He "danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. . . . And they brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord. And as soon as David had made an end of offering burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house." (2 Sam. 6)
This was a glorious day for Israel. The long, dark night of "Ichabod" had passed away. The connection between God and His people was re-established. The bonds of the covenant were restored. The presence, power and glory of the God of Israel are now with the nation. The people are greatly blessed. They have seen a sample of the glory and tasted the blessings of the Melchisedec reign. David acts as priest. He wears a linen ephod. He is the head of the people. And now the throne of the king and the ark of God are both established on mount Zion. Hence it is that Zion acquires such an immense importance ever after. It becomes God's centre in the Holy Land: there the tribes of Israel are gathered together, every one of them appearing before God in Zion. It is also the standing witness to all nations of the activities of God's love on behalf of His people, when all was lost under law. This is the grand principle of Zion; and thereby it becomes to faith the divine guarantee of what God will do for His people in the latter day. This is clear from Revelation 14 — "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written on their foreheads." The suffering, God-fearing remnant of the latter day will be associated with the Messiah in His kingly glory, as the faithful in Israel were with David of old. The centre of His dominion and glory is the mount Zion which He loved. There the Lamb shall reign, and they follow Him whithersoever He goeth. Bright, blessed, glorious reward for sharing His rejection — for patiently waiting, in holy separation from the world, for His coming!
"He who, with hands uplifted,
Went from this earth below,
Shall come again, all gifted,
His blessing to bestow."
Here, O my soul, bow, worship, meditate. Thou art in the presence of a greater than David and of One better known to thy heart. He is thy Lord, worship thou Him. In type, principle and detail, learn of David. Himself and his history at this part are full of Christ. Mark the order of events and learn thereby something of that which is yet to come. The end may be near; faith says it surely is. Then, O wondrous thought, thou wilt be more than a student of the past; thou wilt have thy part in the scene. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him, in glory." (Col. 3:4.) But knowest thou meantime, O, my soul, thy christian privileges? We have come to Zion now. By faith in spirit we are already come to mount Zion. Sinai is the type of man's responsibility, Zion of God's grace. What a difference! "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." (Heb. 12:22-24.)
What are these many glories to which we are come — into which grace has introduced us? we may well exclaim. Blessed, indeed, are all they who now believe in Christ, and who are now brought, in Him, into all this wondrous glory! Such is the present portion of all who trust in Jesus. The Lord grant to any who may read this paper to feel their need of Christ and to be without rest or peace until they find both in Him. He waits to be gracious; why should any refuse such a portion? Look again, dear reader, at these verses in Hebrews 12. To know now, even now, that we are come to all this — that we are interested in all this, and that there is no fear of things going wrong in heaven, as they have done in Israel, is the soul's present rest, peace, joy and happiness. Surely it is no small matter to belong now to the church of the firstborn ones whose names are registered in heaven! The church is blessed in Christ and with Christ; and all who are converted now are called, not only to the nuptial glories of the Lamb, but to the eternal blessedness of the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Know, then, I pray thee, thy need as a lost sinner now; think of the love of Jesus in dying for such — for thee. Dost thou prefer thy sins and this world to forgiveness and Christ? Oh, if such be the case, what must the end be? Plainly, my dear reader, dost thou prefer the pains of hell for ever to that place of peculiar honour, blessedness and affection to which the church of the firstborn are called? What! prefer the blackness of darkness for ever to the light and holiness of heaven? No. I am well aware thou wouldst not say so in so many words; but do not actions speak louder than words? Break, oh break at once and for ever with everything that would keep thee from Christ. Love Him — trust Him — follow Him — serve Him. To whom wouldst thou give thy heart if not to Him who first gave Himself for thee?
Psalm 84:8. "O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah." The weary pilgrim is at length before God in Zion. Blessed journey that has such an end! And blessed be the God of Jacob, that the pilgrim has now and then, even on the journey, sweet foretastes of that happy end; but oh, what will it be when it is fully tasted in glory — in the Father's house on high! Till then, O my soul, fail not to drink at the fountain, though travelling through a dry and thirsty land. Faith is as welcome now in those courts above, as thou thyself wilt be at the journey's end. Thy title is as good now as it will be then; the name of Christ can never be more welcome than it is today. Oh, then, use thy title now; let heaven see what great and constant use thou canst make of that blessed name now.
