I take these verses, beloved friends, simply as the expression of the life of God in the soul. There is one thing that I think we do not sufficiently ponder over, and that is, that (if we are Christians) we have got a divine principle in us. I do not think that fact rests or dwells sufficiently in our souls. It is a marvellous thing to think that I have the life of Jesus. Do ever you think of that? The apostle says, in 2 Corinthians 4 (I quote this in order to show you the scriptural nature of the expression) "we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." That is a wonderful thing! It is a wonderful thing to know that, as a Christian, not only is my conscience cleared and set at rest in God's presence, and that I have an uncondemning conscience, but that I have life, the life of Jesus in me. And I may say that it is a most solemnly momentous subject for all of us (and I merely throw it out now that it may rest upon our consciences and our hearts, mine as well as yours) as to how far that life is operating in you and me, how far that is the life that is seen. I do not want to turn the eye inward, but, beloved friends, it is necessary to think of this in these days, when depth and reality are little thought of, and when there is very little sense at all of the dignity, the blessedness, the greatness, of being a vessel in which this blessed life is deposited. Therefore, I simply throw that question out now in passing, as a matter of exercise for your conscience and mine. Take for instance, to-day: because we have to do with plain things and homely things. How much has that life been seen and manifested in the details of your life to-day? It is a very searching thing to think of it. How much do you live in the power of that life in the things you pass through, or how much proceeds merely from the energy of your own nature? I feel it good for us to be called up. Oftentimes, when I think of it myself, I am arrested by its solemnity, it calls me up, and I have to go to God about it.
I take these verses, then, simply for this reason, that here we get brought out the normal character of the life of God in us — this blessed, divine principle that is in us. Here is the simple, normal character of it. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." That, I say, is the simple, normal position of a Christian, of a person that has this life in him.
Now, of course, I suppose, and take for granted that your souls are thoroughly at rest, and completely established as to the great foundation facts and resting-place of Christianity. As long as ever there are unsettled questions between your heart and conscience and God, it is out of the question to talk about these things. If your conscience is not at rest, and if your soul is not settled on the grand foundation that God puts under His children's feet, of course there is no use in talking about this — you are not in a position to entertain it. And that is what one finds every day. It is wonderful how few there are whose consciences and souls are established, really and thoroughly, upon the blessed groundwork of Christianity. I do not mean to say that people have not got thus far, that they know that if they were to die, it would be all right with them; but that is a very poor thing. It would be a very great thing, a wonderful thing, if it were all that God had given; but if it is only the very beginning of what God has done for us, then I say it is a miserable subterfuge of Satan when he comes and takes a thing that is preliminary, and makes everything of it. That is really what goes to make up the history of things about us at the present moment, that the very simplest starting-point of Christianity, the commencement of all, should be made everything of, and that the centre of the circle around which my thoughts, and affections, and feelings, and desires, should revolve, from one end of the year to the other, should be myself. That is what is really the case. You may think it seems a little strong to say it, but it is the truth. The truth is that people all round about us never get beyond themselves, never.
Now I take it for granted then — the Lord grant it may be so in truth and reality — that such is not the case here. Surely one ought not to expect it in a place like this. You ought, at any rate, to know what it is to be brought to God. Is that too much to expect in this place? It is not merely that certain things have been brought to you, that is not the question; but that you are brought to God, and introduced into the relationship which God delights to bring His children into in the Son of His love before Him, setting them down in the acceptance, and perfectness, and fulness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His own presence. I do not think it is taking too much for granted (it ought not to be) that your souls know what that is. Let us, then, go from that point. I take it that all that is an established fact, and I go from that.
