Ps. 16:5; Ps. 22; Ps. 23:5.
John Alfred Trench.
Article 9 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
In Psalm 16 we see the Lord going before us in the path of life, giving us the perfect expression of it in Himself. It is not my object now to try and trace out all the blessed principles of the path thus displayed to us. But that word has been much on my heart, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup." By His great grace He has made it easy for us to say the first, for in Himself is summed up all the blessedness that is before us for ever.
But now comes what tests the heart a good bit deeper. How far can we each say, He is the portion of my cup? The cup is what we are tasting on the way to the inheritance; not exactly the circumstances of the way, but our experience in them. In the Psalm it is the path of Christ, of unparalleled trial. But He could say, "the Lord is the portion of my cup." He was tasting in the circumstances what the object of His perfect trust as man — what Jehovah was in Himself, and was to Him: hence the wonderful words, The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places"!
Now in Psalm 23 He leads us into His own path, "When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him." We have seen Him going before us in Psalm 16 — precious study for our hearts, and necessary if we would know the way and anything of His blessed experience in it. Now we shall see how He leads us into it. But there was a cup which came between of an altogether different character, that He alone could drink, and that made the righteous and only possible ground for our association with Him.
It is the cup of Psalm 22 — that cup of unfathomable sorrow He prayed might pass from Him, but that in the perfection of love and obedience He gave Himself to drink, saying, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Again, we see the cup was not the circumstances, but what He was tasting in them. What that was, our hearts can never enter into; what He entered into, that we might never. It was to be forsaken of God. Oh! the depths of suffering expressed in that cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Forsaken of God, and that too in the moment when, perfect in confidence, He was absolutely cast upon Him! None other had been that ever trusted in God, yet He was the only One that ever perfectly trusted in Him — now left to be perfectly abandoned of Him! But it only brings out all His perfection — "Thou art holy"; He vindicates God in doing it. Oh! think of what that must have been to Him who had Jehovah for the portion of His cup in all He had previously gone through, His only but perfect joy in a path uncheered by earthly smiles, the perfect light in which He walked amid the deep, surrounding gloom — and this gone from Him now, and in losing it to have lost everything and be shut up to utter darkness, without one ray of light left, forsaken of God who was His all. That was the cup He was drinking in Psalm 22, till He could say, "It is finished." And in His drinking that cup, we get the only adequate estimate of our sins and of all we were as sinners; but, blessed be God, in a work which has put them away and closed our dark history as sinners for ever.
Hence the beautiful title of the Psalm — Aijeleth Shahar; expressing in a strong figure of the language, "the dawn of the morning."* For that darkest night that over was, was the dawn of an endless, cloudless day for us. "Thou hast heard me." (Ver. 21) Heard from the transpiercing judgment of God due to sin, that infinite love led Him into for us, His first thought is those for whom He has endured it, those whom He has been given out of the world, that He might declare to us the Name in which is contained all our blessing — "I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto thee." Alone, how infinitely alone, in the darkness for us, He can now associate us with Himself, no longer alone, in the light into which He has entered. Alone in the sorrow, He has us with Him in the joy, and sings out of the fulness of it; but it is "in the midst of the assembly," now associated with Him in the joy.
*Literally "the hind of the morning" — not the gradual break of day, but the leaping in of it, after such a night.
Thus it is that He can lead us into His path as in Psalm 23. But now comes a process needed to be passed through in all our souls, that we should be able to say, "my cup runneth over." This is not the experience of the first part of the Psalm. There in being able to say, "the Lord is my Shepherd," it is easy to add "I shall not want." Accordingly we find the Shepherd's care expressed in the green pastures and still waters of His providing, that the soul thus invigorated (for this is the meaning of "restore," as food or rest restores) may walk in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. But in the latter part of the Psalm there is a marked change. The green pastures and waters of rest are no longer present to the soul, but the valley of the shadow of death. This is commonly taken to mean our deathbed. Practically the experience of this part of the Psalm is often only reached upon a death-bed. But it ought not to be so; and that it is not the thought of the passage may be clear from the words, "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
There is a greater death than ours to hearts that know the Lord. Surely it is the shadow of His death, the death of Psalm 22, that lies upon the whole scene of this world. The world in which our Lord was crucified is the valley of the shadow of death. Oh! for hearts to be more affected by His death. How far has the whole scene here closed for us, enwrapped in the shadow of that greatest death of all? What is there then left for us? "Thou art with me." It is the Shepherd Himself, proved more to the heart than all His precious care. He is more than all He can give. When the soul reaches this in its growth, shut up to Himself in a world closed to it by His cross, it is not merely that "I shall not want," but "my cup runneth over." He has brought us into the reality and blessedness of His own experience! He Himself who once as man on earth could say, "the Lord is the portion of my cup," now fills that cup to overflowing for us.
How little many souls know that the things on which their hearts are leaning, as though they were essential to their joy, are only enfeebling if not hindering any real experience of it. It is when all else is gone and Christ alone remains before the heart as its all, that the cup runs over. This is the secret of many a happy death. But the Lord would have us entering into as the experience of our life. Sooner or later each soul must be brought to it. Either when death comes to wrest from the grasp all that divided the heart with Him, or else when His death does it far more effectually; and deep blessed soul satisfaction is found, where only it can be found, in the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. When brought to have nothing but Christ, the soul finds it wants nothing but Him. The Epistle to the Philippians gives us the beautiful expression of this as the normal experience of the Christian.
May we know each one for ourselves, beloved brethren, what it is to have His death so close everything here for our hearts that we may be shut up to Himself, to find Him, the deep abounding portion of our cup, whatever our circumstances. Then will our path be bright to His praise till we see His face and dwell in the Father's house for ever. All His ways with us here are just to educate our souls for this, that, in being weaned from everything that is not Himself, in the valley of the shadow of death we may find our cup overflow in "Thou art with me." It is the joy of eternity begun now. In His presence is the fulness of it for ever.