In musing on these words, a solemn thought crosses the mind: Zion, or grace, is the meeting-place of God and His people. Every child of Adam, sooner or later, must meet God on one of two grounds — the ground of righteousness or the ground of grace. No one can escape, or pass unnoticed in a crowd. Each one must, individually and for himself, appear before God. "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:12.) Most solemn thought, surely! But if on the ground of righteousness, all must be lost — for ever lost. Who could answer to God for one of a thousand of his many thousand sins? Hence the psalmist prays, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Ps. 143:2.) Human reasoning would not avail there. But no man, even now, ever reasons in the presence of God. Clearly then, on the ground of righteousness, the soul must be hopelessly lost. God grant that my dear reader, through faith in Christ, may pass from death unto life now, and so never come into judgment. (John 5:24.)
Grace, pure grace, is the only other ground. There is no middle ground in scripture. And he who stands before God on this ground is safe for ever. He is saved with God's great salvation. What he previously was is not thought of. He is now a true believer in Christ Jesus. He honours the Saviour with the confidence of his heart; and, in God's sight, there is nothing too good for him. He honours him in the fullest and most public way. In short, he is blessed according to the riches of divine grace and the value of the work of Christ. He fares well, yes, as well as Christ Himself! As the bride ranks with the bridegroom, as the wife ranks with the husband, so does the Christian rank with Christ in heaven. He is joined unto the Lord and one spirit with Him. Happy they who are thus done with their own works and trust only in the finished work of Christ. But tell me, O my soul, in plain terms, what is the difference today between a soul that is on the ground of grace and one that is on the ground of righteousness? Practically, the one trusts in Christ, the other trusts in himself. This is the great difference, really, between the saved and the unsaved — the Christian and the worldling. It is connection by faith with the Person of Christ that makes the difference. The one may be as full of outward religious observances as the other; but unless the heart be connected with the Person of Christ, these go for nothing. Were a schoolboy to cover his slate with ciphers, not one of them could be reckoned until he had connected them with a figure; then they would all count. Even so, a cup of cold water, given in connection with the name of Christ, shall have its eternal reward.
He who has felt his need and helplessness and trusts in Christ alone, is on the ground of the pure favour of God; but he who is still a stranger to this state, however full of good works, charities and religious duties, is on the ground of inflexible righteousness. The tree must first be made good before the fruit can be good. We must be engrafted into the living Vine and drink of the fatness of its roots, before we can bear fruit to God. Christ only can bear fruit to God; but as the tree bears fruit through its branches, so Christ bears fruit to God through His members.
Awful, indeed, must be the meeting between God and the sinner on the ground of righteousness. When the plumb-line is laid to a crooked wall, it does not make it straight, but it shows out all its crookedness. The judgment-seat will prove the sinner's condition but it can show him no favour. The day of grace is past. It is too late to cry for mercy — yes, alas! Too late when the sentence, "Depart from me" is uttered; too late when the gates of heaven are closed; too late when the gates of hell are opened; too late when Satan, whom he has served, claims him as his; too late when enclosed within those fiery walls whence none ever escape! Oh, what an end for an immortal soul! The very thought of it is overwhelming. The soul shudders in writing it. Oh, what can be done now to prevent it? is the first feeling of the heart. And yet, what can we say? The only thing that can prevent it is done already. Redemption is accomplished. Jesus died and rose again. The sure foundation of grace and glory has been laid in Zion and whosoever believeth shall never be confounded. "Christ was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," are plain words; who can misunderstand their meaning? The jailer believed on the Lord Jesus Christ — he trusted in Him according to the word of the apostle and was saved, and others of his household who believed. The gospel is the same today as it was then; whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life.
Lord of the harvest, send more labourers into the gospel field; and grant, Lord, that Thy preachers may never lose sight of the solemn results of their preaching! Surely, if preachers themselves were more alive to the awful future of a Christless soul, they would be more in earnest and more would be awakened by their warning voice. The end is near, the time is short, the coming of the Lord draweth nigh and souls — many souls — are perishing.
Let Thy word, O Lord, be clothed with power from on high, that it may be more effectual in them that hear it; and fill Thine evangelists, blessed Lord, with a burning desire — a consuming passion — for the salvation of sinners. With the fearful end of their unawakened hearers in view, may they speak plainly, pointedly, boldly, earnestly and affectionately; and may their constant prayer be, "Lord, suffer not even one precious soul to depart unimpressed, unawakened, unsaved."