Now all this being the case, what goes to make up my life here? You see there are two things that are connected with it. The first is that we have in verse 4, and that is, that I have one simple absorbing and commanding object before my affections. "One thing." It is the simple expression of a heart that has but one motive, one object; in other words, it is what the Lord refers to when He speaks of "a single eye." "Let thine eye be single," that is, an eye taking in but one object. I have but one object, one commanding object before me, and what is it? Mark this, "that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life" — that I may dwell there. Of course I pass over the fact that this is a Jewish figure, such as would necessarily be found in the Psalms. We find there all that which was connected with the Jew, the tabernacle, the temple, the place of God's own immediate presence, where the Shekinah was, and so on. I pass over that; and I take it simply as an illustration, a most beautiful and exquisite instance, of how the life of God, this divine principle in a soul, whether we find it in the Old Testament or the New, returns to its source. I do not care what the time may be, this blessed principle, this divine principle that is in us, this new life, always, where the soul is simple, such as you have unfolded here, returns to its source. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life." May I ask you, Is that the desire uppermost in your heart? How much does it operate in your affections? What is the one thing that you desire and seek after? We have to speak to one another personally, beloved friends, about these things. What then, is the one thing that you desire and seek after? Well, you say, I seek after salvation, and I seek after safety, and I seek after deliverance from wrath and judgment, and I seek after the things of God. But is this the thing that is in your heart, the thing that you seek after, is it the continuous abiding, and dwelling, in the house of the Lord? Because, you see, it is this which alone gives character. You may depend upon it, the place where you live is the place that gives you character.
We often hear the expression "heavenly." Well, no person can be "heavenly" unless he lives in heaven. The fact is, we all of us have too much the tendency to put off heaven until we die. We think of it as the place where God is, and where Christ is, and it is the resource for us when we leave this world, when we leave our bodies behind us. When we cannot live any longer here, we go to heaven. Or, it may be, if you advance a little upon that, when a person has everything blighted and ruined down here, and there is not a single thing left, then he turns to heaven. It is like a person taking refuge from the storm, and when the storm is over, coming out again to enjoy the things around. Is that the case with you and me, beloved friends? That is the natural tendency and feeling of our hearts. We have, very poorly, if at all in our souls, the thought of continuously abiding in that wonderful place, where God is free to express Himself in all the infinite fulness of His love to us. He does not express Himself to us here. He gives us His care, His sympathy, His help, His cheer, His solace; He takes us by the hand, and leads us along the way, every step of the journey: but He does not express Himself to us here. He does there, that is the difference. That is what I feel, beloved friends, that we want, every one of us in these days, a more habitual dwelling in the house of the Lord. You may depend upon it, we should be a different kind of people altogether if we dwelt there. It is not visiting there, it is not running there for shelter out of the storm, but I will tell you what it is, it is knowing it as home, with all the joys of home. Do you know what they are? Home! It is not being driven there through sheer necessity, but it is the attractiveness of it that draws us there. What do you know of the attractions of that blessed One who is up there? You see, it is not a doctrine, nor a theory, but it is a divine, living, adorable, blessed, transcendent Person for our affections. It is a Person who has an attractiveness peculiar to Himself, and one who throws this attractiveness, and blessedness, and beauty, connected with Himself, around the affections of my heart. It is not, as I said, that I am driven by mere necessity from all the things that are round about me here, but I am attracted by the beauties and blessedness and glories of that scene where Christ is everything to God, and where God delights to express Himself in all His fulness. There is the spot I long more to dwell in, to live in, to abide in; that is the place I desire to know as my home, and that is the "one thing" the psalmist speaks of here. To me it is a beautiful instance of the expression of this divine life in a person, the life of God — "One thing have I desire of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life."
Now I see all this in its perfection in Christ as a man. We get it in that beautiful passage, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, the Son of man" — who was in heaven. Is that it? No. "Who is in heaven." Take Him as a man (He was the mighty God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, as well) as the perfect man, He who walked that magnificent, blessed, shining pathway, that we have tracked out for us in the gospels, and which, by the Holy Ghost, we can read and think over, and delight in. Was it not this continuous, blessed, wonderful communion, intercourse with all that belonged to that blessed place from whence He came, that so marked His way? As He said, "I know whence I came, and whither I go." There was all that blessed distinctiveness and separateness about His walk here. Is there in our measure that about us? In walking along every day, are we like people who know whence we come and whither we go? Is that the thing which day by day is telling itself out in your business, in your home, in your intercourse one with another, in your families? What I am speaking of is a practical thing. It goes down into the most minute circumstances of our daily life. There is to be this blessed testimony stamped upon it, that I "dwell in the house of the Lord," that "I know whence I came and whither I go." What a thing that would be in our souls! What sort of people should we be if there were that distinctiveness, and divine power, about us, and divine life, and divine satisfaction and rest!
