3 Brief Articles on Psalm 23

"He restoreth my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake"

He does not drive me, nor drag me, but "He leads me," and there is a great tenderness in the way in which He does it. This was illustrated for me the other day when I called upon a young mother. Her baby boy was just learning to walk, and she was anxious that I should see the wonderful progress that he was making, so, taking his small hand in hers, she led him across the room. I noticed that she did not compel him to take the long strides that she could have taken, nor go the pace that she could have gone, but she shortened her steps to his and went as he could go, and spoke gentle words to him all the time in order to encourage his nervous endeavour. As I looked at that interesting sight I said to myself: That is how the Lord treats me. He is touched with the feeling of my infirmity (Heb. 4:15), He understands all my fears and tremblings and all the roughness of the way, and just as I am able to go He leads me, ministering comfort and cheer to me all the way.

He restoreth, or invigorateth, my soul by presenting Himself before my eyes in His greatness and grace; and as I am "looking to Jesus," who has travelled the way before me, and as I am held by His hand of power, for He is able to keep me from stumbling, I can tread the paths of righteousness with patience and with confidence.

And it is "for His name's sake" — for the sake of that sacred name that He has put upon me, that name "holy and true" which I bear in an evil and unrighteous world.

"He leads me beside the still waters"

The souls of men are restless, sin has made them so, for "the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest." But the good Shepherd calls His sheep from their toilsome wanderings, He brings them to repose at His feet, and He leads them beside the waters of quietness.

The simile brings a picture of peace to the vision, a wonderful and blessed peace; it speaks of restfulness of heart in a secure retreat. But it does not follow that this quietness of soul springs from external circumstances — these may be most adverse to our natural inclination and contrary to our every purpose. Yet in the midst of them the heart may be unruffled, as another scripture says: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee."

One soul-enthralling incident from the life of our Lord on earth illustrates the truth to perfection. At the bidding of their Master the fishermen-disciples had launched their craft upon as still a sea as ever the sun shone upon. But they had scarce set their oars to the row-locks when the wind uprose, and increased to a terrific gale; the very fury of hell seemed to be let loose in that tempest, and the waves foamed and dashed about that one small boat with such fierce threatenings that those well-seasoned mariners were seized with a panic of fear; the raging of the waters without the boat created so great a storm of fear within their breasts that they cry aloud in their anguish. But what of the Master in the midst of that storm? Was His cheek pale with terror? Did any anxiety of heart show itself in His demeanour? Nay,

"His head was on a pillow laid,
  And He was fast asleep."

Perfect peace in the midst of the tempest! Blessed repose in the presence of the threatening waves! Oh, why did not those disciples stretch themselves by His side? Why did they not share His pillow? Had that storm increased its fury sevenfold they would still have been safe, yea safe as when at the command of the Lord that great calm laid itself down upon the turbulent deep.

But what was the secret of the wonderful repose? upon what pillow did the Lord put down His head? The secret was unbroken confidence in God; the pillow was His Father's changeless and almighty love. He was the Man of absolute dependence, more than man, as we shall see, but truly man, committing all His way to God and satisfied to do His will alone. And the God whom He served was behind every circumstance, He sat above the water-flood, and put a strong bridle on the mouth of the storm. It could not rage beyond His permission, His love would keep His loved One in all His ways, and the ever-blessed and absolutely dependent Jesus rested there. And, Christian, He gives that pillow to you, so that you may find repose in the midst of trouble; He says, "My peace I give to you: … not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). This is a great reality — "He leads me beside the still waters." The raging flood without, but the quiet waters within.

The fear of those disciples brought forth an evidence of the divine power of the Lord, a gleam of His Godhead glory. With tender compassion in His heart for their weakness, with the quiet of an eternal calm in His wondrous eyes, and with omnipotence in the words of His mouth, He spoke to the storm; and the great billows fell at His feet in mute submission as cowers a spaniel at the feet of his master.