"Oh speak of Jesus — of His grace,
Receiving, pardoning, blessing all;
His holy, spotless life to trace -
His words, His miracles recall:
The words He spoke, the truths He taught,
With life, eternal life, are fraught.
Oh speak of Jesus — of His death:
For sinners such as we He died.
'Tis finished.' with His latest breath
The Lord, Jehovah Jesus, cried:
That death of shame and agony
Opened the way of life to me."
While meditating on the happiness of those who had reached mount Zion, and were before God in His holy temple, the psalmist breaks forth in fervent prayer and praise. He was longing to enjoy the same privileges himself. "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord." How often this has been the experience of the people of God when deprived of the public means of grace so called. There is divine reality in the fellowship of saints. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." There is spiritual refreshment and blessing in meeting with those we love in the spirit. Ere long we shall meet in heaven, to part no more, and to love each other perfectly.
The mere formalist, of course, knows nothing of these exercises; but the psalmist was the opposite of a formalist. His whole heart was in the temple-worship of God, and he enters into it in spirit, though perhaps in exile. He praises God; but, owing to his position, his praise turns into prayer. "O Lord of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob."
There are two distinct thoughts of great practical value to the Christian in this short prayer. There is the sense of divine majesty in the consciousness of divine relationship. As "Lord of hosts" He is almighty in power; as the "God of Jacob" He is infinite in mercy and goodness to His people. The Jew could depend on the covenant-faithfulness of Jehovah; we, on the name of "Father" in connection with Christ. There was power to protect in the valley of Baca, and, sweeter still, grace to bless on the holy hill of Zion. It is there the happy worshipper loses sight of self and of all the troubles and trials of the way, and rejoices in the blessed consciousness of his relationship with the living God.
As Christians, we have "received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." We are thus taught and led by the Holy Ghost Himself, to use the sweet expression of our relationship — Father. This is our happy place now, through the riches of sovereign grace. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6.) Only yesterday, as it were, we were far off from God and seeking happiness apart from Him; but He has had mercy — great mercy, blessed be His name — and brought us to Himself through faith in Christ Jesus. And now the children's place and the children's portion are ours — ours today — ours henceforth and for ever. Only think, O my soul, on that wondrous word which has gladdened so many hearts: "Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Meditate, I say, on this great truth — on these very words — "no more." "Thou art no more a servant, but a son," and "an heir" — "an heir of God." Not merely, observe, an heir of heaven or of glory, but "an heir of God through Christ." Oh wondrous truth! The possessions of God are thine. And mark, too, I pray thee, that the Spirit is not speaking here of what we shall be, but of what we now are. "Thou art no more a servant, but a son." Marvellous place! Blessed privilege! glorious liberty! We can only worship and adore; nothing can be added to our possessions. His name alone have all the praise and glory. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he [Christ] is pure." (1 John 3:1-3.)
"Once as prodigals we wandered,
In our folly, far from Thee;
But Thy grace, o'er sin abounding,
Rescued us from misery.
Thou the prodigal hast pardoned,
'Kissed us' with a Father's love,
'Killed the fatted calf,' and called us
E'er to dwell with Thee above.
Clothed in garments of salvation
At Thy table is our place;
We rejoice, and Thou rejoicest,
In the riches of Thy grace.
'It is meet,' we hear Thee saying,
'We should merry be and glad:
I have found my once lost children;
Now they live who once were dead.'"
Psalm 84:9. "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed." What marvellous words are these! In writing them down they have touched a chord in the heart which awakens deep thoughts and feelings. The combination is beautiful and blessed — "our shield" — "thine anointed." God and the soul are brought near to each other. Their object, their centre, is one — "our" — "thine." Both are looking to the same Christ, though from different points of view. He is God's Anointed, He is thy Shield, O my soul! Dwell on this blessed theme. Precious Saviour! He glorifies God — reconciles the sinner and unites both in Himself. "I in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (John 14:20.) Blessed union — fruitful in eternal unity and glory!
Never before, O my soul, hast thou so seen or felt the power of this verse; and now, "happily, patiently, deeply meditate thereon, I pray thee; while the fire burns, concentrate thy musings on this great truth. Think on the many blessings which flow from thy privileged place. All favour, all security, all happiness, both for time and eternity, are found therein.