Look at the Lord Jesus Christ again, as a man. It was not that there were not all the genuine feelings of a man, and, as to His Father, perfect obedience, perfect dependence, but at the same time there was perfect rest, in all the fulness and blessedness of a perfect man going through this world. Everything was met in that way. So you find it in a most exquisite and beauteous passage in Matthew 11 where, as you know, every single thing was against Him. Everything had failed that pertained to Him as a man. John doubted Him, the cities where His mightiest works were done had rejected Him. There was not a single bright spot, not a solitary thing that could meet His heart as a man. What does He say? "I praise thee, bearing witness to thee, O Father." Such is the true rendering of that beautiful verse 24, and there we see the blessed, wonderful perfection of this blessed man down here in this world, surrounded by everything that was adverse to Him, and a distinctiveness that pertained to the place whence He came and whither He went. He was the Son of man who is in heaven, but there was the manifestation of all that down here.
Well, beloved friends, we are called to the same thing, and where this divine life is operative in our souls, we find just what we get here, "One thing have I desired, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." The Lord awaken the sense of that in your souls! We need all of us to have the sense of it created, formed, quickened, in our souls. What a wonderful thing it would be if you and I here this evening had the stamp of it more upon us! What a power, a silent, blessed power, we should be in this world! It would be said of us, "They are a people that are living in the midst of the sorrows, of earth, in all its pressures, and difficulties, and troubles, but all these things only serve to bring out this blessed life of Jesus in their mortal bodies. They dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of their life."
Well, that is the first thing, the habitual, abiding, resting-place of the heart. I ask you and myself again — the Lord help us to look at it seriously — how much have our minds been there to-day? That is the question. How much have our hearts been there to-day? How searching it is! How it challenges one's heart! People often say, "Thank God, I am outside the whole thing through which I am moving." Exactly. "Outside of it," but how? In your body, it may be, but is your spirit in it, are your thoughts in it? Ah, that is another question. You see, many a person is outside the world in that way, as a matter of profession; but if my spirit is entangled with it, or my thoughts engrossed in it, or my affections centred in it, I am not dwelling in the house of the Lord. I may be able to say, "I do not go into this or that," but are my thoughts in any way in it? It is a very searching thing. You see nothing can possibly keep your heart separate unless you are sustained at the spring and source from whence your life comes. That life, if it is not sustained at its source, and gratified at its source, and attracted to its source, is a sickly, feeble thing. I do not mean the thing itself is sickly, but there are hindrances of all sorts that prevent the manifestation of it.
I am very much struck with that expression in 2 Corinthians 4, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." I have no doubt there is an intended analogy here to what we read about Gideon's army. There were two things there, first, the light was put into a pitcher, and secondly, the pitchers were broken. It was not merely the breaking of the pitcher, but the light was put into it to shine out brightly when the pitcher was broken. It is a wonderful thing that God puts this treasure into an earthen pitcher, such a breakable article. He does place a light in it; but then observe the other thing: He breaks the pitcher, and when the pitcher is broken, the light shines out. Now, I have not to break the pitcher, blessed be God for that. That is God's part; but when He breaks the pitcher — and be assured of it He will do so — if you are walking with God, you are certain to be in His mind when He breaks the pitcher, and take care that you do not place something else in the way, to prevent the shining of the light. That is where the hindrance is to be feared.