The disciples marvelled at that mighty act, and, indeed, it was wonderful; but whether of the twain commands our deepest admiration, the peace in the tempest, or the power over it?

The former may ever be ours, for the latter is always on our side, to be used for us when immortal love sees that the storm has taught us the needed lesson. But it is a greater thing to go through the storm reposing in perfect confidence in Him than to have it removed for us. It is more to His honour when we allow ourselves to be led by the still waters while the floods roll about us, than to have our circumstances changed to suit our lack of faith.

Christians, let us trust in the Lord at all times; let us recline upon His bosom, and believe that He will not permit a single circumstance, or place us in any situation which will not further in our souls the purposes of His changeless love. So shall we be led by the waters of quietness. In Him we shall have peace.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me."

"The valley of the shadow of death" does not mean the death-bed — it may include that, but it is more. It is the road that the pilgrims tread as they journey to the house of the Lord: their dwelling-place for ever. That road lies through the world, and the outstanding event in the annals of this world is the murder of the Lord — "the princes of this world … crucified the Lord of glory." It is this, first and foremost, that makes it the valley of the shadow of death to those who love Him.

He, the Lord of glory, came into the world, and when it saw Him it hated Him. His feet were beautiful upon the mountains as He published the gospel of peace to men, but thorns grew in the road that He trod, thorns that tore and lacerated those blessed feet in every step that He took. And that path,

"Uncheered by earthly smiles,
  Led only to the cross."

There, cast out by men, He laid down His life for the sheep. Blessed Saviour! how high above all human praise is that great love of His, that love which was tried to the uttermost and did not fail.

The hatred of the world followed Him to Golgotha, it could not be satiated except by His blood; and the servant is not greater than his Lord, and He has said to us, "If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you;" and "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you." And so the disciples, those who follow the Lord, tread the valley of the shadow of death.

There are other ways, too, in which the world is known by many to be the valley of the shadow of death, for death is here. They have felt its power, its blight is upon the fairest of this earth's prospects for them, for the grave-yard yonder holds all that is mortal of those once dearly loved and well remembered — of a wife, a husband, a parent or a child. And the heart would be lonely, yes, with an unspeakable loneliness, were it not for His company. Those who tread the road of sorrow are treading the valley of the shadow of death.

But what splendid confidence is here — "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." Let the foes be never so strong and the stress never so great, there is consolation, divinely given comfort in His company.

Permit an illustration. A little fellow returning from school is set upon by bigger boys, who terrify him by their threats, so that he fears to go that way again. But his father says, "I will go with you;" and taking his son's small hand in his strong palm, they set out together. See how the boy squares his shoulders, he seems inches taller as he walks in confidence by his father's side. "There are the boys, your enemies, my child — are you afraid?" asks the father. "Of course not," replies the boy, "for you are with me, father." There is no reason now why he should fear, for his father is greater than those who had threatened him.

It is even so with the disciple of the Lord; he can say, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me," and He who is with us is greater than the greatest of our foes.

He has met the foes on our behalf, He has met them in dire conflict and overthrown their power. His love to us, love that is quenchless and incomparable, led Him

"To stand betwixt us and the foe,
  And to willingly die in our stead."

He died "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15). By His dying He has gained a mighty triumph; He has trodden

"All our foes beneath His feet,
  By being trodden down.
He Satan's power laid low;
  Made sin, He sin o'erthrew;
Bow'd to the grave, destroyed it so,
  And death by dying slew."

And having fought the fight for us, and gained the signal victory, He is alive for evermore, and He walks by our side, and His company yields confidence and comfort.

"He Has said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me" (Heb. 13:5-6).

It is our privilege to recline in our weakness upon His omnipotence, and to draw near to His heart of tender love, and to be so conscious of His power and greatness, and of His unchanging care for us, that we shall be kept in perfect peace in the presence of every foe, whether man or the devil.

And actual death itself, that which would be so full of terror to us if we did not know Him is shorn of all its dread appearance, for He is near, and its power is gone.

"He gilds the bed of death with light."

And we are soon to see the day "when shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."