But especially would I say, Meditate on Him who thus links every believer with God and the valley of Baca with the courts above. He who is the Father's delight — the One on whom He ever looks with perfect complacency, is every believer's hiding-place — is thy hiding-place. There thou art sheltered from every storm in this life; and there, too, as behind an invulnerable shield, thou art safe for ever. No enemy can ever break through thy sure defence. They may threaten, but can do no more. Only watch thou and never wander from thy hiding-place. Thy only security is to keep behind the shield. Thou hast all there.
"What in Thy love possess I not?
My star by night, my sun, by day,
My spring of life when parched with drought:
My wine to cheer, my bread to stay,
My strength, my shield, my safe abode,
My robe before the throne of God!"
While many, alas, are satisfied with mere formalities in religion, or with the dry discussion of doctrines, high or low, as they may be called, see thou and be occupied with Christ Himself. It is the knowledge of His Person that gives strength and joy to the soul. At all times, under all circumstances, we can say, "Look upon the face of thine anointed." We cannot always say, Look on us; but we may always say, Look on Him. In deepest sorrow through conscious failure, or in trials and difficulties through faithfulness to His name, we can ever plead with God what Christ is. God is ever well pleased with Him — ever occupied with Him as risen from the dead and exalted to His own right hand in heaven; and He would have us also to be occupied with Him as the heart's exclusive object.
True faith can only rest on God's estimate of Christ, not on inward thoughts and feelings. That which may be called the faith of the formalist rests on the ability of his own mind to judge of these matters. He trusts in himself. This is the essential difference between faith in appearance and faith in reality. The one rests in God's estimate of Christ, the other in his own. The one trusts in Christ and the other trusts in himself. But oh, how wide the difference between the two in God's sight! and, alas, how wide will be the difference for ever if no change takes place! As to thyself, dear reader, on what is thy faith, thy hope, resting? See, I beseech thee, that the word of the living God is the solid rock on which all thy expectations are built; and as one lost and ruined under sin, see that thou art looking to Jesus as thy Saviour, and resting on the word of His grace. This is saving faith. It listens only to God.
Take an example — It is on God's testimony to the blood of Christ that the conscience rests with a perfect rest, in spite of all that it feels working within; and it is only His testimony to the Person of Christ that keeps the heart peaceful and happy in spite of all circumstances. What God says must hold good and true, independently of all perplexing circumstances without and of all contrary feelings within. Thus faith argues, and argues fairly, and walks in fellowship with God. When He proclaims from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," the voice of faith from earth responds, "This is my beloved Saviour, in whom I am well pleased." The voices meet and agree in one. This is communion! Oh wondrous, gracious, glorious truth! The Lord's name alone have all the praise!
Yet one look more at this precious ninth verse before passing on to the tenth. The thoughts love to linger over the many lines of truth which it suggests. It begets meditation. And still the leading thought is — God looks for the believer to have the same thoughts of Christ as He has Himself. But this is the work of the Holy Spirit. We only know Christ in the proportion that He is revealed unto us by the Spirit. Hence the unspeakable importance of understanding the scriptures on this point; and of giving the Holy Spirit His right place both in our hearts and ways. "For he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:17.) When this leading truth of the present period is either overlooked or practically displaced, there must be great darkness and feebleness as to the Person of Christ. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Cor. 2:11; John 16:13, 14.)
The great object, we believe, of the Holy Spirit's work in us is to make good in our hearts the thoughts of God concerning Christ. This is the basis of the Christian's walking in the light as God is in the light and of worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. Indeed, all hinges, practically, on this state of soul. Our consistency, spirituality, steadfastness, devotedness and happiness are intimately connected with it. When the heart is right with Christ, both the judgment and the practice will be right. The affections govern the judgment. God's way of delivering souls from all evil, both inwardly and outwardly, is Christ. Our only strength is in being filled with Him. Light on the path and strength to walk therein flow from this.
Is it not ignorance of Christ that leads the unconverted around us to act so contrary to Him? And on the other hand, is it not the knowledge of Christ that leads to a life of holiness and peaceful godliness? And just in proportion as the Christian enjoys Christ, does he live above self and the world. And further, it is only in being occupied with Christ, as He is before God, in all His loveliness that we grow up into His likeness. This is the principle: If we would love Him more, we must be more occupied with His love to us; if we would serve Him better, we must be more occupied with His devotedness to us; if we would get rid of our spiritual deformities, we must be more occupied with His loveliness. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.)