But that which would give me power and freshness in all these things would be this — dwelling in the house of the Lord. Dwelling there; there I am sustained, qualified, fitted for Him. I have divine ability, divine power, divine rest, divine freshness. I can face the storms here. What is the effect of these storms? They only bring out the power of this rest, the rest that we have in the place where God delights to manifest Himself to us. That is heaven now, not heaven only when I die. It is heaven now; and, beloved friends, I ask you, would you not like to know a little more of Him before you die? Would you not like to be a little more acquainted with that Jesus with whom you are going to spend eternity? Would you not like to say, "I live with Him now, from day to day, in the midst of all the difficulties and trials that belong to this poor world, and through them, I am better acquainted with Him, I know Him now, and I have communion with Him, and joy in Him, in that wonderful place where He is free to come out and receive me, and where I am free to go in?" God can come out in the perfection of His love, and I can go in in the perfection of His righteousness. God dwells there, and I dwell there. Just think of it, that He does not consider anything commensurate with the expression of His own heart in the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ; He regards nothing sufficiently large to express what He thinks of that redemption, except this, that I am to dwell in the house of the Lord! The Lord help us to dwell there, to know it as our home, the resting-place of our souls, our "sweet retreat," where we have true and real communion!
That, then, is the first thing. Now look at the other for a moment. For what purpose are we to dwell there? To get out of the storm? No. Out of difficulties? No. Out of the exercises and trials that we are in here? Not a word about it. What is it, then? Just this, "to behold the beauty of the Lord." Just think of what that is, I go there to behold His beauty. One object fills the vision of my soul there, attracts the affections of my heart there, "His beauty." I love to think of that, beloved friends, for this reason, it is like God to give me a motive in Himself, outside of all the wretched, miserable, selfish things that obtain round about me here. I behold Him, in the place where I dwell.
Now just think what a wonderful thing it is "to behold the beauty of the Lord." It is not merely to escape from the difficulties that are here, the troubles, and exercises, but to go there for His own sake. There is a beauty, there is an excellency, a virtue, an attractiveness, a glory, connected with that place, which I behold, and I never really know what it is until by faith I see it. Beloved friends, a little bit of that would distance all here in the world! A little beholding of the beauty of the blessed One in those wondrous regions would turn the brightest scene on this earth into a poor and contemptible thing to our hearts. You see, we learn everything by contrast. A person who knows what it is to see Christ where He is, is the one who thinks very little of earth. He can turn his back upon it; there is nothing in it that is suitable or congenial to him. He can say, The very scene where God Himself is, is the place where I desire to abide, and where I long to gratify myself.
I ask you this question to-night: Suppose an angel were to come down into this world; do not you think he would move through it in a different way from what you and I do? Do not you think (if you could conceive such a thing), that a messenger from God, one of those blessed created intelligences that stand before God, coming down into this world, would move through it (though he might have something to do for God, and from God, in it) as one who was entirely apart from its principles, its maxims, its habits, its ways, its attractions? You know he would. Now, beloved friends, an angel is not what you and I are. An angel is not a member of that body of which Jesus glorified is the Head. An angel is not a son of God, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ. An angel could not say, "He loved me, and gave himself for me." An angel does not belong to that which Jesus esteems His body and His bride, that which will be with Him to behold His glory. Is there nothing that touches your heart in all that? To think that God passed angels by, and that He came into this smallest of all worlds, and took out of it a contemptible, miserable, wretched people, to exhibit in them the principles of His grace, and the life of His Son; that He has taken us up in grace and made us positively members of Christ, uniting us to Him in glory, thus separating us from this scene altogether, and then as it were sends us back into it, to exhibit the maxims and principles of the place to which we belong! It is wondrous!
Do we act like this? Do we touch things like people from another country? Do we move through things like people from another place? Do we impart the savour of that place to all whom we meet? I feel how little, beloved friends, there is of that place about us, and how much there is of the world allowed in us. I am humbled when I think, as I do constantly, how many things there are about us all from day to day which savour of that which we profess to be entirely taken out of; and how little manifestation there is of this blessed new principle, new place, new home, new rest, new delights, which God has brought us into. Look at the young, for instance — look at the state many of the young are in, many of the children of God's people — attracted by the most contemptible, miserable things that are to be found here in this poor world. If there had only been the smallest taste, the feeblest taste, of the joys, and beauties, and blessedness, and glory of that scene where Christ is, it would make them despise, as beneath their notice, the counterfeits, and miserable, wretched, vanishing things that the devil hangs out here as his wares to attract.