But alas! how often it happens that even true, earnest Christians are strangers to this line of truth, this character of exercise and this fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. There is a constant tendency in such to be occupied with a sense of inward evil in place of Christ; consequently darkness, feebleness, a lack of communion as to Christ, must be the result. Discouraged and cast down from what takes place within, they are filled with doubts and fears. They think the heart ought to get better and not have so many bad thoughts as it once had. Most true, the Christian has to judge himself daily and hourly for everything that is contrary to Christ. But he has also another lesson to learn; namely, he has to learn to distinguish between what flows from Christ and what flows from himself. There is no good thing in nature and no good thing can ever come from it. "In me," says the great apostle "(that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing." Every good thing cometh down from above. But we are slow to learn that there is nothing good towards God in our nature, and that nothing good in His sight can ever come from it.
We must live Christ if we would please God and walk in fellowship with Him; but we must first learn Him. He is our lesson. Oh! that we could impress all our readers and ourselves more deeply with the importance of this great truth! "To learn Christ — and to live Christ." "For me to live is Christ," says the apostle; and in writing to the Ephesians, he says, "But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus." This is our lesson — the wide range of truth, as brought out and set in the light of heaven, in connection with the lowly Jesus on earth, and the exalted Christ in heaven. This, I repeat, is our lesson! He is the way, the truth and the life. The character, the reality, the truth of everything was tested by His presence on earth. All truth meets in His Person. But most and best of all, by Him we know God and are happy: and in Him as the risen, exalted and glorified Christ we know and still learn more and more of our privileges and blessings in the presence of God. "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed."
"When the hours of day are closing,
And the sun has reached the west,
Sweetly in Thy love reposing,
I would lay me on Thy breast.
Jesus, Lord, I thirst for Thee,
Thou art all in all to me.
Thou hast taught me of the union
Of my new-born soul with Thee,
And in hours of deep communion
Thou hast spoken, Lord, to me.
Jesus, now I thirst for Thee,
Thou art all in all to me."
Psalm 84:10. "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." Those who only know the pleasures of the tents of wickedness, can have no proper conception of the true, solid, lasting pleasures of the courts of the Lord. Those who know both can speak positively of the difference. Who that has spent a day with God in spirit and in the varying exercises of meditation and devotion, cannot speak of its blessedness? But the testimony of scripture on the subject is full and safer to judge from.
The Spirit of truth, by Solomon, has said, "For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity." (Ecc. 7:6.) Noisy, empty, sparkling, it may be, for a moment, and then extinguished for ever. Such, alas! is the character of the so-called pleasure in the tents of wickedness. But what shall we say of the fearful condition of those who are feeling the sharp sting of sin after the pleasure is gone? Is it not misery — great misery, even in this life? But, oh! what must it be when all its bitterness is felt in the place where hope never enters! The remembrance of those shallow, short-lived pleasures of earth will afford no relief there.
But we turn to the other and brighter side of the question and there we read of something very different — may this be the happy portion of all who read these lines! "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Ps. 16:11) Which now, dear reader, may I ask, do you prefer? Ecclesiastes 7:6 is as true as Psalm 16:11. But the path of life in the latter and the path of folly in the former are as wide apart as heaven and hell. Which, think you, my dear reader, is the nobler, higher, manlier, worthier, wiser path? The boisterous, hollow, unmeaning mirth of the worldling, or the calm, real, lasting joy of the Christian? Do you hesitate? Need you hesitate? The Lord enable you to choose the better part — the part that shall never be taken from you. This itself is no small comfort to the believer. "Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42.) We may not always enjoy or value the good part as we ought to do, but it shall not be taken away from us. God says it, and that is enough to faith.
Besides, the same blessed truth is plainly taught in our text: "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." What a wonderful place and portion we have here! The Lord's name be praised. What a field for meditation! Enter it, my soul, I pray thee; come and meditate with spiritual power on these wonderful words, "Thy right hand" — the place of dignity, power and special privilege. "Fulness of joy" — nothing lacking. "all spiritual blessings." "Pleasures for evermore." Not only is it the place of honour and joy, but it is our everlasting place — "for evermore." "Pleasures for evermore." No alloy, no fear of these pleasures ever coming to an end — they are "for evermore."