I feel it is a solemn thing, and what I especially feel is this, that those of us who are older are not able practically to display a better picture ourselves. That is indeed most solemn! It is all very well to say, "Look at the young;" but what do we show them? Can you and I say to them, "Look on me, and as I do, so do you?" I know you will suffer a word from me, beloved friends. God knows how I have gone through all this in my own heart, and I am taking my place with you to-night about these things. I feel how little, deep down in one's soul, one has got the sense of living up there where He is. If you are not from Him, and of Him, you will never be for Him. We are, blessed be His name, of Him, and from Him. The Lord, by His Spirit, write the sense of that in your heart this evening!
Now, if Christ rebukes me by His word, it always puts me into company with Himself. You and I might rebuke one another, and the effect would be to separate us, but not so with Him. If He touches my conscience, it brings me into His presence, and attracts me to Himself. May it be thus with all of us this evening!
I dwell, then, in the house of the Lord, and I behold His beauty. There is another thing in that verse, "to inquire in his temple." Now, without the slightest pretension to scholarship, I may say that the strict meaning of the Hebrew words is, "to meditate with joy in his temple." That is, I believe, the literal force of those words in the original language. "To meditate with joy." "One thing have I desired, to dwell, to behold, and to meditate with joy."
This latter is greatly on my heart; for I do not believe that with any of us there is sufficient meditation. We read, that is quite true; and a great many people (I hope none will misunderstand me) satisfy their consciences, when the first of the month comes round, if they read all the periodicals. I am saying what I know to be true. But I am assured that this kind of thing is most damaging; and nothing will contribute to lower the tone of things amongst us more than this, if our hearts lose the sense of the intrinsic, blessed, wonderful nature of that book that is in your hand and mine at this moment — I mean the word of God. There is nothing that has impoverished the souls of God's saints more than when the effect of all the blessed things that God has given has been blunted by the bringing in of man's work. I believe that Satan has been especially watchful in this way. Those who walk with God know it well. The way by which he seeks to turn aside the edge, and shaft, and power of the word of God is by a sort of wile. It is not by throwing any open contempt upon the scripture. It is not done in that way; but if he can get our thoughts or affections absorbed and occupied with anything else, though it may relate to, or bear upon, the word of God, he has thoroughly succeeded, and he has ensnared us in the wile. Why, you know that the very best thing that any servant of God, or saint of God, could communicate to God's people concerning that blessed book must be as nothing compared with the words that are spoken in it; and therefore, you may depend upon it, that you and I suffer in our souls if we do not learn what it is to meditate on God's revelation and communications, and if we know nothing of that blessed Person who is the subject, object, theme, and delight of God, whose name, and person, and excellencies, run, like a golden thread, through all this wonderful revelation of God. How can we go on without it? If you and I do not learn what it is to "meditate with joy," and to dwell upon all that God has been pleased to unfold to us about Christ then what we suffer from is, that, though we may have our heads thoroughly well-informed about doctrines, we are almost like pieces of lifeless clay. We may be a people of outward intelligence, of doctrine, of understanding as to certain things, with a well-arranged creed, and all that, but not one single sign of living freshness, power, or energy from God. The Lord enable us by His Spirit, to get more alone with Himself!
If there are any I feel for more than others, it is those of God's people who are engrossed in business, and who have to spend their time in the midst of all the bustle, and excitement, and turmoil of business life, with little leisure from it. We do not feel enough for one another as to this, beloved friends. It is wonderful how little we care for one another in this way — how little we feel for one another. We are becoming so intensely individual, so isolated, as it were. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others," is the scripture thought about it; but how much do you and I? How often do we pray for one another? How much do we carry one another upon our hearts before God? There are many of God's people that are engaged in business, and with all our hearts we should feel for them, seek to help, strengthen, and sustain them in the tremendous rush and confusion that they go through every day; because there must be a loss, a positive loss, to the soul of any one who has not time to enjoy solitariness, and meditation, and communion with God. I cannot see how it is possible to get on without it. The Lord help us to understand the meaning of that word, "To meditate with joy in his temple!" "I desire to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate with joy in his temple." Such is the simple, normal exercise of the life of a Christian.