Better, surely, better far, be in the humblest condition as to this life, with the knowledge of Jesus, than be the greatest and most exalted monarch that ever sat upon a throne without the knowledge of Jesus. From the lowest ranks in this life faith aspires to the highest enjoyments in heaven. It is high-born, high-souled, high in its aspirations and high in its destinies. It affirms that one day — a single day, spent in the house of God, is better far than a thousand spent in the tents of wickedness. And if it be so now, oh, what must it be hereafter! Then the faithful in Christ Jesus shall ascend to the house of many mansions, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. But alas, alas, those who preferred the tents of wickedness to the company of the godly during their earthly days, can have no part or lot with them in those abodes of unmingled, neverending blessedness. May the Lord in His rich grace prevent such a fearful end in the case of all who read these meditations! And to His name alone be all the praise and glory.
"The Lamb is there, my soul -
There God Himself doth rest,
In love divine diffused through all,
With Him supremely blest.
God and the Lamb — 'tis well,
I know that source divine
Of joy and love no tongue can tell,
Yet know that all is mine."
Psalm 84:11, 12. "For the Lord God is a sun and a shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee." We have now come to the close of our beautiful and instructive Psalm. Precious indeed, and most practical, are the many lines of truth which it has suggested for meditation. The Lord in His mercy grant that they may neither be overlooked nor forgotten. Under the head of "tabernacles" we have dwelt on the usual occupations of a Lord's day, and on the mixed multitudes that throng the various places of worship. The attractions of the world, the dangers of delay in the concerns of the soul, the full gospel, the blessedness of the saved and the misery of the lost have also been before us. Oh! that what has been written may be the means of blessing to many, but especially to many mere formal Christless professors, and to many poor careless sinners. The Lord knows how much they have both been on the writer's heart through it all. May all who have read or who may yet read these pages, be brought to Jesus and blessed with God's great salvation!
We also pray that the Lord may bless these meditations abundantly to many of His dear pilgrim saints who are now passing through the valley of Baca. Young Christians just entering on their heavenly way have been especially thought of. The Lord in His tender love and care watch over them, keep them and bless them. The offence of the cross has not yet ceased. But, the Lord be praised, there are still wells in Baca and a glorious Zion in prospect. May the faith, hope, patience and courage of Thy beloved ones, most gracious Lord, be kept strong in Thyself until they have passed the vale of tears and safely reached the mount Zion of Thy love and glory!
Like our former TWENTY-THIRD Psalm of sweetest and most cherished remembrance, the EIGHTY-FOURTH closes in heavenly brightness. In the twenty-third the believer ends his journey amidst the grateful recollections of the past, the peaceful joys of the present and the blessed assurance of a glorious future. The heart overflowing with gladness and surrounded with mercies, the worn and weary pilgrim leaves the valley and enters his Father's house — the home of never-ending love. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." Thus winds up what has been often called — the children's psalm.
In like manner, we may say, concludes the eighty-fourth. Amidst the light and glory, the strength and beauty and the unmeasured goodness of God the scene closes, And thus, O my soul, observe it well, ends every believer's earthly days. Death is no longer the master, but the servant of the believer — a messenger of peace. All may not know the truth alike or enjoy it alike, but it is alike true to all. Our unbelief changes not the faithfulness of God. He changeth not, blessed be His name. The Lord God Himself is the pilgrim's sun and shield. As He said to Abraham, "Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. 15) What had Abram to fear? we may ask; what could Abram lack, when behind such a shield and enjoying such a reward? Meditate again, I pray thee, O my soul, on these wondrous words. They are directly applicable to thyself. Thou art, in virtue of thy union with Christ in heaven, a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth.
But the great truth for the heart is not merely the thought of having "a sun and shield" as our light and protection in this world, but rather, who the sun and shield is. Not, observe, what, but who the sun and shield is. The Lord God is thy sun and shield! Blessed truth! It meets the whole need of the heart. There is no sunshine like the beams of His countenance and no shelter like the shadow of His wing. Treasure in thy heart this blessed truth — meditate thereon — make it thine own. And still dwell upon it until it has become a part of thyself. Bask, as it were, in the sunshine and repose behind the shield of thy God and Father. All must be peace and rest and light and joy and security there. No harm can ever come to thee there. It is thy Father's shield. It is well to be always in the shade as to this world, but ever in the sunshine of thy Father's face. While here below amidst all the weakness and darkness of this present scene, forget not that the Lord thy God is thy sun and shield — thy light and guidance in darkness — thy strength and protection in weakness. Thus shalt thou be effectually delivered from all doubts and fears, and filled with the full assurance of faith.
Experimentally, may I ask, my dear christian reader, dost thou feel thy heart expand and willingly open out all its folds to the gracious light of this genial sun? It invites thy fullest confidence. It will warm and enlighten, but not consume. Suffer not a dark corner to remain concealed from its searching yet cheering beams. It is fitted and intended to make thee perfectly happy. If one dark spot could remain on thy soul in heaven, it would be no heaven to thee.
But not one moment of thy history shall be left in the dark when thou art manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ. There, every moment, and all that belongs to each moment, shall be revealed in the pure light of heaven. Then thy happiness shall be complete — thy blessedness unmingled — thy song of praise on the highest keynote of heaven. All will then be fully out between the Lord and thyself. And all that has been contrary to Him in thy ways shall perish from thy remembrance and from His; and all that has been done for Him shall be graciously acknowledged and rewarded. Even a cup of cold water given to one of the least of His disciples in His name shall be remembered and rewarded for ever. No good thing will be withheld from them that walk uprightly. To walk uprightly is to walk before Him, by Him and for Him. It is only the believer's ways that are examined and estimated before the tribunal of Christ. The believer himself can never come into judgment, Christ having been judged for him. (John 5:24.) The Lord enable us now to walk in the light as He is in the light, that now we may be made manifest unto Him. (2 Cor. 5:10-21.)
But there are other two words in the verse before us which must be noticed ere we part with our rich and instructive Psalm. And words they are of no mean significance - "grace and glory." All blessing, both for time and eternity, is folded up in these two words. "The Lord will give grace and glory." Both come from Him and both are the fruit or expression of His love. Some have spoken of grace as the bud, and glory as the full-blown beauties of the flower. Others have said that in David and Solomon we have the illustration of both. Grace was exhibited in David and glory in Solomon. It was grace that raised David from his low estate to the highest honours; and it was the same grace that restored him when he wandered — that comforted him when in sorrow — that sustained him when in conflict, and that kept him safe until he reached his journey's end.
But when grace had done its work in David, glory shines forth in Solomon. Glory was stamped on everything under his reign. His throne, his attendants, every detail of his household, even the whole land of Israel, reflected his glory (see 2 Chr. 9:1, 12), yet grace shone in all the glory. The two things are inseparable. All the glories of the rose are folded up in the bud. But it is chiefly in this world that grace has to do with us. This marks the great difference between grace and glory.
Grace has to do with us in our weakness, failure, sorrow; and willingly brings the needed strength, restoration, comfort and holy joy. It is the sweet and needed companion of the days of our humiliation. Oh, what a friend, what a companion, what a portion grace is for a soul in this world; and what an unspeakable blessing to know the grace of God in truth! "The Lord will give grace and glory." Forget not this, O my soul, reckon on both; on grace now, on glory hereafter. They can never fail. There is no need they cannot meet and no enemy they cannot conquer. Like the pilgrim's guardian angels, "Goodness and mercy," in the twenty-third Psalm, they surround thee on every side. Encircled indeed thou art, whether in Baca's vale, or on Zion's hill, with a heavenly company. In parting with the companion of many a happy hour, carry this thought with thee. It may give strength and courage to thy heart in a time of need. What can be more suitable for a pilgrim's path than the precious truths which are at once suggested by the beautiful symbols of a "sun and shield or by the plain but all-comprehensive words — "grace and glory"? And, as if these did not sufficiently express the love and care of thy Lord, it is added, "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
Say, then, O say, my soul, is not this enough? He is unwearied in His love, He is all patience in His ministry, He waits on thee in every step of thy journey. He fills the pools and wells of Baca to refresh the pilgrim on his way. What truth, oh what truth for the heart — what light for the path — what strength for conflict — what assurance of victory in His boundless grace!
Suffering first, glory follows. Take courage, my soul. "A little while" and glory will fill the wide, wide regions of thy Lord's dominions. And being with Him thou shalt be at the centre of it all. Conflict ceases there. Here grace has to struggle with our evil in many ways and sometimes it may seem doubtful which is to win the day; but the Lord gives more grace and it always triumphs. But there no evil can ever be, either to dispute or divide the scene with glory. Then, the days of evil will be past, and past for ever. Then, the Lord of glory will have everything His own way — He will form and fashion everything after His own mind — He will keep everything under His own hand and stamp everything with His own glorious image. It will then be glory, GLORY, GLORY.