Just one word on what comes afterwards. Observe, now you get to "trouble" — "for in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion." Now you know, beloved friend, we should have put all that has gone before in connection with the "trouble." We should naturally say, "How beautiful it is to dwell in the house of the Lord, to behold His beauty, and to inquire in His temple, when everything is withered all around." But that is not the way God puts it. He puts all that before us as the natural normal exercise of the life of God in us. Then what about trouble? Ah, we need not disturb ourselves about that! "In the time of trouble he will hide me in his pavilion." If my continual desire is to dwell in the house of the Lord, then in trouble I rest, "He hides me." That is exquisite, every word of it! "In the time of trouble he will hide me in his pavilion." What could you have better than that? "In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me." When trouble or difficulty comes, I am not running about to see how I can get out of it, but there I am, resting and quiescent, and God is active. He hides me, He upholds me, He undertakes for me in the time of trouble. He hides me, and sets my feet upon a rock.
And mark that there is not as yet deliverance in this verse. It is not "in time of trouble God will come in, and take me out of it," but "he will hide me." It is not "he will quiet the winds and waves" — not a word about it. It is not generally His way, beloved friends. It was His way always with Israel. Jesus showed Himself to be perfect man when He slept upon the pillow while the waves were roaring around Him, and showed Himself to be God when He commanded those waves to subside. God opened the rock to supply His people with water, He sent down manna from heaven to feed them, He divided the waters for them to pass over, but that is not His way now, not the rule of His action now. It was the rule of His action once; that is, He operated upon the elements for His people of old; but He does not do that now. He carries us in His power. He hides us. It is not that He removes the difficulty but He gives me superiority to it, His own power carries me through it. He hides me in His pavilion. Think of that for a moment! Do you think the person is to be pitied who is in trouble, if Jehovah hides him in His pavilion? It is worth the trouble to be hidden of God, to be hidden in His pavilion, in the secret of His presence.
Now we come to deliverance, and that is the last thing. All that I have been speaking of is not deliverance, but now we have it. "And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me; therefore will I offer in his tabernacle, sacrifices of joy." Mark that the believer is never out of the dwelling-place of God. He dwells there, that is where the life of God, this blessed principle in us, abides. You must work it all out more fully for yourselves; I have only just given you the outline of it.
You will find all this portrayed to perfection in the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect man, who manifested all the perfections of a man before God in this world as He walked through it. If you take His life, you will find to perfection those things that are unfolded here. He was "the Son of man who is in heaven." In trouble in this world, in difficulties, He hid Himself behind the will and pleasure of His Father. "I thank thee, and I bear witness to thee," as we have already had this evening; and farther on, after He had gone through that terrible judgment upon the cross, then He praises! "In the midst of the congregation will I sing praises unto thee." It is exactly the same thing in principle, and in our measure, to which we are called. It is the same life, the same dwelling-place, the same God! I know nothing more wonderful than the way God can sustain a man who has this blessed life in him, when everything is against him, as it is with you and me as Christians in this world. There is not a single thing connected with this scene that is not a hindrance. It is a blessed thing to find that out, and to find out, too, that our only secret of safety is in dwelling in the house of the Lord.
I was much interested the other day in reading Exodus 16 and 17. There you see that two things went to make up the history of the people through the wilderness — feeding and resisting. There was the manna that came down from heaven to keep them, and there was the resistance. That is exactly what makes up the life of a Christian. Christ sustains us; He is the bread of our souls, sustaining this new life that is in us, and we dwell with Him in that blessed place where He is, beholding His beauty, our eye satisfied with the delights of that place. Thus I can resist the pressure of things around. What do I care for all the beauty here if I can be satisfied with Him? If I behold His beauty, do you think I am allured by the beauty here? And, further, if I "meditate with joy in his temple," I am hidden when trouble comes, and I praise Him.
The Lord instruct us by His Spirit! May He be pleased to use the simple things I have spoken to make you read the word of God more for yourselves. That is the true object of ministry, to bring hearts back to the word of God, with a fresh appetite for it. May God grant that we may have that appetite created, where it is not existing already, and strengthened where it is now, it may be, feeble and drooping; so that we may indeed be able to say, "I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food!"