Oh! blessed, happy, looked-for, longed-for day, come quickly! Oh! what a day that will be — a day of unmingled blessedness — a day of inconceivable joy, in rejoining those who have gone before — in seeing Thee, O most blessed Lord, face to face, and those once known — well known and loved on earth! Oh! day of days, second to none, save that first of all days, when Thou didst give Thyself for us — when Thou didst lay the foundation in Thy death of that day of coming glory!
"Loved ones are gone before, whose pilgrim-days are done;
I soon shall greet them on that shore, where partings are unknown.
But more than all, I long His glories to behold,
Whose smile shall fill the radiant throng with ecstasy untold.
That bright, yet tender smile — my sweetest welcome there —
Shall cheer me through the "little while" I tarry for Him here.
Thy love, most gracious Lord, my joy and strength shall be;
Till Thou shalt speak the gladdening word that bids me rise to Thee."
And now, with mingled feelings, waiting and longing for that better day, I close my meditations on our beautiful Psalm. May the Lord bless it to every reader as He has done to the writer, and more if it be His good will. And may the testimony of the psalmist, in the closing note of his sacred song, be the assurance of our hearts and the testimony of our lives henceforward and for ever. "O LORD OF HOSTS, BLESSED IS THE MAN THAT TRUSTETH IN THEE."
"I REST with Thee, Lord; whither should I go?
I feel so blest within Thy home of love.
The blessings purchased by Thy pain and woe,
To Thy poor child Thou sendest from above.
O never let Thy grace depart from me,
So shall I still abide, my Lord, with Thee.
I REST with Thee! eternal life the prize
Thou wilt bestow when faith's good fight is won.
What can earth give, but vain regrets and sighs
To the poor heart whose passing bliss is done?
For lasting joys I fleeting ones resign,
Since Jesus calls me His, and He is mine.
I REST with Thee! no other place of rest
Can now attract, no other portion please;
The soul of heavenly treasure once possest,
All earthly glory with indifference sees.
Poor world, farewell; thy splendours tempt no more;
The power of grace I feel, and thine is o'er.
I REST with Thee! with Thee whose wondrous love
Descends to seek the lost, the fallen raise.
O that my whole of future life might prove
One hallelujah, one glad song of praise!
So shall I sing, as time's last moments flee,
Now and for ever, Lord; I REST with Thee!"
THE DWELLING-PLACE OF GOD
PARAPHRASE OF PSALM 84.
"O LORD of hosts, how lovely in mine eyes
The tents where Thou dost dwell!
For Thine abode my spirit faints and sighs —
The courts I love so well.
My longing soul is weary
Within Thy house to be;
This world is waste and dreary,
A desert land to me.
The sparrow, Lord, hath found a sheltered home,
The swallow hath her nest;
She layeth there her young, and though she roam,
Returneth there to rest.
I, to Thine altars flying,
Would there for ever be;
My heart and flesh are crying,
O living God, for Thee!
How blest are they who in Thy house abide!
Thee evermore they praise.
How strong the man whom Thou alone dost guide,
Whose heart doth keep Thy ways.
A pilgrim and a stranger,
He leaneth on Thine arm;
And Thou, in time of danger,
Doth shield him from alarm.
From strength to strength through Baca's vale of woe.
They pass along in prayer,
And gushing streams of living water flow,
Dug by their faithful care:
Thy rain is sent from heaven
To fertilise the land,
And wayside grace is given,
Till they in Zion stand.
Lord God of hosts, attend unto my prayer!
O Jacob's God, give ear!
Behold, O God our Shield, we through
Thy care Thy courts appear:
Look Thou upon the glory
Of Thine Anointed's face;
In Him we stand before Thee,
To witness of Thy grace!
One day with Thee excelleth o'er and o'er
A thousand days apart;
In Thine abode, within Thy temple-door.
Would stand my watchful heart.
Men tell me of the treasure
Hid in their tents of sin;
I look not there for pleasure,
Nor choose to enter in.
Own thou the Lord to be thy Sun, thy Shield —
No good will He withhold;
He giveth grace, and soon shall be revealed
His glory, yet untold.
His mighty name confessing,
Walk thou at peace, and free;
O Lord, how rich the blessing
Of him who trusts in Thee!"
German Choral Music.